Friday, March 4, 2011

Monsoons in Nepal

Summer in Nepal is a hot, wet blanket of humidity.  It rains almost everyday with terrifying thunderstorms in the evening that reverberate loud and close throughout the bowl shaped valley of Kathmandu.  One afternoon I found myself standing knee deep in filthy water in the center of Thamel, Kathmandu.  There was no way of knowing what manner of detritus might be swirling around my invisible flip-flop clad feet.  For the first time, I understood with clarity why all of the buildings are set up from the road on cement slabs.  I did not go to Nepal again in the summer months.  On that trip I learned that paper products and fabrics do not fare well during monsoon season.  Even some of my jewelry arrived damp inside its packages.

A well prepared tourist would carry rain gear, mosquito repellent, something for the inevitable diarrhea, and salt or chewing tobacco to smear on their bodies as a defense against leeches during the monsoon.  I have never bothered to try to hike in Nepal's Monsoon season, but I have heard some harrowing tales.  Up in the Rasuwa district, my friends told me that the path to their village would be slippery with leeches.  I wasn't sure if those were separate thoughts.  Slippery paths I have seen.  A sudden downpour can turn a former path into a river.  However, I have heard tales of  hundreds of leeches popping up from the ground, blindly waving back and forth as they sniff the air for their next bloody meal, or dropping from the leaves of the trees onto passersby. It is not too hard to imagine slipping on the leeches themselves.

Landslides and floods are frequent during the monsoons in the mountainous areas of Nepal.  Last year I traveled a road that is closed for months every year because of the regular monsoon landslides.   This problem grows worse year after year as deforestation leads to more erosion.  Landslides can be deadly, killing several people every year, but even more deaths during the monsoon season occur because of the poor water quality and lack of sanitation.

The water is absolutely necessary to bring out the lush greenery and the fantastic orchids.  It is what clears the winter dust from the air and makes the rice grow.  But it is also an extremely difficult time to accomplish anything in Nepal.  Before my friends in Nepal can begin to build their library I have to raise another $1,200.  The hope is that I will be able to send them this amount by the end of April so that they have a chance of finishing the building before the rains come.  I will continue to raise money for the books and the laptops after that.  This Sunday, I have another opportunity to raise money for the project at Plymouth UCC.  Wish me luck!

This spigot which is completely dry in the Winter will be gushing water during the summer months.  The creature with what appears to be an elephant's trunk is actually an opened mouthed crocodile.
*To all of you who have donated so generously, you will be happy to know that the first $900 has already arrived at the Joy Foundation in Nepal.  THANK YOU!


  1. eeewwwww. leeches popping up out of the ground? I thought they lived in water.

    and why do they have such poor sanitation? surely they are aware of the dangers. they are not a stupid people. I understand that they are poor but even poor people can institute certain basic measures. (not judging, just curious)

  2. Hi Ellen, The leeches are rarely seen in the dry months. I walked through an area that was supposedly leech infested but saw none. However, when the rains come, everything is supersaturated. What surprised me is that they say leeches drop from the trees! Trees in the mountains are always down hill from muddy wet water flowing from ever higher peaks.

    It is not stupidity that causes the lack of sanitation, it is lack of education, infrastructure and money. The school I'm trying to build a library for got their first toilet for 320 students last year. That was only because a group of Italian biologists were willing to help them build it. For most people, a toilet is a patch at the side of the hill off of the main path. The excrement is washed down the mountainside into the river and becomes drinking water for the next village.

    Water treatment facilities are enormously expensive and far beyond the means of mountain villages, but even a properly built out house is beyond the means of most. Water born intestinal bacteria still kills thousands of children in Nepal every year. Many people know to boil water for food or drink, but don't understand that they need to wash with soap and not just rinse their hands with contaminated water before they eat. A single drop of contaminated water on a plate or leaf of lettuce is enough to make one very sick. I know because it has happened to me on more than one occasion and I really do wash my hands with soap every time and I only drink only bottled water in Nepal.

  3. Fascinating to learn how diverse and remarkable this world is. Thank you for bringing your experiences to us in such well written descriptions. Very best wishes for success with the library...before the rains and the leeches!

  4. How sad. We so often take for granted all that we have-like clean drinking water.

    I also wouldn't want to be walking on a road of leeches. Aack! That sounds like a bad horror film. Good luck with this weekend!

  5. eeeeh I hate these nasty bloodsuckers.
    I wish you all the luck of the world and know you wil get the money and build the labrary

  6. Brilliant raising so much money, and good luck this weekend, i hope you double the amount.

    leeches sounds completly awful. good you don't go in the wet season anymore.

  7. hello butternut! the many experiences of this world that sit side-by-side - mine in a home with fresh water and a man of a similar age and perhaps with similar wishes in a home without fresh water. i wonder if it has always been within the experiencing of tibet that considerations for the care of their bodies' needs have been less than ideal? i wonder if at one time there was knowledge of the sort that doesn't rely on education or money to make for a healthy and whole place in which to emerge and become whatever you are intended to be? steven

  8. Hi Steven,

    You are correct that there was a time before the modern world encroached when more people had a structure to there rural existence but I don't think that they were able to maintain a much healthier existence even then. Life expectancy in Nepal is on the rise. In 1970 the average life expectancy for a Nepalese person was 43 years, in 1990 it was 56 years. The major difference is education limited as it may be.

    I will have to write another post just on education I think.

  9. Just love your posts, even those about monsoons and leeches!

    We got hacked again - so we've created a mirror synchro site on word press:

  10. I commend you on your worthy initiative. We have friends who also travel to Tibet on occasion as former service workers who cannot forget about the vital connections they have made.

  11. Hope all is well with you, Butternut!!