New Year in Nepal
Mark Pickett of Brighton was a student in Aberystwyth twenty years ago and for many years he, his wife and three children have been living, studying and working in Nepal. He has just written a simple commentary on Genesis in one of the Indian languages, actually their first commentary on Genesis. I recently heard a story of alleged awakenings in that country and wrote to Mark about it. He was not impressed with that interpretation of decisionist preachers who can get companies of people to come to the front and ‘dedicate’ their lives to religion one year, and then repeat the same thing the following year, and the following year too.
I thought that the British Christian reporters speaking about these phenomena would be more discerning. Mark replied, “Here are my thoughts:
The lack of discernment is a product of culture stress. We all get it. We are completely out of our normal routine and all the cues are different. The senses are bombarded from every direction. It is also a product of a right humility which says ‘I don’t know anything about the people here and I should withhold judgement on things I don’t understand’. But it is also a product of a naive romanticism that says that the book of Acts continues in far off places but not at home. It takes a lot of time and hard work to really get close to understanding. And the humility must go that far and not bring back glowing reports without heavily qualifying them with a statement of our lack of experience and understanding.”
Mark Pickett described a recent break in Kathmandu: “I went walking Monday December 27 with my Yorkshire man friend, Reg. 13 years ago I had looked longingly at a ridge to the south of here on the Valley rim and thought to walk it sometime. I never thought I would have to wait that long. We took a taxi out to Thankot on the western rim of the Valley at 7.30am and headed up through the old Newar village, past the shops and Buddhist shrines, stopping to chat with some of the locals a little. We were eager to get up into the hills so didn’t stay long. The dirt road took us up and out of the village in half an hour and we were beginning to gain height up the deforested slope. A road is being built here, straight up the hill. Where to? We never found out. It is all being done by hand. That is the best way. Big multinationals come in and bulldoze their way through the hills leaving a raped landscape, shattered local economy and huge rusting machines. This way local men get work, what they do can be mended without further foreign assistance, and the social fabric of the nearby villages isn’t destroyed. Some of the workers were convinced that I speak Tamang, the local language. I don’t, but understood their sign language. They still think I speak their language! Some were breaking rocks by hand for the road surface.
We headed up the footpath leaving the new roadway and soon found trees among the bushes. That was encouraging. Forest cover in Nepal has gone down from 38% to 29% over the last 15 years. And that is with massive overseas aid projects. How many millions of trees have been planted? How many millions of dollars have been disappeared? After two hours of steady climbing we gained the ridge and found a small hamlet, Chitlang, and a welcome cup of tea in the inevitable tea shop. “That will be 3 pence.” The Tamang lady here doesn’t speak Tamang. That is what comes from being in such a small settlement and on a pass over the hills being used by people from so many communities.
Tea finished we headed up the ridge through mountain oak forest. The clouds came up the left hand slope but it was clear down to the valley on our right. Small valley, 3000ft deep with a handful of houses at the bottom. Reg and I chatted about our families and ministries. He told me of his upbringing. He had been fostered as a child and only got to meet his mother and father in his 30s. He doesn’t wallow in self-pity and sees God’s hand in his life. Now he is a leader of one of the other groups working here, like me has three kids, and also like me has one wife, who happens to be American.
It felt good to breathe the fresh air. The ground was frosty in places. We continued along the ridge getting glimpses of the Kathmandu Valley on our left through gaps in the clouds. At 12 o’clock we stopped for lunch on a dry grassy slope overlooking the Chandragiri Pass. This is the pass the first foreign dignitaries crossed into the Valley by after the British made a treaty with Nepal in 1816 putting a ‘Resident’ in Kathmandu and ‘Gurkha’ soldiers in the British army. In the 1920s a forward-looking prime minister built a ropeway from the Tarai (the narrow strip of plains bordering India) to transport supplies to the capital when there were no roads into the Valley from outside. The ropeway is still there but ceased operating 15 months ago. I couldn’t find out why. We looked around the ropeway station where two heavy motors are located to work the rope. A quick scramble up one of them and I found out they were made in Seattle. Can you imagine them being transported up there? Massive steel blocks. Must have had dozens of porters for each piece.
From the pass we continued east up the ridge. Round another peak we came upon an army post. The 11 soldiers were sitting in the sun playing cards. We chatted a bit and went on. “Totally indefensible” commented Reg, ex-Royal Engineer. It was interesting to walk with an former soldier. “Where others see landscape I see terrain” just about summed it up. Past the clearing with a large H made of stones, and on up through the wooded ridge. We rounded another peak and looked down on the Kathmandu Valley. Bit hazy. We are up at 9000ft now. I never usually have any altitude problems at this height and this day never even felt it. Two more peaks later the afternoon was getting on so we left the last peak and headed down to the valley, through a Tamang village, and along a dirt road towards the main road. A bus picked us up for the last mile or so and deposited us at the main road where we found a tasty cup of tea. The Kathmandu bus pulled up shortly afterward and we piled on along with two Tibetan monks and three hippies who had been doing meditation at one of the 11 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries at this village. “Why are there so many monasteries here?” I asked one of the monks. But his Nepali was worse than mine so we didn’t get any further. Half an hour of bumpy journeying later we were at the ring road where we caught a taxi home. A great day.
Yesterday I had a good conversation with my friend Dil Mohan. He reads his good Book before sleeping and told me it makes him think of spiritual issues. We talked about death, judgement and forgiveness. I sense real spiritual openness there.
That’s all for now, Happy New Year, Mark Pickett
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