“Our land is us and we are our land,” says Hem Ratna Shakya, a Khokana activist. “People here have a physical, spiritual, social, cultural and economic connection with the land. We have no identity without it.”
The four-lane 76km Kathmandu-Tarai Expressway project will follow the Bagmati River from the Valley to a proposed new international airport in Nijgadh. Some 6km of the highway will slice through terrace farms and ritual routes of the town, erasing important cultural heritage sites.
The Fast Track will start at Sikali and go through Pingah, the funeral area, Ku Dey, Jugunti, Machaga Bagar, Chankutirtha — all important parts of Khokana’s cultural circuit on the route to the next town of Bungamati.
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In Sano Khokana where the expressway is supposed to start, Asha Maharjan will lose all his property. The fertile soil here is an important part of his family’s history and he remembers ploughing it with his parents when he was young. His eight-member family still relies on harvests for their food and income.
“Maybe they can re-route it through non-arable land,” Maharjan says hopefully. “It will save us from being homeless.”
Up the road from his house, the project will take up a portion of Sikalichaur, where the annual Sikali Jatra is celebrated. In October, when the country celebrates Dasain, locals in Khokana mark Sikali Jatra — a five-day festival with masked dances for Goddess Rudrayani and other deities.