When I arrived in Humla for the first time ever, I was exhilarated less by the treat its surrounding mountains had given to my eyes, and more by the wondrous settlement that comprised of a little headquarters that went by the name Simikot.
It was like a village of some exotic country, and seemed to be like an escape destination to people who toiled hard in the city and came here to spend the weekend. Simikot was a settlement that had learned to exist in coherence with the environment; a village that resided in the lap of Mother Nature. In other words, Simikot was bliss.
I got to my hotel and started plans for my travel to Darma, my workstation. I was told that I had to walk for three days in steep and narrow trials to reach my destination, with no one else but a porter. There would not be a telephone reception throughout my journey, or even electricity. It would be an utter separation from technology, something I was hugely dependent on. But I had already embraced the fact that my stay in Humla would be far from pleasant, and that I had to live through it. I met my porter, finalized everything and we decided to start our journey early the next day.
I had the rest of the day for myself. So I indulged myself in observing the place. It didn’t take me long to realize that Simikot was (obviously) also the political hub of all of Humla. At times, I felt like there were more politicians than were civilians. There was a substantial number of people who were employees of NGOs and INGOs who worked at projects related to road, water supply, renewable energy and even health. There was a small lobby across my room which would never be devoid from discussions of contractors, politicians, clients and engineers about engineering methodologies, worker mobilization and of course, money. Apparently, Humla was where everything was happening – Humla was the place to be.
Naresh Bahadur Shahi (my porter) and I started our endeavor at 11 a.m. the next day. Naresh Dai had introduced himself to me the previous day. When I called him dai, he insisted to be called only by his name, but I would not have it. I called him dai anyway. He looked very old and looked as though he was full of wisdom. His tone, although very different from the ones I was used to, was reassuring and calm. He didn’t talk much, but I managed to get him to tell some things about himself during our walk to Darma. He had worked for thirteen years in India and managed to pay for his younger son’s primary education. He didn’t know how to read or write, but he had enough wisdom to make sure his son did. He also told me that he tried for more than ten years to get his family out of Humla, to Surkhet, for a better life and better opportunities, but he couldn’t. Now, he had given up. When I asked if he was going back to India, he said he was too old for that now, and that he planned to spend the rest of his life in Humla with his family. I thought Naresh dai was one of the many examples of people who wanted to make something of their life but whose aspirations and expectations were crushed and overpowered by the inaccessibility and adversity offered by the mighty Humla.
All the more reasons to make it accessible through roads. That was why I was there. To try and make a difference in the lives of people like Naresh Dai.
The 25 hour long trail took me through few of the most deprived, misfortunate and poor settlements of the country, and I realized that the picturesque headquarter of Humla was a deception of its true nature. The flare of development exhibited by all those talks by political parties, government employees and engineers was not there. Not even a hint of it. I had the fortunate opportunity to talk to locals along the way, take, for example, the host of the house where I lodged in for a night. He seemed like an entrepreneur who was born in the wrong place. He had so many ideas for farming and putting up apple orchids and opening up a hotel for when roads made its way along his front yard. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that his vision was only a reverie that could never come true in his lifetime. I had a feeling that somewhere in his heart, he knew that too, but he still dared to dream of a life that was a bit less tough.
As I write this article in my small office in Darma Village, I realize that I was very naïve when I thought that development was going to come to the people soon. The locals in Darma say that the government officials had no intension of visiting the place (an exception was the visit of a CDO very recently which was after more than a decade that a CDO visited Darma). The ideas and words discussed in grave manner in Simikot were as hollow as the stomach of people starving to death in these villages. Just yesterday, there was a villager here who suffered from severe diarrhea for days before he fainted because of inadequate medical attention. Nine local boys carried him to the nearest hospital which was in Gamgadhi, Mugu, and two days away from this place. I could never bear to see the state of the people forced to live here, because they are not living a normal lifestyle, but are only led to believe that they are.
Do policy makers and the people on whom the development of this place depends realize that Humla is not only Simikot? Because the state of things point out that they don’t. I think that these people have to face the ground reality by actually being here, because making plans for a place by not even seeing it in person sounds preposterously hypothetical, and that kind of plan is bound to fail. So lead the development to the people, don’t throw it in their faces. The locals of Darma, along with any other local from any other village deserve that much.