Puma’s Mother Group is normally on hand to greet the few visitors who make it to this remote mountaintop but on the day I arrived they were performing traditional songs and dances of the Gurung caste in southern Nepal. Instead, on the morning of my departure the mothers trickled into Aama’s compound and climbed over the garden walls to pick flowers. Laden with blossoms, they gathered back on Aama’s porch and began stringing together marigolds, daisies, and bright red flowers into long chains. Focused on gathering my luggage in time to catch the four-wheel drive jeep down the mountain, I paid little heed to what they were doing, as I was by this time used to neighbors coming and going throughout the day.
I was about to say my goodbyes to Aama, Didi, and Prakash when the mothers gathered around me. One-by-one they expressed gratitude that I had chosen to visit Puma, garlanded me with flower leis and silk scarves, and bowed to me with a Namaste, the word traditionally used for hello and goodbye. Instead of a formal welcome, I got a grand send-off, which touched me to the core. I saved the scarves and dried a selection of the flowers; both will always remind me of the love and caring that I experienced in this rare mountaintop Shangri-La.
Giri Gurung, managing director of Nepal Tourism Travels & Adventures, organized a portion of my travels in and around Nepal, including my trips to Nagarkot, Changu Narayan, Chitwan National Park, and this amazing four-day home stay with his family in Puma. Nepal Tourism Travels & Adventures office is in Kathmandu, conveniently located in the Thamel backpacker district. Their website is www.nepaltourismtravels.com.np, and Giri’s email is email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The idea of sustainability, first proposed in 1854 when Henry David Thoreau published Walden, has come to mean a way of living that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In today’s developed countries, where the acquisition of material possessions is highly valued, achieving a sustainable lifestyle is quite impossible. But during my recent home stay in the tiny mountain community of Puma, Nepal I witnessed an example of sustainable living that is as close to pure as can be expected in a developed world.
The 60 or 70 simple homes that make up the village are constructed primarily from locally available stone, clay and timber, as are the mortarless, hand-hewn paths that cascade down the mountainside. Artesian wells bubble up through the impervious rock and flow year round, providing residents with free water that can be brought into the homes via pipe or hose. Houses are generally unheated, despite being at high altitude. Instead, people retire early and snuggle under thick quilts in bone-chilling winter temperatures, rising before dawn to sparingly stoke outdoor clay ovens with firewood gathered from the surrounding forest.
Puma is inhabited solely by members of the Gurung caste, who have traditionally served in the military or farmed. On terraced mountain fields, each Gurung family plants rice, millet, potatoes, and a variety of leafy greens. Crops provide the bulk of their annual food needs and only a few staples like spices, cooking oil, and tea must be purchased. But abundant natural resources and fertile lands aside, the real secret to Puma’s success is its tradition of helping one another and practicing an age-old barter system.