Tuesday, 11 August, 2020

Heritage Sites Around Bhotekoshi (I)

Prem Khatry

For three days it appeared that for those living at lower level plains and valleys, even northern Sindhupalchok is the Himalaya per se. The cold was unbelievable in the open terrain when it snows in the upper regions on both sides of the Bhotekoshi River. But as one makes efforts to measure more length and height along the risky road towards a hilltop like the Dungunagarhi or, for that matter, the upper region of Fulpingkatti Gaupalika one cannot stop reaching freezing body temperature. This is the reason why only Sherpa people, well acclimatised with the height all the way to the famous Himalayas live life of perennial struggle with nature.
Surprise didn’t stop in the height, rough road, sparse population and snow-induced cold for the writer and team members of Intangible Cultural Heritage survey group. There were human-created surprises also. Fast running and warm blood became cooler still as few archeological sites were lying exposed, unattended, destroyed by quakes and human avarice of the worst kind. More words will be used next week to describe what the story is all about.
Nepal's trusted neighbour China did wonderful job by clearing the quake created mess along the Araniko Highway. A new black-topping technique was used to complete the destroyed road on time. Meanwhile two hydro projects – Bhotekoshi 40 MW and the Middle Bhotekoshi 102 MW – came into being along the way. A portion of the highway will remain disturbed for unknown period of time due to these two constructions. This is also causing delay on the road to reach the Tatopani border and the bungee jump site. On the bungee site a new cable car is being installed linking this area with the Newar town of Listi, few km northwest of the Bhotekoshi river valley on the hill. An old Newar settlement will find a new life and new identity soon.
Up above the Tatopani town China has constructed a dry port in the aftermath of the quake-hit border town of Kodari. The brand new, spacious facility has enough capacity to park 100s of trucks and big carriers. Gaupalika ward chief Kailash seemed a perfect guide and a very friendly host to show the DOA/ICH team around. One only wishes the facility is not only used but well maintained in the years ahead and another quake doesn’t hit the area in future. Looking towards the sky from the yard in all direction is a scary experience as the tall, steep mountains rise like wall of a building. Perched on the lower hills behind the town of Tatopani is a huge Padmasambhava statue overlooking the steep mountains, little town and the river.
The Chinese government now seems preoccupied with Nepal's new demand to increase the standard of Kathmandu-Kerung link road. Even a railway is on the table at both ends. But the narrow, tough but shortest road link to Khasa and Tibet is through Kodari so China came forward to repair the 114-km Kathmandu-Kodari road. Now, one can see hundreds of heavy trucks lined up for the goods to be transported to Kathmandu. In good times, the road is less than four hour's drive.
The new bridge across Bhotekoshi on the border is an example of how construction – be it a road, hydro project, building or bridge – is their specialty. Nepal now has plenty examples to their credit. At that particular point the river not flows, it makes powerful jumps with scary thundering sound. During the quake, its upstream in the China territory created havoc when heaven burst only a few miles north and swept the riverbeds, houses along the river, roads and properties. Devilal Shrestha, a hotel owner and a social worker (calls himself a 'campaigner for the preservation of culture and heritage') in the lower part of Tatopani laments that nothing was left in his house. On the top, thieves cleared his house lifting not only valuables like gold and silver but also pots, pans and grains when they saw nobody around.
Today, three months after the rehabilitation of the road and facilities, people of that corner are happy that business is returning, link roads are dug out of the steep slopes and life has changed for better. People are not 100 per cent sure that there won't be another quake. They look up toward the sky and their gaze hardly passes through the steep, tall mountain overlooking the valley below. Scars of quake are there on the face of the hills and mountains for them to recall the sad experience now and many years to come. Most importantly, schools have regained life all along the stretches of the Araniko Highway.
What the people are missing most is the incessant flow of tourists in general and Indian tourist in particular. Business goes great when pilgrims to Kailash-Mansarovar stop here for at least one night. Now, though, only a handful of hotels are running. Many buildings in the bazaar are either sunk or tilted and partially to fully broken. It will take time to clear the debris and erect a new structure in place. Many have abandoned them due to uncertain business and moved further south markets like Barabise, Lamosangu, Khadichour to Sukute. As a matter of fact, Sukute now is 'the rafting capital' of Bhotekoshi.
Of late, this small area with lined shops and hiding resorts is also known as the 'VIP Resort' where top ranking leaders grace the facilities and make effort to decide the fate of their party or the country. People say some of their efforts are not always futile whereas many go down the Bhotekoshi stream and disappear like the bubbles. One can stay satisfied that at least there is a riverbed where one can see things happening on different fronts, tourism being the notable one.
Finally, if the government makes deal with China for upgrading the highway to double lane, their goods can flow smoothly and reduce the cost for consumers. Next, tourism potential can once again be strengthened like in the past where the 114 km stretch could be dotted with facilities – small, medium to large. Two hydro projects now underway can also contribute significantly to the national grid and prove that Nepal actually needs small to medium size hydro projects in order to reach every home with light and power in the shortest possible time

(To be continued.)

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