So far from home and beyond imagination
I spent a month living with a family near a small town called Fikkal in the Ilam district of far eastern Nepal. This area is famous for its tea production. The bus ride from Kathmandu to this part of the country was a long hard overnight slog.
The family consisted of two grandparents, their son Deepak and his young son Samyog. They were largely self sufficient - they owned a tea plantation, a couple of cows and grew various food products such as tea, grass, potatoes, bananas, milk, turmeric and cardamom. I helped out with tea picking, dug potatoes, planted ‘haldi’ (turmeric) and cut and watered grass for the cows. We ate Dhaal Bhaat twice a day for lunch (served around 10am) and dinner (7ish). This usually consisted of rice, spinach, potatoes and lentil soup. Many of the ingredients were home produced so they always tasted good. To drink we had either 'tato pani' (hot water which they boil to be sure it is safe), milk or whey (which I had never tasted before) and of course green tea.
Living with a family gave me a fantastic insight into a local way of life and an invaluable opportunity to experience a little visited area, it provided a level of immersion that I have rarely felt before whilst travelling...
Ilam is located in the easternmost part of Nepal. Darjeeling, India's famous tea producing district lies just across the border.
Me and Sujan
Track of the brave – this track wound its way from Fikkal to where I was staying. It was about a 45 minute walk. It was not uncommon to see people on mopeds going at walking pace trying to navigate the comically unpredictable surface. This surface, combined with my lack of sleep and heavy backpack, resulted in me tripping up and falling over before we'd even arrived, impressive!
My host family's house
Right to left - Deepak, Samyog and their friends Subash and Mandeep
(left) Dipa, a relative who lived in the house next door - which was a good 50 metres away
Cycling in the garden
Samyog was my pal. We played football and badminton in the garden, rode the bike together down the hill and had games of chess. He loved playing with my laptop and mobile phone - “Mr Neil can I play Sonic?” was a phrase I got used to. He was learning English at school and spoke very well, he was my most loyal translator!
The fine art of Namaste while standing on one foot
One of many cups of tea at a neighbour's house
One of Samyog's school books
Here's my attempt at writing some Nepali. Samyog and Deepak tried to teach me the basics. They spoke good English, however, the Grandparents didn’t speak a single word. I feel that what they taught me as well as the lessons I was given in Kathmandu helped me to make myself understood when they were not around - my stock phrases were "Mero naam Neil ho" (my name is Neil), "Raamro cha" (very good) and "Pugyo" (enough), vital at eating times unless you have a never ending appetite.
Turmeric roots which we planted
Samyog and his grandfather crushing the turmeric (used as a spice)
Cutting grass for the cows
The kitchen - all cooking was done over a fire
Lunch - Dhaal Bhaat, consisting of Lentil soup, rice and vegetables was eaten twice a day
Digging for potatoes
Often we would have boiled potatoes for breakfast, with some chili sauce
Time for tea
Banana tree in the garden
@ Kanyam Tea Garden
Beer stop in downtown Fikkal, this bar had a good view of the town from the balcony
Horses are still used to transport goods to the town, here they are loading them with grass to be sold for brooms...
Small cactus growing in one of the gardens
(Right) Marijuana plant in one of the fields
Horses carrying canisters of milk
Sun setting over the valley