Team travel: Steve in Nepal
14th September 2018 | by Steve
'Our mud-stained 4x4 Toyota Landcruiser rolled to a stop next to a wrought iron gate from which hung a small wooden sign bearing the words 'Welcome to the Famous Farm House'. Our journey here from Kathmandu had been quite an experience, as we were travelling during the monsoon season, with heavy rains turning what used to be half-decent roads into a sea of deep mud, strewn with water-filled craters which at times were barely passable. Without the skill, patience and nerve of our Nepalese driver (the appropriately named Ram), our journey would have been significantly longer, and much less comfortable!
The Famous Farm House is a boutique hotel approximately 50 kms (around a three hour drive) north-west of Kathmandu. Located between the subtropical plains of the south and the Himalayas to the north, the farm lies in what are called the 'Middle Hills'. These are the foothills of the mighty Himalayan range, and form deep valleys bedecked with verdant forests of pine trees and small villages that seem to cling to the steep valley sides.
The farm is set high up one of these, and has an eagle's eye view of the town of Trishuli, and the Trusili River meandering far below on its epic journey towards India and its final confluence with the mighty Ganges. Close by, around a 10-15 minute walk from the farmhouse, is the Nuwakot Durbar ('Durbar' means royal palace), which is an ancient citadel set within the small village of Nuwakot Bazaar. This Durbar is one of the most ancient in Nepal, and can be traced back more than 1,200 years.
The accommodation at the Famous Farmhouse consists of 13 unique (really - no two rooms are the same!) bedrooms located around an open courtyard. The main building is a fine example of traditional Newar architecture, and though badly damaged during the earthquake in April 2015, and then gutted by a bush fire (talk about bad luck), 12 months of extensive repairs saw the hotel re-opening for guests. Why the name 'Famous' Farmhouse, you might ask? It's a very good question! While converting the original building, the locals involved in the work began to talk that one day the farmhouse would 'become famous', and the name stuck!
Having spent the last eight days in Nepal, staying in and investigating various hotels, homestays, lodges and even the odd monastery, my Selective Asia colleague Simon and I had become increasingly aware of a trend for hotels/lodges to use organic produce in their restaurants. The Famous Farmhouse, we were soon to find out, was a particularly good example of this increasing trend.
The land owned by the farm consists of eight quite sizeable levels of steep terracing, entirely given over to growing vegetables and fruits. The farm is free of pesticides and herbicides, and uses traditional Nepali farming methods. In addition the farm harvests around 10 kgs of honey from their feral bees! There are also great efforts made to recycle as much as possible; in their own words, 'it really is very noticeable how everything here becomes recyclable or has a resale value'. All the farm's vegetables are consumed in-house, as too are most of the fruits. The farm also keeps dogs, a donkey, a pony, geese, hens, ducks, peacocks, turkeys (more from them later), and rabbits, so we were in good company.
Within Nepal, agriculture had originally always been organic by default, but with the growth of population and the increasing size of the urban areas, farmers inevitably turned to more intensive agriculture, with its use of chemicals. Recently, though, the government has been actively promoting organic agriculture, recognising that it has all sorts of benefits not only with relation to the environment and people's health, but also as a profitable business for local farmers.
There is growing demand amongst people living in the ever expanding urban towns and cities for organic products, especially vegetables. An increase in education and awareness about the health and quality of organic foods, and a willingness to pay extra for healthy produce among consumers, has increased the demand considerably in the last few years.
Another great benefit is the fact that as most hotels have their organic farms or allotments either on site or close by, the number of 'food miles' for the transport of this produce is vastly reduced in getting the fruit and vegetables to the customer's plate. As virtually everything in Nepal is transported by road (there are no railways and definitely no seaports!) this means that there are additional benefits to the environment by taking away some of this traffic. It also means that the produce arriving at your breakfast or dinner table is incredibly fresh, every time.
Having been made extremely welcome by our kind host at the farmhouse, Simon and I spent a very relaxing couple of hours before dinner, taking in the beautiful views of the valley below and the distant mountain peaks, as well as being entertained by the farm's 'pet' turkeys, who were holding court, strutting around the guesthouse's open terrace.
Dinner was served in the form of a traditional Nepal 'bhoj' or multi platter dish similar to the ubiquitous Dhal Baht (served throughout Nepal) and consisted of baji (beaten rice), gainda gudi (a mix of different lentils), alu tama (curry of potatoes and bamboo shoots), spicy achaar (pickles) and tamatar ko achaar, which is ripe tomato pickle served with a delicious home baked naan. This was by far the most flavoursome (and fresh) meal that either of us had had in Nepal, and the after-dinner organic (what else!) coffee was amongst the best I have tasted anywhere.
The next morning, we were treated again to a most delicious (and totally organic) breakfast with beautiful views over the valley, the Trushili river glistening far below in the hazy sunshine. Reluctantly we said farewell to our hosts and climbed back into our 4x4 for the next part of our Nepalese adventure, and hopefully our next foray into the delicious world of Nepalese organic cuisine!
Our stay at the Famous Farmhouse was all too brief (all of our hotel inspection trips are) but gave us a fantastic insight into how a well-run and intelligently managed organic farm can not only benefit the environment, and ease the effects of climate change (through using much less water) - it can also profit the local community and provide some incredibly delicious, healthy and fresh food for everyone's benefit...'