Chance encounter with a Jhankri

Text by Prabal Shrestha

On the remote hills of the Far- West, road building is a communal activity - not even the village shaman is left out.

As we were travelling on a newly laid out road through the Far-West, our vehicle was caught in a Kathmandu-like congestion. A thin, unassuming man carrying a red flag signaled the vehicle in the front to stop. A construction truck had seized up, bringing the roadwork to a halt.  

Road construction is a communal effort in these unchanged hills. No matter what your role in the community is, building roads means extra money—and everyone can use a bit of extra money. No one is left behind, not even the village jhankri(Shaman). The man with the flag – given away by his metal bangles – turned out to be the village jhankri. Despite the superhuman powers to heal the sick and wounded with drums, brooms and eggs, he still has limitations. Money is a limitation. And working for a donor-funded road project temporarily alleviates that limitation.

The Jhankri’s name was Bir Bahadur Bhattarai—a former policeman who had given up his dutiful occupation to follow his divine calling. The fifty-three year old had his first visions twenty years ago. Disturbed and confused, he pleaded to other jhankris to find an answer. The seniors conducted a ritual to test his claims, asking him to perform tasks under trance. He was asked to find a wild leopard in the jungle, which he did. Convinced, he was ordained by the seniors. Ever since, the sickly and the wounded in his village have come to him hoping for a cure. 

The broken truck was fixed and the road opened up in a short while. The jhankri, performing his other job, signaled the vehicles to move. We got moving as he was about to end his shift for the day, and head back to his home where he can rest his different roles for a while. We drove into the evening surrounded by hills marred by wildfires.