Sunday, 5 December, 2021

East Nepal's Beauty


Mukti Rijal


After an interregnum of a decade or so, I joined with my family members to freak out briefly towards the eastern part of Nepal especially Ilam, Jhapa and the adjoining areas last fortnight. The journey took me along 160 km long BP Highway connecting Dhulikhel with Bardibas and coursed through most of the districts in State 2, State 1 and a short stretch further beyond the eastern border of Nepal.
Needless to say, BP Highway not only ensures short and easy access, it links the inner areas of Mahottari, Dhanusha, Sindhuli and Kavre districts of the country. The highway is deemed to be crucial in the development of these districts in particular and the country as a whole in general.
Although the highway was set to be constructed in 1958 AD during the tenure of the then Prime Minister BP Koirala, the project had sunk into oblivion for long. Later, it was initiated and taken up in cooperation with the Japanese Government and it got completed a few years ago despite several hitches and hiccups.
In fact, I had not travelled via BP Highway after its completion and hand over. However, I had taken a ride both in private and public vehicles when it was under construction in some sections. The highway is not wide enough for heavy vehicles to ply but it does charm the visitors due to its smooth makeover. And a ride along it offers a pleasing experience to the commuters. The highway, in fact, looks splendid and gorgeous with its long winding turns and road side bars arranged and arrayed together in rows. Despite heavy traffic load and stress it has to bear and resist, the highway looks sleek and smooth.
Technologically, the road is said to be indeed a sophisticated work. The latest road building technology known as ‘shotcrete’, had been used in reinforcing the road structure. According to road engineers, shotcrete is found to be effective for ground stabilization. It is also useful in loose soil retaining, landslide drainage and water flow control. According to a news report that quotes the engineers involved in building this highway, another method called ‘geotech’ has been used at various sections to strengthen and stabilize the road surface. Geotech method helps to obtain information on physical properties of soil and earthwork foundations for proposed structures. This is the first time that such technologies have been used for road construction in Nepal.
I think both geotech and shotcrete technologies should have been used especially in building the Mugling-Narayanghat road which has fragile geological structures prone to landslides and earth surface depredation. It has cost hugely on national exchequer and inflicted numerous public inconveniences and hardships. No sooner the long awaited rehabilitation and upgrading work completed almost a year ago, fissures and factures have been noticed in some sections of the rehabilitated road.
The BP Highway meets with the East-West Highway at Bardibas which is also known as Mahendra Highway that links eastern part of Nepal with the western edge. The Mahendra Highway is shoddy and decrepit in some sections. This made our journey at times a bumpy and bouncy ride. The urban settlements such as Bardibas, Lahan, Itahari, Damak, Birtamod have grown into sprawling concrete hodgepodge laid out along the highway defiling the long stretch of beautiful Terai-Madhesh landscape. With greenery vanished, the concrete structures in these towns appear chaotic and ragged. Given that this disorderly urban sprawl spins out unrestrained, these settlements will turn most of the stretch along the East-West Highway into an uninhabitable concrete mess spoiling human habitat and ecology.
After we reached Kakarbhitta, we took a short ride in a rented vehicle up to Siliguri, a North Bengal city bordering Nepal where the immigrant Nepali people live and settle in large numbers. Naxalbari, where Indian Maoists had organized and led the peasant revolt during the late 1960s is just a few kilometers away from Nepal's eastern border - Kakarbhitta. The term Naxalite owes its origin to Naxalbari, a small village in West Bengal, where a section of the radical Indian communists led by such leaders as Charu Mazumdar, Kanu Sanyal and Jangal Santhal had initiated an uprising during the late 1960s.
Naxalbari, a nondescript tribal village, has won international publicity and renown and Indian Maoists regardless the states they come from are dubbed as Naxalites even today. The Naxalbari village bears the testimony of its radical past with the half bust statues of Karl Marx, Lenin, Mao, Stalin, Charu Majumdar and many others erected in rows. It is said that the Naxalbari uprising had lent an inspiration to the communists in Nepal to organize and spearhead revolt such as Jhapa Bidroha through violent actions against the allegedly oppressive agrarian relations and mode of production.
After just a few hours’ tour around the major parts of Siliguri Bazar, we returned to Kakarbhitta and resumed our journey towards Ilam. From Charali (quadri-junction where roads from different directions meet), we took our way up through beautiful tea gardens and clean, green and serene rural ambience and reached Ilam via Kanyam and Fikkal.
As the headquarters of the Ilam district, Ilam Bazar provides an excellent and refreshing getaway from the din and bustle of city life. It is a beautiful hill town overlooking luxuriant tea bushes and gardens. It is indeed interspersed with dense tea estates offering enchanting views of the pristine landscape.
It is mostly a quiet hill town with clean, ordered and aesthetically lined up houses. However, these days high rise concrete structures are coming up to interfere with and spoil the town's pretty ambience.
In fact, Ilam is one of the resourceful districts in Nepal. It possesses rich cultural diversity, natural landscape, and a flourishing cash crop industry. Local people informed this writer that potato, cardamom, ginger, milk, and broom grass are the major cash crops, with tea being the big and viable enterprise. According to an information material highlighting the social diversity of the district, Lepchas were once the predominant ethnic group in this region. A Lepcha museum is being built at Sri Antu – a scenic hill (dada) famous for enjoying sunrise at early dawn. A brief reconnaissance around the Ilam town shows the rich social and cultural heritage of people living in harmony with each other.
After Ilam Bazar, we spent quite a while at Fikkal and Kanyam – the upcoming but famed tourist destinations at Ilam. Kanyam under Suryodaya Municipality has drawn up plans and schemes to develop its tourist potentials and expand further in a systematic way.
Kanyam is known for its beautiful green tea gardens and picnic spots. Every year thousands of tourists arrive here to enjoy and relish its greenery, pleasing tea gardens, pine trees, horse riding and amicable local people.
On the way back home we visited a newly developed religious shrine called Gaushala Naya Brindaban at Sundar Haraicha Municipality in Morang district.
A spacious complex of temples and shrines has been built here and many more are on the cards. According to Chandramani Guragain who is involved in the project, the construction of a mammoth-sized statute of cow is under way which after its completion can draw visitors from both Nepal and India.

The author writes regularly for TRN