After visiting Chachowk and Taprang schools I set of to walk to Tanting down paths that are used a lot less today than when I lived in Nepal in 1992 since the building of the roads both along the top of the hills and along the Mhadi Khola river in the valley below. In the main, the path down was clear to follow but now and again it was hard to work out which way to go – luckily for me I was walking with Guman Gurung who is a youth group leader and very active in the ACAPs Conservation Area Management Committee. It was well worth the walk for both the views, excercise and also the conversation with Guman. Who would have thought I would have been wandering down a mountain side in Nepal trying to explain the madness of Brexit and Donald Trump and how it links to the need for unity and understanding and compassion. The need for unity and compassion was something Guman totally agreed with and could relate to from living in Nepal and from his experiences of working in local villages supporting parents to encourage them to not only send their kids to school, but also to support their children to study at home, do their homework and realise their potential. It was a real pleasure to meet him and he quite happily carried my bag which was very much appreciated ! I also learnt all about Tanting’s youth group and the very successful basketball teams that they have – two of which are champions of the Kaski district.
I last walked along the Mhadi Khola in 2011, 5 years ago, with a small group of Geography students, Hom and Jit Gurung as well as my ex student Alyn. At that time a new macro hydro project was being discussed. Today, 5 years later, it is almost complete and a second one is planned a little further upstream. It’s being built at Chasu which is on the old path that I used to walk along to Sikles which used to have a small cluster of houses that always felt a little odd – a crossing of paths of people that when you entered always felt a little like entering a saloon bar in a western movie as people would just stare at me and whoever I was travelling with with a mixture of curiosity and hostility that is unusual for Nepal – Rose and I used to refer to it as dodge city and it always felt good to have passed through it !
The new hydro plant which now stands in that place is massive compared to the one that was built in the early 1990’s much further up the river and I’d never seen it up close. I had mixed feelings as the new plant will obviously bring much needed power to people in Nepal – but the paths I walked so many times back in 1992 have now gone forever – still I have the memories of them and seem to be able to walk all over Nepal now saying I used to come here when it was all fields – literally !
Water power flowing from the mountains down to the almost complete macro hydro project
Hard to capture the size of the plant that’s being constructed
From here the walk up to Tanging was a mixture of road walking and taking short cuts along the old paths and stopping for noodle lunch – about half an hour before reaching Tanting we hitched a ride in a passing jeep meaning we got to Tanting a little earlier to the most amazing welcome by Prakash Gurung, who is the the local headmaster, and a group of students from school who had come to meet us. I had met Prakash a few years earlier at a conservation day event in Sikles and have heard very good things about his school which I had wanted to visit for along time. Walking there made the visit even more special as it brought so many memories back of walking to Sikles and made me realise whenever I can I must make the time to walk from village to village and has even given me some new ideas for potential education environmental tours.
A warm welcome and lovely light in Tanting
Tanting, for those of you that don’t know is on the opposite hillside to Sikles and is now only a two hour jeep drive away from Pokhara. So I have spent many a night looking over and wondering what it’s like compared to Sikles. Many of the people I know, especially women, in Sikles were born in Tanting and I know quite a few people based in the UK from Tanting so I had heard a lot about it over the years.
Sikles by day and by night – no words 🙏🏼
Tanting in many ways is similar to Sikles, though smaller, it has a vibrant community, strong leaders and an active youth and an excellent school with dedicated teachers and students. Tanting though has more home stays than Sikles which it has opted for instead of hotels which are run by a committee to ensure that guests who arrive rotate between the various homes – I need to check but I think there are 13. I stayed with a local teacher Manju whilst I was there as a big group of Austrailan and New Zealand guests were arriving the next day in an Engineers Without Borders study tour, facilitated by the Three Sisters, which quite luckily coincided with ACAPs Conservation Day Celebrations the next day on Saturday 10th Dec.
Waking up in Manju’s home felt so like waking up in Sikles with the sound of tea being made, cockerels crowing and the gentle hustle and bustle of people starting to wake up. I was gutted that my camera battery had run out and due to a damaged micro hydro there was temporarily no electricity in Tanting and my spare batteries had been left in Pokhara. The previous evening sitting round the fire light with no electricity again took me right back to Sikles in 1992 when none on the villages in this area had electricity. I took up the offer of a hot shower at the local Gomba which meant I washed my hair, but it had no door di I just washed my hair – the local monk assured me there would be one there next time I visited! He was busy preparing for a puja that was being held later that day and the following day for a local man who had passed away and many people were traveling up from Pokhara and the surrounding villages to attend this ceremony. Back at Manju’s Prakash turned up and took me off to a local hair cutting ceremony that takes place when a boy has his first hair cut. The young child seemed most displeased to be having his head shaved and it seemed as though half of the village had turned up for the most delicious breakfast and sit around chatting. Again it’s hard to explain how and why but just being here on my own, joining in with the rhythm of everyday life, really did feel like being back in Sikles all those years ago.
It made me realise I need to look back through all my diaries and letters from that time and work on a paper that reflects my changing experiences of Nepal. To do this I’d need to get a sabbatical and have an aim such as a book to write or bid to develop and at the moment I have too much new research and work to be done but I’ll add it to my to do list. We then set off to spend the rest of the morning in the school which as you can see is on the edge of the village in a stunning location.
Tanting school and grounds constructed with support from the Pahar Trust Nepal
Both primary and secondary schools are based here and the school has a good play ground, a computer lab with wifi, a well stocked library, separate toilets for boys and girls and a hostel for children in class ten so they can concentrate on studying for their school leaving certificate exams in their final year. It’s not just the building and locality that make this school special though you could feel the enthusiasm of the teachers for their school. Tanting is twinned with Debden and Wimbish in Essex and has benefitted from training, friendship visits and Prakash the headmaster has visited the UK and Isle of Man as part of this school link. In addition to this Prakash has recently completed his masters in South Korea and is full of good ideas on how he and his team can work together to continue to improve the school for the local children. They are also working towards a British Council International Schools Award and teachers get the opportunity to attend training sessions in Kathmandu on a variety of topics such as internationalising the curriculum. Some of the children had conducted a clean up campaign the day before and the rubbish collected was ready to be sorted and disposed off appropriately. One dilemma they face though, like most rural villages, is what to do with all the plastic that ends up there as rubbish. Often it is thrown into the water ways or burnt, neither of which are actual solutions. One teacher suggested there was a ban on plastic in the village and another suggested it was sent back to where it came from for disposal.
Rubbish ready for sorting but what to do with the plastic ?
The rest of the morning, being mindful not to disturb the school day, I visited each class asked them what they were learning and then linked what I said to that class to the subject they were studying. With the younger children I took the opportunity to show them the Baby Monkey puppet story and then Manju took the set to use in her class next door. As Friday is a half day it was good to see that they school had organised extra curriculum activites and a debate taking place on the importance of education. Boy and girls took it in turns to share their opinions as to why school was important in front of their peers giving them a great opportunity to develop their public speaking skills. This young girl was very passionate about education and was someone I would meet again later that day !
Public speaking practice after school
Following on from this I was invited to explain my puppet story sacks as well as share my thoughts about what I thought was needed to improve the school in a staff student interaction session. Both teachers and the students enjoyed the story of Fairis and his adventures with teachers and students taking on the roles of key characters in the story. Teachers thought it was an excellent resource and one said that it was ‘beyong the imagination!” Then I turned the next session into a ‘what do you think needs doing to your school to make it better session’ using the if your dream is to have a better school what needs to be done for you to plan and achieve it question – everyone had to write down one one idea on a post it note before sharing them and seeing what key ideas emerged. There were some great suggestions and things like unity amongst staff, commitment amongst students and more training and interactive teaching methods being used featured high on the list of things that would help develop the school even further. There was an obvious respect between students and teachers and vice averse which was refreshing to see and both the student body and their teachersare all really committed to making Tanting the school the best that it can be.
Handing over Adventures of Fairis a Nepali Frog and the puppet story sack
After leaving the school and wandering into the village I was so happy to meet up with Mana from the Three Sisters who had arrived with a large group of students who were there on a study tour with Engineers Without Borders to learn from the local people over the next 5 days. I was especially pleased as Mana had brought up my spare batteries which meant I could use my bigger camera. As they were heading to the school that I had just left I headed off into the village to try to capture the ambience and sunset. I had hoped that my good friend and social activist from Sikles, Ganga Maya, who was from Tanting , could have been in the village with me but due to family commitments she had had to remain in Pokhara. As I was clicking away towards the mountains that were turning pink in the evening light a couple of children came along and joined in my photo shoot. Their mother looked on as they played with my hand puppets and I couldn’t have have wished for a better location or better light to capture the atmosphere.
One older girl was watching me inquisitively and welcomed the opportunity to have her photograph taken. I starred to explain to her in Nepali that I had lived in Sikles 24 years ago and that one of my good friends Ganaga Maya who lived in Simles, had run the day care centre, ran my very first literacy discussion group and was one Ithe the ohitograohers in the Our Village Our Life project came from Tanting – the young girl looked at me and said that she was “Ganga Mayako bahinniko chorizo” I’m Ganga Maya’s younger sisters’ daughter.
Ganga Maya’s bahiniko chorri
Supirsed I asked her where Ganga Maya’s Amaa lived and she pointed to the nearest house. I was so excited to not only find Ganga Maya’s maternal home but also to meet her mother that when she wandered into her courtyard I instinctively bent down to touch her feet as a sign of respect. This is normal amongst Gurungs but isn’t something that I tend to do but Ganga Maya is such an amazingly active social worker in Sikles, who I have known since 1992 when she was a traditional birthing attendant and she also ran the first ever REFLECT centre in Sikles and after much discussion about caste and exclusion with her group they decided to build the first community hall in her ward to enable women from Gurung and Non Gurung castes to come together to learn to read and write. Anyone who has met Ganga Maya will understand why I was so emotional at meeting her mum, who to be honest was a little taken back by this random stranger telling her how amazing her daughter was! I was invited in for tea and transported back in time to when I spent so many hours round the fire with Bir Kumari and Grandma, both who have now passed away. Talking to the family about Ganga Maya’s work and showing them her pictures in the ‘Our Village Our Life’ coffee table book really was one of the highlights of my visit to Tanting and next time I’m there I must make sure Ganga Maya is with me. I have presented papers in Kathmandu with Ganga Maya and co-written a paper with her and others about literacy and empowerment in Sikles about gender and education in Sikles and her experiences of running a literacy centre.
Ganga Mayako Amaa
The next day was conservation day which ACAP hold in an annual basis, usually in Sikles, but this year in Tanting. This was perfect as that coupled with the puja meant so many of the people that I knew had come to Tanting so I git to see lots of old friends as well as meet new ones whilst at the same time visit a place that was on my to go to list. Being able to meet and see how the EWB group organised their meetings and interviews was also useful Mae me raise when I bring my students here in February it will be useful to have the suppor tot translations guides from the a three a sisters as they provided much more than just trekking support. Catching up with Dicky as well was great as she and her two sisters feature on our Inspirational Women resource kit which will be launched soon. Plus she makes a mean pancake and had a real affinity with the local cat which was very cute. I would have liked to have spent more time talking to people and attending the whole conservation day but I was due back in Pokhara that night due to interviews I needed to do before heading back to Katmandu. To that end I hitched a ride on the local bus which was jam packed gpfulk and meant I stood up all the way back down what can only be described as a road along a massive cliff edge which I would have rather walked down. Next time I will definately arrange a jeep 😁
Just a selection of images more can be found on my Flickr site
Overall I had such a god time in Tanting and much prefer the road to it which is wider and quicker than the one to Sikles that from now on, whenever I can, I will come to Sikles via Tanting. In February next year I plan to bring my students here to test out the home stay, interact with local people and the those who are keen can then walk to Sikles with me the next day, those that don’t want to can return to a Pokhara to continue their research – one thing a that is fir sure those …. as with Nepal – once is never enough
Dhanyabad and pheri betaunla 🙏🏼❤️🙏🏼