Thursday, May 5, 2011

Fieldwork in the Terai: Part Two

Yesterday I left you with a short backstory on the Terai, and today I return to report on my actual trip there last week.

First, the flight. My flight from Kathmandu to Janakpur was my first adventure in domestic flying in Nepal. Lo, the domestic terminal at Tribhuvan Airport:

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Shall we call it quaint? Perhaps questionable is more like it. That's the word that came to mind when I boarded the plane without ever showing any form of identification.

Our plane held a total of 15 passengers. It was definitely the smallest commercial aircraft I have ever flown.

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The ride was turbulent at times, but at least I caught some nice views of the Himalayas before we turned south.

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(I swear those are mountains behind the clouds!)

Twenty-five minutes after taking off, we touched down in Janakpur. I walked off the plane and immediately felt the thick heat and humidity, so I was grateful to climb into our hired chariot for our field work, a Tata SUV with air-conditioning. My colleagues graciously offered me the front seat, as I was the only woman in a group with three men. I graciously accepted and gratefully enjoyed the direct AC vents for the first thirty minutes of the trip. If I had known that was the best AC I would get for the next two days, I would have relished in it more. Our driver soon cut the AC in an effort to conserve fuel due to the ongoing petrol shortage, and I settled in for a hot and dusty ride.

I still enjoyed my shotgun seat, if not for a blast of AC then for the front-row view of the road. We passed several buses packed with people waving colored flags of various Terai political parties. At one point we ground to a brief halt because of this traffic jam below, with people scrambling to climb inside or on top of the already full bus.

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After conducting one meeting that day, we drove for about three hours to reach Biratnagar, the second largest city in Nepal. We made one stop along the way at a famous sweet shop. My colleague, B.K., made sure we did not miss it. I could not tell you the name or the exact location of the stop -- and I'm guessing it is not listed in Lonely Planet -- but if you keep your eyes peeled for this sign on the main highway between Siraha and Biratnagar, you should be all set.

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The same man is still at the helm of his business, rolling these dough-like balls made from milk and molasses cooked over a hot fire.

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I guess fame allows him to take the cushy job, while his employees tend the milk mixture over the hot fires all day (and, apparently, all night).

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We eventually reached our hotel late that evening. It looked nice enough from the manicured driveway leading up to the 4-story building, and I was happy to see another SUV with the telltale blue "dip plates" that meant this was a standard stopping point for diplomats and development workers.

I was less happy about the misrepresented promise of AC, which only works when there is power (i.e. ten hours per day) and the large bug on my pillow. But, by that point, I was frankly so tired that I didn't care too much.

The next morning I snapped a photo from my balcony, showing that the hotel grounds really shine in the daylight, sweltering room and visiting insect aside.

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The bicycle rickshaw in this photo is one of the most common transportation modes in the Terai.

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Almost as common are cow-drawn carts.

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The fact that you can see these carts even in the cities reaffirms the dominance of agriculture in the Terai. Indeed, many homes are made of mud and straw -- essentially, the fruits of the fields.

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After a fruitful working trip of my own in what at times felt like another country altogether, I was glad to return home to the Kathmandu Valley.

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