A Glimpse of Eternal Snows

By Jane Wilson-Howarth

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I looked out on an alien scene. Someone blew a conch. I took in the big sky of the plains. Beyond our house was a lovely patchwork of a bright yellow crop and lush winter wheat. The colours were sharp and astonishingly crisp. I could have been at home in England hemmed in with grey drizzle, or brushing past people cocooned by stress and self-absorption. I thought of the life I’d led, commuting with my brain switched off, ignoring the world: cars and personal stereos keep reality out.

A cock crowed and received several answers. I started to see again: people herded cattle out to graze or took flowers to the temple; there were soft groans of buffalo—or ox-cart wheels as men moved rice, brought timber or thatch. Tharu women wearing bright blues and orange walked elegantly erect with water in pots or piles of firewood on their heads. Tinselly Badi women dressed in pink and purple swept out their shacks after the night’s lucrative work. Months before, I’d asked Nepali friends in Kathmandu about Rajapur. Surprisingly few knew anything, except that they’d heard of the Badi, an infamous community with a long tradition of prostitution.

West Nepal was unspoilt, I’d read. People still lived in harmony with nature, needing nothing from outside, using only local natural resources. The indigenous Tharu people were even said to be especially resistant to malaria, so there would be scope for me to do ground-breaking research on what kept them healthy, as well as offering a medical service. I’d already fantasised about living among these untouched people, helping them to improve their lives, contributing to the local conservation effort. And now I was here. There would be plenty to do.

Someone invited their chickens to eat breakfast: ‘Ah-ah-ah-ah.’ Small boys chased each other in and out of storm ditches. Seeing Alexander was with them made me smile. Another conch-call and I looked towards the central temple, its light-green, squared-off dome towering over the low shacks of the bazaar that seemed to huddle against it as if for comfort. The telephone rang, jolting me back into busy doctor mode. But the nearest of Rajapur Island’s seven phones was a kilometre away at Mr Vaidiya’s house, Simon’s office. The sound was not a phone, but a bird: even the bird calls were wonderfully exotic. I scanned around and made eye contact—an owlet blinked and turned his head away. Behind him, up to the north, I could see the gash in the Himalayan foothills that is the Chisapaani Gorge, with ridge after mountain ridge behind, until far away, dimly visible, were the seductive eternal snows. I longed to walk up into the mountains along the old trade route that tacked through the Siwaliks and the Mahabharats and beyond: the route that had made Rajapur prosperous. For now, though, it was time to set to and make our new home comfortable.

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