Ghalegaun: The quintessential Gurung hospitality
The snow-capped mountains glittered in the sunlight. It was an amazing experience. We could see many peaks like Machhapuchhre, Lamjung Himal, Buddha Himal, Annapurna and Manaslu, among others. We could also see the beautiful Ghanpokhara village, perched on the small hillock, in the horizon.
— By Bishnu Bhattarai
Ghalegaun was one of the destinations I prepared five years ago on my bucket list. But I had been failing to manage time to visit this beautiful Gurung village despite getting many opportunities. So when Zimba dai, the former president of Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA), asked me to join him for a two-night, three-day visit to Ghalegaun in the last week of October, I happily accepted.
Zimba Zangbu Sherpa, who chairs Khumbi-Ila Samrakshan Pratisthan – a non-profit-based non-government organization, was leading a group of travel writers to Ghalegaun with two objectives. One was to promote Ghalegaun news reports and write-ups in different mass media, and the other was to cover the familiarization trip of homestay operators of Salyan VDC of Kaski to Ghalegaun. Khumbu-Ila Samrakshan Pratisthan organized the fam trip.
On a fine winter morning, we left Kathmandu in a luxurious van. We were sixteen altogether. Most of us knew each other from four or five new faces. The journey was pleasing. We chatted like friends covering issues ranging from political developments to new Bollywood releases. Narayan dai, the famous face of News24 TV, was cracking jokes now and then. He pulled the legs of everyone, sparing not even our driver.
We reached Besishahar – the headquarters of Lamjung – where mouthwatering Thakali daal-bhaat was waiting for us. After having our lunch, we boarded an India-made SUV reserved for us. Two friends volunteered to get on the rooftop because the SUV did not have good seats. We began the journey on a windy, graveled road. Homestay operators from Salyan followed us in another SUV. The road passed through beautiful villages, lush-green forests, and neatly arranged terraces. As the road was full of bumps, we swayed right to the left and left to right many times. Not to mention our heads hitting the roof of our vehicle.
It was nearly five in the evening when we reached Ghalegaun. Once we got off the vehicle, we were greeted by beautiful Gurung women draped in their traditional attire with garlands. The first view of Ghalegaun was mesmerizing. We could see neatly arranged houses with stone and tin roofs. Smoke was billowing from the houses, an apparent sign that locals were preparing dinner.
The Ghalegaun Homestay Management Committee officials escorted us to a community hall in the middle of the village. There they offered us a steaming cup of tea, makai bhatmas, the popular combo of pop-corns and soybean, and gundruk (fermented lettuce) pickle. After devoured the snacks, the officials divided us into three groups and handed us over to our respective host families.
The real homestay experience begins here. Our host was a pleasing lady in her early 30s. She showed us to our rooms. There were four beds with neatly arranged bed sheets and warm blankets. By the time we had changed, our host had already prepared hot tea for us. She asked us to meet other family members who were busy preparing meals. We assembled around the fireplace and introduced ourselves to other family members. Zimba dai and three other friends were in the neighboring house. He invited us for some drinks and local snacks. The dry lamb meat prepared by his host was simply fantastic.
Our host called us for dinner at around seven. Rice, lettuce curry, gundruk pickle, and radish slices were neatly arranged on a bronze plate. We were served lamb curry and lentils in bronze bowls. We were seated near the fireplace on a woolen mattress called Radhe. The meal was simple but tasted great as all the ingredients were locally produced.
After dinner, our host escorted us to the community hall, where local artists performed traditional dances like Ghatu, Krishna Charitra, and Jhankri. The Ghats dance, performed by two young Gurung girls, was fantastic. It was a completely new experience for us. The artists even invited visitors to join them. It was a memorable experience. By performing the traditional dances for visitors, the locals are earning a livelihood and preserving the art handed over to them by their forefathers.
Our host escorted us back to the house after the cultural programs were over. We retired to bed early so we could wake up early in the morning to view the sunrise.
It was already five when we woke up in the morning. Snow-white mountains were already greeting us when we assembled in the courtyard. We hastily walked toward the view tower because we did not want to miss the sunrise. The golden sunlight greeted us a few minutes after we reached the view tower. The snow-capped mountains glittered in the sunlight. It was a fantastic experience. We could see many peaks like Machhapuchhre, Lamjung Himal, Buddha Himal, Annapurna, and Manaslu, among others. On the horizon, we could also see the beautiful Ghanpokhara village, perched on the small hillock.
After watching the sunrise and mountains from the view tower, we traveled to the other hillock, which housed Bhedi Goth – a community sheep shed. There were more than 300 sheep and goats. The community had hired four shepherds to look after the flock. The shepherds bring goats to lower altitudes when it is challenging to live in the highland during winter. We were lucky to find Bhedi Goth in Ghalegaun. We, however, could not arrange a time to visit a small tea garden managed by the local people and the Uttar Kanya temple.
When we returned to our house, we were offered millet bread, eggs, beans, and tea for breakfast. After breakfast, our host bade farewell to us by offering us tika and garland. They then escorted us to the bus park, where most of our team members had arrived. We then held a small interaction with the homestay operators of Salyan VDC, where they shared their experience of Ghalegaun. At around 11, we left Ghalegaun in the same creaking SUV for Besishahar. After spending the night in Besishahar, we left for Kathmandu early the following day, bringing lots of sweet memories from Ghalegaun.