Archive for the 'Nepal' Category

Soongava: Dance of the Orchids

Soongava – Dance of the Orchids is a Nepali movie by Kathmandu-born, France-based writer/director Subarna Thapa about same-sex love. The movie stars Nisha Adhikari and Diya Maskey in the lead roles of two lovers.

Arunima conquers two Everests

Arunima “Sonu” Sinha is the first female amputee to climb Mount Everest. Kunda Dixit in Nepali Times:

arunima-sinha

Image: arunimasinha.com

When Arunima Sinha neared the highest point in the world at 10:55 in the morning of 21 May, she let out a shriek. Her climbing partner, Nima Sherpa, thought something was wrong and rushed to her side, asking “What happened, what happened?”

Arunima turned around and with a big smile said: “I am shouting with happiness. I did it.”

It has been a long way in a very short time for Arunima from a hospital bed at AIMS in New Delhi after her left leg was amputated a year ago. This is story of a young woman who attained two Everests: one to climb the physical mountain, the other to overcome a tragic injury and strive for an impossible goal.

Arunima was a national volleyball player from the Uttar Pradesh team and was travelling on a train to Delhi when six men tried to snatch her necklace. When she resisted, they threw her out of the running train at 1AM. An incoming train ran over her left leg, and Arunima lay there between the tracks, her body broken. Other trains passed within inches of her face. She was rescued six hours later. More:

Sherpas – the True Heroes of Mount Everest

 

Social media magnification

“Domestic violence and the victimisation of women is not new in our male-directed societies, what is new is the degree to which its magnification through social media can spread solidarity, and potentially trigger policy change.” Kunda Dixit in Nepali Times:

The street demonstrations in Kathmandu against recent rapes and murders of women would probably not have made it to the #2 news on BBC World on Saturday morning if it hadn’t been tagged to the anti-rape protests in Delhi. And that story wouldn’t have been the #1 item if the protests in India hadn’t snowballed due to outraged citizens on social media leading the charge. As the protests grew and continued in India, it fuelled print and TV coverage, and the chain reaction attained critical mass.

In Nepal, protests over the robbery and rape of a 20-year-old woman by immigration and police broke into the public consciousness last month because of the role of journalists and cyber-savvy activists. Left to the traditional media, the story would probably have died quietly like many other rape stories before. It was a tipping point because the crime involved immigration officials who looted the young woman and a policeman who, instead of protecting her, turned predator. Pending murders and disappearances of women in Kathmandu, and the cases of two young women who were burnt alive by family members in Banke and Bara at about the same time, added fuel to the fire. The protests in Kathmandu would possibly have happened anyway, but saturation coverage in the Indian media about the Delhi rape also helped sustain the public’s interest in Nepal.

These were not isolated crimes. Rape has always been endemic in Nepal, it’s just that women press charges more often now and the media reports it. It is also a cross-border phenomenon because we share similar patriarchal value-systems with northern India. At the time this story was breaking in Nepal, a piece by Satrudhan Shah and commissioned by the Centre for Investigative Journalism detailed many cases in the eastern Tarai of victims forced to marry their rapists by the community, police and even gender rights activists. The story was published in Annapurna Post in Nepali, and as ‘Rape for Ransom’ in English in Nepali Times. More:

Myths and mountains in Nepal

Edward Wong in NYT:

The tale begins with a demon.

Centuries ago, it destroyed the foundations of a Buddhist monastery under construction in central Tibet. Then Guru Rinpoche, who had brought Buddhism to the kingdom, pursued the demon west, deep into Mustang. The two fought among Mustang’s snow peaks, desert canyons and grasslands. Guru Rinpoche prevailed, and he scattered the demon’s body parts across Mustang: its blood formed towering red cliffs, and its intestines tumbled to the wind-scoured earth east of the cliffs. Later, people would build a wall of prayer stones, the longest in Nepal, atop the intestines.

On the fifth day of our trek, we stood above the demon’s heart. Here, on a hillside, the people of Mustang had built the monastery of Lo Gekar, one of the oldest in the Tibetan world. A lama showed us around. I found no remnants of a demonic heart, but the walls in a dark room at the rear were covered with paintings of fearsome creatures with fangs and blue skin. Tibetans called them protector deities. Our guide, Karma, pulled me over into the shadows and pointed to another wall. I squinted, and saw a statue of Buddha that had been carved from the rock. Or so I thought.

“They say the statue is natural and was discovered this way,” Karma said. “People in Mustang have many stories. They believe everything. There are spirits everywhere you look.”

Mustang was a caldron of myth, as I discovered on a 16-day trek through the Himalayan region of Nepal in September. More:

Nepal’s unending woes

Kunda Dixit in Deccan Chronicle:

The people of Nepal are justifiably proud that their country was never colonised, even though most other countries in the region were under the British. The joke in Kathmandu is that the British in India took one look at the mountains to the north, and didn’t bother conquering Nepal because they found it ungovernable. The Chinese, too, invaded Nepal in the 18th century but headed right back because it just seemed like too much trouble to stay.

Given the political brinkmanship of the past month, it doesn’t look like much has changed in the Himalayan kingdom-turned-republic. It is still ungovernable, and Nepal’s giant neighbours, India and China, are getting edgy about the prolonged instability.

Even the international media, it seems, has given up trying to make head or tail of what is going on in Nepal. The reports swing between alarmist and over-simplified headlines like ‘Nepal on the brink of collapse’ to news of this year’s mountaineering traffic jam on Mt. Everest.

After a pro-democracy movement in 1990 turned Nepal into a constitutional monarchy, Nepal’s Maoist guerrillas waged a ruinous ten-year war that left 16,000 dead. A ceasefire agreement in 2006 led to the Maoists contesting and winning elections in 2008 for a Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution. The monarchy was abolished and Nepal was declared a secular, federal republic. more

Writer’s block in Nepal

Manjushree Thapa on Nepal’s constitutional crisis in Deccan Chronicle:

What do you do if you’re the high-caste leader of a democratic party faced with a vote that will end your caste’s supremacy?

You avoid voting at all costs. This is what the leaders of the Nepali Congress party and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) did in Kathmandu on May 27. Their refusal to compromise with the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and other parties led to the failure to pass a new Constitution and the dissolution of the country’s only democratically elected body, the 601-member Constituent Assembly.

This was an unforgivable betrayal of public trust: the citizenry had waited for four years for a new Constitution that would mark the birth of a “New Nepal”.

It also plunged Nepal into a constitutional crisis: the country now has a caretaker President, a caretaker Prime Minister, and a caretaker Cabinet, but no representative body. The judiciary, the bureaucracy and the security forces remain, of course.

But no one is sure what is legitimate and illegitimate now. The Prime Minister has called for elections for another Constituent Assembly in six months. The President is mulling over his options, which are few. With no clear way forward, Nepal is, for now, a constitutional Neverneverland. Was it worth it? More:

A Nepal poppy and a sneezing monkey among top 10 new species

The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University and a committee of scientists from around the world announced their picks for the top 10 new species described in 2011. [via a Tweet by Amitav Ghosh, author of Sea of Poppies]:

Common Name: Nepalese Autumn Poppy

Family: Papaveraceae

How it made the Top 10: Many newly discovered species are small in size or secretive in habits, but not all. This beautiful and vibrantly colored poppy has remained unknown to science until now. This is no doubt due in part to the extreme environment where the flower lives at an elevation of 10,827 to 13,780 feet in central Nepal. It is also evidence of the paucity of botanists studying the Asian flora as specimens of Meconopsis autumnalis had been collected twice before, although not recognized as new — first in 1962 by the storied Himalayan plant hunter Adam Stainton and again in 1994 by staff of the University of Tokyo’s Department of Plant Resources. The recent rediscovery of the poppy in the field was made by intrepid botanists collecting plants miles from human habitation in heavy monsoon rains.  More: and here

… and a snub-nosed monkey from Myanmar (Burma) that sneezes when it rains

Name: Rhinopithecus strykeri

Common Name: Sneezing Monkey

Family: Cercopithecidae

How it made the Top 10: Since 2000, the number of mammals discovered each year only averages about 36 so it was nothing to sneeze at when a new primate came to the attention of scientists who were conducting a gibbon survey in the high mountains of Myanmar (formerly Burma). Rhinopithecus strykeri is the first snub-nosed monkey to be reported from Myanmar and is believed to be Critically Endangered. It is distinctive for its mostly black fur and white beard and for sneezing when it rains – although it tries to avoid dripping rainwater in its turned up nose by sitting with its head between its legs. While conducting interviews for the Hoolock Gibbon Status Review, hunters and villagers told the survey team of scientists that they could find this snub-nosed monkey by waiting until it rained and listening for sneezes in the trees. We say congratulations… and Gesundheit.

More here and here

 

Manjushree Thapa reflects on Kathmandu

In Newsweek:

The Kathmandu of the past lives on in present-day Kathmandu. When the mountains glitter against a clear blue sky, when yellow jasmine blooms in a neighbor’s garden, or when a devotee rings a temple bell, I remember the small, sleepy town this used to be.

Today it is a city of pell-mell growth and aspiration. Every day, the sidewalks narrow as another house goes up. The roads clog with traffic and the air thickens with dust. All the familiar landmarks fall away. The ancient Bodhi tree at the center of the business district, the paddies that once circled the valley, and even the museum that served as the royal palace until the end of the monarchy in 2008: they’re overshadowed by construction. New neighborhoods crop up, confounding residents and making us lose our way.

As Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu has always attracted migrants from the countryside, but it grew especially rapidly during the Maoist insurgency of 1996–2006, when people flocked here for security, both physical and financial. The war had destroyed the economy. There was little to invest in elsewhere. And Kathmandu acted as the gateway for those who had lost faith in their country to seek work—or a new life—abroad.

This overstressed city can now barely govern itself. Outside of the monsoon season, residents queue up for water, and feel thankful for electricity and cooking gas. Getting a job, getting health care, and even just getting a passport to leave is a struggle here. More:

Parahawking in Nepal

The questionable wisdom of Ban Ki-moon’s proposed visit to Lumbini

Kul Chandra Gautam, a former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, in Nepali Times:

The proposed visit by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Lumbini in April 2012 should have signified a welcome new commitment for the development of the birthplace of Lord Gautam Buddha which is a UNESCO world heritage site.

However, it would be untimely and inauspicious for the Secretary-General to visit Lumbini under present circumstances. Nepal is at a critical juncture, struggling to overcome the legacy a decade-long civil war that killed 15,000. Genuine peace has not yet dawned, the drafting of the new constitution has been delayed by two years, and there is rampant lawlessness and impunity.

The war saw horrendous human rights violations, some amounting to crimes against humanity, but not a single individual has been prosecuted. Many known perpetrators occupy high positions in government. Instead of establishing a credible Truth and Reconciliation Commission consistent with international norms, the ruling Maoists are negotiating the terms of a blanket general amnesty with other major political parties. More:

Imran Khan: My time has come

From The Telegraph, UK:

Imran Khan has been written off before. As a cricketer, he was initially dismissed as having average ability before captaining his team to World Cup glory. For the past 15 years his political party has stumbled from one election humiliation to the next.

Now though, he is convinced his time has come.

Riding a tsunami of popular support ahead of elections widely expected next year, he is bracing himself for a campaign of dirty tricks.

“During a match there comes a time when you know you have the opposition on the mat. It is exactly the feeling now, that I have all the opposition by their balls,” he said, in an interview last month with The Daily Telegraph as he travelled to the north-western city of Peshawar for yet another rally on his 59th birthday. “Whatever they do now will backfire.”

Further evidence of Mr Khan’s steepling ascent was on display in Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city, today on Christmas Day, when at least 100,000 people turned out to hear his message that change was sweeping the country. The figure is all the more remarkable as the city is far from Mr Khan’s stronghold of Lahore. More:

The tragedy of Nepal’s Badi women: prostitution is all they know

Nima Kafle at the Asia Sentinel:

Four years ago, Taruna Badi, 38, a member of the Badi community, one of the most marginalized groups in Nepal, thought her days of prostitution were over.

In 2007, she and dozens of other Badi women travelled from Kailali, a district in the far west of Nepal, to the capital Kathmandu, located across the country, to join in protests by Badi activists seeking government help to lower longstanding economic and social barriers. For many women, this meant coming up with alternatives to prostitution.

The government agreed to study the Badis’ situation and to provide aid in the form of land grants, employment training, free education for Badi children, health services, citizenship with the caste of their choice, and a declaration of the end of prostitution within the community.

That was then. Today, many of the Badi women say they’ve barely received any support and have gone back to the only work available to them.

“What else to do?” Taruna asked in desperation. “Prostitution is the only means of earning so far for us.” Badi women say they earn between 70 cents and $2.75 for a sexual encounter. More:

 

When Wen?

Kunda Dixit in Nepali Times:

Some things become more newsworthy when they don’t happen than when they do. That seems to be true for the postponement of Chinese premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to Nepal, which was scheduled for next week.

Foreign Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha tried to fudge it by saying Tuesday that the dates had never been fixed. The Chinese side played down the cancellation, saying Premier Wen had other plans and that a new date would soon be announced.

The visit, and its cancellation at the last moment, has set off intense speculation about Nepal once more being squeezed by a shift in geopolitical tectonics in the region. There has been a more aggressive US posture following the APEC conclave in Honolulu and the ASEAN Summit in Bali in November. US President Barak Obama’s commitment at both meetings that America would “remain engaged” in the Pacific in the 21st century have been seen by many as a response to China’s growing economic and military clout. Obama’s decision to upgrade US troop presence in Australia and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s reassurances of military ties with the Philippines must have set alarm bells ringing in Beijing. More:

A Nepali woman’s ordeal in Saudi Arabia

Raped, battered, made pregnant, then kicked out. Lochana Sharma in Asia Sentinel:

Sapana Bishwokarma, 26, has no answer when she is asked about the father of the two-year-old boy who plays beside her. She says her body trembles with fear each time she recalls her son’s father.

“I didn’t know that man very well,” says Bishwokarma, who requested her name be changed. “He used to rape me as many times as he wanted, any given time of the day.”

Bishwokarma, from an eastern Nepal district, moved to Saudi Arabia four years ago as part of an army of millions of economic migrants, to work as what she thought would be a nanny, enticed by an employment agent with the prospect of a good income. She says she paid the agent about US$700 to secure the job. To get around a government ban on working in the Gulf – which was in force when Bishwokarma was seeking employment but was officially lifted last year – she travelled first to neighboring India.

Two men received her at the airport in Saudi Arabia and took her to the house where she would work. Instead of providing child care as promised, Bishwokarma says she was forced to work as a maid. A month into the job, she says her employer’s unmarried son raped her with the help of three other men. “They were a family of three with a middle-aged father and two sons,” she says. “I couldn’t even understand their language, and I was beaten up by the men.”

Eventually, according to her, all the men in the family raped her. In addition to using physical force, she says the sons also drugged her. One of the employer’s sons would give her food when no one was in the house, and she’d become unconscious or sleepy after eating it. When she woke up, she would realize she had been raped again. More:

Himalayas in danger of becoming a giant rubbish dump

Suzanne Goldenberg in The Guardian:

There’s nothing like waking up to bright clear skies with spectacular views of the Lhotse and Amu Dablam ranges – and a rubbish dump.

This heap of beer cans, mineral water bottles and other material was just a few minutes’ walk outside the village of Tengboche.

It represents about a season’s rubbish.

The dump is not on the regular trekking trails which are, aside from the stray Fanta and instant noodle wrapper, admirably clean.

And most trekkers have no idea of their impact on the remote Everest landscape, said Alton Byers, who is leading our expedition as director of the Mountain Institute. More:

If this is what a small glacial lake flood can do, imagine a big one

Collapsed icefall that triggered the glacial lake burst. Image: Astrid Hovden

An eyewitness account of a glacial flood in Nepal recently. Astrid Hovden in Humla. In Nepali Times:

Humla is one of the most remote districts in Nepal, and in a remote corner of Humla lies the settlement of Halji in Limi VDC. On 30 June this village of 400 inhabitants was hit by a flash flood caused by a glacial lake bursting upstream.

At around 4:30 pm there was a loud roar from up the valley, and everyone ran out of their houses. At first, the raging brown water was retained by the gabion walls, the last stretch of which was built only a month earlier. Soon, the embankments gave way and the water and the boulders raced towards the village with great force.

The ground shook and the water was nearly black because of the landslides along the banks. People managed to evacuate in time and move most of their belongings, but had to watch as their homes and fields were carried away. More photos and rest of account:

‘Boksi lagyo!’

Manjushree Thapa in Himal Southasian:

In the winter of 1993, a team of six rongba – southerners – went to Lo Monthang, in the northern part of the north-central Nepali state of Mustang, to set up office. I was among them. At age 24, I was the youngest of the team, the only woman, and also the highest-ranking staff member: I was the officer-in-charge of the inelegantly named Upper Mustang Conservation and Development Programme, or UMCDP. This was the latest, and most far-flung, outpost of the Annapurna Conservation Area Project. I had gotten the job after organisation’s existing staff, and several applicants, had refused the remote posting. My main qualification was that I had published a travelogue on Mustang. My knowledge of the area was my sole advantage over the rest of the team. Otherwise, I was new to NGO work, and under pressure to prove myself. I was determined to do so, by being very, very good.

We knew that the villages of northern Mustang emptied out in the wintertime. Shortly after the previous autumn’s harvest, the able-bodied men and women would have closed up their dealings and headed south, across the Indian border all the way to Ludhiana. There they would have bought wool sweaters wholesale, and then resold them in street-side stalls throughout North India all winter. Their highland features loaned authenticity to their wares. Buyers preferred their sweaters to those sold by vendors from the plain.

Back in the villages remained the elderly and the very young, all becoming grimier by the day as the bitter north wind bore down from the Tibetan plateau, plunging the temperatures to below zero. Everyone – except us rongba, who did not know better – huddled around the sooty hearth for warmth during mornings and evenings. In the daytime, there was the brilliant high-altitude sun to bask in. People came out of their adobe houses to warm up their bones; and the miniature ‘lulu’ cows were freed from their stalls. As the shadows lengthened over the villages’ adobes and narrow lanes, the cows would shift, following the sun, till at sundown they would be edging up to the walls, desperate to hold onto the last of the warmth.

For the locals, there was no work to be done in this season. There was nothing to do but to survive till springtime, when the others – and life – would return to the villages. We had deliberately chosen this period to set up. We wanted to spend the wintertime surveying the villages, and identifying areas in which to work. The work season in upper Mustang spanned from April to September. We wanted to be ready to launch our programmes as soon as everyone returned. More:

New humility for the hegemon

India’s poor relations with its neighbours is hurting its global ambitions, says The Economist

NO ONE loves a huge neighbour. For all that, India’s relations with the countries that ring it are abysmal. Of the eight with which it shares a land or maritime boundary, only two can be said to be happy with India: tiny Maldives, where India has the only foreign embassy and dispenses much largesse, and Bhutan, which has a policy of being happy about everything. Among its other South Asian neighbours, the world’s biggest democracy is incredible mainly because of its amazing ability to generate wariness and resentment.

Until recently it operated a shoot-to-kill policy towards migrant workers and cattle rustlers along its long border with Bangladesh. Over the years it has meddled madly in Nepal’s internal affairs. In Myanmar India snuggles up to the country’s thuggish dictators, leaving the beleaguered opposition to wonder what happened to India’s championing of democracy. Relations with Sri Lanka are conflicted. It treats China with more respect, but feuds with it about its border. more

US women marry in Nepal’s first public lesbian wedding

In November 2008, Nepal’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of laws to guarantee full rights to LGBT people, including the right to marry. On Monday, an American lesbian couple married in a temple in Kathmandu in accordance with Hindu tradition. This is the first same sex marriage in Nepal.

Same-sex marriages are not legal in Nepal, but the country is drafting laws to guarantee sexual rights.Sarah Welton, 48, a lawyer and Courtney Mitchell, 41, a psychology professor are from Colorado.

Read the full story in The Times of India

See photos at www.shewired.com

Inside the ER at Mt. Everest

Dr. Luanne Freer, founder of the mountain’s emergency care center, sees hundreds of patients each climbing season at the foot of the Himalayas. Molly Loomis in The Smithsonian:

A middle-aged woman squats motionless on the side of the trail, sheltering her head from the falling snow with a tattered grain sack.

Luanne Freer, an emergency room doctor from Bozeman, Montana, whose athletic build and energetic demeanor belie her 53 years, sets down her backpack and places her hand on the woman’s shoulder. “Sanche cha?” she asks. Are you OK?

The woman motions to her head, then her belly and points up-valley. Ashish Lohani, a Nepali doctor studying high-altitude medicine, translates.

“She has a terrible headache and is feeling nauseous,” he says. The woman, from the Rai lowlands south of the Khumbu Valley, was herding her yaks on the popular Island Peak (20,305 feet), and had been running ragged for days. Her headache and nausea indicate the onset of Acute Mountain Sickness, a mild form of altitude illness that can progress to High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), a swelling of the brain that can turn deadly if left untreated. After assessing her for HACE by having her walk in a straight line and testing her oxygen saturation levels, the doctors instruct her to continue descending to the nearest town, Namche Bazaar, less than two miles away.

Freer, Lohani and I are trekking through Nepal’s Khumbu Valley, home to several of the world’s highest peaks, including Mount Everest. We are still days from our destination of Mount Everest Base Camp and Everest ER, the medical clinic that Freer established nine years ago, but already Freer’s work has begun. More than once as she has hiked up to the base camp, Freer has encountered a lowland Nepali, such as the Rai woman, on the side of the trail ill from altitude. Thankfully, this yak herder is in better condition than most. A few weeks earlier, just before any of the clinics had opened for the spring season, two porters had succumbed to altitude-related illnesses. More:

‘What can I do? My husband needs a son anyhow’

Kamala Gautam in Asia Sentinel:

Hem Kumari Chepang, 42, has conceived 26 children during the last 30 years of her life in rural Nepal. “Have as many children as you can,” she says her husband, Hari Chepang, 50, told her. “I will feed you [and the children] and [if you die in the process] I will take care of your cremation.”

Chepang says that when she got married at age 12 she believed that frequent births were natural. “Some died in the womb, some within a few days of their birth and some after six months,” she says. Only two of Chepang’s 26 infants – a son and a daughter – are alive today. Chepang says that she often had no help during labor.

“One of my sons was positioned ectopically in the womb,” she recalls. “His hands came out first, and I tugged him out myself. The placenta followed, and I almost died with the pain.”

After her 23rd child, she suffered from uterine prolapse, which caused regular bleeding, dizziness and pain. But she continued to give birth. Eventually, her ability to move became limited to dragging herself to the toilet.

Chepang’s ordeal fortunately may be consigned to the past ion much of Nepal. The country ‘s fertility rate has fallen to 3.1 births per woman in 2006 from 6.3 in 1976 thanks to family-planning promotion, according to a 2009 report by the nongovernmental organization Family Planning Association of Nepal. The percentage of women or their partners using contraception rose to 44 percent in 2006 from 26 percent in 1996, according to the government’s latest health survey.

But those changes are less apparent in the countryside. More:

Mao-Mao Bhai-Bhai

From my friend Kunda Dixit‘s travel blog, EastWest at Nepali Times:

The images by Mustafa Quraishi of the Indian Maoist war could be straight out of our own insurgency from 1996-2006. The vegetation and red earth of rural Andhra Pradesh could be Dang Valley, the women guerrillas could be Tharu, the casual way in which firearms are carried by female fighters handling babies or walking in the forest are images familiar to us in Nepal.

The images are hung along the middle of the hall with the Frames of War exhibition of the Nepal conflict along the walls. Having them together forces one to look for the similarities, and how the Indian state seems to view the insurgency just as our own government and security forces did back then.

Here is a picture by Mustafa Quraishi of a woman guerrilla in Orissa holding a baby in a village. Compare with Kiyoko Ogura’s photograph from Rolpa of a Nepali Maoist woman fighter also holding a baby. More:

Nepal’s stalled revolution

Manjushree Thapa in The New York Times. Thapa is the author, most recently, of the novel “Seasons of Flight.”

I WAS at a dinner party in Kathmandu when a journalist friend looked at her cell phone and made a joyous announcement: “Mubarak’s gone!”

“Really?”

“He left Cairo for Sharm el-Sheikh. The army’s taken charge,” she said. No one at that Feb. 11 party, neither the foreign-educated Nepalis nor the expatriates who call Nepal home, had any connection to Egypt. Yet the victory felt personal. A bottle of wine appeared and we toasted Egypt.

As protests spread in Bahrain, Yemen, Iran and Libya, what is emerging as the “Arab Spring” continues to resonate here. Just five years ago, the world was watching Nepal as it now watches the Mideast and we had our dreams of democracy.

“I don’t know why, but I love to see people revolting against their leaders,” Jhalak Subedi, a magazine editor, wrote on Facebook.

“We Nepalis, we grew up with political movements,” he explained over a cup of coffee. He had came of age amid student politics, was even jailed in 1990 for his activism. “Despite all our movements, we still haven’t been able to have the kind of change our hearts are set on,” he said. “I think that’s why we feel so happy when we see change taking place elsewhere.” More:

 

Nepal’s next big earthquake is scientifically considered overdue

Kunda Dixit in Himal Southasian:

Nepal’s roughly 800 km length sits astride the section of the Himalaya that experiences the greatest build-up of tectonic pressure. This is, after all, related to the fact that the country has seven of the world’s ten highest mountains. The country suffered its last mega-quake in January 1934, and there are historical records of a big earthquake taking place every 70 to 80 years – which means the next big one is somewhat overdue. In 1934, the Kathmandu Valley’s population was 300,000 and most people lived in mud brick houses with thatch roofs and the well-to-do with tile roofs. Today, the Valley hosts three million people living in poorly built multi-storey concrete structures.

Furthermore, the area west of Kathmandu has not seen a major earthquake for over 300 years. This lull is known as a ‘seismic gap’, and increases the likelihood of a major earthquake in central or western Nepal in the near future. Such a quake would affect the Garhwal region of India, the adjacent Ganga plain, and would devastate towns such as Pokhara, in central Nepal, and Kathmandu. The alluvium of the former lake, which became the Kathmandu Valley floor bed magnifies earthquake waves, and the shaking will cause structures to fail. The most vulnerable are areas on the river floodplains; these are prone to ‘liquefaction’ when the soil is squeezed like a sponge, and causes even structurally strong high-rises to tilt over.

While flying into Kathmandu, just 10 minutes before landing, look out of the right-hand side of the plane. Along the Siwalik foothills is an escarpment ridge that looks as though the entire mountain has tilted. Geologists say this ridge was pushed up by three metres in 1934, lifting it up and northwards along a four km line. Such sudden and dramatic upliftment over the aeons is what caused the Himalaya to rise nearly nine km into the sky, and bestowed Nepal with its stupendous scenery. But that is also what makes the place so deadly. More:

Language researchers chart vanishing voices

In a video produced by Cambridge University, anthropologist Mark Turin discusses his work helping speakers of Thangmi, a Tibeto-Burman language spoken in eastern Nepal. He aims to document disappearing languages, most of which haven’t been written down before, as part of the World Oral Literature Project.

US embassy cables: ‘Nepal could become another Burma’

In The Guardian:

2. (C) Foreign Minister Pandey stressed that Nepal wanted to have a special, very close relationship with the U.S., as that was in Nepal’s best interest. He asserted that the U.S. had taken the wrong line in using pressure to try to force the King to take the right steps on multi-party democracy. Instead of using tactics that “could result in Nepal becoming another Burma,” the U.S. should encourage the King to move to multi-party democracy. Pandey argued that if the King knew he could depend on the U.S., “things would be completely different.” The FM also noted that if Nepal did not receive arms from India or the U.S., Nepal would not be short of arms. Later that afternoon, he continued, “a plane of material from one of your best friends” would arrive in Nepal. (Note: DATT went to the airport and observed a UAE chartered cargo plane on the tarmac. We are seeking further details. End Note.) More:

Paras the perennial

Nepal’s former crown prince Paras Shah was arrested and freed on bail for having shot at the son-in-law of Deputy Prime Minister Sujata Koirala on Saturday. In The Indian Express, Yubaraj Ghimire profiles the Crown Prince-turned-commoner.

Those close to him vouch that there is another side to Paras — a 39-year-old who is helpful, free from airs or the arrogance of royalty, even modest, who was so even when Nepal was a kingdom.

However, for the better part of his adult life, Paras has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons — for being involved in an accident that led to the death of a popular singer; for drunken brawls at pubs; and now for threatening Koirala’s son-in-law.

Those who know him say Paras has just one vice — drinking — and that most of the trouble he finds himself in stems from that. They say he has been off alcohol for a year, but reportedly downed a few on December 11, his daughter Purnkia’s birthday.

What may help Paras bounce back this time is that Koirala’s son-in-law, a Bangladeshi national, hasn’t won himself many friends in Nepal. Rubel Chowdhary is accused of major “wheeling-dealing”. Paras has fed into the anger with Chowdhary by claiming that the shooting was provoked by a “Bangladeshi national” abusing his country. More:

Himalayan folk rock

Kunda Dixit in Nepali Times:

It is hard to keep up with Amrit Gurung when he travels. Not just keeping up with his walk, but also with his thoughts which race even further ahead.Whether it is hiking up the Panchase Ridge near his ancestral home in Kaski, or taking the back roads to meet an elderly gandarba troubadour in the boondocks of Tanahu, or making the long climb to Bandipur from Damauli and getting there ahead of friends who drove up in a car, the rock star in a pony tail and camera is a familiar sight on Nepal’s trails.

Amrit says walking is his therapy, it makes him think, and clears his head for the music and lyrics of songs to come. It allows him to collect the original sounds and voices directly from the people who sing of sadness, of struggle and survival, nature and longing.

Or it is walking just for the sake of walking like we once did 15 km along the East-West Highway in Nawalparasi. Amritwanted to take a shortcut from Kawasoti through the jungle, and a good thing we didn’t because we would have found ourselves in the buffer zone of the Chitwan National Park at nightfall and would have had to sing to the tigers who wanted to eat us. More:

Mystery at the top of the world

Did George Mallory make it to the summit of Everest before he died? Graham Hoyland argues that he couldn’t have – due to a deadly combination of bad weather and worse luck. From The Independent:

His body lay half-buried in the frozen scree, face-down and spread-eagled in his last agony. Above George Mallory, a couple of thousand feet higher, the summit of Everest stood impassively waiting for other men to try to conquer the highest mountain in the world. For me, also, it was the end of a long quest.

At the age of 12, I met my relative Howard Somervell, a friend of George Mallory’s who watched him leave on his last attempt to climb the mountain in June 1924. Somervell told me about his own attempt to climb the mountain without oxygen, and how he nearly suffocated due to a frostbitten larynx. He turned back 1,000 feet from the top.

“We met Mallory at the North Col on his way up. He said to me that he had forgotten his camera, and I lent him mine. ‘So if my camera was ever found,’” he said, ‘you could prove that Mallory got to the top.’” It was a throwaway remark, which he probably made a hundred times in the course of telling this story, but this time it found its mark.

I spent years trying to prove Mallory had climbed the mountain and became the 15th Briton to climb the mountain, in 1993. In 1999, I organised a BBC-funded expedition to look for Somervell’s camera. Instead the searchers found Mallory’s body. There was no camera, though, and still no answer to the biggest mystery in mountaineering: who climbed Mount Everest first? More:

Feeding Ganesh in Kathmandu

On the menu: many sacrificed goats. Elizabeth Cinello in The Smart Set:

The teams emerge in single file from the traffic chaos on the torn up road between Bhaktapur and Kathmandu. It’s being rebuilt for Nepal’s Tourism Year in 2011. The teams’ destination is the main sanctuary on the leafy hilltop just outside Baktapur’s city limits where Ganesh’s shrine has stood for centuries. The goat is the star of the spectacle and therefore one is given the privileged position at the head of the procession, followed by a group of percussion musicians. Along the road flower vendors arrange colorful bouquets for devotees to buy as offerings for the god. Some of the goats wear a garland of marigolds. Stairs lead to the top of the hill where a sadhu sits motionless beside a basket into which visitors toss rice and coins. It’s a feast day and everyone’s happy and excited for the opportunity to connect with the jovial Ganesh.

At the shrine the village teams wait their turn to sacrifice. Their families and the goats mill around as the men organize themselves. A blood-drenched stone in front of the shrine serves as the altar. During the hour I’m there, eight goats and several chickens are offered to Ganesh. More arrive as I leave. It’s a constant turnover. While the chickens sense something’s up, the goats, even as they are led to the altar, seem oblivious to their imminent destiny. I watch them intensely. They chew on sweet leaves lovingly tucked into their mouths by a team member. I feel perturbed knowing they are going to die in a few minutes while they themselves have no clue. It’s better that they don’t know, I tell myself.

It’s only when they are grabbed by the legs and picked up that they protest with loud squeals. Two men tilt the goat upside down while the shrine attendant steps into place, straddling the animal now in position for a clean cut to the throat. The knife is short with a wide blade and a sharp tip. The squeals stop. Blood squirts into the crowd. A young man in jeans and a white T-shirt jumps back in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid a gushing stream of blood arching through the air. Oohs and aahs emanate from the female devotees as the bright red droplets seep into the denim. They know the blood will be impossible to wash out. Friends snap a picture of the young man smiling and shrugging his shoulders as if to say, “What can you do?”  A boy, all dressed up in a suit and firmly holding onto a rope, is dragged to and fro by a jaunty black goat. It is goat number six. More: