Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Getting in touch with mother nature – A mud bath for the start of rice planting season in Nepal

Going Ropain

When rice cultivation begins every monsoon in Nepal, farmlands become playgrounds. This was definitely the case last weekend at Bajrabarahi, in the southern outskirts of Kathmandu Valley, where locals, tourists and school children alike played wild with mud at Ropain – The Rice Planting Festival organised to educate about monsoon rice plantation in Nepal.

June 29th is the 15th day of the Nepali month Ashad and the first official day of the rice planting season. The day is one of celebration for the farmers of Nepal. Rice is the most important cereal crop in the country. Many people in Nepal devote their lives to cultivating rice to survive and during the planting season the fields are busy from dawn till dusk. Extra hands are always welcome. 

On Saturday June 30th, two buses full of excited rice-planters-to-be, were driven out of the bustling Kathmandu to the lush green rice fields of the beautiful local village, Bajrabarahi, to be greeted with welcoming locals. With colourfully dressed local women hands full of rice stalks and men digging up mud the paddy was already in full swing. After a short demonstration how to plant the stalks no more than two at a time, placing them deep enough into the mud to make them stick upright the group was ready to get down and dirty with hands-on planting, digging barefoot into the soggy soft earth. The soil easily reaching knee-high, it is quite easy to lose your balance and stumble in the mud before anyone got a chance to push you in anyway! 

A bunch of novices at work it seemed, amidst the locals, but everyone seemed to enjoy learning the new skill. Hope the locals didn't need to replant too many of the patches planted by the novices... 

A wooden plough pulled by oxen and driven by human is still used in farming in Nepal. It is all handwork!For the locals in the village it might have even been strange to comprehend how anyone could not have planted rice before. For the Nepalis in the group it brought back memories from childhood. For the tourists it opened up a whole new experience – maybe some had played with mud before, but not many, if any, had done it on a paddy field in a small local village of Nepal.

And when work turned into play, there was no telling who was who, covered in mud from head to toe. After a typical Newari snack and a drink or two of the local rice beer filled up with new energy, some real mud wrestling also took place.

All in all, what a healthy, therapeutic, fun experience – a free mud bath treatment for everyone! Makes anyone regain some youthful enthusiasm.

On the next day, Sunday July 1st, it was the turn for about 80 children and some 20 accompanying adults from John Dewey School in Kathmandu to have the time of their life playing in the mud in Bajrabahani. Together with Powerful Hands, socialtours organised this educational Ropain programme to educate the school children about rice planting. See for more photos here. 

Going Newari

The Ropain Festival was not just to plant rice and play in the mud, but also to immerse oneself in another tradition – that of the cuisine of the original Kathmandu Valley inhabitants, the Newars. The meal, eaten by hand consisted of several different dishes each with a symbolic significance. Different dishes are placed in a circle around the beaten rice, staple rice flakes, to represent and honour different sets of deities depending on the festival.

At meals, festivals and gatherings, Newars sit on long mats in rows. Typically, the sitting arrangement is hierarchical with the eldest sitting at the top and the youngest at the end. The dessert, a simple delicacy of yoghurt (dahi) mixed with the beaten rice (chewra) and some sugar is believed to give good luck consumed on the rice planting day. Simple but delicious!

Going home with a memory that will last

Although it was not raining at all, there was already enough water and mud to get totally immersed, in both muddy and engaged way. A day like this is only a little peak in the real lives of the locals and one can only imagine how the work goes on on their paddy fields day in day out for the weeks to come. The event may have been more about learning rice planting for some, more about playing in the mud for others, but it surely was fun for everyone, and couldn’t really get more local or bring the mother nature any closer – For people in the Western world, rice on their plate comes from far away – now having planted your own rice, just imagine if by harvesting time (end November - mid December) the very rice you planted ends up on your plate!

We at socialtours would like to thank you all who participated in this event to remember for a long time to come. We were told by the locals of the village that apparently our “work in the mud” was indeed very useful, stomping the field ready for the them to go on planting.. While some of us are still washing off the mud, here are some priceless photos to remember the day by. The adage of “a picture is worth a thousand words” seems more than applicable here. Let the photos tell the story further:

Last but not least, a big thank you goes for the locals of the village who let us into their lives – even if it was just for a day.


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