OFF-ROAD THERAPY (PART. 4/5)

Nota Bene:
This text was written by Annie, one of our road sisters who joined our first tour in Nepal, in 2022.
It was translated as close as possible from the original French text in order to keep the essence of her story.

Welcome to the Tharu community

On the third day, we arrived in the Tharu community in Meghauli. Nepalese women look so beautiful in their traditional attire. Their smile, their best adornment, is a blessing for those who receive it. A ‘tika’ is placed on our foreheads, and we are offered a beautiful red flower that I put behind my ear. 

The Tharu community is an ethnic group mainly living in Terai, a southern region of Nepal. The women welcome us with a ‘namaste,’ both hands joined near the chest. This greeting is extremely spiritual. It is not just a simple greeting; ‘namaste’ means ‘I salute the divine within you.’ Joining the hands at the chest symbolizes a heart-to-heart greeting. I try to apply this every time I say ‘namaste,’ combining the gesture with the word because I understand the sacred meaning of this greeting. Since I returned to France, when I enter a forest, ‘my sacred temple,’ I greet it with a ‘namaste.’ It’s my little ritual, a way to acknowledge and thank ‘the living.’

Before being invited for a meal prepared by the Tharu community, we are embarked on another adventure.

 

off road therapy

Chitwan National Park.

Nestled at the foot of the Himalayas, Chitwan boasts particularly rich flora and fauna. It hosts one of the last populations of Asian unicorns, rhinoceros, and is also one of the last refuges of the Bengal tiger. The footprints left by this predator caught our attention. We were all amazed… to think a tiger had passed by. Sandrine, my travel friend, said to me, “I don’t understand why everyone is amazed by this tiger when there are two hotties (referring to herself and me) right here in Chitwan Park.” Sandrine’s humor is devastating, and I burst out laughing while continuing to admire the magnificent landscape and its sunset. 

The fishermen in their boats and the peaceful way they cast and retrieve their nets convey a feeling of calmness and serenity. Two attitudes that are rarely seen in our Western countries. Nature has a way of tickling and bringing up buried emotions in me.

I am overwhelmed by a very intense emotion when I contemplate the beauty of Chitwan Park. 

This surrounding beauty makes me burst into tears.

I just want to hide and isolate myself at this precise moment.

I try to refrain from crying, but it’s futile.

 

Was it fatigue? Was it because I had higher expectations regarding my motorcycle riding? Or was it simply because I was happy to still be alive to contemplate such beauty? Probably a mix of these three reasons. Chitwan Park, given the severity of my medical diagnosis, might have never been a part of my existence.

 

There it is, time to leave. I get into the back of the pickup truck. I try to breathe, but I continue to cry. I feel embarrassed in front of my road sisters, but it’s stronger than me. The beauty of nature envelops me at that moment and paradoxically reminds me that I must fully and quickly enjoy it. Sushant and Bishal take a photo of me at that moment; these Nepalese are really teasing. I don’t hold it against them. I adore them as if they were brothers of the heart and inwardly curse them for taking a photo of me during a moment of vulnerability.

off road therapy

We return to the Tharu Community Homestay as the sun begins to set, to make way for Nepalese festivities. We are served alcohol called Raksi, which is an infusion made from millet, rice, barley, or wheat. It’s delicious but treacherous! Follows a dal bhat, a traditional Nepalese dish that can literally be translated as ‘rice with lentils.’ It consists of white rice, lentil soup, vegetable curry (tarkari), and sometimes a mix of spicy vegetables (Achard).

The Nepalese gastronomy relies on two culinary stars: momos, vegetarian or meat-filled dumplings, and dal bhat, which Nepalese consume twice a day. It’s tasty and healthy. However, Nepalese have a habit of adding a lot of chili, making the dish difficult to eat for someone who is not used to it. Fortunately, the Tharu cooks spared us from having a tongue and palate on fire and spitting flames by preparing a non-spicy dal bhat.

THANK YOU!

Now, it’s time for the Tharu people to show us their culture, dressed in their magnificent traditional costumes. To the rhythm of drums, women are honoured with their traditional dances, spinning their wooden sticks or swaying with a clay vase on their heads adorned with a crown of flowers. It was a magical moment when we were invited to join the dancers and celebrate our femininity.

Sandrine and Yurbisha tried on the traditional outfits.They shone under the flashes like real stars. The owner asked Sandrine, “Are you Tharu?’ It was hilarious, truly. A memorable moment that we enjoy recalling during evenings among friends.

off road therapy

The next morning, before leaving, I was happy to see the women of the village gathered. Alison and Kerstin had already planned not to leave them empty-handed. Eco-friendly and reusable cloth sanitary napkins were distributed. It’s a powerful and symbolic gesture because women have limited access to these hygiene products due to economic, practical and cultural reasons.

In some rural areas, Nepalese women are considered impure during their menstrual periods. They must then isolate themselves in huts that they share with other women. Unfortunately, sometimes they get attacked by snakes, and the outcome is fatal for some. Traveling to certain places always serves as a reminder of the human and feminine condition.

I was born in France, of Chinese and Cambodian origin. What would my life have been if my parents hadn’t fled the war in Cambodia in the late 1970s? One thing is for sure, I might never have set foot in Nepal, let alone ridden a Royal Enfield to meet these women.

 

‘Meet the Women of Nepal’ could have also been titled ‘Dance with the Women of Nepal.’ 

I think of the dancers in Dhampus, in their red saris punctuated with golden motifs, dancing barefeet, their hands caressing the air in such a graceful way that I saw goddesses. By the way, doesn’t Goddess Laxmi, the deity of beauty and prosperity, have 4 arms to dance better? It’s just my interpretation…

Our Nepalese team joined in. Bijay, who loves making Tik Tok videos, often gets us involved in his choreographies, whether by the roadside or at the Thiny village just before cooking dal bhat with the Thakali women.

 

My best memory awaited me at a street corner that led us from Tatopani to Dhampus. Young Nepalese men and women were celebrating the festival of Tihar, also called Deepavali. This festival of lights marks the new year for the Newars (the first inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley); it also celebrates Goddess Laxmi. We stopped where life was at its peak. We were quickly drawn into dancing by about twenty young people in the middle of the street. The young and beautiful Nepalese woman who invited me to dance had a doll-like face.

She radiated joy.

I was just sweating in my biker jacket. I was covered in dust, and I was a bit ashamed, to be honest, of my attire. However, it was not the time to hide, but to let myself be carried away by the contagious enthusiasm of these people. The atmosphere was exhilarating. Everyone sang under the benevolent gaze of a sun in its prime.

A moment of grace, as rare as it is, and in which I felt at peace with myself, protected by these guardian angels who were having fun around us. I took pleasure in seeing our Nepalese team having fun with their people and being proud to celebrate their customs and traditions with us.