How I collided with Nepali culture and got a really short haircut

Two young girls on their way to school with the ubiquitous braids. copyright Donatella Lorch

Two young girls on their way to school with the ubiquitous braids. copyright Donatella Lorch

 

 

 

I have short hair and I haven’t had a haircut in five months. After 25 years of very short hair, this state of affairs was not because I had decided to grow it.  The challenge is that in Nepal, women just don’t have short hair.  So why should any hairdresser specialize in that field?

A view from the back. Copyright Donatella Lorch

A view from the back. Copyright Donatella Lorch

Over time, my search for a reliably good cut turned into an existential angst. I was stopping women on the street and at dinner parties asking for any advice on how to find someone who can cut short hair. I even found three who did have short hair but they did not enthusiastically offer a solution. And as all women in the world know, there is nothing quite as depressing as a bad haircut.

Even the grandmothers have long hair. Copyright Donatella Lorch

Even the grandmothers have long hair. Copyright Donatella Lorch

Inspired by a mother at my son’s primary school who was so frustrated with the lack of options that she took matters in her own hands, I resorted to cutting my own hair. I had the correct tools since I have been cutting my husband and our three sons’ hair for over eight years. But self -cutting meant that the back of my head quickly looked hacked. And when it grew in, I can vouch that I was somehow related to a shaggy Pekinese.

From the day I arrived in Nepal, I felt my short hair did not belong here. I was mesmerized by the beauty of Nepalese women’s hair. I loved looking at the ubiquitous groups of uniformed schoolgirls walking arm in arm on the city streets, all wearing their hair in two thick, long, voluptuous braids tied with bright ribbons. I can attest that my twin braids, very tightly woven by my father before I headed off to primary school never looked that good and definitely never were that thick.

A farmer washing her hair early in the morning. Copyright Donatella Lorch

A farmer washing her hair early in the morning. Copyright Donatella Lorch

Young urban women leave their hair often tumbling free down their back. The female traffic police have it pulled back in air-tight polished buns while older women, often wearing saris, pile it up in less constricting but no less thick and shiny chignons. From my yard, perched up on a scree of rocks, I look down at local farmers that come every day to a public water tap, the women unraveling their waist-length hair and foaming it up with shampoo. When I run in the early mornings, I ‘Namaste’ mothers on their front stoops lovingly oiling, brushing and braiding children’s hair.  Nepal is different from India where short haircuts are more and more common among the urban female youth. In Kathmandu, I concluded after multiple discussions with female and male friends, that it is the culture and by definition the men that dictate the hair length.

Young Nepali women frequently wear their hair cascading down their back.

Young Nepali women frequently wear their hair cascading down their back.

I was still faced with the fact that I wanted to cut my hair. In fact, I needed it as much as I wanted it. After living in Kathmandu for half a year, I felt I had gotten a grasp on searching for the impossible. What I have come to love about this city, is that somewhere out there, there is always someone who can do what you want.  So I kept asking everyone I met for advice.

This young girl's hair reaches her waist. Copyright Donatella Lorch

This young girl’s hair reaches her waist. Copyright Donatella Lorch

There is no shortage of hair salons in Nepal. My first week, a Nepali friend took me to visit what she called “the best one” just off Kathmandu’s Darbar Marg next to the likes of Nike and Victoria’s Secret stores and just down the road from the royal palace. She assured me all her colleagues at the office patronized this particular salon. I felt uneasy.  I had met many of her friends and like her they all had long, silky black hair. The coiffeur approached me to check out my haircut and smiled. “I can do it, no problem, let me show you,” he insisted. He then went to a drawer and pulled out two electric razors and motioned how he would buzz cut my head. I rapidly retreated to the door not quite ready for a “Full Metal Jacket” experience.

My neighbor runs a tea stall and when working pins up her mass of hair. Copyright Donatella Lorch

My neighbor runs a tea stall and when working pins up her mass of hair. Copyright Donatella Lorch

Then I struck gold. I found Sangita. Like so many Nepalese one meets in Kathmandu, she worked and studied abroad and then came back home. I drove almost an hour through jams and road construction and needed a hand drawn map to find her home. Sangita had shoulder length hair but she too had experienced my crisis. She had returned to Kathmandu with very short hair and unable to cut her own, she had no option but to grow it.

Then she cut mine.   The final product

6 thoughts on “How I collided with Nepali culture and got a really short haircut

  1. daniellel Leymarie

    Donatella i am coming to cut you hairs,it was my dream to go to Kamandu when i was young,they have so beautifull hairs,Happy new year.Warmly Danielle

    Reply
    1. Donatella Lorch Post author

      Thank you Pranay! The great irony is that after searching everywhere for someone to cut my hair, I ended up with the best hairstylist I’ve ever had. And she’s Nepali, trained in the UK. Sangita Rai, if anyone you know needs a good cut in KTM. She is a well hidden treasure.

      Reply
  2. Kim

    Hi
    I am coming to Kathmandu tomorrow for a couple of days staying in Thamel. I M desperate for a hair cut. How do I get hold of Sangita please.
    Thanks

    Reply

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