Following the streets along the green and yellow blooming fields and rice terraces, we reach two small villages just outside of Kathmandu where time seems to have stopped some 100 years ago.
Khokana and Bungmati are built in the typical Newari style. Strolling through narrow streets that are surrounded by old houses with beautifully carved windows and doorframes rich in details, one can witness the slow daily lives of the villagers.
Men sit in the sun playing cards, women spin wool while dogs sleep lazily on the streets and ducks run around freely.
A lot of handicraft workshops are located on the ground floors and have their doors open and you can get a glimpse of traditional handicraft items. There are tapestry weavers and woodcarvers at work, producing nicely decorated goods, and men sitting in front of their houses plaiting straw mats and basking in the warm mid-morning sun.
Even though this scenery seems idyllic and appears dreamy to Western tourists we cannot forget that its very real and perhaps hard for the people living here. We are reminded of that when a woman and a man carrying heavy baskets filled with some kind of plants and garden tools cross our path, accompanied by two sheep.
It's noteworthy though that the Nepalese way of bearing heavy burdens is very efficient and does not need much energy. Fastened with straps around the forehead, the baskets on the back shall spread the load across the head and the back.
Guillaume J. Bastien and his research team studied this method of carrying loads in 2005 and concluded that Nepalese porters can carry more weight with the same energy input than African women, who carry their heavy water jars solely on their heads.
African women were earlier recognized as the most resourceful load bearers. However, they carry up to 60% of their own weight while Nepalese women can shoulder 66% and men even up to 93% of their own weight.
After wandering around a little more and marveling at the elaborated and skillful carvings, craftsmanship and simple life, it is time to return the way we came, in a car along fields and meadows until we reach the suburbs of Kathmandu.
The study "Energetics of Load Carrying in Nepalese Porters" was published in "Science" (Bd. 308, S. 1755, 17. June 2005)
Story & Photography: Sonja Marie Michel
(Sonja Marie Michel is a German citizen, currently working as a photography intern, under the guidance of professional photographer Mr. Kumar Ale at NepalSutra™).