We hope others will follow suit by retrofitting their traditional houses not only in the rural areas but also in the urban centres. We now have almost everything, except our neighbours and buffaloes and goats. All our neighbours have migrated to Kathmandu after selling their property. Not only that, even the Tamang family who helped us in our field has migrated to Kathmandu. Right now our village is facing a dearth of people while the population of wildlife is growing
After 25 years, I got to sleep in our Belbas house in Gorkha on April 5, 2021. I had a peaceful night, but the memory of my mother-in-law lingered on!
She is the only member of our family who is no more in this world. The flashback of her bringing milk to a neighbouring village, where I had taken shelter in my underground People’s War days in 1999, to feed me at midnight kept haunting me.
She was a smart and strong woman although illiterate.
The first time I entered Belbas house was in 1980, that was a year before we had gotten married.
At that time, there was no car, no tarred road from Prithvi Rajmarg to Gorkha.
The Chinese had just started building roads from Abu Khairani to Gorkha Bajaar.
So we had to walk for six hours on a freshly laid road for 13 kilometres.
From there on, we walked through a narrow six-inch foot trail to our house for another three hours.
There was no bridge across the Daraundi River.
We crossed it by holding each other’s hands lest we should be swept away by the current of the river.
Not knowing how to walk on the foot trails through the paddy fields, I would often slip into the water-soaked paddy field.
And when we finally reached his house, there was no electricity, no water, no toilet and no stoves.
The land was being tilled by our parents with the help of a poor Tamang family, who were given a house and land for their upkeep.
Today there is a marked difference.
A motorable road has reached right up to our house. There is a concrete bridge over the Daraundi River.
There is electricity, a water tap, bathroom and a gas cylinder for cooking. We also now have a retrofitted house, which was partially destroyed by themassive earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale in 2015.
We now have almost everything, except our neighbours and buffaloes and goats.
All our neighbours have migrated to Kathmandu after selling their property.
Not only that, even the Tamang family who helped us in our field has migrated to Kathmandu.
Right now our village is facing a dearth of people while the population of wildlife is growing.
A school, located about 10 minutes’ walk above our house, has new buildings and other amenities, but the number of students has been dwindling.
Sitting on the verandah of the retrofitted house reminded me of the old days.
I used to make a pact with my sister-in-law, Parvati, to not tell my mother-in-law about my menstrual flow for fear of being ostracised and making me sleep on the veranda at night.
Also standing on the porch adjoining the veranda reminded me of the day I danced the ‘Rauteli’ when our brother, Shiva, went to fetch his bride from the adjoining village.
I was known more through that ‘Rauteli’ dance than from being an educated Newar buhari!
Standing on the porch I remember how the dalits in our village used to sit with their legs folded on the porch, never daring to come near our veranda where we would be sitting.
In place of the traditional dhunge dhara (stone waterspout), about 5 minutes’ walking distance from our house, we now have a water tank.
Standing there, I was reminded of how I would go there to fetch water in a doko (bamboo basket), with water splashing all over my body on the way.
And how for a few days I carried a bucket to fill it with water before bathing (for fear that the water supply would suddenly stop) only to find how silly I was as the water was continuously flowing from a natural source.
Before the road reached our house, I had a hard time going for a walk after a meal, which was my habit.
One had to either climb up or down as soon as one left the angan in front of our house because there was no flat land.
Now I can walk and sprint on the motorable road.
Even the floor within the house was so uneven that I had a tough time doing yoga sitting on it.
Now I have levelled the floor.
Today ward No. 1, where our house is located, boasts of having a dalit as its elected chief under Palungtar Municipality.
On April 5, Babu Ram Bhattarai, my husband, had gone to unveil the statue of his teacher Bhakta B Bhujel at Shree Bindabasini School, who had taught him in the early 1960s when he was about six years old.
Those days, they were given an informal education under a tree, and they had to carry their own mat to sit on.
Today the students study in a concrete building with modern amenities.
Earlier, when we stayed in Kathmandu, we would visit our village every Vijaya Dashmi to stay there for a month.
Now after 25 years, we are preparing to do the same in our retrofitted house.
We are also trying to retrofit the broken rural social life, which has been damaged by Kathmandu-centric development.
We want to revive the rural economy by using our land as an experiment.
For us, who knows our retirement life may end up in Belbas village.
After all, far from the madding crowd and increasing pollution of Kathmandu, we might find Belbas the ‘bas’ to discover peace, serenity and silence that, hopefully, will put our deathbeds in a quieter and cleaner environment!
Last but not least, we thank UNOPS for retrofitting our old house.
After all, we both are architects, and we know the value of preserving old traditional houses and the culture.
Bhattarai, who is the seasoned politician and former prime minister, was particularly sentimental when he saw his retrofitted house, which had been built when he was just three years old.