[portfolio: vamos.com.sg email: foocheechang@gmail.com phone: +65 9622 9024 twitter: foocheechang]

Posts tagged “nepali times

land of the landless

3 weeks ago, i visited badarjhula, a remote village located in chitwan, to illustrate an article about the work of a local ngo (samari utthan sewa) in improving the lives of the villagers, most notably in the construction of a new, multi-storey school. the ride to the village was a long and arduous one – about 11 hours in a 4-wheel drive that had to traverse rough, rocky terrain and even small rivers.

the people of badarjhula were victims of floods and landslides in their place of origin before they decided to move to their current location, when they heard that land had been released by the government for agriculture. till today, they are merely squatters on the land and at the mercy of the government.

without land to their name, the villagers are continually trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty, since they are unable to procure loans from banks for business and development purposes without any collateral.

children play cricket in front of the newly-constructed rastriya primary school, the only multi-storey, concrete structure in the entire village. the government is partly funding and supplying the school with teachers, and villagers are hopeful that this is a sign that they will soon be officially recognised as the legitimate owners of the land.

l-r: community leaders jagaran praja, also a pastor, and karna bahadur b.k. chat with farmer bhim bahadur gurung inside an empty classroom. schools such as this cater to pre-primary education, before students move on to schools like rastriya.

jagaran praja, other than catering to the spiritual life of the villagers, 90% of whom are christians, is also a member of the school board and part of a micro-loans and savings cooperative as well.

indu nepal, the writer of the badarjhula story, also the online editor at nepali times, listens intently as she gathers material for her story.

ganesh k.c., founder of the first school in the village. he used to teach in return for rice and eggs from families.

a villager washes up at a manual pump. groundwater provides a major portion of the village’s water needs. water tapped this way is unsafe for drinking and has to be boiled and/or filtered beforehand.

a local girl stands amidst wheat fields in the height of harvest season. when school is out, the children will usually assist their parents in the day-to-day chores.

hay brought in are stored as bales, as seen above, on an elevated wooden platform.

a stall selling women’s garments and accessories.

some village children lazing around on a particularly hot day.

hari chepang, who stays in a tiny hut because she cannot move her legs and she needs essential items to be near her. her husband, who had 13 wives, left her and some of her stepchildren are supporting her now.

dwellings and other structures in badarjhula are mostly constructed of wood, dried hay and whatever other materials available in the proximity. during the dry season, these structures are extremely susceptible to fire, a phenomenon which has become an annual affair. due to the poverty and the distance of the village to major towns and cities, development is slow.

fire rages on the hills bordering india. the entire area faces the risk of widespread destruction by fire. a day after we left, flames swept through badarjhula, leaving in its wake houses reduced to ashes. photos below courtesy of samari utthan sewa.

it’s tough to consider myself blessed and fortunate to have escaped the inferno when placed in the context of the villagers’ hardships, but i am thankful. i hope that having their story told will inspire others to help.

read indu nepal’s article on badarjhula here.

for more posts direct from nepal, click here.


kathmandu ink

INK COMMUNION: Mohan Gurung, of Mohan’s Tattoo Inn, works on a design of Akash Bhairab (Sky Shiva) on the arm of his friend, pilot Vijay Lama.

as published in nepali times #496

In a tiny space on the second floor of a Thamel shophouse, tattoo artist Mohan Gurung is hard at work within a gargantuan world – one filled with age-old tribal symbols to modern bio-mechanical images. He is a conduit for the art, which flows through steady hands onto canvases of skin.

“I have a big studio in Pokhara, but little business. Here in Kathmandu I have a small space, but big business,” jokes Gurung. The quiet and affable Gurung, who received his training in South Korea after some persuasion from a good friend who noticed his talent, counts celebrities and fans from all over the world among his clients. He is so busy, in fact, that he is booked all the way till the end of the year and has stopped taking any more appointments.

Tattooing is an art that transcends time and physical boundaries. The threshold of pain is pushed in the hours required to apply even a simple design. And not only for the person getting the tattoo – the tattoo artist sits locked in rigid concentration, knowing full well that even a single mistake is unacceptable.

After about 3 hours of work with Vijay Lama, a pilot with Nepal Airlines who calls himself a ‘devotee’ of Gurung’s art, the artist limps off for a break, the physical and mental toll apparent. “He spends 12-14 hours a day in this little place, hardly moving, and yet he is one of the happiest people I know,” says Lama. “I’m amazed.”

Gurung returns and explains that he is in talks with the Nepal Tourism Board to hold the country’s first tattoo convention in April next year. “With tattoos becoming more popular here, there is a niche for tattoo tourism,” he says. Returning to his seat, Gurung picks up his tools and gets back to work, his dreams of becoming a great artist and sharing his passion spurring him on. And the wider world is ready and waiting for him.

PREP TIME: Natural, vegetable-based dyes are injected into the skin at the rate of 80-150 times per second through tattoo machines from Micky Sharpz, a well-known brand. Needles range in size and configuration for different purposes like outlining and shading.

CLEAN, MEAN MACHINE: Hygiene is of paramount importance as the dyes are injected into the skin. Disposable gloves, new needles for each session, and a regular wipe-down of the skin with antiseptic solution are some of the precautions taken.

TOTAL TATTOOS: Tattoos and piercings adorn Gurung’s entire body. He gets inked by fellow artists, some of whom are his idols, at tattoo conventions all over the world.

IMMENSE FOCUS: Making a mistake is out of the question, and even experience cannot be taken for granted. Gurung is always looking forward to his next piece, because he knows it will be better than the last.

PAPER IS GOOD, SKIN BETTER: Akash Bhairab is the emblem of Nepal Airlines. Captain Vijay Lama has made it his own to mark his dedication to the national flag carrier, and hopes for clearer skies ahead.

to visit mohan’s tattoo inn, click here.

for more posts direct from nepal, click here.

giving back

over the past couple of weeks, i have had the pleasure of meeting and photographing individuals who believe in giving a share of what they have been blessed with back to society. they are:

sir richard butler, philanthropist and a member of the pestalozziworld board of trustees. learn about pestalozziworld’s work in nepal from an interview my colleague suvayu pant conducted here.

bimala shrestha pokharel (front, centre), owner of higher ground cafe, bakery & crafts. higher ground actively seeks at-risk individuals, especially women, and those from the lower income group and provides them with training and job opportunities. read my article on the business here.

dan austin, filmmaker (his most famous work being true fans), cycling fanatic and one of the founders of 88bikes, a project that aims to empower children in rural areas all around the world with the freedom and joy of owning their own bicycle. read ahmad’s article on the project’s work in nepal here.

for more posts direct from nepal, click here.

jhamel not thamel

me and me ahmad are in the midst of working on a microsite for a feature that we recently completed on an up-and-coming restaurant area in kathmandu comprising of jhamsikhel, jawalakhel and pulchowk. this area is poised to dethrone thamel, the de-facto haven for fine dining.

it is great to see weeks of hard work (interviewing restaurant owners, shooting pictures, etc.) coming to fruition and i will be sure to update as soon as the microsite is ready.

for the abridged version published on nepali times, click here.

for more posts direct from nepal, click here.