Ghandruk is a village in the Annapurna region of Nepal and is on one of the country’s main trekking routes. It is in the centre of the traditional homeland of the Gurung or Tamu people, a Buddhist Tibeto- Burmese people who originated somewhere in Mongolia, spent many centuries wandering around present day Tibet and China, and finally established themselves south of the Annapurna mountation range about 1,500 years ago. Tamu men have long been recognized for their courage, bravery and integrity and were recruited into the British Gurhka Army and also into the Indian Army. They have won many distinctions for outstanding service and acts of self-sacrifice well beyond the normal call of duty. While men were off earning a living away from home, the women had to be equally strong, bringing up families, farming the land and keeping the home together. They are a strong, resilient and intelligent people. Over the years other groups have come to live in Ghandruk, bringing their skills as blacksmiths, tailors and more recently tourist lodge owners. This is the story of the village, of its people, their ancestry, traditions and present day lives. It is a story written both from the inside out and the outside in. It delves into the geology that shapes the landscape, building styles and almost everything that is important in the mountains. It explores traditional farming, the animals, the crops, the seasons and the way global climate change is affecting the ability to grow food. Ghandruk is the headquarters of the Annapurna Conservation Area Project established in 1986 to enhance the living conditions of the people while at the same time conserving the region’s wonderful biodiversity. This has brought many improvements to Ghandruk and has made the village a centre of national and international interest. Thousands of tourists pass through every year. A few spend a little time exploring the villages but hardly any ever learn what life is really like for the people of the villages. What does the inside of a typical home look like, what do people eat for breakfast, how do they spin wool and how do they weave bamboo into baskets of every conceivable kind? This book is written for the people of Ghandruk, as a record of their culture and especially for the young people to appreciate the value of their inheritance. It should also be useful to students of traditional cultural. But it will also help visitors to understand more and develop a greater respect and love for the people of these mountains. It also provides a guide to the wildlife and ecology of the area, what can be seen and where to look, and how efforts are being made to conserve it.
Iain Rothie Taylor Ph.D. was born in Scotland and developed a love of wildlife, travel and exploration at very early age. He had what he describes as a pretty conventional education with a First in Zoology and then a PhD studying seabirds at the University of Aberdeen. Then his thirst for travel took him to the rainforests of West Africa for three years. He spent most of his career as an academic in the University of Edinburgh, researching the ecology of birds and mammals and the conservation of rare and endangered species. His attachment to Nepal began in the late 1970s when he supervised the doctoral work in Chitwan National Park of one of Nepal’s earliest and best known ecologists, Dr. Hemanta Mishra. There followed a string of other students and projects from the fish populations and others of Chitwan to Snow Leopards in Manang, and recently, Fishing Cats in Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve. He first visited Ghandruk in the early 1980s as plans for the Annapurna Conservation Area Project were being moulded into shape, and became fascinated by the traditional culture of the Tamu people and the wildlife of the mountains. For many years he has taken groups of students to Ghandruk to learn about the people and ecology of Annapurna. Although now formally retired from academic life, and living in Australia, he is still very active with his research projects in Nepal. He is the honorary scientific advisor for Himalayan Nature, a communities and conservation NGO in Kathmandu.
Co-author Jagan Gurung was born and raised in Ghandruk and still lives there. The daughter of a British Army Gukha soldier she had to help her mother maintain the household and manage farm work while her father was away on duty. But she still found the energy to study hard and at a time when hardly any girls finished their school education, she became the first girl from Ghandruk to go to university. Most young people with a good education leave Ghandruk, but jagan decided to stay. She became employed by the Annapurna Conservation Area Project where she has responsibility for encouraging women’s development in the village. At first this was difficult work as many of the men were opposed to the idea and some of the women were reluctant, but by persisting she was able to turn things around and the men now admire the many achievements of the women’s groups. As if this huge task was not enough, Jagan saved as much of her income as possible and built up a beautiful tourists lodge, the Trekker’s Inn, based on ecologically sustainable principles. Among other things it has the most wonderful garden for visitor.
Most visitors to Ghandruk are trekkers who stay only for a single night in one of the lodges. If they arrive early enough they may have time to take a short walk around the village, but many do not even manage this much, so tight is their schedule. A few stay longer, perhaps visiting the museum or the gompa and strolling around the narrow lanes. They catch glimpses of villagers going about their daily lives, of children playing, buffaloes in their sheds and chickens scratching about and leave with a collection of impressions, memories and digital photos to show to others. There is no doubt that Ghandruk is very photogenic with its spectacular backdrop of the Annapurna range. But it is very much more than this. It is a village where people live as did their ancestors for hundreds of years before them, where people have often fought against the odds just to survive and where they must continue to work hard to make ends meet. The challenges that nature has thrown at them have fashioned a culture that is full of interest and surprises. It is the culture of a clever and resourceful people who have learned to use nature and live with it, rather than dominate or abuse it.
This little book is meant to help visitors appreciate the way of life of the people of Ghandruk, to gain more than just glimpses. It is not meant to be a detailed academic dissection of Ghandruk culture, but it tries to be informative in an interesting way. It is meant to whet appetites, to encourage visitors to stay a little longer, to look closer, to see, think more and enjoy more. Spending even just a day in Ghandruk will give un imagined returns, a more intimate connection with the people that will remain for ever, and might even change minds. This book can be used as a guide for visitors who make that decision.
Within its pages are details not of a vanished culture or a catalogue of how things used to be done, but a description of Ghandruk today, how a modern people go about their day to day lives in the mountains, living off their farms and the forest and also from tourism, how they make and use the equipment and various items on which they depend every day, and how they celebrate life and death. Most of the information was provided directly by the people of Ghandruk and in that sense the book is theirs. It is difficult to find such information in other places. A few books have been written about the Gurung people but they are expensive and although very valuable are a little out of date, describing a culture that has now changed.
The people of Ghandruk are like people everywhere, they have their past, their traditions and their way of life, but they also have hopes and aspirations for the future. They want the best for their children. To continue living in such a beautiful place and pay for their children’s' education, many now have to work overseas for some time and almost every family has at least one of its members working outside the village, sending money back. Young people who go to school in Ghandruk move to Pokhara to complete their school education and then perhaps to university in Pokhara or Kathmandu. They know that to have a future they must be clever, they must study well. But will they return? Will there be enough young people in future to farm the land and keep the village alive? Many challenges lie ahead.
You have to be fit and strong to make a living in a place like Ghandruk. Determination, resourcefulness and optimism help as well. People and village alike are crafted into nature and nature is moulded into them. Ghandruk sits at an altitude of around 2010 m (6,600 ft.), high on a steep hillside, its terraced fields tumbling in breathtaking cascades down to the Modi Khola, a thousand metres below. Above, wild forests stretch upwards and over the mountain sides for many kilometers until eventually the trees peter out, giving way to alpine grasslands, traditional grazing lands in spring and summer. All around are unbelievably deep and steep valleys, seemingly far too grand to have been carved by the small rivers and streams that flow at their bases. Some of the rocks are soft and easily eroded as the many landslides attest, but others are much more resistant. The task seems too great. Most likely we would have to go deep into the past to find an explanation, into times when repeatedly, mighty glaciers would have filled the heads of the valleys, gouging their way through when advancing, plucking rocks from the sides and then in retreat, releasing even more powerful rivers to wash away the accumulated debris. Glaciers can still be seen on the peaks of the Annapurna range that rise high to the north above the village, but they are small feed compared to the giants of the past. The mountains to the north are impressive; Machhapuchhre, the fish-tail mountain at 6,997 m (22,940 ft.) is the most immediately recognisable, but Hiun Chuli (6434 m (21,132 ft.) and Annapurna South 7219 m (23,710 ft.) are also magnificent. It would be hard to imagine a more dramatic place to live.
There are no written records to tell us when the village of Ghandruk first came into being but it is likely that there has been a settlement here for many centuries. The people of Ghandruk are mostly Gurungs, and they have a strong oral tradition, the Tamu-pae, or Tamu-pae, in which the history of the people has been passed down by word of mouth through the generations. Gurungs refer to themselves as "Tamu", and share ancestry with Tamangs. Both Tamu and Tamang derive from ta, horse, and mu or mang, man or trader, signifying a people who traded in horses and most likely were also excellent horsemen. The oral history traces their beginnings back to somewhere in western Mongolia. Their Mongoloid features would clearly substantiate such an origin. It is then said that the people migrated southwards and from western China or Tibet into present day Nepal, settling in the Lokha area and being referred to then as Tamu. The Tamu are said to have settled in the Mustang area around the first century AD and then around 500 AD three clans established themselves on the southern side of the Annapurna range, calling the place Kohla Swomae Toh, now just a collection of ruins. It seems likely then that the Tamu may first have arrived in the area of Ghandruk around this time.
It is believed that the area was already inhabited by small groups of a people known as the Kusundas, the "Ban Raja" or kings of the forest, who may have been there for a very long time, perhaps for thousands of years. These were hunter gatherers who moved around making temporary settlements with limited agriculture. They still exist in Nepal today but in the 2001 census only 164 people throughout Nepal described themselves as Kusundas, or Myak or Mihaq, as they call themselves. By the nature of their lifestyle and their disadvantaged status they may have been under-represented in the census, but nevertheless their numbers are few and at the time of writing this book, there is only one fluent speaker of the Kusunda language in Nepal, Gyani Maiya Sen, aged 75 and one other speaker who has now moved out of Nepal to seek work.
In addition to the predominant Gurungs, modern day Ghandruk is inhabited by people from many ethnic groups who for one reason or another have found a place for themselves; Tamang, Thakali, Dhaami, Kami, Sarki, Brahmins and Chhetris, Magar, Rai, Newar and Sherpa. Some of these, especially the Tamang and Thakalis are close neighbours of the Gurungs and share a common ancestry, while others such as the Sherpas and Rai are from farther afield, in eastern Nepal. Some are occupational groups; the Dhaami (tailors), Kami (blacksmiths) and Sarki (cobblers). Some of the Brahmins and Chettris may possibly be descendants of people who fled from northern India to escape the attentions of the Islamic Moghul invaders in the 16th to 18th centuries but others are more recent migrants. Most of these groups have long married only within their own group, often preferring cross-cousin marriages, and so have maintained their distinctiveness through many hundreds of years.
The Gurung people seem something of a contradiction. To visitors they are welcoming and friendly and it is obvious they prefer a life of gentle harmony. Children are treated with great love, kindness and patience; raised voices are rarely heard. Villages such as Ghandruk have no police; there is hardly any crime and the people prefer to sort out any disputes by themselves with no outside interference. Yet we know that in legend and in history the Gurungs have a reputation as outstandingly courageous and effective fighters. Along with their neighbours, the Thakalis and Tamangs they joined the Magar and Khas forces of Prithvi Narayan Shah of Gorkha in 1768 to overwhelm the Kathmandu valley, leading eventually to the formation of the state of Nepal, once much larger than it is today. The name "Gorkha" stayed with the Gurungs; from 1817 onwards Gurung men were recruited, first into the British East India Company Army, then into the British Indian Army then the British Army as "Gurkhas': The name "Gorkha derives from a legendary 8th century warrior, Guru Gorakhnath.
To say that the Gurkhas are legendary is to underestimate the truth; they were feared and the very mention of their name struck terror into the opposition. Members of the Gurkha brigade saw action almost anywhere the British Army was engaged and members of its battalions were awarded no less than 26 Victoria Crosses, the highest recognition of bravery possible. Many more also served with the Indian army. Under the Geneva Convention the Gurkhas are specifically excluded from the definition of mercenary and so have been treated as any other national soldiers, but this has not saved them from terrible treatment under the indescribable conditions of prisoner of war camps. So, how can we reconcile the ideas of a gentle people also being such fierce warriors? Probably it is many things. Life in the mountains produces extremely strong and fit people with fantastic endurance. Even today a teenager might run more than an hour uphill to school in the morning and an hour back in the afternoon. Lives have been hard and uncertain; people are used to setbacks and know that persistence and determination in the face of adversity is the only solution. Honesty is a necessity in small rural villages. But behind all of these there is tradition, an all-powerful force that compels people to act in ways that honour their ancestors. Whatever the story, the Gurkhas always have and always will command great respect.
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