The hefty giant crawls slowly and carefully up a deep rising gash in the mountain side. Desperately it clings to a thin path with sheer unprotected drops looming at every turn. Rocks and Loose soil crumble under its weight jolting and jarring the suspension as the unpaved route seams to fracture beneath. Frequent downpours and natural springs accumulate in rare plateaus turning loose clay into soft sticky mud, grabbing hold of tread, threatening to halt the straining beast in ever deepening tracks. Methodically it rolls up the mountain only to descend just as slowly down the other side. The skill of the driver constitutes a thin barrier separating this truck (and us) from a long violent drop to certain doom. As we crest each peak, atmospheric conditions change rapidly from moist steamy tropical rainforest, to cool humid highlands immersed in fog and even dry desert like conditions reminiscent of the Mexican plains complete with agave and maize (corn).
In sharp, purposeful contrast the highway that connects Dhulikhel to Sindhuli and gives access to those hastily carved dirt roads is a marvel of engineering mastery. Built with the cooperation and support of the Japanese government this massive undertaking took over sixteen years to finish and involved reshaping the mountain landscape. Like a colossal serpent it twists and turns, coiling around and up, slithering its way through the difficult terrain. Once work finally concluded, the new road reduced travel time between these two cities from over fourteen hours to under four.
For more than an hour we had been carefully scaling the rough off road terrain when we came across an unexpected obstruction. An overloaded shipping truck had almost fallen off the side and in the process spilled its unsecured cargo of Bamboo. There would be no getting around this obstacle. After watching for a while, curiosity finally subsides and we left our driver to continue on foot. An hour and a half later we finally arrive at a small village with a humble looking health post where the monthly check-in meeting would transpire.
Before our meeting begins we are treated to a superb lunch of Dal Bhat in a traditional Nepali home. Dal Bhat is a very common meal here and I have eaten it about once a day (for lunch usually) since my arrival. It consists of a legume soup (Dal), a vegetable curry, and rice (Bhat). It may have been the atmosphere of where we were eating or the gracious hospitality of our host but this version was by far my favorite. While eating I take in my surroundings. In the corner, a traditional wood fire stove, next to which stands a simple bed. The ceiling dyed stark black from years of accumulated smoke and ash with improper ventilation. As I sit on the earthen floor eating this humble meal I can’t help but think: “Anthony Bourdain ain’t got nothin on me!”
I have been lucky enough to experience the real Nepal. During these field visits I get to hear the stories of its people; their struggles, their triumphs, it is both depressing and encouraging. Although the SAMMAN project has just begun in the eastern districts there are already tangible effects. Like the road to Sindhuli it is slow arduous work to carve a new path through difficult terrain but given enough time I am confident we will see positive change.