KISHOR K SHARMA

“Women have no caste, flatbread has no head, and the Rautes have no houses,” says a man perched on a rock, pointing at a camp of cloth tents hidden in the mist.

“You are duniya, the outside world, and we are the Rautes. We don’t have houses – we have camps.”

Only 125 remain in the foraging tribe of Rautes, from the western mountains of Nepal. Raute elders are convinced that their ancestral traditions will survive into the future.

They don’t occupy the same place for long, they don’t grow crops, and they don’t work for outsiders.

For a living, they carve household utensils out of softwood and barter or sell them. But increasing deforestation has depleted the supply of wood the Rautes need.

The government money they receive – one thousand rupees a month for each Raute – might seem useful now, but will likely increase dependence in the future.

“They have human sacrifices every twelve years! If you wander into their camp, they’ll enchant you and keep you prisoner!” Such are the tales told by villagers around the camp.

All hearsay, because nobody has seen any of it. The Rautes seem to prefer to remain hidden behind a shroud of mystery – perhaps to shield themselves from the influence of duniya.

They don’t talk much, don’t like outsiders in their camp, and seek out isolated nooks for their enclosed world.

Their life seems a conundrum: they endlessly wander along the boundaries of the world they have created. They roam like the clouds; they float across the landscape, free as the birds.

“The Rautes have no houses…” I remember. Perhaps I will meet them again, someday in the future, in another camp hidden in the mist.

This story was produced during a Masterclass with Mads Nissen organized by photo.circle. It has been published as a book, ‘The Constant Change- 12 photo stories from Nepal’.