Yam Bahadur Klebri was sitting next to the fireplace as we walked in. His daughter-in-law was cooking on the ‘chula’; and the youngest member who is only four months was sleeping next to him. Yam Bahadur had a certain level of calmness on his face. As we sat near the fireplace, we could hear the rains pouring heavily outside. A faint light in the kitchen and the fireplace was enough to lit up the room and start the conversation.
Sitting in a corner of his kitchen Yam Bahadur started to narrate the story of ‘heura’ forest in Sikles – one of the largest and oldest Gurung settlement in Nepal. ‘Heura’ is a Gurung word meaning the land lying between the higher altitude and low altitude regions.
Yam Bahadur spoke only Gurung – a Sino-Tibetan language which is very different from the Indo-European Nepali language. As he narrated the story, Suraj Kumar Gurung – Chairperson of Madi Rural Municipality Ward 1, Sikles, translated it word by word.
“To know the story of ‘heura’, one must understand the history of our origin in Nepal”, started Yam Bahadur.
Gurung people are believed to have come to Nepal from Mongolia and Tibet. They crossed over the Himalayas and settled in a place called ‘Khohla’ which is located about eight hours from Sikles village in the Annapurna mountain range.
Khohla is the place where a Gurung kingdom was established way back around 13th or 14th century. The Gurungs stayed there for about six to ten generations. And, over the period they started descending towards ‘Chiuli’, presently known as Sikles, and its adjoining areas. ‘Chiuli’ is the Gurung word for Sikles. People descended in different groups over different times. According to Suraj Kumar Gurung, ruins of the yesteryear’s Gurung kingdom is still visible in Khohla.
In Sikles, the belief goes by a legend that every day during that period at least one individual was killed by a man-eating carnivore. It caused a lot of unrest and fear among the people staying in this area. “He doesn’t remember whether it was a tiger or a leopard, maybe a leopard”, continued Suraj Gurung.
“Do you know ‘Dhami’? he asked me. I said” No”.
“Dhami is a person with divine powers. We Gurungs believe that they can speak to the Gods”, Suraj Gurung explained.
Witnessing the plight of the people, the Dhami advised them to establish a holy site in the ‘heura’ forest and sacrifice animal. This forest is just above of where Sikles is today located. Following Dhami’s advice, the locals came together to create the holy ‘asthan’ – the place of worship. Different stones were put together to create the holy structure where the locals started offering prayers.
“Surprisingly, after the ‘asthan’ was built, the carnivore stopped killing the locals. Also, a few days later, his dead body was found inside the same forest”, exclaimed Suraj Kumar Gurung.
“Since then, some of the Gurung people came together and settled down in Sikles as a one large community” added Yam Bahadu. Suraj Gurung nodded in agreement.
The ‘Heura asthan’ is of both religious and cultural significance to the Gurung people staying in Sikles. There are two specific places designated to carry out the prayers both for individual and community prayers. Prayers are offered only thrice a year. The locals not only offer prayers at the ’asthan’ but also worship a certain section of the adjoining forest has been demarcated as sacred. Owing to its sacredness, the local do not use any of the forest resources for personal or community use. In case this rule in defied by anyone from the villages, the locals come together to take strict steps against the offender. They also revere all the animals, birds and groves found in ‘Heura’ forest.
Sikles which is situated inside the Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA) is an important refuge for several birds, mammals, flowering plants and reptiles. ACA is the first and the largest protected area of Nepal spanning over an area of more than 7,600 sq.km. The locals of Sikles are working towards promoting sustainable tourism with minimum negative impact on the natural and socio-cultural environment.