It is true that most of the houses in Nepal are of the same basic 12-15 ft by 12-15 ft cement block style. It is also evident that the advent of cement must have been transformative for the entire country. It is also true that most of the cement buildings are fairly plain and those that are painted in Kathmandu are, more often than not, gray with dust from accumulated dust over the years. But when you leave Kathmandu and head east, you are in for a delightful surprise.
I went to five different towns during the past week and half in Province 1 in eastern Nepal, and three in the Gandaki Province in the west. With the except of Pokhara (subject of another post) the towns were remarkably similar, with gray cement buildings lining the main roads that traverse the country. But not all. Here and there were happy houses which have been transformed into something out of a fairy tale with the generous use of colored paints. Pink, yellow, dark and light blues, melon, teal, lavender, purple, the sky’s the limit when it comes to deciding what color you will paint your house. And never will you paint it just one color. Many of the temples are equally boisterous. I wanted to take pictures of the houses themselves but taking a picture of someone’s personal residence seemed intrusive and, when I later asked one of my Nepali hosts, he confirmed that it would not be appropriate.
One of my favorites had lime green sidewalls, with a gray tile and lavender façade framed by two huge bright purple columns, adorned with gold on the top and bottom. Another was melon with green trim, with a balcony that was a checkerboard of red, blue, and yellow squares. Some people get creative, and add little roofs over doors and windows, others have ornately colored balconies. I even saw a few with side windows but, for the most part, the sides are simply solid sheets of a single color that may or may not be the same as the color used on the front of the house.
Colors don’t have to match in any particular manner and, to me, the houses seem more cheerful, the more variegated their palettes are. Some are more tasteful in a Western sense, slate blue with vanilla trim, or beige with brown trim. These are much less interesting to look at than the multicolored ones.
Pastels are more common than deeper colors, but burgundy, royal blue, deep teal and purple are also found. Some look like birthday cakes, with multiple layers in various pastel combinations, balcony and pillar color contrasting with wall tints. For these, the trim is often white. Whenever possible, a tiny room perches at the very top — the family temple. Gold accents add more excitement to some of the designs. Every single one is completely unique; I didn’t see one that resembled any other one. Unlike my community in Florida, people are free to choose their own colors, however many they want and the configuration in which they will be applied. When you paint your house in Nepal, you are free to express yourself in whatever way you want and your choice announces to the world how you experience your place in it. All are expressions of hope, hope for a good life, for love, for joy, for prosperity, and, most of all, for family.
The history of a house as well as the development of the community is also reflected in its colors since many buildings, homes, businesses and schools, are built level by level over time. In one of the schools where I taught, the first floor had split color walls, royal blue on the bottom half, with white on the upper half. But the next floor was completely different with split design of a deep mustard yellow and bright purple. The walls of the lower level looked tired and worn, but the brightness of the colors on the second level proclaimed their newness. Apparently, most schools start as a room in someone’s house. As student numbers grow, a building is built, then another is added, then another, and growth proceeds upward as the school grows. For this reason, schools are not usually laid out according to some pre-designed plan. They evolve with the community and their colors reflect the spirit of the different people responsible for growing the school at different times in its development.
As we drove along the road, I searched for the most unique color combinations and tried to memorize them so that I could remember them but, in the end, the colors all ran together leaving only the impression of having seen a stream of mischievous rainbows flaunting their colors as they danced across the landscape.
I’ve been giving some serious thought about how I would paint my set of cement blocks if I lived in Nepal. At the moment, I can’t decide between a deep lavender house with teal trim and gold accents, or a multi-color design of pastels — lavender, powder blue, and mint green. I guess that we are never just one thing, and that is what the happy hopeful multicolored houses of Nepal remind us.