I was growing impatient waiting for the village of Samzong to appear.
After spending hours on horseback climbing over several mountain passes at 12,000 feet, my friend then pointed it out to me. I still could not find it. When I looked forward more carefully, I realized that Samzong had been in front of my eyes for an hour now. My eyes missed because it was camouflaged with the stark background of towering Himalayan ranges.
I was shocked to see how different it looked from the nearby Nepalese villages. Everything was brown.
Samzong has been living a paradoxical existence for the past decade. The village had just welcomed the harvest season with a three-day festival, though there was no harvest to celebrate. This was the growing season and nothing was coming in. No green fields were visible.
The ancient village of Samzong, located inside Mustang district in the Himalayas of northwestern Nepal, is facing disappearance as acute water shortage for irrigation and livestock in the area is forcing the villagers to consider a future elsewhere.
Nhubine Himal Glacier’s melt is the main source of water for Samzong. Most if not all Nepalese glaciers studied by scientists are shrinking. With rising temperatures, lower snowfall and unpredictable weather patterns, the stream of glacial melt to Samzong has disappeared. The walk to the nearest water source and back takes more than 10 hours.
On my journey to Samzong, I spotted several villages because their large green fields stood out sharply against the harsh landscape. I could see the people laboring in the fields while the children were shepherding livestock. For these villages, it was the busiest season of the year. However, almost nobody in Samzong ventured out of their houses. little to no one outside in Samzong.
The village had once been the main port connecting the northern Tibetan civilization and the southern Indic neighbors. Cultural records of Samzong date back to 3,000 years. Today, Samzong villagers are the Himalaya’s first climate refugees as the entire village is (quite literally) taking the foundations from their ancestral home to a new location. Samzong villagers have decided that their home is no longer habitable and they plan to move by summer 2014. KAM for SUD, a Swiss NGO that works for sustainable development in Nepal, and Lo-Mustang Foundation, a local NGO, are assisting in the relocation.
There was not much to do during my last visit to Samzong in May 2013, but sit around with rest of the villagers. They joked about how much free time they had now that they do not have to farm for a living. The villagers sing local work songs about farming and harvest; one young woman pointed out that she could not relate to these songs, which she had once liked very much, because she felt they were not about Samzong any more. As a funny rebuttal, a local 50-year-old man started making up lyrics to folk tunes about dry brown fields, wat