Village Kolakham

Kolakham village had the charming look of the villages up in this corner of the Himalayas, in the part of Bengal which nudges up on Sikkim and Bhutan. It is not just the Nepali language that distinguishes people of this region from the rest of Bengal. I walked into the kitchen in the morning to hear a song on the radio playing softly. It wasn’t in Nepali. The Tibetan song was a religious tune which the cook, a Buddhist, was listening to. None of these are the essential distinction between people in these villages, 2 kilometers above sea level, and those down at the foothills. Our driver put it neatly, “The people down there speak the same Nepali as us, but they don’t smile and help.”

Every house is built on two levels. This log cabin has an upper level which faces directly on to the road, and serves as a combination shop and roadside restaurant. The lower level, partly log covered over with metal sheets (perhaps as protection against wind) is where the family lives. This opens out into a garden with a gate which leads up from the road below. You can always build multiple views when you make a house on a slope.

Not all houses are made of logs. More common are these timber-frame houses. Woven cane mats are nailed to the frame, and daubed over with a thin layer of plaster. It is a mixed technique: wattle-and-daub meets timber-frame. In these forests of oak, pine, and bamboo, these are easily available material. Also, when there is an earthquake, as there is once or twice in a person’s lifetime, you will not be buried under heavy building material.

The simplicity of construction means that most people try their hand at building their own houses. This beautifully constructed door was clearly built by an amateur. It is slightly out of true, the frame not quite a rectangle. The elements of the door have been joined together by an amateur carpenter. I loved this. When you travel through the country you see a lot of naive folk art. It is wonderful to see the same naive aesthetics in architecture.

I am over-simplifying, of course. There were at least three concrete houses in the village. These are built by specialists. But these are mountain villages, after all. Even the workers and their employers have a pleasant relationship. In a different village, at a house under construction, I saw three workers take a break as the lady of the house brought them cups of tea and some snacks. Life is hard up here, but, by and large, people pitch in together. The most visible part of life up here are the flowers that you find in the garden and porches of each brightly coloured house. You could not miss the fact that it was early in spring.

The village has a little movie theater. Not as old-fashioned as the hand-cranked movie projectors that you could see in villages in the last century; this movie theater probably shows videos. 4G connectivity was easy, but I guess there is a market for things you cannot stream. I also liked the physical distancing marks on the road, in a village which hasn’t had a single recorded case of COVID-19.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.


  1. Wow! Great that you gave travelled to this beautiful place. The distinction that the people there smile and help others is so simply put, and so true.
    Those houses are so familiar, those are so common in Assam also. And that video hall, I saw similar ones in Arunachal Pradesh. This post brought back beautiful memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. Yes, the houses are similar across the northeastern hills. So is the way people live. I must have seen a video hall before, but this was the first photo I took of one. I’ll watch out for them in future.


  2. That’s a lovely place! Two-level houses with a shop-front level with the road and a residential area built into the slope under are common in all hilly tracts I guess: I’ve seen them mushroom along the road to Shimla over the last 3 decades or so; always wanted to live in one! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed seeing the different villages houses and reading about the techniques of building on these slopes. That combination of timber and wattle and daub was used a lot in England back in the 16th / 17th centuries. We call it ‘half-timbered’.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. First of all thank you for bringing these places to us. I had never heard of this village before. Love the green house, I think it looks the best. Also, kudos to you for managing to write posts while on holiday. We have no complains though. 😀
    Enjoy maadi! (like they say in Bangalore).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think they retain a sense of balance: what use is an elaborately constructed home if it completely cuts you off from nature?

      Yuksom! I have to decide between that and Yumthang for a trip in May.


  5. I enjoyed this post a lot. The photos are great, but the descriptions are wonderful. Thank you for that. The houses built on slopes reminds me a little of where I grew up in Western Pennsylvania and where I went to school in West Virginia. We walked out of my apartment at WVU onto a porch about a foot above the sidewalk. In the back, we had a little enclosed porch that was on the third floor. I am always impressed with how people craft their living spaced into the land around them.

    Thanks for sharing this with Thursday Doors.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. Your feedback is interesting. I suppose this style is so obvious when you build on a steep slope that it must be found everywhere on earth. After all, even on less steep slopes I’ve seen basement entrances on one side of a building.

      Liked by 1 person

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