Print Edition - 2015-06-20  |  On Saturday

Narrow road to the north

  • Along the way, at Betrawati, we caught sight of a melange of colours filtering from behind a clump of foliage near the highway. When I looked closer, I realised that I was looking at hundreds of tents in a clearing a little distance away
- POST REPORT, Kiran Panday, Kathmandu
Narrow road to the north

Jun 19, 2015-

In the last week of May, Akhanda Bhandari of Kantipur daily, and I left for Rasuwa. We would be getting to the district via Nuwakot. I had already travelled to the quake-hit districts after the April 25 disaster, documenting the destruction wrought by the quake. During this trip, I was hoping to find signs of hope and the first signs that life was returning to normal in Rasuwa.

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But when we arrived in Nuwakot, we learned that things were worse than we had expected. Our first stop was Bidur, where we liaisoned with Prakash Adhikari, Kantipur’s regional correspondent. He wanted to show us how the quake had damaged the only government hospital, the District Trishuli Hospital, in the district. When we approached the premises, we were met by Dr Madhukar Dahal, a gynaecologist, who was emerging from the operation theatre. We could see that the building’s walls were badly cracked, but Dr Dahal was still treating his patients inside the compromised structure because his work needed to be conducted in a sanitised environment. We learned that all the other departments were now housed inside the tents. Together with Dr Dahal, we visited the white tents, which were teeming with the injured and we were both moved and shocked by how the earthquakes had caused so much suffering.

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Along the way, at Betrawati, we caught sight of a melange of colours filtering from behind a clump of foliage near the highway. When I looked closer, I realised that I was looking at hundreds of tents in a clearing a little distance away. We wanted to investigate. So we made our way towards the tents and we were shocked to learn that whole villages from Rasu-wa and Nuwakot had shifted to this place because the houses had been completely destroyed by the quake and the subsequent landslides. In one of the tents, I came across Reshma Tamang, of Karyang Maryang Vill-age, Rasuwa, who was nursing a three-day-old baby. Reshma had set

out for the settlement, on foot, right after her delivery because she wanted her baby to get proper medical care. Amid the scenes of despair, that baby, for me, became a symbol of hope.

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Further up north, at Grang Village, just after we had just trudged across a section of the highway littered with debris from a landslide, we met an old man, Urp Syangba, in a small roadside shack. What drew me towards him were a pair of turquoise and gold earrings that hung from his earlobes and his spirit of joie de vivre: despite the circumstances, he was already getting back to his old life. He was brewing tea over a stove in his newly roofed shack. Apparently, once he realised that he needed a new roof, instead of waiting for government relief supplies, he had proceeded to sell his goat, for Rs 8,000, and with the money he had purchased zinc sheets. As I got talking to him, I wondered how old he was. He told me he was “12 X 2 + 12 X 2 + 12 X 2 + 12” years old. So he was 84. The archaic calculations he uttered made me realise how different our lives were and also made me think about how this rugged individual must have trodden his unique path over the years.

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At Dhunche, we picked up our district reporter for Rasuwa, Krishna Thapa, and went over to talk to Col Laxman Thapa, who was working with other army personnel on a relief mission in the area. Col Thapa briefed us on how things were in the district. He told us that we should visit Rasuwagadhi, near the China border, if we wanted to see how bad things were. He said that the landslides triggered by the earthquakes had been so devastating that even with 21 excavators, his men had not been able to get the rubble off the highway. The Army still did not know how many people lay buried under the debris and no one could account for seven container trucks, now under the rubble, which had been making their way to Nepal from the China border. Before he waved us off on our way, he reminded us to keep our helmets on, because there were still rocks tumbling down the hills near Rasuwagadhi.

He was right. As we made our way to Rasuwagadhi, we traversed road stretches that would fill up with rubble less than five minutes after they had been cleared by workers. When we finally got to the landslide-hit spot in Rasuwagadhi, we met a group of policemen who asked us what we were doing in such a dangerous area. When we said we were reporters, one of them, Sub-Inspector Padam Bahadur Shrestha, said, “It’s been more than a month since the huge quake hit and no reporter has shown up here. You are the first. What took you so long?” He then pointed to the debris that lay piled and strewn all around. All the landmarks in the area that he was trying to map out for us were buried under the rubble: the police post was buried under the rubble; the customs office, the few hotels in the area, all the cars, motorbikes and trucks that had been parked along the highway—everything was under the pile of rocks, mud and twisted metal. I felt as if the area had been wiped off the face of the earth.

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On the journey back to Kathmandu, we stopped in Nuwakot again; I could not shake off the memories of the sights I had seen. The doom and gloom in the area had permeated my being. But then as morning gave way to mid-day, we heard snatches of song sand much hubbub coming from nearby fields. We made our way towards the fields and saw a crowd of around 30 villagers who had gathered together to thresh grain. Against the clear sunlit background, the colourfully decked out villagers moving in circles and threshing bundles of wheat stalks against rocks made for a joyful sight. The earthquake had destroyed their villages, but the villagers were picking themselves up and getting on with their lives again.

 

Published: 20-06-2015 08:15

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