Written by: Oliver Johnson
The word Annapurna is derived from the Sanskrit word Annapūrṇa, literally meaning to be filled with or possessed with food. The name Annapurna is a manifestation of the goddess Parvati, the wife of Lord Shiva - god of gods. Parvati is the goddess of many things, but within her manifestation as Annapurna, her specialities are that of food and nourishment.
From the Annapurna Mountain Range, a great many rivers, both big and small, flow from the melted ice and snow of her glorious peaks. One such river - known as the Modi Khola - cuts a linear line from the East Annapurna Glacier to its tributary at the Gandaki River. Along the way, she provides greenery and life for the many hills that border her waters; for the people who live on these hills, she gives them sustenance and a way of life.
To her west, above Birethanti, below Chomrong and Ghandruk, and almost adjacent to Tolka, sits the village of Kimche. This village (and specifically the 'Kimche Guesthouse and Restaurant', the place where I stay) has provided me with food, shelter and a base of operations for the past 4 months.
Around me, one is surrounded by terraced fields, hacked out from the jungles and forests which make up another significant feature of these hills. The way the fields are layered upon one another - with each new field receding further and further back up the hill - gives the impression, almost, of that of a cake: layer topped upon delicious layer.
At night, all the greenery and jungle is enveloped within a black cloak. Stitched into its cloth are small clusters of lights, with each clump representing one of the many villages that inhabit the other side of the valley. As I get ready for bed in the evening, each cluster is arranged in such a way as to make it appear like a constellation. Perhaps it's Annapurna again, showing off the fruits of her creation via the very people she feeds daily.
Living in a guesthouse - as well as visiting many other Guesthouses during my treks - is a surprisingly odd yet decidedly interesting experience. I am exposed to a kind of living that was either on my periphery within the UK (although usually in a different form, principally farming and business) or is completely new to me.
One sees more of the logistics and realities of the running of - and living in - a Nepali guesthouse, surely the veins through which the economic lifeblood of this small nation trek, climb and observe in awe. I see how one supplies such an outpost (including those even further afield than Kimche), as well as who does what and why. There is the boredom and disappointment of having no customers, and then there is the satisfaction and excitement of having lots of them.
For me, the latter has been one of the most interesting aspects of my stay here - the customers.
While I must admit to being somewhat inexperienced in solo travel abroad (I've only traveled to Kenya before this), I must also tell you that I come from rural Suffolk, in the East of England. My village back in the UK is nestled between the terminus of two great rivers; once you get beyond
the houses of the village, one is met with ever rolling farmland, hedgerows and forests. It's beautiful country, and a wonderful place to grow up, however its location guarantees a level of diversity that is well below any of the major cities, or what I would call 'London' levels of diversity.
In Nepal however, I've met, on a regular basis, people from around the globe: Argentinians, Brazilians, Americans, Germans, French, Fins, Vietnamese, Filipinos, South Koreans, Australians... to name but a few.
You very rarely meet another who you might describe as boring: innovative designer at Lego, a drug dealer going legal, Buddhists, Mountaineers, ex-military, and much more.
With such a vast canvas of characters and backgrounds you might not expect the vast majority to get along, yet they do. Talking to random strangers you meet in guesthouses (and maybe even banding together) is utterly normal; many will offer to help you if you're in need; they are quite open to new experiences.
This meeting of kindred spirits, often within the confines of the guesthouse on the trail, is one of the most incredible things about Nepal. This country - in many ways - is the world's great unifier, taking in those from all nations and binding them together through those great welders of all human relationships: a common purpose, a common interest. The views, the mountains, the yoga, the hiking, the spirituality... There's always something for everyone.
Between the final ringing of the bell at school, to the time I go to bed, Kimche is, if nothing else, a decidedly quiet place.
During my first few days of living here, this quiet was what struck me the most. No constant stream of cars close by, very few people. If any type of machine moves around here, or if anyone shouts, it is the predominant sound in the entire area, with maybe two or three much, much quieter contenders.
I found that for a while I would try to fill this silence with something, often with music, or YouTube videos. In modern life (or at least in my home), we are so utterly unused to the quiet - with our loud speakers, TVs and headphones booming out their voices, rhythms and gunshots.
I am used to the sensory overload that comes from browsing the internet and staring at a digital screen for the majority of my day. Adverts beckon for our attention, whilst a constant stream of bright and garish images sear our eyes to fatigue; the violence, the (mis)information, the sexually explicit. Anything you desire - or anything the machines cleverly guess you desire - all at the press of a finger.
So, when silence comes, one is confused by it, almost afraid of it.
Sometimes, when you're sitting by the table - completing a lesson plan or reading a book - all you can hear is the distant sound of a waterfall seemingly caressing the Modi Khola below, its violent crashing being soothed and pacified by the passing of distance.
Yet this quiet, this break from the constant distractions and sensory overload that were part and parcel for my life back home, has actually helped me immensely. It has helped me in my attempts to bring a greater degree of order to my life. Habits I'd been meaning to implement, such as waking up early, writing and a few others are beginning to mesh a little more seamlessly with other habits I already have - exercise, reading, etc.
The quiet for me is an opportunity: to be more productive, to think, to spend more time on myself, and ultimately… to thrive.
Part 2 of Life and Observations in Kimche and Nepal will be posted soon!