Nepali Times

Lamjung’s ghost town

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

More than eight years after the war ended, the displaced still haven’t returned to their village

The army came in the daytime and the guerrillas came by night to taunt and threaten the villagers of the tiny village of Maling. Finally, they couldn’t bear it any longer, and more than 100 families left their crops and livestock in the care of neighbours and abandoned their homes. They haven’t come back.

Such was the fear that they haven’t returned even after the ceasefire in 2006. Their houses are falling apart, the terrace fields are overgrown with weeds, the school building is dilapidated, and Maling is a ghost town.

It all started after the Maoists came in one night in 2002 and left a dozen bags and one of their fighters, Ramchandra Tiwari, in the home of Som Maya Tamang. The army had always suspected that the village located 10 hours straight uphill from the district capital of Besi Sahar was a Maoist stronghold. A few days later, they surrounded the village and went house-to-house, they caught and shot dead Tiwari even though the villagers tried to save him.

HOMELESS: The home of Som Maya Tamang in Maling village of Lamjung is falling apart, while she lives in a rented room in Besi Sahar working as a cook.

HOMELESS: The home of Som Maya Tamang in Maling village of Lamjung is falling apart, while she lives in a rented room in Besi Sahar working as a cook.

A few nights later, the Maoists returned and took away Ward Chairperson, Niru Maya Tamang and Som Maya and tortured them in a nearby primary school, accusing them of being spies. But the rebels let them go after they couldn’t find evidence that they were spying. “We were so afraid that we couldn’t stay there any longer, we left,” recalls Niru Maya.

All 127 families abandoned their homesteads in Maling. Some settled down in Besi Sahar or Pokhara, others went to Kathmandu and beyond to India and the Gulf to find work. None have returned.

Som Maya today lives with her family in a rented room in Besi Sahar, and worked as a cook to feed her two sons and two daughters. Her elder son dropped out in Grade 8 and went off to India to work, his younger brother followed him. Both are now in Saudi Arabia.

At the Lamjung office of the Peace Committee, there are only names of six individuals out of the 127 displaced families from Maling who have been given Rs 5,000 compensation. The current coordinator of the committee, Maoist member Mohan Hari Poudel, denies there are any displaced people in Maling, and maintains that no one can claim to be displaced by war anymore.

Parbati Tamang, is also displaced from her home in Maling (right), but never got any compensation, and lives off earnings sent by a brother who works abroad.

Parbati Tamang, is also displaced from her home in Maling, but never got any compensation, and lives off earnings sent by a brother who works abroad.

Former coordinator and ex-DDC chair Krishna Prasad Koirala, however, says it’s a shame that the displaced of Maling never got compensation from the state.  In fact, the Peace Committee doesn’t even have a record of how much aid it distributed and to whom. For example in 2007, there is a record of the local Peace Committee receiving Rs 2.7 million, but the cash books show that only Rs 7.85 million was disbursed.

After the ceasefire, the interim government decided to give families of those killed, tortured and displaced compensation.  Under this, the family of teacher Muktinath Adhikari who was executed by the Maoists in 2002, collected compensation for both his death and their displacement. Mohan Singh Ghimire, also from Lamjung, who was killed by the Maoists also got Rs 300,000 as death compensation and Rs 50,400 for being displaced.

Aside from high profile victims like these, or survivors with political connections, ordinary poor farmers who also suffered loss have never got any compensation.

Maya Nath Ghimire of Sribhanjyang was detained by the army and tortured, but he has no idea where to get the compensation he is entitled to. Bishnu Ghimire of Bhalayakharka put in an application at the District Administration in Besi Sahar, but he never heard back. Bishnu Pandey was abducted by the Maoists while in Grade 10 in his school in Bhalayakharka, then he was detained by the Army for being a suspected Maoist and beaten almost to death. He never got any money. Torture victim Chandrakant Poudel was detained by the Army, filed his application for compensation, but has got nothing.

Government records show only 15 people who claimed to be detained and tortured got Rs 25,000 each from the state. But while real torture victims have got nothing, there are questions about who these 15 are and whether some of them are genuine victims.

Yubaraj Shrestha in Lamjung

Read also:

Tortured past Naresh Newar 

Sharing sorrow to ease the pain  Juanita Malagon

Open wounds Mallika Aryal 

The Sunkosi disaster site – a month after

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

On the pre-dawn hours of 2 August exactly a month ago, a whole mountainside swept down on the village of Jure, burying at least 156 people (almost a third of them children) under tons of rock and rubble. The entire side of the hill on the western bank of the Sunkosi between Mankha and Ramche VDCs fell off at 3 AM that morning, disappearing the old village on the slope as well as the settlement along Arniko Highway further down.  One entire government secondary school was wiped out. On the edges of the landslide one can observe only the devastation’s periphery, because most of the people, livestock, houses and highway lie deep underneath.

There is a term in the Nepali language to indicate landslides that dam up rivers, ‘bishyari’ rather than the more generic ‘pahiro’, and this indicates the regularity of these occurrences over historical time in the high Himalaya and midhills. The tragedy of these events are heightened in modern times because of highways that snake along the base of river valleys beneath unstable slopes, and the ‘ribbon development’ that has people in search of livelihood settling along the roadways.

On 30 August, in the company of Ani Choying Drolma, we visited the dammed up Sunkosi area where Jure village used to be. It was a numbing experience, to understand the scale of the landslip and the tragedy it brought the sleeping inhabitants of the village and roadside settlement. We present here some photographs of the site of the ‘mountain-slide’.

Coming up the road from Lamosangu, this scene is typical of the generally unkempt roadsides along Nepal’s highways

Coming up the highway from Lamosangu, this scene is typical of the generally unkempt roadsides along Nepal’s highways. But then, right around the corner…

With Ani in Sindupalchok

… is this view of the landslide, which is about a kilometer long and nearly as tall. It buried both settlements and a stretch of Arnico Highway, blocked the Sunkosi, and created a lake stretching 3 km upstream. The excavator in the picture is part of the effort by those involved in the Nepal-China trade (through Khasa) working with the Roads Department to cut a dangerous track across the landslide debris field so that goods and passenger traffic can resume. The Nepal Army is building a longer track on the hillside across the Sunkosi.

On the edges of the landslide, where some of the concrete-pillar houses are still standing, we saw this orphaned CD collection with the leaf turned to Phalguni Pathak.

On the edges of the landslide, where some of the concrete-pillar houses are still standing, we saw this orphaned CD collection with the leaf turned to Phalguni Pathak. Chinese tourists are brought across the landslide area by porters/guides who are arranged by a network of ‘facilitators’ that has quickly come up. Indian pilgrims headed for Kailas-Manasarover traverse the other way. Chinese tourists are brought across the landslide area by porters/guides who are arranged by a network of ‘facilitators’ that has quickly come up. Indian pilgrims headed for Kailas-Manasarover traverse the other way. Jure 5

Shredded high tension wires can be seen along the terraces and forests. The national electricity grid has lost about a tenth of its production due to the landslide. Jure 6

The picture shows the scale of the ‘mountain-slide’. Where Ani Choying Drolma and Shanta Dixit are traversing is about where Jure village is said to lie, deep under tons and tons of rock.Jure 7 Jure 7-A

The rapids and the midhill tranquility at the outflow point of the Sunkosi lake… One gets to understand the energy of flowing water even better when confronted with this over-topping of the suddenly-created landslide lake. Jure 8 Jure 9

The Sunkosi lake and rapids has become a spot for photography.

Jure 10

The team of Nepal Army engineers has been working away to develop an alternative channel and reduce the lake level. They use dynamite and excavators, one of them seen at the far side. The level of the lake is said to be steadily decreasing.

Jure 11

The alternate channel is muddied by the army’s excavation work upstream. The scouring of the hillside on the far side indicates the volume and energy of the 2 August event. The landslide that came down the western bank reached far up the eastern side before collapsing on the valley floor. On the far bank, the hillside has been scoured, trees felled or bared, and the forest far above splattered with mud and rubble. Massive rocks traveled hundreds of meters through the air to land beyond the landslide footprint.

Jure 12

Gigantic rocks have come down from the mountain. The scale can be judged with reference to the policeman at right.

Jure 13

It is the end of the workday, police/army personnel and civilians working at the disaster site head out. The rock at the left is one of those that flew through the air to land here on the night of 2 August.

Turning the bend on the road and arriving at the disaster site.

A 360 degree view of the Sunkosi rapids, rock dam, landslide slope and surrounding hillsides.

Shanta Dixit and Kanak Mani Dixit

Turning grief into hope

Monday, August 25th, 2014

On 24 August 2010, an Agni Air flight bound for Lukla was returning to Kathmandu in poor weather with a technical malfunction. It crashed 30km south of Kathmandu in the town of Bastipur in Makwanpur district. Fourteen people on board were killed, including flight attendant Sarah Sherpa.

ROAD TO REMEMBER: The 6km road build by Dorji Tsering Sherpa and his SKY Memorial Foundation in memory of his daughter, Sarah,  and others killed in the Agni Air crash in Makwanpur exactly four years ago this week.

ROAD TO REMEMBER: The 6km road build by Dorji Tsering Sherpa and his SKY Memorial Foundation in memory of his daughter, Sarah, and others killed in the Agni Air crash in Makwanpur exactly four years ago this week.

Her parents, aviation entrepreneur Dorji Tsering Sherpa and Anju Sherpa made it to Bastipur a few months later and burst into tears when they saw the crater where the Dornier fell to the ground. Seeing the couple in such a state of grief, locals who had gathered around also started weeping. The Sherpas were so touched by their emotion, they decided to spend the money from her daughter’s insurance and wedding budget on the development of Bastipur village.

They decided to start with the nearby Bakiya Thakur Primary School, which the plane narrowly missed. The school was in a dilapidated state, enrollment was falling, and few children studied beyond Grade 5 since the middle school was a 45-minute walk away.

The couple renovated the school building, and started working on upgrading it to a middle school, hiring teachers and paying for their  salaries. The school now has 100 per cent enrollment and students have scholarships, and get free stationery and uniforms.

But there was a lot more to be done. Dorji got in touch with families of other victims and set up the Sky Memorial Foundation, named after three young victims: Sarah, Kendra Fallon (US), and Yuki Hayashi (Japan). The foundation now manages the development work in Bastipur and its surroundings. Dorji says that his 30-year career in aviation has earned him a lot of friends, who have contributed in fundraising.

One of his Japanese friends helped build a health clinic in nearby Shikhapur in memory of his wife, which means local villagers do not have to make a two-hour ride to Phaparbari to see a doctor.

Some money also went to reviving the local school, which was on the verge of being shut down. In consultation with local villagers and with help from local CA member Indra Baniya, the Foundation has just finished construction of a 6 km road  connecting Bastipur with Hattisunde where locals were ecstatic when the first jeep arrived recently.

Dorji Tsering Sherpa at Bastipur's school and stupa.

Dorji Tsering Sherpa at Bastipur’s school and stupa.

Now, farm produce from the area can be taken to market. “Our bananas, cucumber, mango and pineapple won’t go to waste anymore,” says farmer Prem Bahadur Ghale.

Says Dorji: “More than infrastructure development, our biggest achievement has been the change our work has brought in the mindset of the villagers who now seem positive and hopeful about the future.” Dorji is already planning ahead. He thinks a homestay program can bring tourists to the area and boost local income.

After his wife passed away last year, Dorji is even more determined to continue the work. He says: “I think of Shikharpur as my daughter and wife’s home.”

Gokarna Gautam in Nepal, 24-31 August

SKY Memorial Foundation

+977 9851018820

See also:
Immortal memorial

Hotel Echo’s last moments

For Nepali original:

Relief, rehab, recovery

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Last week, as vice president of Crisis Recovery International (CRI) and an associate of Rural Reconstruction Nepal (RRN), I visited the site of the Sindhupalchok landslide, to assess the situation and identify possible interventions that CRI could undertake in collaboration with the local authorities and local community groups for the recovery phase. We often help people start to try to re-build their lives and livelihoods by providing chicken or goats to women’ groups, for example.

We met the CDO and the LDO of Sindulapchok, the Armed Police and others  involved in the relief work. We walked up to the point across the river, from where the full enormity of the landslide could be seen, and talked to local people about what had happened, what was the impact and what in their could and should be done for the survivors who had lost their homes, their fields and their livelihoods.

It was in the very early hours of the morning of Saturday, 2 August that a huge landslide tore the hillside away, destroying around 100 houses in its path, burying some buildings and damaging others, killing up to 200 people and displacing many hundred. A number of villages (Mangkha, Ramche, Tekanpur and Jure) were affected both directly by the landslide itself and by the blocking of the river, the road side market and secondary school at Ban Sanghu on the west bank were buried.

Bhote Koshi timebombThe landslide also blocked the river entirely, creating an artificial lake and inundating more houses, it destroyed or submerged the Arniko Highway and other routes upstream, damaged the Sunkosi hydropower dam, and transmission line. We talked to a local restaurant manager who said simply: “For 16 hours, the river just stopped flowing.”

The immediate concern was to deal with the danger from the huge artificial lake that had been formed by the river blockage and to assess the number of those who had been killed, the number of survivors and the damage done to property. The response in this regard was rapid and commendable, the Nepal Army addressed the dangers posed by the blockage of the river, all 56 sluice gates of the Sapta Kosi barrage on the Indian border were opened, and controlled explosions were used to open up the flow. Each household that had lost a family member was allocated Rs 40,000, and a few were given Rs 5,000 in relief. Some casualties were helicoptered to Kathmandu.

The CDO, LDO and the District Disaster Management Committee were involved at an early stage, as were the Armed Police (some 700 men) and a ‘base camp’ for the provision of relief (food and other supplies) was established within a relatively a short time at an old factory site less than a km down river from the site of the disaster. There was a limited effort to drop supplies to some villages by helicopter, but by and large relief was either carried the long way around the blockage to villages affected upstream or villagers. By the time we arrived, the relief operation was in full swing, with hangars well stocked with supplies.

Sunkoshi landslide dam area

Donations from charitable organisations, private companies and banks, and other sources in Nepal were beginning to arrive, as well as some assistance from non-Nepali institutions. But, as the CDO bitterly commented, much of this was if not “too little” then certainly “too late” for many. It was now three weeks since the landslide occurred. Many local people had been without food and water for days and remained without shelter even now. It was depressing to return to Kathmandu after a long and emotionally exhausting day to see that the UN representative had just offered his condolences — three weeks after the event. He suggested in effect that the relief effort had gone well, that all was under control and that ‘some newspapers and social media have reported numbers (of those affected) that are grossly overestimated’.

In fact, the relief effort was not slow to get going, but the problem was then getting to the people who needed it. Reports from the site through the first week indicated that many of those whose homes and livelihoods had been destroyed and were now without either had not received any significant help. A week after the landslide, as we heard, many displaced villagers were still without relief or shelter. A representative from the National Human Rights Commission, who visited the area emphasised that the government must ensure their basic rights, including shelter, health, education and transport. The assistant CDO said that the local authorities would convey his concerns to higher ups and emphasised that ‘our priority is to provide immediate relief and rescue those facing threat of more landslides’.

Victims of bhote koshiIt is easy to be critical in such circumstances, where people’s lives have been so disastrously affected and are unable to receive the help they so badly need within a matter of days. But international experts accept that it may well be 72 hours in most disasters before anything can be expected by those directly affected, even when the relief effort moves fast and there is a real capacity to reach the people in need. This is why disaster preparedness at the lowest level – that of the household and the tol or hamlet – is so crucial. Self-reliance is the only guarantee of basic relief, and even that cannot help those buried under the water or the landslide or collapsed buildings. Local risk analysis by the District Disaster Risk Management Committee and the use of early warning systems also need to be strengthened.

Recovery is still a very long way away for those affected and, indeed, for many may never really take place. But we have some local contacts now and will pursue opportunities to help people earn an income to maintain themselves if we can.

David Seddon is the author of Nepal in Crisis: Growth and Stagnation in the Periphery and is also vice president of Crisis Recovery International.

Nepali steps in Norway

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

On August 16, several hundred people filled the fog-shrouded slope just below the summit of Gaustadtoppen in Norway for the inauguration of steps repaired by Nepalis. (see Nepali Times 25-31 July 2014).

Several hundred people filled the fog-shrouded slope just below the summit of Gaustadtoppen in Norway for the inauguration of steps

Several hundred people filled the fog-shrouded slope just below the summit of Gaustadtoppen in Norway for the inauguration of steps

But by the time of the ceremony, the clouds parted at the 1,883 m summit and the Nepali team that built the steps donned traditional Sherpa attire and sang the Nepali trekking anthem, “Resham Phiri” with people enthusiastically applauding the fantastic work they had done.

Nepali team that built the steps donned traditional Sherpa attire and sang the Nepali trekking anthem, ”Resham Phiri”

Nepali team that built the steps donned traditional Sherpa attire and sang the Nepali trekking anthem, “Resham Phiri”

“We are very happy and feel wonderful to work in Norway,” said Nima Nuru Sherpa after the ceremony, “it’s fantastic to work in the nature of Norway, it feels like working at home in Nepal.”

Marit Bakke in Gaustadtoppen

Read also: 

Nepali steps in Norway

Himalayan and Sourya

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Two new private airlines poised to start operations

Bombardier CRJ 200

Bombardier CRJ 200. Source: RSS

The tourism industry is cautiously optimistic about the launch of a new joint venture private international airline, and a new domestic airline in Nepal.

Himalayan Airlines is a joint venture between Tibet Airlines of China and Nepali investors that include HIF Aviation Investment and Yeti Air International.  At a signing ceremony on Tuesday at the Hyatt Regency, Himalayan Airlines announced it will start operations with Kathmandu to Lhasa and Chengdu flights on 28 October.

The company is acquiring two Airbus 319 Series 2 aircraft and has options for three more Airbus 320s as its network expands to points in India, the Gulf and Hong Kong. The airline said it is also eying direct flights through wide body aircraft to Europe by next year if demand picks up.

“You may ask what a banker is doing investing in an airline,” Prithvi Bahadur Pande of HIF Aviation said at the ceremony, “but we have realised the vast untapped potential for tourism and aviation in Nepal.”

Cheng Yiru of Tibet Airlines said his company specialised in ultra-high altitude operations on the Plateau and said it made strong business sense for the tourism development of Tibet to partner with a Nepali company. “The joint venture will build on the age-old trans-Himalayan connection between Nepal and China,” he added.

Chinese Ambassador Wu Chun Tai stressed that this was a business-to-business joint venture, adding that it would further enhance Nepal-China cooperation in investment, trade and tourism. “Just as the Himalaya is a monument linking Nepal and China, Himalaya Airlines marks a new monument in economic cooperation between the two countries,” he added.

Himalaya Airlines with a paid up capital of $25 million has majority shares of its Nepali partners, while Tibet Airlines holds 49%. The airlines will create at least 1,000 new jobs in Nepal and will pay millions in tax revenue and fees to the government.

Domestic jet service

Meanwhile, Sourya Airlines is starting domestic operations with Bombardier CRJ 200 jets that will cut current turboprop flight time to and from Kathmandu on trunk city routes nearly half.

Sourya’s first 50-seater Bombardier CRJ landed in Kathmandu on Monday and will be connecting Kathmandu and Dhangadi, Nepalganj, Bhairawa, Biratnagar and Bhadrapur with the first jet service since Cosmic Air terminated its F100s. The airline says it is adding another CRJ200 next year. The airline was launched with overseas Nepali investment, and former pilots of Buddha Air and Yeti.

Brand yourself

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Interview with UK-based Nepali blogger Lex Limbu, Nepal, 10 August

Nepal: What are you doing in Nepal?

Lex Limbu: Before coming I had prepared a programme called ‘Tracing Nepal’, in which I would take Nepali youngsters to rural parts of the country. Currently we have 8 boys and 8 girls in our team, who lived abroad and didn’t know much about their country. I am going around the country for 16 days with them. After this finishes, I will prepare a travelogue. I studied human geography at college, so this is a practical side of my studies.

How does one become a good blogger?

You have to be regular. If you publish things regularly, no one forgets you. Also you can’t just bring out what people like to read or hear, you have to be original. This also helps to brand your blog and develop your own personality as a blogger. You have to be really committed.

How much pressure do you get, as a celebrity blogger, to write about certain things?

Plenty. From corporate houses to social workers, everyone wants me to publicise their cause. When Nepalis abroad have difficulties, when people want to campaign for libraries across Nepal, I have helped with spreading the message. When I had only started my blog, I raised £900 to give out to 2009’s Saptakosi flood victims.

How do you manage to come up with Hollywood and Bollywood stories that have a Nepali connection?

The internet is my biggest source.

What’s the difference between blogging from Nepal and abroad?

It’s more fun outside because the internet is fast and you don’t have load-shedding. But then, you lose the public contact you have in Nepal.

What makes you so special?

I write little and use a lot of pictures and videos. I think that is inevitable because most of my stories are about celebrities, fashion, and entertainment. Main thing is I take no sides.