Then there's the setting...i dont know how anyone could not feel the pureness and the peacefulness of this place and simply be happy
. It wasn't clear when i arrived but i woke my first morning for a clear sunrise with a pleasant surprise, i was very fortunate. It was spectacular. Three huge mountains right in front of me, snowcapped and just beautiful. You really had to be there. And that is what i did for the most part, just sat, relaxed and watched.... the sunrise and then the sunset...then the stars and the moon (as it was a clear night, very fortunate again)....then the second night, there was a fabulous lightning show before horrendous thunder came in as well with pelting rain. So it was perfect for me...had a little bit of everything and i couldn't have asked for more.
Shiva's family, the Adhikari family, is the Brahma caste which is apparently the highest caste in Nepal, oot of four. Their house mad from clay and of course cow shit, was big...2 floors, bottom with kitchen, and storage room and top with bedrooms. Of course in our standards it's still very basic with no furniture, no fanciness but still all that you need to be happy. The toilet was ootside and so was the running water. Shiva was a teacher and is well educated and his sons are very successful with the hotel they run... as well as the countless projects they are doing in the village, medical clinic, health education, recycling at schools, volunteer projects.
I was fortunate enough be in Astam on the last few days of a major festival, Dasain, that is celebrated everywhere in Nepal for 10-15 days, the celebrations differ a bit depending on the caste and culture
. It is time for the kids to have time off oot of school and for families to get together and eat. Shiva and his wife welcomed us into their home for the celebration and to share in the tradition. It was an amazing experience. They had sacrificed a goat (a day before i arrived) which is custom for the festival and very special as they are usually mainly just veg-eaters. So of course almost every meal consisted of bits and bites of mountain goat with some sauce and rice. My last day, we (a few others staying at the hotel) went over to Shiva's for Tiqqa, we ate some snacks (deep fried millet doughnut), sat on the floor of their home and then took place in 'Tiqqa'....Shiva and his wife individually placed dyed red rice on my forehead, with some prayer and smiles and then placing a few flowers on my head and behind my ear. It truly was a humbling experience. I was one of my happiest in Astam (and im usually pretty damned happy)...i was honoured.
Trekking back, Malati and I went a different way. We were to stop at HER mother's home (half hour walk) for Dasain and Malati was seeing her father for the first time in 7 years. Malati's mother is a beautiful strong woman that lives on her own (as her dad lives in India). There were a few people there, extended family i assumed. I was welcomed just like anyone else with cinnamon tea and yes more goat. Her best blankets were layed on the porch for everyone to sit on and gather. I took place in Tiqqa again...it was again done by the two heads of the family, mom and dad (anyone can do tiqqa though). Then I just sat there almost in awe of the experience and taking everything in...their family, their culture, their ways. It's so different in many ways but the basis is very much the same, family, food, love, laughing, and open-heartedness. I was so happy. I had to ask Malati's mom as we were leaving if i could take one picture of her
. She of course obliged with ease but not before taking 10 minutes with the assistance of other women to adjust her sari, to fix her hair, check her shoes. It was sooo cute and funny. I was thinking a natural picture but we were now preparing for a formal posed portrait, with her husband..standing completely straight, side by side, hands at the side. I managed to click one afterwards withoot her posing. Apparently she was sooo happy to have her picture taken, not only of herself but with her husband who she hadn't seen in years either as she is always alone. I think Astam is calling me to return at some point in many ways and one of those being to get that photo to 'mom'.
It was then just an hour walk back down to a town where we could get a bus/taxi to return to Pokhara (walking was way too far). The hour walk was straight down literally, down steep rock steps. There were many people on the steps making their way up or down, coming from or going to home or family's home, all dressed up for Dasain.....this is normal of course for them. This is nepal. My few days, my experience felt so surreal. You ask, you shall receive - a true Nepali cultural experience....in every way. Thank you.
The eco-village is a environmentally-friendly basic hotel-type amidst the village, so not really a village, so much a small plot of land. There is no shop, nothing to buy, no plastic bottles, no bottles at all, it just is...there is a wonderful cook named Ganesh who does everything. The gas is bio-gas, it comes from the cow shit every morning. I watched Malati pick up the fresh shit with her bare hands withoot even thinking twice then add with water and stir..then gas for the day to cook. There's a beautiful garden with an array of veg, herbs and flowers. So all the food is fresh as, just like the families live , 'this is normal'. Lemongrass tea and juice seemed popular and delicious. There is recycling and composting which is amazing where in a culture throwing rubbish on the ground is still normal for the most part. However, Nepal is much cleaner than India.