Despite developments in education and road construction, many parts of Nepal remain inaccessible. Nearly 80 percent of its 30 million people live in rural areas, where the economy is dominated by subsistence agriculture.
Along the mountain trails, a new generation of Nepali children is being introduced to strangers from around the world, dressed in hi-tech fabrics and armed with trekking poles and digital cameras. They run from their simple wood or stone houses to welcome us shouting “Namaste! Namaste!” the traditional Hindu greeting. “Namaste” is quickly followed by “hello” and “school pen” – a small bit of English that has spread throughout the Nepali mountain network like a viral video on the internet. Some of the young boys I meet have already started to dream, clinging to our guide Raju as a local hero who can speak the language of the wealthy.
I walk towards the back of the group so as not to hold them up during my frequent pauses to take photographs. Step by step, hour after hour, we walk. We rarely talk. We rarely stop. Mountain peaks appear and disappear in the distance. The sound of distant dogs barking and roosters crowing breaks the chatter of countless birds. The hum of the distant river fades as we go ever higher. There is no performance to entertain me, no honking horns to distract me. I am alone with my thoughts moving forward to the rhythm of life along the mountain’s edge. As the day wears on and I start to tire, my head drops and my view constricts to the step in front of me, until I pause to take in the view.
In this seemingly idyllic rural landscape, where picturesque terraced slopes extend around every bend in the valley, it is easy to believe that the communities who live in these verdant hills are prosperous. But the farmers who plow their tiny plots with oxen, and tend to them by hand, barely raise enough food to support their own families. Much of the arable land has been cropped continuously since the 12th century, forcing farmers to cut a living from steeper and more fragile slopes. Landslides are a constant threat when the monsoon rains come in June. Massive chunks of earth cascade thousands of feet down the valley, scarring the hills, taking lives, and altering the system of trails.