Sunday, March 11, 2007

Taplejung trip.

Returned two days ago from Taplejung to continue processing my visa and pick up necessary equipment for my first long-stint in the field. Getting back was fairly tough. Long bus journey from T down to Birtamod, across to Biratnagar, and by some miracle managed to get through all the road blocks to the airport with half an hour spare.

The field site search went very well. Trekking from Tumlingtar was tough but a great experience, and good to see the middle western parts of Limbuan, east from the famous Arun river. I spend two weeks trampling around Taplejung, visiting villages in both the Phawa Khola and Kabeli Khola valleys, and have ended up setting up arrangements to return to the village of Mamangkhe, Kabeli khola. A large Limbu village in Mamangkhe VDC with some 50 households, and three neighbouring smaller villages in the same area,. Limbu is still widely spoken in the village and even among younger limbus. In Phawa khola villages (one day walk from Taplejung bazaar) I heard much more Nepali.
Mamangkhe is a two day walk from T.Bazaar, or 8 hours from a motorable road to the south (straight up the Kabeli khola valley).

There is a school, a small number of non-Limbu households (5-6), a small understocked health post with 3 health workers, and they are actually completing the construction of a Limbu Museum (the first of it's kind I think), funded by ex-gorkha Limbus from Kathmandu mostly.

The Limbus of Mamangkhe are all (there may be some exceptions) part of the Mabo clan. All the married women come from other valleys.,.which makes it interesting to study a single village and examine social relations within one clan.

Medicinal plants are used, but it seems that there are particular specialists, whilst 'lay' people know only the common plants. It is possible that my research will have to shift away from ethnobotany per se, more towards medical anth (health conception/knowledge) and relationship with economics (productivity, land use, cardamom) and market integration.

I have organised food and board with a Limbu family: the room is a later-built attachment to the ground floor of the house; I will cook my own mid-day meals (khaja). Spectacularly cheap rent (400 rupees a month!).

I will be teaching English in the school and a separate class for adult villagers (many expressed great interest in this), in exchange for Limbu language learning (villagers were very enthusiastic about this!).

The first phase of research will be for around 3 months and will involve:

1. Limbu language learning (as well as continuously improving Nepali)

2. Demographic survey at household level for Mamangkhe and perhaps the neighbouring villages

3. Baseline survey at individual level (married and above) which will include: education, economics, health (illness, self-perceived well-being), and ecological questions (use of wild-resources, hunting activity, medicinal plants, perceived changes, etc…)

4. Identifying informants: plant-knowledge experts, local healers/shamans/ pujaris, old men with knowledge of mythology, local history and clan history.
Identifying potential research assistants for helping carry out the baseline survey, and translating Limbu interviews.

Back from Taplejung: some photos

Finally a post! I found a reasonably fast internet connection to upload photographs from.

Firstly, a view across the Phawa Khola valley (Taplejung) looking south-east. We arrived here (Ian, Dhan Kumar and Santos) after 5 hrs walk from Taplejung bazaar. Stayed in the village of Warokpa (Bakhim) for 5 days with the brother of a Limbu General (ex-Brit.Gorkha) I had met in Kathmandu at a Yakthum Chumlung meeting (Limbu Association).

The Limbu clan Kangbha lives on the eastern side of the valley across a number of villages, from Warokpa (furthest north) down to Kunjari (an hour walk south-east).

View of the back of a Limbu house in Kunjari

View of Mamangkhe village and the Kabeli Khola facing south. This village is two days walk from Taplejung Bazaar (some 12-14 hours walk), and the last majority Limbu village to the north-east. Other Limbu villages further north can be found in the Mewa Khola valley (where several anthropologists have worked) and in the Tamur Khola valley (leading up to Taplethok and Hellok). One of two trekking routes to Kachenjunga passes through here, up to Yampudim (mostly Sherpa, Bhote, Rai and Gurung), which is officially the furthest-east permanently inhabited village in Nepal.

View of hill-side on walk back from Yampudim.

The primary school in Mamangkhe. Classes run from 1-8. For 9-12 children have to walk to schools further south along the valley towards Sinam (where the first 2+, that is class 11 and 12 was built in Taplejung). A faded Maoist flag is visible on the volley-ball court. That and the grand memorial gateway are the only visible signs of the long term Maoist presence in the area.

Photo of a Resource map of the Mamankhe (spelt incorrectly here) VDC funded by UNDP.

Morning rises over Limbu households in lower Mamangkhe. Something that particularly attracted me to this village was the relative clustering of households due to the large population size and limited space for house-building (agricultural land is precious and the slopes higher up are too steep).

Memorial gate and rest-hut built by the villagers for a local (Limbu) Maoist army commander killed in battle.

Another view of the Kabeli Khola valley facing south.

View of the Kabeli Khola valley and mountain range (south of Kachenjunga) facing north. On the western valley-side lies the village of Mamangkhe (as well as Pawa)

Aborted trip to Jiri

I had initially planned to Bus-it to Jiri, then trek to Lukla, Everest Base Camp, south-east across Hongu valley, down to Tumlingtar, then across to Taplejung. I headed out with two Canadian friends (Emily and Aaron) and we got stuck in snow later the same day.
Nice view of the mountains the next morning though:

Off-the-road and fallen-trees.