Nepali Times

Dhaba festival

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017
Pics: Charumathi Raman

Pics: Charumathi Raman

Smriti Basnet

The entire sundeck of the Garden restaurant at Soaltee Crowne Plaza has been transformed into a dhaba, the popular roadside eateries that dot the highways in India, for the annual Punjabi-flavoured Dhaba festival.

Visitors are greeted with the stage set straight out of Chandigarh: a mock garage  with a cardboard truck that reads ‘Happy Singh Da Dhaba’, a paan stall, posters of Bollywood oldies, cooking smoke spiralling up and out of the stalls and tent names that remind you of Jallandar. Punjabi music plays in the background.

The festival caters to all tastes: meat lovers, vegetarians and those among both groups with a sweet tooth. We scanned the stalls and decided to go for drinks first. Arranged in a pyramid format, on offer were lassi, chas (butter milk) and lichee juice.

Both the lassi and chas were rich and frothy: the first a thick blend of curd and the other with a sharp taste, and both whet our appetites for the snacks. (Fresh seasonal juices are also available.)

Next: the food. We started with two varieties of Aloo Tikka, Bitter Gourd Tikka and Paneer Tikka. The crunchy Aloo Tikka, dipped in a green paste made from mint, green chili, raw mango and other spices, compensated for the bitterness of the gourd.

Having done the round of the veggies, we moved on to the carnivore carnival: Mahi Lahori (fish), Mutton Sheikh Kebab and Chicken Tikka. The meticulously prepared chicken (first soaked in spices then in curd) cooked in the tandoor was a delight. The first bite of the piping hot chicken was juicy and the spices seeped out.

The vegetarian spread had well known Punjabi items like Chole Bhature, Dal Makhani, Sarso da Saag, Paneer Lababdar, Methi Aloo, and more. An ample variety of rotis, parathas and kulchas provided an alternative to rice. The savory gravy paneer dish, flavoured with hints of cashews and spices, paired well with the deepfried bread (Chole). The bhature’s taste, however, was overpowered by the black pepper.

A sumptuous range of dishes greeted meat lovers as well. Be it Murg Kali Mirch (mutton), or Ghos Achari Korma (chicken) the variety of flavours and textures triggered the Pavlov Effect in us.

Dipped in gravy, the subtle flavours of the Murg Kali Mirch (mutton) blended well with the no-nonsense biryani and accompanying raita. The chicken was equally succulent, with the fish finishing a distant third. We are a long way from the sea here.

As they say in Punjab, by end of it we were “fulfilled” (or even perhaps “fed up”). But there was still the dessert to sample. After a heavy meal of spicy snacks and mains, we were delighted to taste hot Jalebis and Rasmalai, rounded off with a cup of chai.

As the guests shuffled and wobbled out, it seemed somehow appropriate that we were all humming snippets of Daler Mehendi that was the staple background music of the Soaltee Dhaba Night.

Until 30 April, Soaltee Crowne Plaza, Tahachal marg, (01)427399


Story of a temple rising

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

Char Narayan2

Two years and one day after a devastating earthquake hit central Nepal, Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust (KVPT) has released The Temple, its latest audio-visual story about restoring heritage sites destroyed or damaged on 25 April 2015.

The Temple, one of six stories KVPT has created about the people and heritage of Kathmandu, tells the story of Char Narayan, the oldest monument in Patan Darbar Square: its history and the resilience of the people who worship it and are working for its restoration. The temple collapsed completely in the earthquake.

In the first chapter, ‘The Story of Char Narayan’, experts discuss the history, relevance, style and future of the temple and their project. As they speak, past and present images of the monument scroll past. In the next chapter, The People, locals discuss their desire to rebuild and the skills that they can contribute.

In conjunction with the Nepal Department of Archaeology, KVPT is releasing The Temple, on 26 April to mark World Monuments Fund (WMF) Watch Day, hoping to create awareness about Nepal’s tangible, and intangible, heritage.

Recently KVPT announced a five-year campaign that will include 20-25 brick and mortar restoration and reconstruction projects. WMF has already provided support, funding reconstruction of Char Narayan.,

Women, Dalits in local polls

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017
Women in Gurvakot village of Surkhet take part in a meeting to choose candidates for local elections last week. Photo: Laxmi Bhandari

Women in Gurvakot village of Surkhet take part in a meeting to choose candidates for local elections last week. Photo: Laxmi Bhandari

From the Nepali press

Himal Khabarpatrika, 23-29 April

Kamala BK is a candidate for the Gurvakot village council election in Surkhet. She has been a social activist, and says she is excited about joining local government after years of working with a non-government group.

Sita Devi BK is also standing as a ward council member, from Barahatal village. She also worked for a non-government group and predicts that little will change if she enters government. “I will be doing what I have been doing, struggle for gender rights, by standing in elections.”

Across Nepal, there are many women – most from minority groups like Dalits – who are going to have a chance at governing because of quotas for women candidates in local government units. Nepal’s first election under the new Constitution mandates that municipality and village councils must have a woman in at least the post of chair or vice-chair. The councils themselves should have at least two women members, of which at least one must be from the Dalit community. In Surkhet alone, the five municipalities and 99 wards will have at least 207 women; 99 will have to be Dalits.

In the Tarai, too, there was already considerable enthusiasm for local elections even before the Madhes-based parties decided to unite and take part in the second phase of polling. The interest is especially palpable among Dalits and women. Pasi Devi Rajbansi of Dhanpal village of Morang is standing for vice chair from the UML party. She says: “We are really excited. There is now a certainty that we will be represented in local government.”

Kala Devi Sah of Kathari village is from the NC and Devkala Yadav of Sunbarshi is standing for ward chair: both are actively campaigning door-to-door. Whatever their party affiliation, candidates’ campaign promises are all the same: education, health, jobs, better roads and no discrimination.

Sangita Darji, 38, is from the tailor caste and would be considered ‘untouchable’, but today she is standing for ward council member of Kamal village of Jhapa district, from the RPP, and has already started campaigning. Darji had actually decided to go to the Gulf to work as a domestic, but abandoned the process after hearing that it would be possible to stand in local elections. Kopila Nepali is also a Dalit from the same village. A member of the Maoist-Centre party came to her house to convince her to stand in the council election. She is not a member of the party and makes ends meet with a small tailoring shop, and money her husband sends home from the Gulf.

Dalit women candidates from Morang: Anita Thatal of the NC, Sangita Darji of the RPP, Kopila Nepali of the Maoist-Centre (from clockwise).

Dalit women candidates from Morang: Anita Thatal of the NC, Sangita Darji of the RPP, Kopila Nepali of the Maoist-Centre (from clockwise).

Anita Thatal (pictured right) was also approached in her own house by a member of the NC who convinced her to run in elections. The quota for women and Dalits in local elections has put a lot of pressure on political parties to find candidates, but the fact that women outnumber men in rural areas has made that job a little easier. However, many of the candidates recruited are not members of any party.

Even though caste discrimination has been outlawed for more than 55 years, Dalits are still ostracized. But the local elections, with their quotas for Dalits and women, are expected to go a long way in removing the stigma. Says Rajendra Diyali of the Maoist-Centre in Damak Municipality: “We Dalits are finally being inducted into mainstream politics. Maybe now we will get more respect in society.”

The 131 wards of Jhapa Municipality will be getting at least 524 Dalit women candidates from the NC, UML, Maoist-Centre and RPP. “The gates to state power have now been opened to our community,” says Tikaram Bayalkoti of the Dalit Empowerment Forum.

However, the other community that has been excluded from past elections — the roughly 5 million Nepalis working abroad — may have to wait some more years before they can vote. Because absentee ballots are not allowed, migrant workers (half of them in India) have been unable to cast ballots. However, there has been a noticeable influx of Nepalis crossing from India at the Sunauli border in the past week, mostly locals who are returning to vote.

Khumlal Thapa from Bamgha of Gulmi district works in Haryana, and is headed to his village. So is Ganesh BK from Argakhanchi, who works in Punjab. “If there are local elections, there will be development and jobs, and we may not have to migrate anymore,” says BK. The organisations of Nepalis in India are affiliated with various political parties back home and these have been actively mobilising to bring back voters for the elections.

Dip Gyawali in Butwal, Gopal Gartaula in Jhapa, Laxmi Bhandari in Surkhet and Mukesh Pokhrel in Morang.

“New homes have to be safer”

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

In 2014, Ambassador Walton Alfonso Webson became permanent representative of the Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda to the United Nations. Earlier this month, as president of the executive board of UNICEF, he led a 28-member delegation of board members of six UN agencies to Nepal.

Travel is a central feature of the diplomat’s life. Prior to arriving in Kathmandu he visited South Africa and Lesotho, and once on the ground in Nepal he and his colleagues split into four groups, in nine days visiting nine districts. The fact-finding mission discussed priorities with women, children and youth, and local authorities.

Recovery and rebuilding from the 2015 earthquakes was a central theme, as Webson pointed out in a video chat with Nepali Times. Excerpts are below.

Nepali Times: Overall, how would you assess recovery from the earthquake and the UN’s role in it?

Walton Alfonso Webson: I am sure there are still lots of complaints on the ground, because our human nature is we want to see things happening, and once things begin to happen you want to see them happen faster … We certainly heard great need for reconstruction so that people in the areas that were hit hardest can get access to water faster and more reliably.

We certainly know that there is need in terms of housing but we also saw the efforts that were being made to rebuild. There are two forms of reconstruction that one always has to take into consideration in a disaster: one is social reconstruction – people who are looking at rebuilding their lives… That social reconstruction is very important and United Nations programs are focusing a lot on that.

Then of course you have the physical reconstruction: buildings, bridges, homes, etc. There’s a lot of emphasis and efforts being put into the rebuilding of homes.

What role can the UN play in trying to accelerate the rebuilding?

We had very good meetings with representatives of the government: the prime minister, minister of foreign affairs, and with the National Reconstruction Authority. We did speak about the need for hastening and they emphasised, the NRA in particular, the need to rebuild homes … UN teams will continue to work with different groups and development partners because this is a process that is not done solely by any one body.

We believe that there will be a response but, again, this is a government-led initiative and the UN is supporting the government and will continue to urge the government to move things along as quickly as possible. But you also want to ensure that the new buildings, the new homes, are built within code so that if a future earthquake comes – as is predicted – there will be better stability and less loss of lives.

How will rumoured funding cuts from the Trump administration to agencies like UNFPA affect Nepal in particular?

The UN has a really good relationship with the United States government, which is a major partner of the UN. As you said, it’s rumours. There have been discussions about UNFPA, but nothing is yet approved. It should not affect Nepal’s work in any way at this stage … So I wouldn’t be worried. We in the programs, at this moment, are not worried.

Marty Logan



Gurkhas’ post-quake struggles

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

Rifleman Kul Bahadur Gurung with his granddaughter. Photo: GWT


Two years on from the devastating Nepal earthquakes, a British charity is rushing to re-house hundreds of Gurkha veterans and widows before the annual monsoon arrives.

The quakes left approximately 600,000 people across the country without a home. The majority are still living in rudimentary shelters constructed from corrugated metal sheets and the remains of former buildings.

The Gurkha Welfare Trust (GWT), which supports ex-Gurkhas and their communities, has already built homes for 850 of the more than 1,100 veterans and widows affected. However, around 250 are still waiting for proper accommodation as torrential rains approach for the summer months. Most live in isolated communities in the Himalayan foothills.

Brothers Kul Bahadur (74) and Gunga Bahadur Gurung (77) both served in the 6th Gurkha Rifles throughout the 1960s, including tours of Malaya, Borneo and Brunei. On leaving the Army, they returned to their native village of Lankachhar in Kaski district, remaining there until the earthquakes destroyed their homes in 2015.

Both men are currently living with their extended family in cramped rooms borrowed from neighbouring houses that survived the quakes. They are each waiting for the completion of new homes built by GWT.

Kul Bahadur said: “When the earthquake came, we were eating lunch. We ran outside and moments later the house crumbled. It was terrifying – moments later and we would be buried under rubble.

“Life is very hard now. There are five of us in one room, including my granddaughter who is only a baby. There’s no privacy; it’s hard to even sleep. The worst is when it rains because we can’t even go outside
and the roof leaks. I’m looking forward to moving in to the new house.”

Gurkha hero Rambahdur Limbu VC, the last surviving Nepali recipient of the Victoria Cross, has spoken out in support: “To survive the wars and come home, only to lose everything to an earthquake, is a cruel fate. I feel for my fellow veterans at this time.”

Find out more about the GWT’s work.

Buildings not strong enough

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

rcc houses ktmFrom the Nepali press

Mahesh Acharya in BBC Nepali, 24 April

Two years ago, when the earthquake destroyed the mud-mortar houses in Kathmandu Valley, it convinced many that cement buildings were safer. But a new study has revealed that many of the reinforced concrete construction (RCC) buildings in the Kathmandu Valley do not follow meet the minimum government standards and would not withstand a strong earthquake in future.

The two year-long study titled ‘Project for Assessment of Earthquake Disaster Risk for the Kathmandu Valley’ led by the Ministry of Urban Development in coordination with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and other government agencies found that out of 250,000 RCC houses in Kathmandu only 27,000 or so followed proper
engineering and design guidelines.

“Only six per cent of the RCC houses in Kathmandu Valley follow engineer approved designs, whereas 48 per cent houses are non- engineer RCC building meaning they were constructed by the house owners without keeping the earthquake safety in mind,” explained Suman Salike, senior divisional engineer at Ministry of Urban Development who was involved in the assessment.

According to the 1993 building code, an RCC building needs to have 12×12 inch pillars, but engineers involved in the assessment said that many of the RCC houses were found to have 9×9 or 9×12 inch columns.

2 years


“There are criteria for load calculation in the building code, and the building code at the time deemed that a 12×12 inch column would sustain the load of a building with a certain number of floors,” said Ram Bahadur Thapa of head of construction permit division at Kathmandu Metropolitan City. This rule is applicable to buildings of up to three
stories having less than 1,000 sq ft foot print. Today, most concrete buildings in Kathmandu are more than three floors and need pillars and beams that are stronger, with bigger dimensions and more rods.

Experts also said that the building codes need to be followed more strictly and amended accordingly to build safer and stronger houses. “If you don’t upgrade this building code, you will have to suffer damage equal to or more than in 2015. That is why it needs to be amended,” said Riyochi Takahashi of JICA who was involved in the assessment.

Along with study, the government has also started discussions with national and international experts to amend the criteria in the building code so it reflects the requirements of taller buildings and stronger earthquakes. There are around 450,000 houses in Kathmandu Valley, half of them are of RCC and most do not meet the specifications in the
building code.

Listen to full report in Nepali.

Read Also:

Building back unsafe, Om Astha Rai

Search, locate, rescue in collapsed concrete houses,Sonia Awale

All together now

Monday, April 24th, 2017


milijuli nepali

Milijuli Nepali broadcaster Bhawana Gurung interviewing an earthquake survivor. All Pics: BBC Media Action

Sashi Shrestha

After his village was devastated by the earthquake two years ago, killing 15 of his neighbours, Bir Bahadur Tamang needed an engineer to tell him about seismic-resistant designs.

But like many other families in earthquake-affected districts, Tamang, the former chair of Satyadevi village of Dhading district, had never met an engineer. Still, he got all the information he needed on building safer homes using salvaged material from Milijuli Nepali, a radio program syndicated through local FM radio stations.

2 yearsTamang had never met a journalist in his life either, but knew the names of most of the reporters on Milijuli by heart. Which is why earlier this month he was very happy to finally meet not just a journalist, but one whose voice he had often heard on his radio set.

“No one ever came here: no engineer, no journalist; the only information we had was from the radio,” Tamang said. Soon, the earthquake survivor was himself being interviewed for the next episode of Milijuli, and his voice broadcast across Nepal through nearly 400 FM stations as well as streamed across the Nepali-speaking world through the Internet.
milijuli nepali1

For Milijuli broadcaster Bhawana Gurung, there was no firmer proof that her program has helped convert awareness about post-earthquake reconstruction into behaviour change — something that was just a theory she had heard about in media school.

Radio programs like Milijuli have been filling the gap left by the lack of elected village leaders and making up for the absence of accountability in post-earthquake relief by spreading information about how to build safer, stronger homes, and by bringing the concerns of survivors to the attention of Kathmandu.

Sharada Danuwar of Kavre worked as a porter, earning Rs 500 a day. One evening she heard over Milijuli’s Katha Mala program that because of the shortage of brick-layers needed for reconstruction, women were being trained as masons.

She applied for training and today earns Rs 1,250 a day helping rebuild most of the 78 houses in her village that went down. With the money she has saved, she is planning to buy a scooter so she can commute to neighbouring villages to work on reconstruction there too.

Milijuli Nepali is produced by BBC Media Action, the BBC’s international development communication unit, which also broadcasts weekly debates called Sajha Sawal over radio and TV. Milijuli now has a listenership of over 2.1 million, and is relayed over 11 radio stations in the quake-affected districts. The programs are driven by personal stories of survivors, and generally have a positive slant.

“We have found that personal stories are the most effective method of communicating,” explains Subash Karki of BBC Media Action. “It is information not for the survivors, but about them. We try not to preach, or talk down to them… this is what communications for development means. It is proof that radio works.”

milijuli 12

Indeed, while other media outlets try to highlight problems, Milijuli deliberately looks for solutions. Listeners are surprised that most of the people featured are women, and how cheerful they sound despite the adversities they have faced in the past two years.

Bhuwan Timilsina, program coordinator at Milijuli, says it was originally created as a radio program providing lifeline communication — broadcasting information that could actually save lives in the aftermath of the earthquake.

“Just like food, water, medicine, and shelter, providing correct and timely information to the public is equally crucial during times of crisis,” explains Timilsina, “and there is unanimous opinion that telling personal stories is the most effective format to spread information.”

This is something that Lal Maya Shrestha of Sindhuli knows only too well. She says: “I feel guilty if I miss a single episode of Milijuli, and sometimes I listen to the same program over and over.”