Tag Archive for 'Nepal'

New clues may change Buddha’s date of birth

John Noble Wilford in the New York Times:

In traditional narratives, Queen Maya Devi, the mother of Buddha, gave birth to him while holding on to a branch of a tree in a garden at Lumbini, in what is now Nepal. Accounts vary as to when this occurred, leaving uncertain the founding century of one of the world’s major religions.

Until now, archaeological evidence favored a date no earlier than the third century B.C., when the Emperor Asoka promoted the spread of Buddhism through South Asia, leaving a scattering of shrines and inscriptions to the man who became “the enlightened one.” A white temple on a gently sloping plateau at Lumbini, 20 miles from the border with India, draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year to read a sandstone pillar documenting Asoka’s homage at the Buddha’s birthplace.

But new excavations by archaeologists at Lumbini have uncovered evidence of a much earlier timber shrine and brick structures above it — all of which lay beneath the temple that is a Unesco World Heritage site long identified as the birthplace. Dating fragments of charcoal and grains of sand, researchers determined that the lower structures were erected as early as the sixth century B.C. More:

And here

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.

Life and lucre on the open border between Nepal and India

Kristen Zipperer in Himal Southasian:

The night bus had arrived early at Birgunj, on the Nepal side of the Indo-Nepal border, a rare occurrence that I was not able to appreciate fully because it was 4:30 in the morning, and the city was still slumbering. Trying to figure out what to do with myself, I turned to Bikas, a friend I had just made on the bus journey. “Which way is the border?” I asked. “About 15 minutes down that way,” he replied, pointing down a deserted road that dissolved into darkness. “Would you like to see it?”

We found a rickshaw heading toward the border and set out south. As we rode, the early morning began to crack through the night. Along the road, open fields dotted with unremarkable cement buildings slowly came into view in the pinkish light. A tonga carrying a few passengers passed our rickshaw, and Bikas flagged it down. “How about some tea?” he asked as we climbed aboard. A few minutes down the road, Bikas pointed to a wooden archway: “That’s the gateway of Nepal.” Confused, I asked where we were going. “To India,” he responded, “to drink tea.”

Our tonga was no longer in Nepal, but it was also not yet in India. We were passing through a no-man’s land, a hazy patch of earth that does not officially belong to either country. The sprawling Gangetic plain extended outward on either side of us, and it was not clear where one country ended and the other began. On the far side, an Indian border official stopped our cart. The other passengers in the cart were either Indian or Nepali and, unlike me, did not require a passport for the crossing. Bikas explained that he and I were heading to India just briefly, to drink some tea, and the official waved the tonga on. And just like that, we had arrived in Raxaul, Bihar. We drank our tea, and then crossed back into Nepal. More:

Everest rage

Graphic: Nepali Times

Graphic: Nepali Times

Kunda Dixit in Nepali Times:

On the month that Nepal is preparing to mark the 60th anniversary of the first ascent of the world’s highest mountain by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Sherpa, the news of a gangland-style fight on Mt Everest has come as a disturbing reminder of how much climbing has changed.

The partnership between Hillary and Tenzing marked the beginning of a long tradition of teamwork between Sherpas and their mountaineer employers who valued their stamina, endurance, and sure-footedness at high altitude. But the undercurrent of resentment between the ‘sahibs’ and their hired porter-guides had been growing. It reached boiling point last Saturday on the Western Cwm.

The incident on 27 April on the Lhotse Face below Camp 3 has shaken the climbing fraternity, and divided the tourism fraternity into distinct camps depending on whose version of events they believe more. But the bottomline is that the publicity has hurt the reputation of both sides in the mountain fight. More:

In the National Geographic:

The weekend scuffle between a group of Sherpas and a small band of Western climbers high on Everest has raised some basic questions about the nature of the Sherpa-climber social contract, and about the culture of Sherpas. Although the term “Sherpa” has long been a part of the popular lexicon, outsiders generally know little about the role they play in Himalayan climbing.

The Sherpas are a small ethnic group that share many cultural, racial, and linguistic features with Tibetans, who live to their immediate north. About 3,000 Sherpas reside in the drainage areas immediately below Everest; a population of 20,000 or more live in villages to the south.

Until the early 1950s, no high Himalayan peak in Nepal had ever been climbed—at least by mortals, the Sherpas say. Then, as now, they saw the Himalayan peaks and foothills as the realm of a cavorting pantheon of gods. Presciently, a prominent Sherpa Buddhist lama predicted 80 years ago that much attention would come to be focused on Everest, and that people would “suffer hardship as a result of negative deeds generated in her vicinity.” More

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

Infatuation with Everest has inspired Everest-sized absurdities

Don Messerschmidt, an anthropologist with a passion for mountain research and writing, in Himal:

In the list of names that the highest mountain inspires are Everest toothpaste, a variety of hard red winter wheat, unaffiliated Everest colleges in Nepal and in North America, and, among others, Everest Affiliates, an investment firm in Canada with the motto ‘Making millionaires since 1997′. There is also Everest candy, whisky, computer software, and a brand of special underwear (don’t ask). Everest is even a popular name for baby boys. And, computer techies take note: a sophisticated solid-state drive called the ‘Everest 2 Platform’ is waiting for you to join the team.

The infatuation with things ‘Everest’ began with an obsession among British climbers in the early 20th century to summit the big one, and it ‘peaked’, so to say, after Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay topped it on 29 May 1953. That towering event was, to use another well-worn cliché, a ‘titanic act’ of determination and perseverance. Continuing the play on words, following the death of Hillary in 2008, British actor and adventurer, Brian Blessed, who made his own three attempts on the mountain, described Hillary as “a kind of titan”.

Hillary, who was never one to mince his words, summed up the events of that day when he met his friend, George Lowe, during the descent. “Well, George,” he said, “we knocked the bastard off!” A week later, Hillary was knighted for this accomplishment. But despite the fame Hillary would enjoy for the rest of his life, he apparently did not hold much romantic affection for the big rock, or at least not for the shenanigans later perpetrated on and about the peak. In a 2003 interview for The Guardian newspaper, he made this blunt summation: “It’s all bullshit on Everest these days.” Hillary was, obviously, not referring to the ascent of Everest by his son, Peter, in 1990, nor to Peter’s follow-up ascent in 2002 with Brent Bishop, son of the 1963 American Everest summiteer, Barry Bishop. More:

Crowding by ‘hobby climbers’ is path to tragedy

In The Guardian:

Ralf Dujmovits had reached the South Col of Mount Everest, at a height of just under 8,000m, on 18 May, when he made the painful but necessary decision to turn back due to the stormy conditions that had taken hold at the summit.

The 50-year-old German, who is considered to be one of the most experienced mountaineers in the world, was astounded and horrified to see a long queue of tourists snaking their way up the mountain as he struggled in difficult conditions to descend.

He described his experience on Wednesday after an image from his camera caught the attention of picture editors around the world with its depiction of human overcrowding on the most popular mountain in the world.

“I was at around 7,900m and saw in the distance on the Lhotse face a human snake, people cheek by jowl making their way up. There were 39 expeditions on the mountain at the same time, amounting to more than 600 people. I had never seen Everest that crowded before. 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


Russian pilot of sight-seeing flight saves lives in Nepal flood

Kunda Dixit / Nepali Times:

Captain Alexander Maximov used to fly MiG fighters in Russsia before coming to Nepal to work for Avia Club in Pokhara.

On Saturday morning he had taken a tourist up the Seti Valley in his blue single-engined Ukrainian-made Aeroprakt to see the Annapurnas up close. It wasn’t a perfect day and there were lingering clouds from last night’s thunderstorm. He got back to Pokhara, and took off again immediately with another passenger before the winds picked up over the mountains.

He had reached his cruising altitude of 10,000ft above the Seti 17 miles north of airport with Machapuchre and Annapurna 4 towering over him. Looking down, he noticed something odd. The Seti wasn’t its usual think white thread at the bottom of the valley, but looked like an angry brown rope. The leading edge of the wave was a dark wall of water about 10 metres high.

Because of his military training, Maximov knew exactly what he was seeing and thought he better alert people downstream. He immediately radioed Pokhara tower and told the air traffic controller that “a big water” was coming down the Seti. The control tower informed the security agencies, and it was possibly because of this half-hour early warning that a lot of lives were saved. More:

Himalayan Tsunami

At least 10 people have been swept away and dozens including trekkers are missing after a flashflood early Saturday on the Seti River that seems to have been triggered by an avalanche upstream in the Annapurna mountains.

Latest reports say buses and houses have been swept away on the outskirts of Pokhara and police are trying to make their way up the Seti River to ascertain damage. Army helicopters have been combing the narrow gorge of the Seti to rescue survivors and pinpoint the exact location of the avalanche. Thousands are thronging the bridges to see the river which flows beneath the city. More

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:

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:

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:

Young girls from the mountains of Nepal trafficked to the southern tip of India

An investigation by Nepali Times:

In the suburbs of Coimbatore at Sulur, the first thing that one notices in the impressively walled Michael Job Centre is the sheer enormity of the complex.

There is a school, a post graduate level college and an orphanage in the sprawling premises housing some 500 girls that the organization claims are abandoned or orphaned children of Christian martyrs. The last thing one would expect to find there are young girls from the remote Nepali district of Humla. But there they are, all 23 of them with Christian names living for the past nine years here as orphans despite having parents back home.

They were rescued from the centre last week at the initiative of the Esther Benjamins Memorial Foundation (EBMF), Nepal, ChildLine India and the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) at the state of Tamil Nadu.

EBMF got into action when the families of four girls from Humla requested them to find their missing daughters. The parents of the girls had sent them along with their brothers in the care of Dal Bahadur Phadera, a local politician.

Many families in Humla had paid Phadera Rs 5-20,000 to get their children out of war-ravaged villages at the time and educate them in boarding schools in Kathmandu. The boys are still in the institution run by Phadera, but the girls, between 3 to 7 years old, were taken away nine years ago. Their families never heard from them.

When rescued, many girls didn’t remember their parents’ names or where they came from. They have been given Christian names and identities. 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:

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:

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!”


“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:


Climbing Everest is virtually a breeze

Keshav Pradhan in The Times of India Crest Edition:

Because it’s there, ” George Mallory had famously said when asked why he was trying to climb Mount Everest. The British adventurer, along with co-climber Andrew Irvine, died very close to the 8, 848-metre summit during their ill-fated 1924 expedition, leaving behind a great mountaineering mystery. Did they tame the world’s highest peak 29 years before Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay? No one can tell. Since time immemorial, the magic and charm of Everest have remained intact. The Tibetans worship it as Chomolungma (mother goddess) while the Nepalese revere it as Sagarmatha (head of the sky). In fact, the tip of the ubiquitous Nepalese cap replicates the great mountain that inspires song writers as much as adventurers. But over the years, something has been happening at the top — the rush to Everest has increased manifold and the traffic is getting nasty with about 100 people scaling it every year.

Even the Everest disaster of 1996 hasn’t taught anyone a lesson. Because of the complete commercialisation of climbing expeditions and record-setting incentives, inefficient people sometimes chase the summit knowing fully well that in case of disaster the guides may abandon climbers to save their own life. Jon Krakauer’s book about it — Into Thin Air — refers to a single day that year, May 10, when eight people died on the mountain. In the entire season, 15 people perished trying to reach the summit, making it the deadliest single year in Everest’s history. There were apparently bottleneck situations on the Hillary-Step because many climbers — some say 33 — were simultaneously making summit attempts. The tragedy gained wide publicity and raised questions about the commercialisation of the mountain. 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.

Cross-country race

In the Indian Express, Devyani Oniyal reviews Manjushree Thapa‘s Seasons of Flight (Viking):

Winning a green card in the US government’s diversity lottery, a young Nepali girl arrives in Los Angeles. Her journey follows a trajectory familiar to many immigrants: from finding a corner of home away from home — in her case living with a Nepali family in Little Nepal — to moving out and embracing the American way of life to realising that the past can be put on hold but can’t really be shaken off and that reinventing oneself is not as final as it sounds. “It was and it was not far, where she came from. Some days her birth village felt centuries away, and other days it was too close, she could not get far enough away from it.”

In Manjushree Thapa’s novel Seasons of Flight, Prema leaves behind a country caught between Maoist insurgency and brutal counter-insurgency, and a sister who has joined the Maoists. Her flight takes her from her village up in the hills of Nepal to a beachside neighbourhood of LA. She leaves behind an ageing father to work as a homecare attendant of an elderly American woman. More:

The kung-fu nun of Kathmandu

From Kuensel, Bhutan:

Jigme from Nganglam Dechenling in Pemagatshel is the most energetic and enthusiastic of the group.

She enrolled in the nunnery last year, after completing class five from Lungtenphu primary school in Thimphu.

Although she was among the top ten position holders in her class at Thimphu, Jigme said her faith in dharma and interest to become a nun caused her to discontinue studies.

“It’s my sixth month running here at the nunnery,” she said. Within that short span of time, Jigme can fluently speak Nepali, Hindi, Tibetan and Ladhaki languages, which are widely spoken at the nunnery.

Her Vietnamese master said that, although kung-fu was new to her, Jigme was able to attained the sixth of the 16 basic levels of the art.

“When I practise, I visualise I’m in a real combat,” Jigme said.

Besides learning to defend themselves from a handful of troublemakers in the vicinity of the monastery, kung-fu, Jigme said, made one capable of sitting straight-backed for many hours during meditations, ceremonies and teachings. More:

Great Himalayan Trail: trekking’s holy grail

From The Guardian:

Have you got six months off? Do you fancy a long walk? If so, World Expeditions may have just the holiday for you. They have become the only trekking outfit to offer a guided trip along the first completed section of the Great Himalayan Trail (GHT).

Stretching for 1,700km along the length of Nepal, the GHT will take you a mere 157 days to complete. You’ll see eight of the world’s 14 peaks over 8,000m, including Everest, and cross passes reaching up to 6,000m, climbing a total of 150,000m. That’s a Snowdon every day for half a year. Oh, and it will set you back £20,500.

The GHT isn’t the world’s longest long-distance footpath. The Continental Divide Trail in the US is 5,000km and the Trans Canada will be three times that. But this steroidal version of the Pennine Way looks like being the most coveted of all. Eventually, the trail’s originators hope it will stretch from the mighty 8,000m peak Nanga Parbat in Pakistan, considered the westernmost outlier of the Himalaya, to Namche Barwa in Tibet. It will connect five Asian countries – Bhutan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan. More:


India worries as China builds ports in South Asia

Vikas Bajaj in the New York Times:

Hambantota, Sri Lanka: For years, ships from other countries, laden with oil, machinery, clothes and cargo, sped past this small town near India as part of the world’s brisk trade with China.

Now, China is investing millions to turn this fishing hamlet into a booming new port, furthering an ambitious trading strategy in South Asia that is reshaping the region and forcing India to rethink relations with its neighbors.

As trade in the region grows more lucrative, China has been developing port facilities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, and it is planning to build railroad lines in Nepal. These projects, analysts say, are part of a concerted effort by Chinese leaders and companies to open and expand markets for their goods and services in a part of Asia that has lagged behind the rest of the continent in trade and economic development.

But these initiatives are irking India, whose government worries that China is expanding its sphere of regional influence by surrounding India with a “string of pearls” that could eventually undermine India’s pre-eminence and potentially rise to an economic and security threat. More:

Inside Tibet

The Economist correspondent travels to Tibet on a “rare authorised trip by a foreign journalist”:

Day four

On the plane out of Lhasa, I sit next to a Nepali businessman who frequently visits Lhasa to buy shoes. He puts them in containers to be taken by lorry to Nepal, where most of them are re-exported to India. He has his complaints: about the duties he has to pay at the border, and the snow that sometimes blocks traffic. But of the road from Lhasa to Nepal, he is full of praise. It once took three days by lorry, he says. Now it is a day and a half. “China is so developed,” he says wistfully, looking out of the window at the ribbons of light marking highways and city streets below. He has little positive to say about Nepal and its roads.

China has been pouring money into its infrastructure in the past few years, and—from a business perspective at any rate—Tibet has been a big beneficiary. On my last visit to Lhasa, in 2008, I went by train. The railway line, Tibet’s first such link with the Chinese interior, had been opened just two years earlier and is one of the country’s most spectacular engineering accomplishments. Critics of Chinese rule in Tibet condemn its impact on the environment and the encouragement it gives to a flood of immigrants from the rest of China. But as a feat, it amazes: the $4.2 billion line crosses higher terrain than any other in the world, including permafrost—which requires elaborate ground-cooling measures to protect the rails from changes in temperature. More:

‘This is about my dignity but it’s also about Indian democracy’

On the night of December 6, 2009, Neetu Singh, a Nepalese citizen and final-year editing student at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune, was picked up by the city police on charges of anti-national activity, taken to Mumbai and deported to Nepal the following day. The incident came to light only when The Indian Express first reported it on December 30. Neetu, who accuses her influential politician husband Amaresh Singh of engineering her deportation, says once she landed in Kathmandu, she was sent off to a town some 500 km away from the capital, where for days she lived in virtual house arrest, surrounded by policemen. With the policemen now gone, Neetu says she finally has some access to the outside world. In an exclusive interview with Yubaraj Ghimire, she recounts the events leading to her deportation and her subsequent ordeal.

Can you lead us through the events of your deportation?

It was around 10.30 at night on December 5. I had just finished saying my prayers before going to bed when I heard a knock on the door. I opened it to find two women, accompanied by the matron of my hostel. One of the policewomen, Anjali Khare from the Prabhat police station in Pune, said I would have to accompany them to the police station for some “verification” related to a case involving a certain Srinivas Rao.

Who is Srinivas Rao?

Some months ago, Fazilat Khan, who is in charge of security at FTII, had told me that some Srinivas Rao, who called himself a CBI personnel, was enquiring about my activities. When I heard that, I felt insecure and informed Kiran Moghe, the Maharashtra president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA). She lodged a complaint with the Prabhat Police station on my behalf. I have never seen this Rao. More: