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    Hurried Trip to Avoid a Bad Star M. Lilla and C. Bishop Barry
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    A Hurried Trip to Avoid a Bad Star
    by Lilla M. Bishop and Barry C. Bishop
    This essay is written by two American geographers who had spent 15 months living in the hills of western Nepal. It describes the hill people who walk to Nepalgunj to buy and sell things. The hill people on their journey towards Nepalgunj carry medicinal herbs, hashish, hand-knit sweaters and baskets to sell there. The geographers also met a group of men at the height of 9000 metres who were processing silajit on the way instead of their homes because they wanted to avoid a bad star! They are intending to sell silajit in Nepalgunj.
    When the geographers walked through the sal forest slopes of the hills near the Terai they noticed that the trees were being chopped down and that the forest would soon disappear. One of the geographers talked to the local people about this but they said they had to chop down the trees to feed their animals.
    When the geographers arrived in Nepalgunj they stared in amazement at the many things they had not seen while they were in the hills. They also watched the hill people buying supplies from the traders. Their fellow travelers bought sweets, aluminum, ironware, cotton cloth, spice and jewelry. One of porters, Karma spent all his money buying distillery (alcohol making) equipment. He hoped to become rich by making alcohol in Jumla.
    The geographers returned to Jumla to finish their project. They had learnt much in Nepal. For example, they had learnt that hill people needed to farm as well as do other activities to survive. They also observed that people in the hills were always moving around.
    Note: The title "A Hurried Trip to Avoid a Bad Star" suggests the foot movement made by travelers who are going to Nepalgunj quickly because they do not want to be travelling at an unlucky time.
    Comprehension questions based on the Text
    1. How did the writers travel to Nepalgunj?
    2. List the items carried by their fellow travelers?
    3. Why were these goods being taken to Nepalgunj?
    4. What did the Chhetri woman ask the authors to do for her?
    5. What is silajit?
    6. Why did the men not process the silajit before leaving their home village?
    7. What was happening to the trees in the sal forest?
    8. Why did people say they cut down the trees?
    9. What does the phrase "the Terai, bread-basket of Nepal" mean?
    10. Why did the author walk wide-eyed down the middle of the paved street in Nepalgunj?
    11. List the items the hill people bought in Nepalgunj?
    12. What did Karma buy?
    13. Why did he buy this?
    14. How long had the authors been in Western Nepal?
    15. How did they travel around western Nepal?
    16. How did the peasants survive?

    Some vocabulary
    Hashish: ganja; hand-knit: knitted by hand; poignantly: emotionally; hinterlands: areas some distance away from a major city; tarlike: like tar (pitch that roads are made from); pharmaceutical: medical; propitious: lucky, favourable; elevation: altitude/height above sea level; skeletal looking: very thin; bare and eroded: lacking in trees and soil; bread-basket of Nepal: i.e. where most of Nepal's food is grown; grove: small woodland; mournful: sad; yapping: barking; muted: hardly able to be heard, inaudible; barrage of new sights: lots of new things to look at; beside himself at: very excited by; doughy: made from a lot of flour; swarm: go round in a big crowd; distillery equipment: alcohol making equipment; mesh: come together; inhospitable: unfriendly; afoot: on foot, walking; indomitable: determined; peasantfolk: farmers who have a small amount of land; cross-flows: i.e. people constantly going backwards and forwards across the area: formidable: difficult to use.

    Board Questions (only short questions have been asked so far from this text)
    1. How is Karnali linked economically with the low land regions to the south? (2057, 2061, 2063)
    2. What did the two writers learn about the life and culture of the people of the Karnali region during their journey on foot? (2059)
    1. Give short account of the life of the people of Karnali as you find in "Hurried Trip to Avoid a Bad Star"? (2066)
    Some Solved Questions

    How is Karnali linked economically with the low land regions to the south? (2057, 2061, 2063)

    Ans. The two American geographers, Lilla and Barry along with a host of porters made a arduous tour on foot in 1971 to explore the life of the people of the Karnali region – western hills of Nepal – as they descended to Nepalgunj, a trading town in the southern Terai. Their travel lasted over 15 months and they covered nearly 2000 milesMost Karnali people, on the one hand, carry with them unprocessed and raw products like medicinal herbs, hashish, hand-knit sweaters, and blankets to trade in Nepalgunj because there is no local market in Karnali to sell them. Some other enterprising but superstitious people take unprocessed silajit, which were easily available in their home valley of Sinja. They would be found processing this product on the way to the lowland. Still other Karnali folks also go to the lowland region to the south to find jobs. A case to cite is that of the Chhetri woman's husband who had left home in the mountain to find job fifteen years ago but had never returned home. The fact that the geographers didn't see any modern developments, besides Buddhist prayer wheels and occasional water mills hints us to lack of modern technology that is essential for the economic prosperity of a region. Also, road, a big infrastructure of economic growth is not there, whereby commerce and trade is badly stunted.
    In Nepalgunj, on the other hand, the geographers noticed that the hill people went in groups from shop to shop buying essential commodities like cotton cloth, aluminum, ironware, spice, and jewelry, which they would probably sell or put to use for domestic purposes back home in Karnali. Some people even buy unconventional items like alcohol making equipment in order to make quick money. Whatever they buy or sell, the Karnali people's only access to the lowland is travel on formidable footpaths so it is economically burdensome and time-consuming.
    Give a short account of the life of the people of Karnali people.

    Karnali region lies in the western hills of Nepal. It is geographically far removed from the bread-basket of Nepal – the Terai. The people of this region are mostly traders. They carry with them products like medicinal herbs, hashish, hand-knit sweaters, and blankets. What is missing in their list of goods to be sold in the lowlands are food items. This could be so because of the unfavourable nature of soil of this region. Nevertheless, the people of this region have managed to work closely with nature in this inhospitable western Himalayas. The people of this region upon returning home bring with them conventional items like cotton cloth, aluminum, ironware, spice, and jewelry from the lowland town of Nepalgunj. Karnali people, particularly male members have to travel out of their home to find work or get jobs because there is none in their homeland, and very often they are gone for a long time. Some men are gone for over 15 years. This informs us of the economic burden men folks have to carry on, and the kind of implication it has for the family. Women have to double up as husband to keep the day to day life running.
    The Karnali people are also very superstitious and fatalist in their approach. The 8 or 9 men who were processing silajit on the way did so because they thought it would bring them bad luck had they processed it at home at the inopportune time. Additionally, the women folk of lower Karnali are uneducated and unaware as to the devastating consequences of tree cutting in order to feed their livestock. Thus, the combined lack of access to transportation, education, communication and other basic infrastructure of development has made the life of the Karnali people very difficult and torturous. The hill people move from one shop to another in a group while in Terai. This shows that they are skeptical, diffident and weary. They don't have the education and confidence to talk with the merchants, who they think are fast-talking. One of the defining characteristics of the Karnali area is the constant movement of people, animals and goods over the formidable footpaths of the region. All in all, the people of Karnali are laborious but ignorant; enterprising but superstitious, free moving but skeptical.
    What did the geographers learn from their stay in the Karnali?
    The American geographers wandered nearly 2000 miles afoot, and they travelled from the high mountain to the Terai town of Nepalgunj in course of their project and back again. This journey was difficult, tiring and dangerous as they had to walk all the way up and down. There were porters to help them along, but they had to travel along human footpaths. They appreciated this as it taught them the many compulsions and problems of the mountain people: travelling, unemployment, lack of education etc. They also observed the hard work of the people who toiled on their respective farms in spite of the bad soil. Besides this, the Mountain people also carried out one or the other activity to supplement their income, some travelled with their animals to the lowland region with indigenous products. The geographers were overwhelmed by the tenacity, resilience and courage of the people who never gave up living and working in spite of the region's harsh weather, lack of essential infrastructure of development like road, education, communication, etc., and, poor soil that gave little or no food yield. The people there, nevertheless, have meshed themselves with nature and survived.
    Raj Kumar Gautam, /Arniko HSS, Biratnagar, rgautam78@yahoo.com. July 27, 2013.

    Posted On : July 22, 2016
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