Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Mangmalung – here I come!

Sunset, as seen from Mangmalung.

It would turn out to be a lazy day. I was mumbling on my bed as the clock stroke 4:30 am. However, I had to catch an early night bus from Itahari that would take just one hour to reach Damak – our starting point of the unplanned trek. Generally, the local buses take up to two hours to cross the same distance.

It was raining cats and dogs and I unwillingly packed my laptop, diary, pen, toiletries and sets of clothes for the week-long trip. As I waded through the water-clogged streets, the street dogs barked at me and hadn’t it been so early in the morning, I would have howled back! Funny, isn’t it?

Finally, I jumped on a bus heading to Kakarvitta. Since it was coming from Kathmandu, all seats were packed and I had to stand while everybody was sleeping without any worries. And exactly in an hour I was at Damak!

I met with my friend and trek companion Dilli Rai at the bus stop and went to his house to have some breakfast before starting the journey. His sister-in-law fed us well and handed us a comb of bananas and a kilo apples which we tucked inside our bags.

Since it started raining again, we thought of buying raincoats. However, while buying biscuits and other tidbits in a grocery, the shopkeeper suggested an ingenious idea. We bought one and half metres of plastic sheets and he helped us tie them around our bodies as makeshift raincoats. It would, at least, save our laptops and cameras!

Then it was the turn to buy shoes and sandals. Since it was raining and we would need to walk through flooded rivers, I bought a sturdy pair of sandals and my friend bought a pair of Goldstar shoes for the stretch of trek following the crossing of the infamous river on the way.

Beldangi Refugee Camp
From Damak to Beldangi, the Bhutanese refugee camp, was the easiest part of the journey since we rode a city safari, a battery powered tuktuk. From there we started on foot and walked the whole day braving the rain, landslides and flash floods on the way. It took us an hour to reach Chapeti where we crossed the Ratuwa Khola.  

A wild flower, clicked on the way to Chapeti.
After three hours of continuous walk in the incessant rain we arrived at an eatery in Singphere run by a Limbu lady from Kurumba. She offered us hot coffee and noodles soup and while parting refusedto take the payment. The kind gesture is rare in the cities these days, however, it is still common in rural areas. The Limbu women treat visitors from their maternal place as special guests and my trek mate hails from the same place as the lady’s maternal house.

The river and the gorge
We then passed through gorges, with hills on both sides covered with moss and water dropping from the top. It felt like some rain forest adventure. After crossing the same river more than hundred times, we started climbing a hillock. Trekking uphill for almost an hour we reached Larumba and a scenic landscape was before our eyes. Larumba is dominantly inhabited by the Limbus and the area is famous for its black gram, called 'mas' in Nepali.

Scenic view of Larumba
Then we came across a fresh landslide on the way. The mud and stones were still flowing down with the landslide. We were afraid of the sight but when we saw two girls crossing the section, we followed them. They were busy washing their feet in a stream after the crossing the section but asked us where we were headed to. We said, "Panchami." "Oh, it's still five hours away," they said.

The clock stroke seven in the evening when we reached Banjho. Only few minutes ago I had fallen asleep near a graveyard and woke up only when my friend called me from uphill. I dragged myself up to the main road. But I could not walk further. It had been 10 hours and we had stopped only at some places for few minutes each. We decided to ask for shelter and the house owners kindly offered us free food and free stay. It was good decision that we stayed – it rained cats and dogs just after we laid down on our beds!

A traditional house on the way to Panchami
Next morning, we started early and passed through traditional houses, small tea-shops and community forests. On the way we came across fields of amriso. Ilam district in Eastern Nepal is famous for five 'As' -- aduwa (ginger), alainchi (cardamom), amriso (broom grass), aaloo (potato), and akbare (hot chilli).

Finally, after four hours’ walk we were at Chitre, a small bazaar on the way to Panchami. We talked with local leaders who would accompany us to Mangmalung the next day. We stayed at Panchami bazaar which was again an hour’s walk from Chitre. It was a stop-over for people travelling to Darjeeling, Sikkim and Bhutan in the earlier days. 

Together with local leaders from Mangmalung
Next day, along with the local leaders and the main priest of Mangmalung religious site, we headed to explore the area. This religious site spreading over 45 hectares comprises forest, caves and huge stones of different shapes and forms. ‘Mangma’ means a lady shaman and ‘lung’ means a stone in Rai and Limbu languages. According to the caretaker priest Yahanchang Bhavendra Mampahang Rai, Guru Jyotinanda discovered, excavated and identified the huge stones scattered here and there throughout the forest. Famed yogis and gurus like Falgunanda, Atmananda Lingden among others meditated in the caves sprawling around in the forest. 

Guru Bhavendra Rai
The area was a dense forest and travellers had to pass through it on their journey to Darjeeling, Sikkim and Bhutan,” said Kiran Rai, a local leader from Chitre. “According to legends, there lived a huge serpentine ghost in a pond and it used to devour the travellers, cattle and the local people frequenting the area.

The stone with seven cracks
To get rid of the ghost, the locals called a ‘bijuwani’, a lady shaman who used a brass plate to foretell the existence of the ghost and while doing so, the stone nearby got seven cracks. She was finally able to kill the serpentine ghost which slithered down a hole to the current Ratuwa Khola before dying. People still believe the river got its name after it turned red from the blood of the serpent. And Mangmalung got its name after this incident!

The pond where the serpent lived
It took us almost a day inside the forest to visit each of the stone of different shape and form. Guru Bhavendra Rai was generous to talk about the importance of each stone relating to the incidents mentioned in Hindu scriptures. The most mysterious among them is a huge rock balanced on another rock which moves easily even if you pressing its tip with your small finger. I tried it and it started moving up and down. It has been there since many years and nobody actually knows how it is balanced in such a way. People, in the past, tried to move this rock to another place but none were successful in doing so. 

Mysterious rock that can be easily moved by the tip of your small finger
A rock at Mangmalung

A rock at Mangmalung
We also ventured into two caves. At places we had to crawl like crabs and it was dark throughout with only small openings for light and air. However, one needs to be aware of bats and snakes in these caves. Since there are numerous rocks bearing interesting structures resembling animals, snakes, birds, gods and goddesses, you’ll need a local guide to learn more about the structures and the area. 
Mangmalung Tea Estate
In the evening we went to Mangmalung Tea Estate. The tea gardens offer a spectacular sight and it’s different from other tea gardens in Ilam. And if you stay till the sun sets, you’ll be able to see the breathtaking view!

So when are you planning your trip to Mangmalung? 

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Ropeways and rural communities of Nepal

A farmer at the upper station of a GGR. (C) Ganesh R Sinkemana

Ropeways, a neglected mode of transportation, can be life-saver for rural mountainous population

By Sanjib Chaudhary and Ganesh Ram Sinkemana

We are obsessed with roads. Prior to the national planning process started in 1956, Nepal had only 626 km of roads and 59 km of railroads. Today, as per the 2015-16 data, we’ve built 12,493 km of strategic road network (SRN) though 50 per cent of the SRN is yet to be paved. However, we’ve turned a blind eye towards other modes of transport.

Suitable transportation for mountainous topography
Considering Nepal’s topography, gravity goods ropeways have proved to be a life-saver for communities where road construction is very difficult. The aerial ropeways, built to connect communities living high up in the hills to road-heads, operate by gravitational force. Two trolleys, running on pulleys, go up and down simultaneously on parallel steel wires – while the one with heavier load gets down to the road-head due to gravity, the other with lighter weight goes up to the upper terminal . 

The first gravity goods ropeway was successfully run in Marpha, Mustang to transport apples from orchards to road-heads by Practical Action in association with International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in the year 2001.

According to studies, aerial ropeways are three times cheaper than the equivalent road construction in Nepal and installing a gravity gods ropeway costs around Rs 25 lakh. While descending through the hilly tracks take two to three hours of walking to reach the road-head, the same load can get to the lower terminal in less than two minutes. This reduces the drudgery of the community people and saves a lot of time. The agricultural produce from the villages reaching market in no time means people are encouraged to produce more, eventually shifting to commercial farming. In a way, the ropeway acts like an enabler for inclusive business – integrating the smallholder farmers into national markets.

The socioeconomic study of a gravity goods ropeway installed between Ghairang and Namtar Bazaar has reduced the transportation costs from Rs 5 to Rs 2 per kg and the agricultural produce are reaching bigger markets easily. This has also reduced the price of the products reaching Ghairang from Namtar. Since the gravity goods ropeway uses gravitational force, there is no extra cost involved to run the set-up. Two operators, one at each station can handle the process easily. 

Apathy towards ropeways
About 50 percent of Nepal’s population still lives at least four hours walk away from the nearest dry-season road. Looking at Nepal’s topography the importance of installing ropeways, at places inaccessible to build roads, is obvious. However, this technology has been neglected after the 3rd Plan. In the 1st Plan 1956-61, extensive survey for ropeway was planned but the first plan could not be achieved due to lack of finance, technical manpower and equipment. In the 3rd Plan 1965-70, National Transport Organization was established to coordinate the ropeway, railway and other means of transportation.

While Adam Wybe, a Dutchman, constructed the first authenticated ropeway in 1644, for the city of Dantzig, Nepal’s first ropeway was constructed in 1924. The Halchowk to Lainchaur ropeway was 4 km long and was used to carry quarry stones to construct Rana palaces. The second was 22 km long Dhorsing – Bhimphedi to Matatirtha – Kathmandu ropeway constructed in 1927. Even the private sector has come forward constructing the Manakamana Cable Car and Chandragiri Cable Car.

Nepalese experts have built gravity goods ropeways in Shamtse, Bhutan and have been invited to Myanmar and Nagaland, India to survey and help construct the ropeways. However, only around 20 gravity goods ropeways have been serving rural people in Nepal. The technology is taken as inferior to the new transport technologies and people still question why to go with this ages-old technology but forget their usefulness and environment friendly characteristics.

Although the National Transport Policy (NTP), 2058 says that private sectors shall be encouraged to construct and operate ropeways in the areas where construction of road is dangerous in environmental and geographical view or where operating road transport is comparatively costly, it has never been practised in reality.

We are in the transition times. While the NTP, 2058 talks nothing except roads, the government allocated Rs 800 million in the FY 2015/2016 for the feasibility study of metro and monorails. Our thinking should be futuristic but in the meantime let’s not forget the easier means of transportation available except the roads.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Nepal's own zero emission pump

A Barsha pump runs without fuel or electricity. Photo by Ganesh R Sinkemana. Used with permission.

'Barsha' means rain in Nepali and a pump recently introduced here is pumping water to a height of 82 feet at a maximum rate of 1 litre per second.

The interesting part is – it doesn’t require electricity or fuel to run. It simply uses the river’s kinetic energy to lift water to a higher altitude.

Pratap Thapa, co-founder of the company aQysta that is rolling out the pumps, got inspired to design the pump thinking of his farm on the slopes near a river. So, he named it Barsha.   

The pump, also known as a spiral or coil pump, comprises a water wheel with flexible hosepipe spiralling on it. The wheel is affixed to a platform that floats on the flowing river water.

As water enters through one end of the hosepipe, air gets compressed by the rotating wheel imparting kinetic energy to the water – enabling it to force out of the other end and reach to a distance of about two kilometres.

One of the users, Bhim Prasad Koirala from Jhapa in eastern Nepal, said that though the pump cannot cater to huge farms, it pumps enough to irrigate small paddy fields and vegetable farms.

Hailed by farmers in Nepal, the technology, however, is not totally new. The pump has been inspired by a similar technology adopted by Morton Reimer to pump water from the Nile River in South Sudan during the 1980s. The stream-driven coil pump was based on a principle developed in 1746 AD.

The Barsha pump beats the diesel and solar powered pumps in terms of sustainability and maintenance cost incurred. The zero emission pump has very low maintenance cost.

The pumps, imported from the Netherlands, have been installed in 17 districts of Nepal including Syangja, Lalitpur, Doti, Bajura, Jhapa and Salyan by aQysta and Practical Action. It costs around Nepali rupees 200,000 (around USD 2000). If assembled in Nepal itself, it will cost less than 100,000 rupees, according to reports.

Only about one third of the agricultural land in Nepal is irrigated because most of the farmers cannot easily access the irrigation facilities. Nepal, facing a chronic lack of fuel and electricity, will highly benefit from the pumps since there are more than 6,000 rivers flowing all the year round in the country.

And not to mention, the environment will benefit getting rid of the expensive diesel pumps that are being used throughout the country to irrigate the thirsty fields.

Read: Better irrigation co-authored by Ganesh R Sinkemana in The Kathmandu Post.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

A basket of nostalgia

Sikki baskets (c) CK Kalyan

As the Buddha Air plane soared off in the sky, I got ready with my camera to click the bird’s eye view Kathmandu Valley from above. And then suddenly I saw something familiar. It was a plot of sikki grass near the tarmac. The golden colour stem with purple-reddish stamen at the top is really easy to differentiate it from other grass.

And this was only a decade ago.

The sikki grass, not an ubiquitous species any more, was found in abundance in Kathmandu – before it started taking the shape of a concrete jungle.

You might wonder why I’m not talking about the basket I’m so nostalgic about and beating around the bush instead. Actually, this is how the basket was woven. 

Circa 1980, returning from school, throwing the bag in a corner and running away to play with my friends was a daily routine for me. But one day when I returned from school, I decided to stay back and help my mother. My mother had brought a bale of sikki grass that day and was busy with sorting out the best ones from the lot.

*****                *****            *****                *****

She had brought the sikki from Balkumari in adjacent Lalitpur. One day when I followed her to my relative’s house via Chyasal, I could see a jungle of sikki grass in the area – taller and stronger than its species found in the Terai.

Sikki grasses generally grow in marshy, wetlands and near water sources. The place I am talking about is near the convergence of Bagmati and Manahara Rivers. It was a perfect site for the grass’ healthy growth. Today, the marshy land to the south of a cantilever bridge has turned into a hardened piece of land and houses have mushroomed up just like in the rest of the Kathmandu Valley.  

In Terai too, these days, the sikki grass is a rare species – thanks to the use of pesticides, fertilisers and encroachment of public land, not to mention the lowering water tables. The bunds bordering the fields used to have sikki grass but nowadays it has been replaced by the lentils. The commercialisation and trying to get the maximum out of the remaining fragmented land pieces, people have almost pushed the grass to extinction which used to grow in abundance on the bunds, fallow land and near water sources. 

*****                *****            *****                *****

The bale of sikki grass was a thing of amusement for the onlookers – my neigbours. After sorting, my mother started tearing the sikki stems into two halves. I had done this before during my winter break and I had enjoyed my grandma’s challenge to split the sikki stems. So, I too started helping her. My neighbours also joined in out of their curiosity and soon the bale of grass was reduced to a bunch of golden splinters.

A sikki stem never breaks in between if you are a little cautious with pulling the two ends after cutting the tip into two with a blade – or with your nails.

Then for the next few days I could see my mother busy with keeping the sikki stems on the sun to dry and collecting them in the evening.

After few days, the sikki stems had turned into glossy and flexible but sturdy splinters.

*****                *****            *****                *****

Then my mother started weaving small baskets out of the sikki stems. The weaving is a cumbersome process – putting a fistful of kans grass and coiling them with sikki splinters by using a needle like equipment called takuwa

She wove two small baskets out and handed me one to eat my daily breakfast. We call these small baskets pauti and it is common to eat beaten rice and other non-sticky items as snacks in the rural villages. However, with the availability of steel and plastic containers the pauti is no more a common item.

Read: Weave your own basket from kans and sikki grasses

Another basket was for my little sister. Though she was just a toddler, my mother made sure that both of us never fought for one basket.

Then for the next fortnight she kept herself aloof. She wove a very beautiful basket and then she started covering it with colourful threads, creating comprehensive geometric patterns. The final product was – in one word a ‘wow’!

She carefully hid it inside the cupboard and then when I returned from school, she took me to a corner and said, “Bauwa, this beautiful basket is for your would-be wife.”

She continued, “Even if I die, make sure you ask your father to gift it to my daughter-in-law.” Then she started sobbing. I was moved by her gesture and then I started crying too.

And then after a year and half, she left us. For ever. To be with the gods and angels.

*****                *****            *****                *****

After my mother’s demise, I took that basket to my grandmother who lived in the village, almost 500 kilometres far from Kathmandu where I used to stay with my father.

She gently wrapped the basket in a piece of cloth and put it inside a cupboard my mother had brought along with her as a dowry.

And the basket stayed there for more than two decades.

My grandmother would remind me to marry and ask me to open the cupboard and check whether the basket was intact. I refrained from doing so since every time I saw that basket tears rolled down from my eyes.

I could never forget my mother’s love for me. I don’t think there is any individual who doesn’t long for a mother’s love. 

Then the D-Day arrived, just a day after my 30th birthday. My grandmother didn’t’ forget to gift my would-be wife the jewellery in the sikki basket woven by my mother.

And that was the last day I saw the beautiful gift. I never enquire again about it. I have handed it over to the rightful owner!

Till this day, the beautifully woven sikki basket holds a special place in my heart. It’s nostalgic. And to keep away the nostalgia, I have planted a handful of sikki grass near a pond in my village!

Friday, 5 August 2016

कला र प्रतिबद्धता

कोइलीको कंठ सुरिलो थियो, उसलाई स्वरहरूको ज्ञान थियो र रागहरूको अलि अलि ज्ञान थियो। उनले संगीतमा नै आफ्नो करियर बनाउने निश्चय गरिन्।

कोइलीले अप्लाइ (आवेदन दिइन्) गरिन्। अर्को दिन नै उनलाई अडिशनका लागि बोलाइयो। त्यो इमर्जेन्सीको बेला थियो र सरकारी कामकाजको गति तीब्र भएको थियो।

कोइली आकाशवाणी (भारतीय रेडियो) पुगिन्। स्वर परिक्षाका लागि त्यहाँ तीन गिद्धहरू बसिरहेका थिए।

"के गाँउ," कोइलीले सोधिन्।

गिद्धहरूले हाँस्दै भने, "यो पनि सोध्नुपर्ने कुरा हो र। बीस सूत्रीय कार्यक्रममा लोकगीत सुनाउ। हामीलाई त्यही मात्र सुन्न सुनाउने आदेश छ।"

"बीस सूत्रीय कार्यक्रममा लोकगीत? त्यो त मलाई आउँदैन। तपाईं भजन वा गजल सुन्न सक्नुहुन्छ," कोइलीले भनिन्।

गिद्धहरू फेरि हाँसे। "गजल वा भजन? बीस सूत्रीय कार्यक्रममा छ भने अवश्य सुनाउनुस्।"

"बीस सूत्रीय कार्यक्रममा त छैन," कोइलीले भनिन्।

"त्यसो भए क्षमा गर्नुस्, कोकिलाजी। हामीसँग तपाईंका लागि कुनै स्थान छैन," गिद्धहरूले भने।

कोइली फर्केर आइन्। फर्किदा उनले म्युजिक रूममा (संगीत कक्षमा) कागहरूको टोलीले बीस सूत्रीय कार्यक्रममा  कोरस रेकर्ड गर्दै गरेको देखिन्।

त्यसपछि कोइलीले संगीतमा आफ्नो करियर बनाउने सोंच त्यागिदिइन् र विवाह गरेर आफ्नो घरतर्फ लागिन्।
सत्याग्रहमा प्रकाशित शरद जोशीको लघु कथाको नेपाली अनुवाद 

Monday, 25 July 2016

लक्ष्यको रक्षा

एउटा कछुवा थियो, अनि सबैलाई थाहा भएझै एउटा खरायो। खरायोले कछुवालाई संसद, राजनीतिक मंच र प्रेसवार्तामा चुनौती दियो, "यदि अगाडि बढ्ने यतिकै तागत छ भने मभन्दा पहिले लक्ष्यमा पुगेर देखाउ।"

दौड शुरु भयो। खरायो दौड्यो, कछुवा पनि आफ्नै तालमा सुस्तरी दौड्न थाल्यो।

सबैलाई थाहा भएझै खरायो रूखमुनि आराम गर्न थाल्यो। उसले पत्रकारहरूलाई भन्यो, "म राष्ट्रका समस्याहरूप्रति गम्भीर चिन्तन गर्दैछु, किनकि मलाई चाडै लक्ष्य भेट्नु छ।" यति भनेर ऊ निदायो।

कछुवा चाहि बिस्तारै बिस्तारै आफ्नो लक्ष्यनिर पुग्नथाल्यो।

जब खरायो बिउँझियो, उसले खरायो अगाडि पुगिसकेको देख्यो। उसले हार्ने पक्का थियो। बदनाम हुने डर त छँदै थियो। खरायोले तुरुन्तै आपातकाल घोषणा गर्यो।

उसले आफ्नो बयानमा भन्यो, "प्रतिगामी पिछडिएका तथा कंजरभेटिभ (रुढिवादी) ताकतहरू अगाडि बढिरहेका छन्। यिनीहरूबाट देशलाई बचाउनु जरुरी छ।"

अनि लक्ष्य भेट्नु अघि नै कछुवालाई समातेर जेलमा हालियो।

सत्याग्रहमा प्रकाशित शरद जोशीको लघु कथाको नेपाली अनुवाद 

अवसर र आरक्षण

एउटा घोडा र गधाबीच चर्काचर्की चलिरहेको थियो । घोडा भन्दैथियो, “त कुद्न सक्दैनस् भनेर मालिकसँग मेरो नि गोडा बाँधिदिन भन्न गइस् हैन ?” 

“गजब छ, बाँदरले आफ्नो घर नि नबनाउने अरुलाई नि घर बनाउन नदिने । कस्तो अचम्म ? आफू पनि त केही गर, कति अरुको आरिस गर्छस् ।”

गधाले भन्यो , “त्यसो कहाँ हो र, मलाई चाहिं सधैं भारीमात्र बोकाउने अनि तिमीलाई चाहिं सधैं मिठोमसिनो खुवाउँने ?”

“आखिर परिश्रम त म धेरै गर्छु नि तिमी भन्दा। मैले मलाई नि मेरो श्रम अनुसार न्याय पाउँनुपर्छ भनेको मात्र हो ।”

दूई गधाबीच चर्काचर्की चलिरहेको थियो । अगाडिका दूवै खुट्टा बाँधिएको गधा तन्दुरुस्त थियो । अनि लुते गधा चाहिं फुकेको गोरु झै अट्टहास गर्दै, जेलिएको, बन्धनमा जकडिएको गधालाई चिढाउँदै थियो,“हेर्न, म त घोडा पो हो त, सामथ्र्यमा कहाँ सक्छस् त मसँग ।”

अनि आफू उच्च नस्ल भएको दम्भमा रमाउँदै अर्को लुते तर फुकेको गधासँग भलाकुसारी गर्दै भन्दै थियो, “हेर्न, हामी घोडासँग त्यस गधाले नसकेपछि मालिकसँग हाम्रा नि गोडा बाँधिदिन भन्छु पो भन्छ बा ।”

“गजब छ , बाँदरले आफ्नो घर नि नबनाउने अरुलाई नि घर बनाउन नदिने । कस्तो अचम्म ?”

अर्को दिन मालिककहाँ बधुँवा गधाले पुगी बिन्ति बिसाएछ , “मालिक, मेरो पनि गोडा फुकाईपाउँ, यी दुई गोडा कुजिँन आटिसके, यिनको उपयोग नगरे म कसरी अगाडि बढ्न सक्छु र ?”

केहि दिन पश्चात् , फेरि आमने सामने भएछन् ती तीन गधा । यसपालि आफूलाई घोडा र उच्च नस्लका ठान्ने, सदा फुकेका गधाले यसो भनेछन् , “खै प्रतिस्पर्धा त बराबरबीच पो हुन्छ । कहाँ हामी लुते, कहाँ त्यो अजंगको सांढे ।”
“हामीलाई त अलिक बढि खाना चाहिन्छ , अनि पो हामी नि त्यो सांढेझै हुन्छौ त ।”