Nestled in the lap of the mountains is a village so old that some say even gods have memories left there. A place that has survived natural disasters, curses from the deadliest demons, the most wicked witches, and human beings at their worst.
A village with a forest in the center and human homes on the outskirts, surrounded by barren fields that stretched until any eyes could see.
I once asked an elder where it got its name from.
“Nobody knows,” she had said. “Or maybe we just choose not to remember.”
“The need to name everything came from the Europeans, just like guns, bombs, and diseases that have ravished so many beings.”
Today is a historic day here. It is the one-hundredth anniversary of the fall of what was once a kingdom called Nepal. It is a day to commemorate a collapse that had begun right here.
Peacocks end their game of hide-and-seek early. Elephants that usually just cross these paths stay. Rivers, too, hold still, Bakiya in the east and Pasha in the west. Flowers bloom bigger. Descendants of the people of Tangiya arrive, with other humans from the outskirts pouring in behind them. They bring gifts. Sal trees, a few old, most of us young, welcome the guests into the forest.
“This was once a home for far more than just us,” the oldest tree speaks as everybody settles.
“We gather in their memory.”
“Birds! You should have seen those magnificent creatures,” says another elder, an oak tree, prompting us to tilt our gazes up.
The younger inhabitants of Nijgadh have never seen a bird except for the peacocks, but we have heard about them. We know they had arms adorned with feathers that allowed them to fly. Some claim that they kept gods company during migration from the Earth after human contamination became unbearable for the divinities. Others speak of their songs.
“Five hundred species!” You could hear one of the old trees blurt out randomly every now and then, especially in spring.
“And now we only have one.”
Of all the elders, trees missed them the most. Rivers often bragged about the catalogs of symphonies they used to co-create with their flying friends. Peacocks that usually danced only for dawn or dusk performed even in the afternoons in honor of their tinier relatives. Elephants exhaled a heavier shade of grief at any mention of their deceased confidantes. It was a type of sigh that matched the color of the sky between late night and early morning. Soil sat in silence. They were, after all, an expert at burying feelings. The rocks followed. Memories of lost loved ones were too heavy for them. The trees, though, spoke about them frequently. You could tell that they missed them terribly.
The elders of Nijgadh do a thorough job of passing down their memories to us, especially of the species that did not survive the tragedy of 2025. However, they do not speak much of kings or concrete kingdoms that harmed our kind.
“Humans are creative. To build is their divine truth, just like to flow is mine.” I had heard Pasha river preach one time.
“But when their creativity comes at the cost of this planet’s right to her divine truth, it is vile.”
“Vile,” Bakiya had echoed.
The humans of Nijgadh know this. They follow their divine truths in alignment with everything else that lives here. Some are farmers. They grow crops on the fringes of the forest. Some are architects. They construct houses, schools, museums, and hospitals. Some are alchemists. Some astrologers. Some artists. All of them take from the trees what we grant them. And from the soil and the rocks and the rivers too. And they give back. It is a harmonious ecosystem. It is Nijgadh’s collective divine truth.
As the elders in the forest, the descendants of humans in this village honor their history. They celebrate their ancestors who had tried hard to fight the construction of the airport, the tragedy that had triggered the great fall. These were the activists, scientists, journalists, and people of Tangiya who had been forced out of their homes in 2022 to make room for Nepal’s biggest airdrome. There are holidays dedicated to them and folklore. Libraries and community resource centers are named after women who had first raised their fists against this imposition. They are the heroes in Nijgadh, not kings or concrete kingdoms that harmed our kind.
The human children dance in honor of their heroes tonight. They recite poems and share songs. The ceremony ends with them praying to their many gods. Some close their palms and look up. Others place their hands on their navel- right hands over their left, some kneel, some stand, and a few continue dancing barefoot. That is how they worship.
I breathe in and out, blessing everybody around me with oxygen. This is my divine truth.
The festivity is abruptly interrupted by a shrill shriek of one of the rivers.
“The ground is quivering,” Bakiya whispers, her voice wet with fear.
The forest ground had quivered that year when the humans from Kathmandu arrived in their big machines. They had brought metals that roared, maps, and buckets of red paint. The men had marked the trees with crosses carelessly slapped on their barks. And two million trees had been torn to death within two months.
After the airport’s construction, the first to disappear was forty-five floras and faunas already endangered. Nobody knows what exactly happened. Or maybe we just choose not to remember.
Soon other animals started vanishing. With no trees to guide them, they were lost, even elephants whose divine truth was to remember. Then came more machines. They brought pipes that pumped in and out of both rivers. Soon the aquatic life was dead, and the two sisters were left close to dry.
More men, machines, and money poured in.
All was spent on this airport, one of the biggest in the world, built-in one of the poorest countries in the same world. This was an ambitious task. It was an expensive task, primarily paid for by the people of Tangiya basti, who were displaced, left landless, and lost like the rest of those who had called this forest their home.
By 2025 Nepal’s newest pride stood tall where trees once lived. More humans from Kathmandu arrived on their machines. This time with cameras, flashing lights, tents, ribbons, and scissors. Nepalis then waited for what had been promised to them. They held hope despite news of widespread bloodshed, famine, and diseases.
“It is our time now!” became the national logo replacing the generation-old “Buddha was born in Nepal.”
But the jobs guaranteed never landed at this airport. Neither did the tourists. Instead, there were landslides, floods in numbers like never before, and earthquakes more significant than the ones that Nepal had survived in 2014. The entire country was soon swarmed by diseases, debt, and deaths.
There was no national logo after that. There was no nation either. What remained were pockets of humans scattered around, scavenging for survival.
Nijgadh, nonetheless, came back to life. And only the elders in the forest knew how.
“They are getting closer,” Pasha shouts, her voice now drenched in fear.
Peacocks scatter, and elephants leave. Flowers wither, and rivers become restless. Humans of Nijgadh stand on guard, and trees stand silent, our ears still open.
Two large machines park in front of us, both filled with humans. There are children there too. But these human offsprings look different than the ones in Nijgadh. They are skinnier, their eyes sunken, and their lips dry.
“Namaskar,” greets a man nervously, jumping out of the vehicle.
“What do you want?” The elected leader of Tangiya basti roars. Her name is Palmo.
Others quickly form a circle around the intruders. Nijgad is not accustomed to visitors, and given the history, guests were considered a threat.
“We came from Kathmandu looking for help.”
“Help?” Palmo, young but wise and well-versed in the village archives, roars back.
The young commander was not here when the men from Kathmandu first intruded in 2022, but she remembered as if she was. Palmo carried the hurt of the past as if it was her own palms that had begged the men from the capital for grace.
“They are coming for our water,” the trespasser continues.
“Another scheme?” Palmo utters clearly for her people to hear.
And just then, a voice interrupts.
“This is Pradeep, and he means no harm.”
Though it doesn’t feel like an interruption to her.
“I am Lumanti, and we mean no harm.”
The message makes Palmo retreat. She pushes her feet firmer to the ground, hoping nobody notices her energy shift.
“The Big War has touched the continent. Both India and China have started drilling at the old borders.”
It was not the message that made Palmo retreat. It was the voice.
“You know what that means. Don’t you?” Pradeep interrupts. Now, this was an interruption.
Since the very beginning of time, humans have been warned about the planet running out of water. The gods of the soil had been cautioning them with natural disasters as a reminder. The keepers of the Earth had been pledging with their fellow humans to use water respectfully. By the late nineties, scientists had predicted a global water shortage followed by a big war, later to be known as the Big War.
Last year, a storm passing Nijgadh informed the elders of the North’s war for fresh water. Despite being mostly responsible for global warming, they had not been as affected as countries in the South. But now, even they were at their weakest.
Palmo turns back for counsel from the forest elders, but the trees stand silently. Her people have never seen her this tense.
“We will talk among ourselves and then decide,” barges Tara, having noticed her daughter’s energy shift.
“You can rest in our village until then.”
A wave of protest takes over the crowd.
“But they are from Kathmandu,” murmur even the children aware of the city’s demons.
Before the fall of Nepal as a nation, Kathmandu was its crown. The rest of the country was collateral for the capital’s expansion. Their resources were extracted to build malls in the city. Their people were forced to migrate as laborers. Their land was loaned to the North as a dumping site for chemical wastes. Their rice fields were sold as an experiment lab for a giant biotechnology corporation.
The hostility towards our guests was understandable. Even necessary, some would say, including Palmo.
“I am sorry for the actions of our ancestors,” Lumanti pleads, this time her eyes directly piercing Palmo.
“But some of our ancestors were robbed of their homes too. There is grief in my bloodline, just like yours.”
There was sincerity in Lumanti’s eyes and hope like the autumn sky. She made Palmo think of birds when she spoke.
Lumanti was referring to the Kathmandu that existed before the Shah dynasty stole it from the Newa people. The valley, they say, was once a place of chaotic magic crowded with gods who walked alongside humans and worked together to master art and science. There were palaces sculpted out of a single giant rock, the most refreshing water taps built with the purest stones, most magnificent courtyards where gods, ghosts, and humans danced in celebration of the home they shared.
That Kathmandu is now dead. Those gods have become ghosts that haunt the city, wailing the names of humans who betrayed them. Lumanti had herself heard them cry many times.
“Let’s forget the past,” Pradeep steps in with an awkward chuckle.
“More than half of the Indian subcontinent has been destroyed since 2025. The people who have survived are struggling, and we are barely making it, but somehow you, Nijgadh, continue to thrive!”
“Tell us how you did it!”
The demand in the tone of their uninvited guest puts the humans of Nijgadh on a heightened alert.
“Palmo, we survived,” Lumanti interrupts again.
“Of all the things, and despite all the things, we survived. Don’t you think there is a reason for this chance? Surely, we are meant to make the most out of this opportunity?”
Palmo starts thinking about the birds again. How had she felt the first time she had heard about them? Was it the same emotions she was experiencing now?
“It is late. We will come to a decision tomorrow,” says Tara, louder this time and with authority.
The humans still in the vehicle jump out one after another. They look different than the humans of Nijgadh. They are skinnier, their eyes sunken, and their lips dry.
Pradeep pulls Lumanti away from Palmo before she can thank her. She wanted to talk to her host more, ask questions, and share stories she had not planned to. She wondered if Palmo had ever seen a bird. Surely somebody as magical as her must have witnessed magic like that of a bird’s flight.
“Maybe next time,” she tells herself. Lumanti eagerly wants there to be the next time and more.
Tara and her friends usher the guests out of the forest.
“What are those?” asks the children from Kathmandu as they pass the murals of martyrs painted in the houses of Tangiya basti.
No one had taken the time to tell them about the world they had missed. The few remaining schools in the city taught the young ones survival skills; how to find water, when to look for food, what to do during earthquakes, and where to gather after one.
“Are those their gods?” asks one of them.
In Kathmandu, celebrities had replaced gods even before 2025. Yet religions had become a source of conflict. So much dispute over spirits in a city that had already become soulless.
“Almost soulless,” Lumanti believed.
“There is still life here.”
Ever since she could remember, Lumanti had been haunted by visions. The gods, goddesses, and ghosts of Kathmandu visited her twice a month in her sleep.
“We are hiding from humans,” one of them confessed to her during a new moon.
“What happened to these magnificent beings?” asked another during a full moon.
They were the ones who had been telling Lumanti to head south.
“Walk until you find a village with a forest in the center and human homes on the outskirts, surrounded by barren fields that stretched until any eyes could see.” They had advised her.
But every time she shared this with an adult, they scolded her.
“Don’t talk like this,” her mother used to say. “They will think you have gone mad, and you know what happens to mad people, right?”
Lumanti did not want to be locked away. So for years, she dismissed the dreams. She would carefully listen to the gods, goddesses, and ghosts at night and, in the morning, reiterate the words to the first piece of debris she could find. She would then throw the piece into an abyss to never think of it again.
This had become her ritual until one full moon night, a flock of birds appeared in her dream. Even before she could confirm what they were, she was flying with them over a winding highway laced with clouds that looked like cotton balls on one side and beautiful red flowers on the other.
Rhododendrons! The hills of Nepal were once covered with these.
The end of the highway led to a village with a forest in the center and human homes on the outskirts, surrounded by barren fields that stretched until any eyes could see.
The following day she did not reiterate the dream to a stone, a metal scrape, or a wood block. Instead, she shared it with Pradeep, who, just like her, believed in things beyond what the apocalypse had shown them. They filled two trucks with whoever was willing to get in and headed towards the highway from Lumanti’s dream. There were no rhododendrons, but they saw clouds that looked like cotton balls.
The travelers gasped when they first saw the forest from a distance. It was the first time they had seen life in such abundance.
Initially, Pradeep hadn’t liked letting a woman lead, but he eventually gave in. It was difficult to argue on an empty stomach. When they arrived in Tangiya basti and saw the bountiful surrounding him, he finally let go of that grudge. For once, he breathed hope.
“Is this what faith meant?” he wondered.
Back in the forest, everybody holds their breath for the elders’ decision, even the air.
“If the neighboring countries are here, the North is not far behind,” the wind chimes in.
“And when that happens, none of what is left will survive, not this time.”
It had always been a mystery how a kingdom as tiny as Nepal had remained uncolonized by the British. When the Europeans came to the continent in 1985, even the neighboring giant like India had fallen on her knees to the queen. Nepal, with almost no firearms and little army, had been able to stand undefeated.
But that was when mountains and forests were alive, alert, and abundant. Now is different. It is frail.
“They can’t be trusted,” speaks a peacock from the crowd. There is a buzz of agreement.
Palmo nods her head in consensus, but something deep inside her protests.
Lumanti’s words sound familiar, like the echoes from pieces of debris she would pick up during her morning strolls when she was younger.
“Maybe they deserve a chance,” says Tara turning towards the oldest of the trees.
More confusion in the crowd.
“Yes, they do,” answer the trees unanimously.
There is a loudness in the quiet that follows. It is heavy. It is haunting.
No one knew how Nijgad had survived after 2025 except the forest. It was a sacred secret passed from the Earth to the trees, one generation after another. The humans of Nijgad were aware of this contract and respected the forest as the keeper of divine wisdom. They visited the forest every week and listened to the trees for advice.
This communion between man and nature is how we have survived. It is how we continue to thrive.
Palmo feels a gush of comfort in her belly, knowing that there is hope for Lumanti. She was right. Of all the things, and despite all the things, they had survived. Indeed, they are meant to make the most out of this opportunity.
“We have been blessed with a hundred years of a good life. It is time for us to share the blessing.” The oldest tree speaks with a gentleness that is firm.
The humans talk among themselves and quickly agree. The trees had never failed them.
The night ends with the elders thanking the Earth. Humans return to their village with the sound of elephants trumpeting in excitement. It is a kind of sonata that matches the color of the sky in mid-afternoon, with its blue the brightest.
I watch the forest slowly recoiling to rest, unsure if I truly understand the decision. So many stories of natural disasters, curses from the deadliest demons, the most wicked witches, and human beings at their worst, yet we welcome everyone.
I ask the eldest ak tree why.
“Harmony. It is one of Nijgadh’s divine truths.” She replies.