Insfrastructure in Nepal

We all wonder about the future of our countries, if they will prosper or fail, succeed or not, especially now, when we hear reports of political upheaval, natural disasters, and crumbling economies. I am pretty new to Nepal. I have only lived here for a total of about eight months, but I too wonder about its future, how it will be successful and sustainable, maintain peace and economic prosperity. One of the things that many Nepalis worry about, especially in the wake of October’s earthquake, is infrastructure. In rural areas, in particular, much of the infrastructure present in Kathmandu, like good schools and effective hospitals, just does not exist. However, Kathmandu also struggles to maintain its infrastructure and faces certain challenges unique to urban areas. As a foreigner, I came to Nepal with little knowledge of the infrastructure here. However, while living in Kathmandu and travelling around the country I have learned a lot more about the matter partly through dealing with the consequences of lagging infrastructure first hand.

Over the Nepali festival of Tihar, I went on a trip to Butwal, Palpa, and Lumbini with my family. All of these places are pretty highly populated, easy to reach by car, and Lumbini, in particular, is often frequented by tourists. However, even there, much of the infrastructure apparent and present in Kathmandu is missing. Butwal was a bustling city, a crossroads for business, and only about six hours from Kathmandu. That is why when we had to make a trip to the emergency room, I was shocked by its crumbing walls and crowded rooms.

While my husband and I were traveling to Butwal, we stopped for lunch at a road-side restaurant. The food was tasty, and we had eaten there before with no problems. However, on our second day in Butwal, my husband fell sick with a stomach bug, most likely from our meal on the road. We tried to treat his symptoms with Digene to calm his stomach and Cetamol for the pain, but he just was not feeling any better. On Tuesday night at about 10pm, my father-in-law decided we needed to go to the emergency room. I was expecting something like the major hospitals in Kathmandu, with clean enough rooms, ample hospital beds, or at least a place to sit down, but I was in for a shock. Even though Butwal is a busy, highly populated city, their emergency room was very minimal. When we walked in, I immediately noticed the crumbling, dirty walls whose corners were filled with cobwebs. Patients were lying on the floors in the crowded waiting room. Inside the main treatment room, even though hospital beds lined the walls, there was no room for my husband. After standing around for a bit, the nurse suggested he double up with another patient in one of the thin beds. Family members of the sick also had little room to wait. One family of four had gathered on their relative’s hospital bed to eat dinner. Although the doctors and nurses were obviously overwhelmed with the load of patients, we were lucky to be seen quickly. After describing his symptoms, my husband was immediately diagnosed with food poisoning, given a shot of pain killer, and sent home. I have often dreamt about living outside of Kathmandu’s hustle and bustle, crowded streets, and pollution. However, poor infrastructure keeps us from moving into a cleaner city. The health care in Kathmandu is simply the best in Nepal, and that is one of the primary reasons we choose to stay here.

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Besides hospitals, schools are another piece of infrastructure that are lacking in many areas outside of Kathmandu. When I lived in Nepal as a study abroad student, I went on a trip with my program to Bandipur, a beautiful hill town on the way to Pokhara. It is known for its private school, Japanese Notre Dame School, founded and run by Japanese nuns. This school is one of the few outside of Kathmandu that sends its students to colleges and universities abroad. Although I knew that schools like this one are few and far between, I did not realize just how poorly funded and inaccessible schools in more remote and rural areas can be. A few months after traveling to Bandipur, my program went to a much more rural village called Simigaau in the Dolakha District of Nepal. It takes about two days to reach Simigaau, one day by bus and one by foot. The village there has a very minimal school up to grade 5. Although the students living in Simigaau can only attend elementary school, they are lucky to have a school so close. Some of the students who live outside of the village walk up to two hours to class in the morning because their own villages do not have schools. If students in Simigaau and the surrounding areas want to continue on into middle and high school, they have to trek for several hours on Sundays to reach the closest one. During the week, they live and cook on their own at the school location and travel back home on Saturdays. Simigaau is not nearly as remote as some other areas of Nepal. They receive some aid from non-governmental organizations and they get a number of trekkers traveling to the lake Cho Rolpa and study abroad students like me. All of these sources bring in some form of money or assistance to the area. People living in more remote villages that receive less assistance must face worse infrastructure and weaker schools.

Schools in Kathmandu are ubiquitous, easier to get to, and many consider them to be better. While in Butwal last week, I talked with one of the 16-year-old grand daughters of our hosts. She was home for Tihar but usually lives in Kathmandu. Although she studied up to middle school in Butwal, she now attends a high school in Kathmandu because her parents felt the one in Butwal was not good enough. Sending children to boarding school in search of a better education is common among Nepali families who can afford it. A number of the students studying in Kathmandu come from outside of the valley because the schools in their home towns are not as good. One of the best schools in Kathmandu, Budhanilkantha, is a boarding school that reserves half of its spots for students from outside of the valley.

Although Kathmandu has many more facilities than other areas of Nepal, it too struggles with infrastructure. Anyone who has visited knows the roads have a plethora of potholes that are never fixed. Those who have visited or lived here in the winter know that 16 hours of load-shedding is not uncommon. Because the city has become so crowded, and because the government cannot provide the time and money to replace some of the lagging infrastructure, things in Kathmandu are sometimes worse than in other places, and the consequences of lagging infrastructure are higher. Last month, we had one of the biggest earthquakes in Kathmandu in decades. I was born and raised in the Northeastern United States, an area that just recently saw its first earthquake in my lifetime. Although my husband, a Kathmandu native, grew up with them, this earthquake in October was quite a shock for me. After the quake, everyone started talking about the bad infrastructure in the valley. The houses are close together and made of bricks and cement, heavy materials that could kill many if a more serious earthquake hits. Earthquakes can have terribly damaging effects on rural areas, but in highly populated, densely packed places like Kathmandu, an equivalent earthquake produces much greater damage.

Infrastructure allows a city to run smoothly. Reliable sources of electricity and usable roads make it possible for businesses to open and operate and for people to commute to work. Certain infrastructure like schools and hospitals ensure the long-term sustainability of a community. Having good schools produces students who can go on to join the workforce, and having good hospitals keeps a city’s citizens healthy and able to go about their daily lives. Not only does reliable infrastructure make it possible for things to run smoothly, it also attracts those with money. This brings in more resources that can further be funneled into schools and hospitals and into improving the roads, electricity sources, and other infrastructure. However, it is important to note that more infrastructure is not always necessary. In villages where subsistence farming is the common profession, people do not necessarily need roads for their communities to run smoothly and sustainably. There are some aspects of infrastructure that can benefit everyone, like water pumps with clean water or hospitals, but not every community needs the infrastructure that cities require to be successful.

Kathmandu struggles with certain aspects of lacking infrastructure, like poor roads, and load-shedding partly because of its high population. The increased use brought on by so many people wears on the resources. Other areas, because they do not struggle with high population, do not face the same challenges that Kathmandu does. Some communities are also actively working to improve their infrastructure, sometimes with the help of outsiders. The Japanese Notre Dame school in Bandipur is a prime example. Although the nuns started it, it could not run without the help and support of the Bandipur community. Another example comes from Simigaau. People there have also striven to bring better infrastructure to their community. They have their own hydro-electric generator, and many families there have running water, a luxury that some households in Kathmandu do not have. They use the slope of the hills they are living on to bring running water to their houses. As infrastructure outside of the valley gets better, there will be fewer people coming to Kathmandu in search of better resources. This will reduce the strain on infrastructure here. Maybe one of the best ways to improve infrastructure in Kathmandu is to start by improving it elsewhere.

It is unquestionable that those living in areas outside of Kathmandu, especially rural areas, have less access to some very important infrastructure, including good hospitals and schools. However, Kathmandu lacks in certain areas of infrastructure as well, including safe roads and reliable sources of electricity. What is the future of infrastructure in Nepal? There are plenty of NGO and INGO’s fighting to building better water resources, electricity sources, schools, hospitals. Some of the change is fueled by foreigner inpiduals like Maggie Doyne who founded the Kopila Valley Children’s Home and School. Other change has come about through larger organizations like USAID and Habitat for Humanity. However, infrastructure does not always improve through inpiduals and organizations with a social service bent. Many Nepalis have improved their own access to electricity through the installation of solar panels in their homes, and some Nepali businesses are building hydo-electric generators to produce electricity that they will sell to the government. Lack of infrastructure often affects the poorest people, who cannot afford to send their children to better schools, travel to Kathmandu for health care, or put solar panels on their houses, but I feel that change is coming. Nepalis and foreigners have both started to enact change that will lead to better infrastructure.

Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust

Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust (KVPT) ‘is a name that won’t ring a bell to most of us and yet its contribution to our culture is beyond appraisal. The KVPT team and it’s outsourcing has lended its contribution to rescue more than three-dozen significant monuments that otherwise wouldn’t have out lived the generations to come. The cultural heritage of Nepal reflects the rich culture, art and tradition upheld by Nepali people. They represent our identity and uniqueness. But with multiplying development pressures, people’s negligence and natural disasters over the years, our heritage has been prone to depletion. This battle between urbanization and cultural heritage can be a concrete example reflecting the ongoing debate between progress and preservation. In 2003, the Kathmandu Valley World Heritage Sites were included on the endangered list by UNESCO.  Thousands of sacred structures, temples, stupas, shrines, fountains, water spouts, wells and monasteries would have been on the verge of extinction if it hadn’t been for KVPT’s restoration campaigns.

Located in Patan Durbar Square, KVPT is the only International organization exclusively dedicated to architectural preservation in Kathmandu Valley and it works in cooperation with Nepal’s Department of Archaeology. Eduard Sekler, a Harvard professor emeritus of architecture along with American architect Erich Theophile founded KVPT in 1991. ”The towns of the Kathmandu Valley with their intriguing parallels to the medieval cities of Europe are both an ideal field of study for the urban historian and a dramatic field of battle for the urban planner, designer and conservator.’ Remarked Professor Sekler in one of his articles published in Momentum. The first project of KVPT took place in 1991 and began with the Uma Maheswor temple in Kwalkhu, followed by the restoration of the Mani Gufa in Patan Durbar Square. The latter was relatively small but was in urgent need of repair.

Various organizations from Germany and the United States have been regularly donating for the noble cause of KVPT. Minor repair and restoration projects, which are part of the ongoing Patan Palace project, illustrate how significant projects can be undertaken for relatively modest amounts of money. Sponsoring such ‘architectural jewels’ not only saves an important monument, but also will be commemorated by a stone inscription to be designed and installed on-site by KVPT.  KVPT’s Patan Royal Palace Project received donations of around $ 90,000 from the U.S. Ambassadors’ Fund for Cultural Preservation, The Federal Republic of Germany, Robert W. Wilson Challenge to Conserve our heritage Under the auspices of World Monuments Fund(USA), Ludwig Kuttner amp; Beatrix OST, The Princes Charities, Nepal Investment Bank Ltd (Mr. amp; Mrs. Prithivi B. Pandey), Sumitomo Foundation(Japan) and UNESCO World Heritage Centre, among others.

The trust head quarter gives training to interested enthusiasts and it frequently helps students who drop by for information and references in the trust’s library. The trust has also established the Nepal Architecture Archive at Harvard University’s Frances Loeb Library, to further facilitate the study of Kathmandu Valley’s architecture. Students, junior professionals and scholars from Nepal, Europe and the U.S. frequently join the Trust’s team to participate in restoration measures, documentation and research. Intercultural exchange of knowhow in a vivid, colorful culture enriches Eastern and Western professionals.Likewise, one can see the pride in the faces of the people who work here. After all it’s not just a salary that they earn here; their service preserves a dominant aspect of what Kathmandu Valley stands for. Sukra Sagar Shrestha, a retired employee of the Nepal Archeology Department, has been regularly lending his expertise and experience to the restoration projects. And his contribution, which he naively does not prefer to be talked about, is indeed praise worthy and requires recognition.

Numerous Experts as well as the UNESCO Mission to Nepal have been praising these efforts of restoration  ‘Since everyone’s seeking employment abroad, we lack manpower at times.’ explained Suresh Shrestha, proud to be on board with the team. Currently, renovation of the Patan Palace Complex is in progress and KVPT is lending its technical support for reconstruction of the Bhaidegal Mandir. This trust very well deserves to be named as the guardian angel that looks after this city of temples, which in turn looks after its devotees.

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Coffee with Anil Chitrakar

Anil Chitrakar is a successful social entrepreneur, a cultural historian, a social activist, and the list goes on. I was told that he was intelligent, knowledgeable and intellectual, what I didn’t know was, apart from all his wonderful traits, he is also a very warm, humble, and approachable person. For many years he has been working diligently for the development of the country, and has inspired many with his vision of change. As he sits next to me I feel there is so much to learn from him. His wife smiles quietly from the other side of the table, ready for us to begin.

At the young age of 28, Anil became one of the few Nepali Ashoka fellows determined to bring positive change to the rural Nepalese community through technology. After having received his graduate education from one of the best universities in the world, The University of Pennsylvania, I couldn’t help but wonder what brought him back to Nepal, when he could have easily had a fine paying job anywhere in the world. With a soft smile, he says that he returned to Nepal because he believed that he could do so much here compared to just having a comfortable life in the States. ‘We live in a globalized world now, you can fly from Nepal in the evening to have breakfast in the States, so it’s not very difficult to travel when you need to. But when you decide to come to a developing country like ours, you need to be prepared for the challenging environment. In fact, I came back for the challenge. You need to figure out whether you want to be a small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a smaller one.’

As our conversation continues, he talks about the importance of Nepal in the Geo-political paradigm, and sustainability. Our ‘location’ is of prime importance; and we need to capitalize on this magnificent advantage. ‘Give incentives to help conserve and it will happen’ he remarks. He recalls the time when he worked with policy makers to conserve the national parks of Nepal. After making amendments to the law, fifty percent of Chitwan National park’s revenue was allocated to the local community. Thanks to wise visionaries like Anil Chitrakar, our forests increase by 2% every year. This has become a unique phenomenon in a world where deforestation is more prevalent than afforestation.

Most of us may also know Anil Chitrakar as one of the founding members of the movement Nepal Unites. On asking about his ideology behind the movement, he says, ‘we all might have excelled as individuals but we still lag behind as a team. So Nepal unites is a movement to give reasons to dissolve our differences and unite as a team striving for excellence. On being quizzed on how he mobilized masses for change, he stresses ‘it’s easy to mobilize people against something but uniting a group to create is something totally different’. He expresses that the need of the hour is changing gears from the individual to the collective. The division into individual power dilutes the sum effect. He is a bit cynical about the media when it comes to creating a rift between ethnic groups. Help people see the future; give them a vision and then they can be motivated to bring about change. Incorporating a game plan ensues. Do your own bit. Whether it is digging a local well, or establishing a community school or even organizing trifle festivities. Start small, but start something.  ‘Half of the solution is taking responsibility’. It was a very interesting take on where to start. Due to issues of moral high ground we tend to demand accountability from others.

After coming back to Nepal, he out shone his contemporaries with his extensive knowledge about the places and faces of Nepal. He has been leading famous Heritage Walks that has fascinated walkers from all backgrounds with his in-depth interesting stories of history, and culture. On asking him about what he thinks about our urban planning, he says, ‘For a city like Kathmandu to have lived through eons of change and still be alive in our ancient temples and courtyards is awe-inspiring. You have the advantage of living in a city that was built 3000 years ago. You walk around Mangal Bazaar, and see dhunge dharas (stone water spouts) that have been supplying water for the past 2000 years. Compare that to western countries like America that was built only 300 years ago, and you’ll find how rich we actually are in preserving our heritage and culture’

With the interview drawing to a close I asked him about what the youth should integrate as their mantra. To this he stated that having personal values is very important. He gives examples of people like Gandhi, Ashoka, and Buddha. Those who had tremendous value systems and for that very reason, they went far beyond only riches. He suggests that we internalize these values so that mere monetary gain becomes insignificant. The need for self-empowerment cannot be overstressed. Mr. Chitrakar also emphasized a fundamental trait that everyone should have- being observant. There is no lack of inspiration to bring about a change, however minuscule it may be.  Looking around you can initiate sparking that brilliant idea which would, otherwise, be lost in oblivion. And remember, it’s easy to learn skills, but values you can’t learn, you have to earn.

In our final segment, as I looked for more wisdom from him, he encouraged people to always question and be inquisitive. ‘Don’t fight gravity, work with it. If there is a problem, understand it and also keep in mind that there has to be a solution.’ if our country is mountainous don’t let this be a drawback. We cannot deny this fact but it also doesn’t mean we need to limit ourselves because of this supposed handicap. Self-pity only holds us back. ‘Think volume, not area,’ he said which summed up his keenness for frugality and efficiency.

Reinvigorated, as I took final sips of my coffee, I brought our tête à tête to a close. It was an immensely productive hour and I was buzzing with ideas and zest. Half an hour after the interview, Anil Chitrakar’s words echoed in my ears as I was walking through Durbar Square. I looked at Kathmanduists from a distance, busy with their daily chores. I feIt as if I was entering a whole new city, a city that was transformed by our old kings who had strong values, and experts that did not need a PhD or master’s degree to create strong ars for their children’s futures. I was reminded of the great minds that united to build this nation. The old bricks, the shimmering wind chimes, the floating dhwaja, the communal courtyards, the akhejyaals’¦everything looked brighter, richer, and most importantly precious. These might have been things you probably are already familiar with but when visionaries like Mr Chitrakar remind you, your realization double folds. With more people like Mr. Anil Chitrakar this country will find a way out of this melee. All we have to do is join the walk together. best casino online

He grew with the river of Bagmati, the holiest and the dirtiest of them all. Alongside Bagmati, began the life of the slum-dwellers, the poorest of the poor with hungry eyes and empty stomachs. Everyday as the city folk drove their posh cars with their windows closed and air conditioners on, a little boy watched them in awe, wondering why he couldn’t sit on the same polished white leather seats. They make him angry; they sit comfortably with their big sunglasses perched on their noses, flipping through what looked like a book! The big round black glass looks strange to him, and he wonders why they always hide their faces.

‘Perhaps, they are devils’, he wonders, devils that hide their face during the daytime so nobody can find them and kill them. He has heard these stories from Drug dai. He often tells Ram these stories before they go to sleep.

When he watches these devils read books, ‘A book! A book! Why?’ he wonders.

Seven-year-old Ram opened one once only to find strange squiggles and curves staring at him. ‘Ha! How stupid can these folks be’, he thought. He would rather spend his time running across Bagmati, jumping over her stones and the white foam of the river that burnt his legs. It smelled disgusting, he admits, but it was home for him, the only place where the police wouldn’t force him to scamper from. He slept under the stars night after night, next to Bagmati, his mother. When it rained, he hid under the large sheets of plastic he had collected with his tiny hands. They would have sold for 5-10 rupees, and the kabadiwala would have bought them gladly, but he couldn’t sell it, not his plastic, his only home.

‘Ram! Eh Ram’, it was the drug dai waking him this time.

‘Hazur dai!, he got up almost instantly. Drug dai was one of Ram’s favorite slum dwellers. He too slept next to Bagmati on some days, and whenever he did, he made sure Ram’s stomach was full with hot food. Ram didn’t dare call him drug dai though, he wasn’t supposed to know. It was the shopkeeper who often sold him 5 rupee noodles that told him to stay away from Drug dai.

‘Eh Pucche! Don’t hang out with that druggie Bahadur! He will make you like him.’

‘You understand don’t you?’ he said pulling his ears.

Seven-year-old Ram perfectly understood. ‘Hyatteri! Ok I won’t, Let me go now’, he pulled away.

‘Eh Ram! Do you have any money’, said Bahadur.

‘No dai. Only two rupees in my pockets’

‘SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT!!!, Bahadur was stamping his feet.

‘Its alright pucche, go sleep.’

His body was hanging by the tree, as it swiveled in harmony with the blasting wind. Ram rubbed his eyes, once, twice, ‘no it couldn’t be’.

‘AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH someone help him. Bahadur dai, Bahadur dai’, he ran.

He touched his feet. COLD.

‘HELP, HELP HIM’, but no one heard him.

He ran all the way to the city.


‘What is it now. You want to get arrested is it?’

Ram was sobbing now.

‘Police dai, Bahadur dai, tree, hanging’.

The policeman listened carefully. He understood.


‘Home. My home. My tree’


‘I’ll take you’

No one knew what happened to Bahadur. No one cared but Ram. Ram cried under the tree, praying for his soul to be at peace. Bahadur had told him once that he was abandoned in the same river as Ram was. He, like Ram didn’t remember anything other than the river. ‘How did we survive? Who fed us?’ no one seemed to know.

The shopkeeper dai said they were abandoned when they were old enough to talk but they remembered nothing, no woman, and no man.

15-year-old Ram came everyday to visit his mother. She was dirty, discarded and untouchable like him. He worked nowadays as a labourer mixing cement, and building concrete homes for the touchables. With the little he made, he had rented a room with four other young boys like him. They had enough to eat one hot meal a day, and a place to sleep when the thunder shook the skies. Sometimes work dragged on till 8:00pm, sometimes 9:00 but never did he go home without visiting his mother. It was also the place he had cremated Bahadur dai, alone.

Watching the burning pyre of dead twigs from the very tree Bahadur had stood hanging, he felt he understood life better. ‘I was born alone, I will die alone’, and everyday as he watched human-relations, the mother and the child, the husband and the wife, the girlfriend and the boyfriend, he only felt sorry for them. He had loved once, unintentionally, his brother he would never recognize but only feel for, Bahadur.

Sometimes, he felt like he was waiting for his death, the day he would be liberated from the task of feeding his empty stomach.
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Then one day sitting on the shores of foaming Bagmati, he met Peter.

The man touched his diseased mother like she was precious. The strong sting of rotting garbage didn’t bother him, and he didn’t make an effort to scurry as she rushed to touch him.

Stubbing out his cigarette, unbelieving of what he had just seen, Ram rushed to the shore where the stranger stood.

‘Who are you and why are you here?’ he said with a certain authority.

‘Peter, and you?’ he said calm and unthreatened by his tattered clothes.

‘What are you doing here?’ he repeated

‘Oh! I’m just a traveller who loves nature’, he said

‘But this is not nature. This is hell. Disaster’, said Ram.

‘ No its not. I can see she was beautiful once, and like everything beautiful, she has been ruined’, he said.

There was a certain truth to his words that Ram understood with his heart. He didn’t feel so cold anymore.

‘She still is, if you look at her and the all the tears and sacrifices she’s given’, he said unaware of the sprouting words from his heart.

‘Indeed’, said the stranger.

‘Love is a terrible and beautiful disease. It makes us give up all we have for those we love the most, and live with nothing but all the peace in the world’, he said.

Ram was shaken. All this while, he had assumed his mother to be only his, realizing little that she was the mother to this country, this nation who had stolen all her beauty from her.

‘My mother, my mother, oh she gave all her beauty for the comfort and satisfaction of her children. She is sick, disease-ridden, discarded by her own children, yet gushes in their happiness and fights for their livelihood’, he said.

This time he peered into the face of the stranger, only to see that it was so white, unlike anything he had ever seen before. He noticed that his clothes were tattered too, not as much as his own, but not the best either.

‘Peter, where are you from and what do you do?’ he asked.

‘Lets sit down’, said Peter as they both crouched down watching Bagmati gush tears of love.

‘ A Long time ago, I was a famous businessman. In a place called New York, I owned corporate houses, banks, and lived the richest life you can imagine. I worked relentlessly, day and night and became the source of envy to everybody. My life looked perfect to everybody. I had done everything I had dreamt of, owned everything that I wanted but inside I was hollow- empty and had begun to question my existence. Suddenly, I wanted to die. I was ready and before I could kill myself, I wanted to see the city I had given my life to for the last time. I dressed as a hippie-tourist and left to see the places I had never seen. I walked after a long time in my life, and saw things I had forgotten about. I saw poverty, children under the influence of heavy drugs in little alleys, petty thievery, and sick people with no money to pay for their medical bills and beggars. This was supposed to be New York, the city of dreams and here I was watching dreamless lives. I knew then that I hadn’t done anything. All the money in the world was pointless when there was a starving child sleeping hungry in some part of the world. I couldn’t be in New York or any famous part of that world for that matter, so I quietly shifted to Nepal where I have started a few schools today’, he said beaming.

‘Are you saying that life is only worth living if you live for somebody else?’ asked Ram, comprehending the rush of excitement in his dead-life.

‘Precisely’, said Peter. ‘That is why Bagmati lives’.