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main blog0006 : trip to attarpur and thulo dhading during nepal bandh

krishna shah august 22, 2015; saturday 00:05 nst (nepal standard time)

so it does certainly feel like nepal is spiralling out of control yet once again, although the complacent nepali in me says, "everything is going to be all right."

nepal bandh: the current political situation of nepal

bandh after bandh after bandh, curfews in the south, arson and vandalism across the east-west highway, politicians in the capital threatening to pull out of the coalition government, and opposition parties promising 5 million rupees to the families of people who succumb during the protests! had never heard that one before. and people have actually already died in the last 12 days of protests.

i thought we nepalese had come together as a nation, as a people, after the devastating april and may earthquakes.

but perhaps i should not take the action of a few political parties and their cadres as the sentiment of the common people. after all, whether it be a democracy or an authoritarian rule or even an anarchy, it is always a small group of people who control a larger group, or in other words, let the larger group suffer because of the inactions of the larger group. it's human nature. history keeps on repeating, and we learn nothing.

but really? what is all the fuss about? well, after the earthquakes, our leaders decided that they would finally promulgate our long-awaited one-size-fits-all constitution, which has been in limbo since 2008, more or less, after a 238-year old monarchy was abolished, and overnight nepal was no longer a hindu kingdom, which by the way, was only decided by 601 politicians in a closed session without any public opinion/feedback. i bring this up because for the first time in eight years, the government last month solicited public feedback from its citizens on finalizing the constitution. this is probably the only good thing the government has done in eight years. so, why the rush now to complete the constitution after eight years of limbo? well, perhaps its the $4.3 billion in foreign aid that has been pledged for post-earthquake rebuilding, which is easier moved in a country that has a constitution. and for a country that has a national budget of $8 billion, that is an additional 50% of kickbacks. let me put some numbers into perspective for you...

we have 601 lawmakers. each of these lawmakers gets paid rs. 77,000.00 cash money every month. on top of that are his/her facilities, like stipends, allowances, security, etc., which roughly amounts to another rs. 77,000.00 per month or even more. total burn rate per lawmaker rs. 1,54,000.00 per month. maybe more for vip's and vvip's. yes, taxpayer money; our money. multiply that by 601. rs. 1,54,000.00 x 601 = rs. 9,25,54,000.00. that's rs. 9.25 crores every month. in nepal, we get paid for 13 months, not 12, because of our dashain bonus (dashain, a hindu festival, although we are not a hindu kingdom anymore), and now let's take rs. 9.25 crore and multiply that by 13. rs. 9,25,54,000.00 x 13 = rs. 1,20,32,02,000.00. a mind boggling rs. 1.2 arba.

and that's just legal money -- rs. 1.2 arba. in a country as corrupt as nepal, i dare not even ask how much politicians make in kickbacks, bribes and via laundering.

rs. 1.2 arba for a bunch of cronies that have done nothing for the country over the last eight years, while the common people still earn below the minimum wage of rs. 8,000 per month. well, why should they? the status quo is good for the 601. the rebels who called themselves the maoist freedom fighters and waged 10+ years of civil war, during which thousands of nepalese lost their lives, are the new billionaire businessmen of the country (no wonder the maoist party has fractured into three different groups - the hardliners, the businessmen, and the ones in between), while they still hold very high ranks in the current "coalition government." and now post earthquake, they have given themselves emergency powers and have promoted the paramilitary police to be more powerful than the national police, which means they have powers to arrest as well as open fire at their own discretion. sounds scary! no pun intended.

parallel read: thomas bell (reuters) - nepal's constitutional jeopardy - the draft constitution is designed to preserve the power and interests of those who are already on top.

the history of the the paramilitary police is also interesting. when i grew up in kathmandu, there was no paramilitary police, or apf (armed police force). story is when democracy first dawned in nepal in the 90's, the prime minister had power over everything except the national military, which was still under the constitutional monarch. shortly after democracy emerged, since our then leaders could not agree with each other (just as they are not able to agree with each other today), the maoist problem started and guerilla warfare began across the country. then prime-minister, girija prasad koirala, wanted to use the army to fight the maoist guerillas. but then king birendra said, "i am not going to let one nepali kill another nepali in the name of politics" and denied girija's request. girija, in turn, started his own paramilitary police (with public funds of course), which we now know as the apf, the armed police force, to fight the maoists. so, the apf was born politically. 20 years later to see it have more power than the national police... well, you get the picture. the 601 have an agenda.

but what is the fuss really all about right now? well, we were supposed to have seen the new constitution promulgated on august 5th. august 5th came and went, and then on august 8th, there was a "breakthrough!" the coalition government agreed to a six-province model which would be the new federal structure of nepal. and that's when all the trouble started. nepal bandh. literal translation: nepal closed. for those of you new to bandh's, a bandh is basically a general strike in which groups of political cadres obstruct vehicular movement and don't allow businesses and offices (mostly on road sides) to open. by default, if you have a shop by the road and you open it during a bandh, you become a target on vandalism; if you drive your vehicle during a bandh, again, you become a target of a molotov cocktail.

ok, the six-province model sparked all the protests. but why? delineation based upon ethnicity and "recognition" seems to be the #1 issue. but are they masquerading over a deeper political self-interest of the 601? honestly, i don't know. in my opinion, a federal structure is not really bad for a country. decentralizing of government, if done properly, can be efficient. there will still be one federal government, but giving provinces (states) more power is always better. that's how they do it in the west, both europe as well as the united states, although there are subtle differences in their federal systems. but at the end of the day, i believe, it is about being more efficient, getting more done, viz-a-viz, development. we can develop faster as a nation when not every single decision needs to go through kathmandu. delineation can be refined over time based upon needs.

dil bhusan pathak on the tv talk show, tough talk, on kantipur tv that was aired on wednesday states that the current protests are much ado about nothing, as the people have not really understood the fundamental concepts of federalism. he further even hints that our politicians have also not understood federalism and the delineation of states/provinces, or are pretending not to understand them, for their own self-interests. again, the 601 have an agenda.

tough talk with dil bhusan pathak, aired wednesday, august 19, 2015 (show in nepali):

and then just yesterday some more breaking news -- our leaders held marathon meetings, and now it's seven provinces! but guess what? one more party walks out from the coalition government with the leader saying, "nepal will burn until we have eight provinces." wow, talk about taking a country hostage! but this is how our cronies talk in the raw. it's almost like watching wwf wrestling.

here are the proposed seven provinces or states (source:

in my humble opinion, whether it is six states or seven or eight, and whatever the delineation may be, things can be revised. we do not need to look far. india, with the current states and provinces (territories) it has, it did not get there in one day. india refined its states over time; it did not get its 29 states overnight. we can do the same. can we not learn anything from history? from our neighbours? from the world? i guess not. the protests continue... what's left of the coalition now vows to promulgate the constitution by the 2nd week of september, and we can expect massive opposition accordingly.

but this should give you an idea of what nepal is going through right now. bandh after bandh after bandh. as per my last blog entry, " blog0005: almost there... ", i had two trips scheduled last week. made one of them, the sindhupalchowk trip, with some difficulty (what this blog entry is going to be all about), but had to postpone the other one, the sarlahi trip. maybe we'll do that one next week, political situation depending. as although things are bad, we nepalese have learned to cope with it; maybe that's why we handled the earthquakes so well. there seems to be a method to the madness. for example, the terai has seen 12+ days of bandhs, but every evening after 6pm it is understood that folks need to go out and get food and water. so that's when everyone comes out and stocks up, as well as goes to places they need to. with night buses resuming operation in the kathmandu-terai sector, the business-as-usual speaks for itself. it sounds kind of weird -- rioting and arson and vandalism along with destruction of public property during the day, and then calm and business-as-usual at night. but that's what's happening. so far.

off to attarpur and thulo dhading

after that long intro on the current political situation of nepal (sorry, i got carried away), we've finally come to the meat of the blog. :)

pre-requisites for this blog entry to make sense (please read if you have not already):

  • blog0002: first visit to the attarpur and thulo dhading schools

  • blog0003: attarpur makes its decision

  • blog0004: thulo dhading makes its decision (and a look at foreign aid)

  • blog0005: almost there...

i was saving my next attarpur/thulo dhading trip for abin kunwar, his wife nina and son arnav, who i had recently met during my u.s. networking trip, as i had mentioned in " blog0005: almost there... " when in the u.s., i had attended arnav's 7th birthday party. his invitation read, and i am copy/pasting from evite: "This year Arnav would love it if all party-goers would contribute a birthday monetary donation to the Earthquake victims of Nepal, in lieu of birthday gifts. A donation box will be available at the venue."

abin and his family were already giving to hoste hainse via recurring monthly donations @ even before the earthquake. but post-earthquake, the flurry of activities, like the coordination of the harvard doctors, as described in " blog0005: almost there... " brought abin and his family closer to hoste hainse. abin did not tell me during his son's birthday party, but they apparently had already decided to support hoste hainse.

whoever i had met in the u.s. during my networking trip in july, i had told them that i would take them to our schools the next time they were in nepal. and as fate would have it, abin and his family ended up coming to nepal for three weeks in august. what started as a nonchalant conversation ended up being a concrete one-night trip to sindhupalchowk, braving the monsoon, muddy/slippery road conditions, landslides, leeches, and on top of everything, nepal bandhs.

so why did we go during nepal bandhs in the first place? well, like i said earlier, i was saving this trip, meaning trying to coincide the trip with other work that i needed to get done in both attarpur as well as thulo dhading. needed to coordinate dates not only with abin/family, but also the attarpur school as well as school management committee, the thulo dhading school as well as school management committee, and finally the building construction team at hoste hainse. the best dates that came up and which worked for everyone ended up being august 16 and 17, sunday and monday. the main agenda from the hoste hainse side was to inspect prospective building sites for the new schools at both attarpur as well as thulo dhading.

by august 14, friday, not many people were aware of the upcoming two-day nepal bandh's on sunday, august 16 and monday, august 17. the news outlets these days do a good job by not advertising nepal bandhs as news, as that will only exacerbate the problem (so, kudos to them!). the terai andolan (terai bandhs) were a couple of days old by then, and the general public, even after finding out slowly about the two-day entire-country bandhs, was complacent mainly because bandhs have become a part of life, and there was always a chance that there could be a "bandha firta" meaning cancellation of bandh. still, to us, the 6am - 6pm rule applied and we started planning on how to make the trip around the 6am - 6pm danger zone.

attarpur and thulo dhading locals promised us security once we were off the main roads. they said their schools will run with full fare and they could care less about the bandhs. prem said he and his cousin would escort our vehicle on a motorbike and so to speak would be the scout vehicle for us to check for hooligans (political cadres) by driving a little ahead of us. who is prem? check out " blog0001: the april 25 earthquake and how it shaped the hoste hainse strategy ". our aim -- to get off the main roads by 6am. that would be tough with a 7-hour drive. from kathmandu, it's actually about 5 hours to attarpur and 7 hours to thulo dhading. it's only 104 kilometers in total, but the mountainous terrain makes the drive so long.

the hotspots for vandalism are usually the bazaars of towns and where one district ends and another one starts. once we leave kathmandu, the first district change we hit is sanga (leave kathmandu, enter kavrepalanchowk). the first town we hit is banepa. then dhulikhel, then paanchkhal, then zero kilo, followed by a major hub - dolalghat, where a little further north we leave kavrepalanchowk and enter sindhupalchowk. after that, the tourist spots like sukute beach start, as we drive along side the roaring bhote koshi. this is where we see the constant scary landslides into the river. khadichaur is where we leave arniko rajmarga (the highway that connects kathmandu to china) and hop on the jiri road -- a major intersection. after that, it's about an hour up hill, during which we climb about 1,500 meters (about 5,000 feet) to reach mude, which lies a little after the unpaved road we branch out to travel towards attarpur on.

i counted a total of 8 hotspots, and khadichaur ended up being our goal. if we could pass khadichaur by 6am, we would have a better chance of reaching our destination without any untoward incidents. a 5-hour drive with traffic may become a 4-hour drive without traffic pre-dawn. to reach khadichaur by 6am, we would need to leave kathmandu the latest by 4am. i live in jawalakhel. abin/family lives in lazimpat, on the other side of town. i would need to leave by 3:30am to pick them up and be on the road by 4am. that means i would need to wake up at 3am.

and wake up at 3am we did. it's amazing how solar water heaters work in nepal. even at 3am at night, warm water from the previous day remains in the tank. that was an unexpected nice surprise for a quick 3am shower, especially when i was expecting to take a quick cold shower. i took an extra five minutes because of the warm water, which was perhaps not the best decision under the circumstances. :) by the time we picked up abin/nina and their son, arnav, it was 4am. by then prem and his cousin had joined us in lazimpat on their "escort"/"scout" bike. there was a little bit of "almal" as apparently the previous night some of nina's relatives had advised her not to go citing it would be "dangerous" and "foolish" and "why take the risk?" after talking to abin and nina again about all the risks involved and what we would do in case we were confronted by bandh enforcers, we were finally on the arnico rajmarga by 4:30am.

last friday, two days before our trip, we had already talked about multiple scenarios. i had said, "in the best case, we will reach our destination with no incidents; in the worst case, they will torch our car, but we will have time to get out." i also added, "realistically, what might happen is that they might stop us, and we may be stuck there until 6pm, after which we need to decide whether to turn back or to continue with our journey." we all understood the risks involved and i think i remember arnav muttering, "no risk no gain." we had also made the following plan -- if bandh enforcers stop us, we get out of the car and make sure we show that we have a woman and a child with us. this way, they may not hurl the molotov cocktail at once. so, all in all, we were prepared; we did not just blindly go.

it gets bright around 5 am in nepal these days. we were past sanga and banepa by then. as it was dark, the bandh enforcers must have still been in bed. two down; six to go. by the time we reached dhulikhel, it was already really bright. nothing going on at dhulikhel bazaar. that was good. three down; five to go. the downhill from dhulkhel to paanchkhal was perhaps the strip i enjoyed the most as we could just speed down on blacktopped road (the best section of the journey), and because of the bandh, there was no traffic. otherwise, we would have been stuck behind buses, tippers and then there would be the motorcycles who would want to pass us around blind corners.

our escort/scout motorcycle ahead of us on empty roads:

5:30am. we were 30 minutes away from the infamous bandh start time - 6am. paanchkhal and zero kilo bazaars were closed because of the bandh, but we did not see any bandh enforcers there. five down; three to go. and although we did not time it on purpose, we entered the dolalghat bazaar at 5:58am. after the bazaar, up the hill, is the first major junction, and also the end of kavrepalanchowk district, and the beginning of sindhupalchowk district. just around the bend, boom -- benches were spread across the road and we hit our first batch of bandh enforcers. there was no time for our scout motorcycle to warn us of anything (it never works according to plan). we drove right into their trap:

what was interesting was that the apf (armed police force) was right there, and they did not oppose anything. perhaps if things got out of hand, they would, but as far as maintaining law and order, that part was missing, as obstructing traffic is breaking the law. and this is why bandhs are successful. it's not only the people who stay home in masses, but it is also law enforcement that does not play an active role. everyone in nepal seems to be very passive. from the law enforcement standpoint, this seems to be the issue -- "karyakartas" or band enforcers are politically backed pawns. so let's say a policeman arrests a karyakarta, but later when that political party comes into power or enters the coalition government, that very policeman will need to answer to that very karyakarta. both the policeman as well as the karyakarta knows this. a massive stalemate. nepal bandh successful. but more than the policemen, it's actually the masses who stay home. bandh-defying rallies are not new, like the ones organized by bibecksheel nepali, but there are not enough of them. not yet.

just like we planned, we got out of the car. abin and i approached the karyakartas. prem and his cousin were already talking to them. apparently they had set up the roadblock just minutes ago at 6am. nepalese are usually not punctual, but nepal bandhs seem to be the exception. prem was trying to explain to the karyakartas that we were going to visit schools in his village. the karyakartas did not care and made intimidating remarks like it would be a shame to torch his cousin's bike worth rs. 200 thousand. it did not look good. we retracted to a nearby tea shop and ordered some tea. the karyakartas were having some milk tea. i ordered the same for us. five minutes later, the shopkeeper says that he can only make us black tea as "dudh fatecha," the remainder of his milk had gone bad. uh oh - i don't really believe in superstition, but is this is the end of the road for us?

we did have the black tea, nevertheless. 15 minutes had passed by then. with tea glasses in our hands, we approached the karyakartas again. i mentioned that we got up at 3am just to pass the hotspots by 6am, and we plan to come back tomorrow again only after 6pm. one of the karyakartas asked us which school we were supporting. gave him the full rundown on WHY we decided to go 7-hours out instead of settling for a place nearby where a lot of people were already helping. i don't know what it was, but after about 10 minutes of talking, the karyakartas discussed amongst themselves and decided to let us pass!

6:30am and we were back on the road. the karyakartas did warn us, however, that other roadblocks may not be as lenient, and we were travelling on our own risk. well, that decision we had already made on friday. just two more hotspots left. but now that it was already past 6am, all bets were off, as anything could happen anywhere. sukute beach was relatively quiet with the main gate padlocked! the resort did not even make an attempt to open. wow. rather, smaller shopkeepers (the ones with one-window/door shutters) had their shutters ajar to let people know that they were around if they needed anything, but at the same time could close their shutters completely if karyakartas arrived. so that's at least making an attempt.

we pass the first two of our landslides before we reach khadichour:

for some odd reason, the landslides were the least of my concern then. since our early-warning system (the escort/scout bike) failed miserably during the last roadblock, my eyes were constantly scanning the road for more karyakartas. i should have brought the walkie-talkies that we used during relief efforts earlier in the year and given one to prem, who could then have effectively warned us in real time. but anyway...

we finally reached the last of the hotspots -- khadichour. this usually buzzing bazaar with cheap chinese goods was deserted with all shops closed and riot police on stand by:

we stopped at the khadichour police checkpoint and requested the policeman to radio ahead to see whether there are any blockages on the jiri road:

check out the partially opened shutters behind the policeman. that's what i was talking about earlier; that's making an attempt instead of staying home. policeman shrestha tells us that no incidents have been reported. we continue...

khadichour is where we left the arnico rajmarga that connects kathmandu to china, and branched off onto the jiri road (which obviously goes to jiri). we crossed the roaring bhote koshi over a deserted bridge (the bhote koshi was not this big two months ago):

i think i felt more comfortable after we left arnico rajmarga, a major highway, and started making the 5,000-foot ascent up jiri road. we were not ready to blow a sigh-of-relief just yet though, as we were still about two hours away from our destination, attarpur. arnav was still in his pajamas, as abin had carried him straight out of bed at 4am, while abin and nina had time to change into their "let's build nepal" t-shirts:

before we knew it, we were already above the clouds:

after about an hour, we finally reached the spot before mude where we branch out to attarpur on unpaved roads. there, we came across a group of school girls who were waiting for a bus to take them to school. little did they know that a nepal bandh was announced that day:

it was 7:30am. they had walked an hour from their village to reach the jiri road to take a bus which would take them to school. but they had no idea that there would not be a bus coming today thanks to our politicians. this is the reality of nepal.

after about 30 minutes on a bumpy road, by 8am we entered the outskirts of beautiful attarpur:

just about 30 minutes away from our destination, prem's cousin's motorbike had some problems:

it ended up being a "quick fix" or maybe not so quick fix if it hadn't been for the versatility of the quick-fix nepalese mentality. one of the battery connectors had corroded and the bike was not getting any power. panchan narayan, my driver, got some construction wire (the one you use to bind steel rods with) from a nearby house (construction wire is everywhere these days especially with the post-earthquake temporary shelter construction) and used it as a conduit (if that's the proper term) between the corroded battery connector and the original wire. we were back in business.

8:30am. we had reached attarpur in record time -- 4 hours after leaving kathmandu, and that too with a 30-minute bandh stop. should give you an idea of how much buses and tippers slow you down otherwise. since the attarpur school would not start until 10am, we decided to go straight to the school management committee's president's house. norbu wangel lama. he welcomed us with the usual fanfare:

after introductions, we spent a good hour talking about progress and what still needed to be done. but the primary purpose of the trip was to look at prospective school construction properties. the options were aplenty:

we also collected building material information and performed transportation cost analysis. the price of one brick pre-earthquake in kathmandu was rs. 12. now, post earthquake it is rs. 17. the closest place to haul bricks to sindhupalchowk from is kathmandu. when we asked a vendor to give a guaranteed price, valid for 12 months, the vendor said rs. 20 per brick, as we need to base proposals on prices that do not fluctuate. now, transportation. when one buys bricks in kathmandu, transportation is already included. but with a 5-hour drive from kathmandu to attarpur, it is a different story altogether. the best quote we received from a vendor for transportation was rs. 9,700 per trip from kathmandu to attarpur inclusive of all vdc taxes, load/unload labor. let's round that up to rs. 10,000 and do some quick math:

1 brick costs rs. 20 for a year (guaranteed price)

one mini-tata truck can haul 2,000 bricks

to haul 2,000 bricks will cost rs. 10,000

therefore, to haul 1 brick will cost rs. 5

hence, the cost of 1 brick delivered to attarpur is rs. 20 + rs. 5 = rs. 25

we're already looking at a 25% cost increase for building in sindhupalchowk, or actually attarpur, as opposed to kathmandu. thulo dhading is going to be even more expensive, as it is another two hours away with worse road conditions. in similar calculations, cement came up to about rs. 1,000 per 50 kg. bag (it's about rs. 800 in kathmandu right now). i have already sent this, along with other information to our engineers at minergy. did this last tuesday, as you might remember from my last blog entry, " blog0005: almost there... ", minergy had requested this info. as a preliminary requirement.

it was relatively easy to get these quotes, as post-earthquake mini-tata trucks are seen going "everywhere." as we talked with norbu sir, a mini-tata pulled up nearby and started relief/reconstruction material distribution. it was cgi sheets and other construction materials such as nets:

it was amazing to see locals carry sharp sheets of cgi (corrugated galvanized iron) with their bare hands:

before we knew it, it was 10am and time to visit the attarpur shree rama school. but since we had woken up at 3am, we were getting hungry. nepalese lunch time came to the rescue. in most villages, "khana" or lunch is eaten around 10am and norbu sir had prepared khana for us. we ate it heartily and then were off to visit the school.

the children had already lined up to welcome us:

abin, nina and arnav were the guests of honor:

we get overwhelmed with khada's (the welcome scarves):

and finally at the podium where arnav can barely breathe :) through the khada's:

we were introduced to the entire school:

norbu sir wasted no time to tell arnav's story and how a 7-year old collected funds for earthquake victims on his birthday in lieu of receiving birthday gifts. the story brought tears to some of the students' eyes. norbu sir showed the cheque for the funds that arnav had collected:

arnav had raised $1,000:

then norbu sir talked about how hoste hainse had signed an agreement of support for shree rama secondary school for a year in the form of teacher salaries so that the class 10 children have a better chance of passing the slc (school leaving certificate). i have already written about this multiple times over previous blog entries, including in entry " blog0005: almost there... ". the letter that norbu sir showed everyone, as not only students and teachers, but also villagers were present at the meet:

the locals, of course, wanted to hear from us. i went first. the points that i stressed on the most was that support is not one-sided, and it takes an effort from both sides to make any program successful, and thus a "hoste hainse" is required. i went on to say that the teacher salaries was only the tip of the iceberg and if we work this out well, a school will follow, along with a carpet factory and whatever else is within our powers. "we have the network; we have the know-how; we can make this happen... together." now that i think of it, i should have taken videos of our speeches. next time. but the feedback that we received from the locals was overwhelming:

nina went next:

and finally abin, who also gave out the dictionaries and encyclopedias he had brought with him. abin shared stories about how his teachers had taught him to learn three new words from the dictionary a day, and pleaded with the students to do the same. he further talked about what thousands of "bideshiyeka nepali" like him are doing abroad and although they are abroad their hearts are in nepal, and therefore more and more "bideshiyeka nepali" are doing more for their motherland.

we end the three-hour school visit after having interactions with class 9 and 10 children; pep-talk about the upcoming slc:

by 4pm, we were off to thulo dhading. the roads were much different from when we had made the trip two months ago. the monsoon had taken its toll on the vegetation with an almost godzilla effect:

beautiful ferns everywhere:

and the roads... well, they had gotten worse. we had to turn on 4wd all the way:

after a little over an hour, we reached prem's village, where we had spent the night during our last trip. but this trip, this was only a short stop. we were going to spend the night further down the road. after some quick refreshments, we had the traditional group picture with prem's extended family in thulo dhading:

and then we did the (what we ended up calling) "mirinda thing." it was a lama ritual that used to be apparently in the past done with a form of liquor, but to make it child-friendly, prem's family decided to use mirinda (for those of you who don't know what mirinda is, it's pepsi's version of fanta). :) now, when one of prem's relatives was wearing a "facebook" shirt and performed the ritual with a "mirinda" bottle, it was quite memorable, to say the least (no disrespect intended):

we ended up miscalculating dusk in the hills. one minute it's bright; the other dark. well, maybe not to that extreme, but we ended up driving the last 30 minutes on the slippery slopes in the dark, which i did not want to do, for obvious reasons:

after we reached our destination, we wasted no time to have a quick dinner and go straight to bed. we had a long day today and have an even longer one ahead of us tomorrow. four stretchers in a makeshift earthquake-relief tent, just like the last time:

it was not until the next morning that we did get to see what we actually spent the night in, a korean earthquake relief tent (or so i was told):

if you're planning on sleeping in one of the stretchers that come with the tent, i must warn you that they are not 6 foot friendly. ;) i had my feet dangling from the metal frame all night:

it was a beautiful morning as you could literally touch the clouds:

had breakfast courtesy thulo dhading school management committee president, surya bahadur lama:

we discussed the days activities -- pretty much the same things we discussed with norbu wangel lama in attarpur. decided to walk to the shree dharmodaya secondary school from there, just to experience what the children experience on a daily basis:

breathtaking scenery all the way. i could not get enough of it:

and about 30 minutes later we reached the damaged school that we had visited two months ago. it was abin/nina/arnav's first time though:

then, we headed to the makeshift school, which was another 20 minute or so walk:

we finally could see the makeshift school, which was barely a school -- it was two structures put together with cgi sheets and bamboo:

just like at attarpur the day before, a warm welcome awaited us:

shree dharmodaya is an "uccha ma bi" which means it's a 10+2 school. students up to grade 12:

we had no idea that quite an extensive program had been prepared for us:

the entire school in front of their temporary classrooms:

the program starts off with a self-composed song which was quite impressive:

followed by a dance choreographed by a teacher, who also had a cameo in it:

to shake things up a little, the school wanted to hear from its "atithis" (guests). abin volunteered:

refreshments were served to the children. whether the penetration of "mountain dew" in remote areas struggling with education is good or not, am not really sure:

a traditional tamang dance next:

followed by an elocution contest with six participants:

one more dance:

followed by prize distribution to the elocution contest winners:

it was my turn to talk. i wanted to give the same speech i made in attarpur, but the lack of sleep, and the blazing sun got a hold of me, and i ended up giving a completely new speech, which had more or less a summarized version of the same message:

the teacher support was announced:

here's the signed agreement:

one last dance:

and the children were given a snack:

abin gave his dictionary speech and handed over the dictionaries and encyclopaedias:

although arnav raised only $1,000 on his birthday, his parents, abin and nina pledged another $1,000 because there were two schools to support, which was presented to the school as arnav's birthday proceeds:

the program is wrapped up by a speech by the school management committee chairperson, surya bahadur lama. three hours had passed by then:

we met with the 10th graders and gave them a pep talk about the slc's just like at attarpur. i stressed on the fact to always have a plan b, although you aim for plan a. plan a is to pass the slc, but plan b is to try again if you don't succeed, which includes signing up for the exam again (a lot of children do not do this on time and miss out on re-taking the slc making things worse for them). nina shared with the children that even at her age, she and abin are still going to school along with working and raising a child. hence, it is never too late to learn. abin shared with the students something that i myself did not know. he said that nepali comedian hari bansha acharya had failed the slc five times, but never gave up, and finally did pass. we wished the children the best:

a group picture with the 10th graders and some of the teachers (we forgot to take a group picture at attarpur):

after checking out prospective areas to build the new school, we said our goodbyes:

a 20-minute walk back to the vehicle it was. the more we looked at the natural beauty of sindhupalchowk, the more we fell in love with it. if pictures speak a thousand words, experience speak a million. what this picture does not capture is the fresh air, the sound of the birds, the breeze, the distant rivers and the general feeling of tranquility and serenity:

in addition to building schools and carpet factories at both attarpur as well as thulo dhading, i am seriously considering building a cabin or a vacation home as well. with just four to six hours away from kathmandu, it could be the perfect getaway. and best of all, it could be dual purpose -- not only a vacation home, but a place where volunteers could stay when they come to our schools in sindhupalchowk. hoste hainse gets a number of volunteers every year, but many of them are always confined to kathmandu due to the lack of proper lodging in remote areas. this would solve that problem. i think i am going to go for it.

what goes up must come down, and vice versa. time to climb back up the hill, and the 4h-4wd would not cut it. we needed to climb up in 4l-4wd, the most powerful gear we had:

the roads were the same going back:

took some detours, like crossing a river over a narrow bridge that had a railing only on one side:

while we let the pathfinder cross the river by itself. we wanted to see what it would look like from the outside, since we were in the vehicle while crossing it the first time the day before:

the rest of the journey was quite uneventful. by the time we reached the arnico rajmarga, it was past 6pm, and the nepal bandhs were all done. we double checked with local police. now, the only thing that we needed to worry about was landslides, as it had been raining in the afternoon. and what do you know? we actually hit two landslides that had just been cleared. there's been a high penetration of bulldozers in nepal recently (whoever got the permits to import them made a lot of money), and there's one bulldozer for hire in almost every landslide prone area. this landslide had just been cleared; it was so fresh that the soil was still loose (not compacted by multiple vehicles driving over it):

with the landslide going straight into the roaring bhote koshi (don't want to be trapped in that one):

our 1994 nissan pathfinder is a very strong vehicle and i will take it any day over the newer suv's which are made mostly out of plastic parts. over 20 years old and still runs strong, but it does give us trouble once in a while, like it did on the paanchkhal to dhulikhel ukalo (uphill):it overheated, but we did not care, as we were in no rush to get back to kathmandu, the overpopulated filthy urban jungle. we sat in a nearby tea shop, sipped our milk tea made with bhaishi ko dudh (buffalo milk) and let an hour pass as the pathfinder gradually cooled down. there was so much to talk about; so much to do; we were all excited about the things that were coming up; the things that we were going to do. we did not say it, but we could see it in each others' eyes.

by the time we reached home, it was 9pm.

wow, that was a long blog entry. i hope i did not lose you somewhere along the way. i somehow got carried away, but there was still so much that i did not cover. i did talk about the main points though. i highlighted this trip on my radio this week as well. if you want to listen, here's the link:

it overheated, but we did not care, as we were in no rush to get back to kathmandu, the overpopulated filthy urban jungle. we sat in a nearby tea shop, sipped our milk tea made with bhaishi ko dudh (buffalo milk) and let an hour pass as the pathfinder gradually cooled down. there was so much to talk about; so much to do; we were all excited about the things that were coming up; the things that we were going to do. we did not say it, but we could see it in each others' eyes.

by the time we reached home, it was 9pm.

wow, that was a long blog entry. i hope i did not lose you somewhere along the way. i somehow got carried away, but there was still so much that i did not cover. i did talk about the main points though. i highlighted this trip on my radio this week as well. if you want to listen, here's the link:

also, i only posted a couple of photos from the trip onto this blog entry. to see all of the photos, please check out the following link:

sarlahi is going to be my text trip, but am still playing it by ear with the bandhs in the terai. will most probably go on monday. will let you know how it goes.

if you have any questions or comments or feedback on any of the things i have written in this blog entry, please feel free to contact me: krishna.shah @ and my mobile number is +977-98080-65300.

thanks for reading. write to you again soon!

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