Most Remote Regions of Nepal: First Impressions of Jumla
Nepal is known around the world for its mountainous landscape. While many travellers pass through the foothills of the Himalayan region, further west is the Karnali region.
The prospect of travelling to the Karnali region hailed as the "most remote regions of Nepal", was both an allure from an adventurous point of view, as well as a bit worrying from a practical perspective. Despite the small concerns, I wanted to understand how people lived and how they have adapted to the physical and mental challenges of dwelling in isolation.
It may be interesting to start with a wider (and bigger) snapshot of the Karnali region before diving into my first impression of the town of Jumla. Aside from being characterized by its remoteness, Karnali occupies 15% of the country’s landmass and holds some of the richest biodiversity in the country.
Karnali is known to have the maximum physiographic and climate diversity - meaning in one instance you can find your self in the tropics and the next an area of permanent snow.
What I learned (and what I discovered) is that while Karnali is known as the poorest and most remote regions of Nepal, it has richness in other ways because the landscape was truly fertile and beautiful.
Arriving in Jumla
To get to Jumla, we took a small aircraft - the kind of aircraft that shakes with every passing wind, the kind of aircraft where you cross all your fingers and hope it makes up, but also down.
I was in the front seat of the plane only inches away from the cockpit (in fact there was no door separating the cockpit from the passengers). It somehow felt like I was also navigating... but luckily I wasn't in charge because I took nap during our 1-hour plane journey.
Flying over endless ranges of mountains was an incredibly freeing. In contrast to the urban sprawl of Kathmandu, I could only see tiny settlements dotted without any particular concentrated area.
Arriving in Jumla Airport
I have to admit, I've been to tiny, tiny airport. But this arrival "hall", which was a fenced gate with a sign that said "arrivals" next to a police post that only foreigners had to register in. Luggage is wheeled out on a trolly and distributed by hand (also common throughout Nepal at different airports).
When we arrived we realised we had no service. We couldn't contact our local coordinator and while we knew the name of the hotel, how to get there was a mystery. Thanks to the help of strangers who lent us their phone we were able to sort out the confusion and walk to the hotel.
Initially, I thought the hotel was quite modest, we later discovered it was quite luxurious since everything is relative. We had wifi (albeit incredibly unstable) and occasionally electricity, which was already much more than most of the village we saw during the journey. We also managed to get hot water 2/4 nights... while the electricity was on. It was a wake-up call. We cherished our bucket dump shower of hot water.
Who's Getting Married?
We (a colleague and I) were going to make a stroll through town. As most things work both unexpectedly and spontaneously, we found ourselves at a wedding. This is the first wedding I've walked into.
At first, we were just passing by to observe what a local wedding looked like, before realising we were called and gestured into the ceremony and invited to eat.
The wedding, like the culture I would soon discover, was welcoming and inviting. People didn't hesitate to let us be a part of the celebration. We were watching traditional dance, eating dal bhat (a staple Nepali dish of rice and lentil soup) and even being blessed by the bride and groom.
Walking Through Town
Exploring the main part of town or the "bazaar" was another way to understand the people. The streets were dusty, none of the roads were smooth and there was a lot of half-done, not-finished construction projects every 5 steps. I also have to admit seeing a lot of garbage everywhere.
Yet despite this, there was also something that was so interesting to observe. It was the way daily life took place on the streets - from washing clothes, feeding chicken and children playing, the road wasn't just a road it also was a space for so many interactions to happen.
While it's so fun for me to share my first impressions, I can't wait to share with you the stories of the people. I realised in the first moments of arriving how inaccessible travel can be to these regions - from unpredictable and expensive flights to having no service on the phone. If it impacts me as a traveller, I have to try and contexualise what the realities are for these people. For me, it's so important that the EU is actively supporting communities in the hard-to-reach areas of this country.