The reputation of Nepalis is of a very friendly people and the Dolpopa, the people of the Dolpa, are no exception. Inhabiting one of the most remote areas of Nepal, which is saying something, they are self sufficient yet welcoming to newcomers and delighted by a jolly Namaste or Tashi delek, the Tibetan equivalent. And that betrays their roots. There is a strong Tibetan influence. Walking through these villages and camping at their centres built, for me, a strong admiration for this tough way of life in an uncompromising landscape.
Religion is a central line through life and the landscape. It’s clear when you’re approaching a village, even if you can’t see the houses, rows of mani stones guide you in. Having carefully skirted them in a clockwise direction, I have since learnt that’s only right for some Buddhists. Bon Buddhists go round in an anticlockwise direction. An interesting divergence. The gompas, monasteries, either in the centre or perched on hillsides above the villages form a living community lynchpin. Sometimes attended by a single llama, monk, he is often also an amchi, a traditional doctor, and provides the only heath care available to many of these communities. Amchi medicine and its basis in plants is partly what drew me to the area – more on that in later blogs.
Livelihoods in these high villages, way up above the forests, depend largely on agriculture to supply year round stores of barley, maize, potatoes. Vegetables are increasingly grown in small greenhouses attached to the houses to supplement the diet and lower down, pools of bright red on the roofs indicate winter stores of drying chilis and tomatoes. And then there are the animals. Yaks, sheep and goats high up with ponies and mules are taking a toll on the vegetation. These high levels of grazing bring massively high potential everywhere for catastrophic erosion, plenty of which we skirted, or peered across.
It’s easy to see how a landscape carved from rock by ice has also carved these communities. It is equally easy to see how the modern world is bringing a whole set of new pressures to bear. Plastic rubbish is more than just an eyesore. Yet there are new opportunities too. The trick for the Dolpopa will be taking what is good from the modern world and finding a way to reject what is bad.