Bliss of Karnali: Myths and realities

Karnali is the origin of Nepali language and culture. The traditional folk song ‘deuda’ is pleasing to people outside Karnali. Karnali has rich Bon and Buddhist culture in the country

Don’t try to say Jumli or Humli. Many outsiders call everybody from Karnali districts ‘Jumli’. The word Jumli reminds the people of Karnali as the word of a wrongdoer. Don’t try to speak Karnali local dialects. Not only will you get an enormous headache but the people of Karnali will not understand what you mean. Outsiders are not supposed to speak Karnali dialects because it is taken as undermining and underrating the people of Karnali.  You can only give options or alternatives.

It is sometimes rumored that Karnali is poor, which is not true. This is not true because people here are hard workers and some of the people are rich. The people of Karnali are supposed to be tolerant. They make money by selling carpet, silajit and herbal medicine (jadibuti) to make business viable.

Karnali was the richest and an independent state before the unification of the Nepal. King Prithivi Narayan Shah had difficulties to gain victory and rule Karnali in 1768 AD. The democracy in 1951 was realised only after eight years in Karnali. There is a tradition to vote  for the alternate political party representatives in Karnali. Karnali had contributed a lot to the Maoist revolution and in the abolition of Monarchy.

Karnali occupies 15% of the country’s landmass in the size and holds one of the richest genetic biodiversity in the country. The larger part of the landmass of Karnali is protected under National Park and Protected Area in Karnali. Karnali has the country’s maximum physiographic and climatic diversity ranging from the tropical to permanent snow. Humla Karnali and Mugu Karnali are the rivers that have high potential of generating hydroelectricity. Because of its outstanding altitudinal variation, there are many opportunities to farm plants in Karnali. High sugar content apple variety, red marsi rice and other valuable fruits and crops are found in Karnali. White Rhododendron is found abundantly in Chankheli mountain areas.

A species of pines (lauth sallo) is found abundantly in Karnali that is considered a medicinal plant for cancer. Other medicinal herbs like jatamasi, katuki, panchaaunle are found in large quantities in Karnali. It is one of the largest and best habitat for Snow Leopard, Black Buck, Musk Deer, Ghoral, Danphe etc. Some of the largest wild honeybees are found in Karnali. Karnali has beautiful lakes like Rara and Se-Phoksundo. They are the best destination for migratory birds from the Mansarobar Lake. Rara and Se-Phoksundo National Park are in Karnali. Karnali is the origin of Nepalese language and culture.  The traditional folk song ‘deuda’ is pleasing to people outside Karnali. Karnali has rich Bon and Buddhist culture in the country. Dolpo is the last stronghold of Bon religion (black bon and white bon). Religious and cultural harmony is the living force of Karnali society. Karnali is the birthplace of Yogi Naraharinath, a philosopher and researcher.

Upper Dolpo is a virgin area and popular place for visitors. Humla, Simkot, is the gate way to Mt. Kailash. It has tremendous opportunities for extreme and adventure sports tourism such as mountaineering, paragliding, kayaking, rafting, high altitude marathon etc. It has the most appropriate slope for snow skiing and river kayaking. One of the most popular trekking routes in the world is Great Himalaya Trail that covers Karnali.

Karnali has the lowest literacy rate of Brahmin caste/ethnic groups, which contradicts the national data. Twenty years ago, there was not a single Masters Degree holder, doctor, engineer, agriculturist, environmentalist etc. in Karnali. Now there are several degree holders. There was no road connection in Karnali. Now there is the Surkhet-Jumla Karnali highway, Hilsa-Simkot rural road, Chhinchu-Jajarjot-Dunai road etc.  Karnali has revolutionized the electronics media in five years’ times. There was no radio station, now there are FM radios in all districts of Karnali.  Not very long ago, Nepalese banking system was so primitive that it took hours to draw money from banks, now Karnali has an excellent banking system.

A few years ago, one had to sleep outside Nepal Airlines Corporation building in Nepalgunj to buy an airline ticket during festival times. Now dozens of domestic airlines offer the subsidized air fare for Karnali. More than 50% of the people who fly in domestic airlines in Nepal are from Karnali. Not long ago, green vegetables and milk were scarce commodities in Karnali. Now the farmers build green houses to produce off-season vegetables. The villages in Karnali have been declared as Open Defecation Free zones to make the cleanest neighbourhood.

There is not much gap between the rich and poor here. Many Karnali people are small holders’ street merchant in Kathmandu and other parts of Nepal. In the sports field recently the Guinness Book of World Record has acknowledged a young Karnali boy for his outstanding high altitude marathon.

The visit to local health posts and the Maternal and Child Health workers for check-up and monitoring during the pregnancy period has increased. Women are aware of benefits of organizing in groups, now it has become almost part of their life – they are active in different groups at the settlement level, some of them have taken the responsibility of chairperson and manager of the federated groups at Ward and Village Development Committee level.

Bhandari has been working for more than a decade in the Karnali region