Archives for posts with tag: Kathmandu

These photos are dedicated to all the people who go through great lengths to make a living. 

After devoting a lot of time to temples and other old cultural marvels of Nepal, I had a strong urge to indulge in some good old street photography.  All of these photos were taken around “New Road”, a cultural, commercial hub of Kathmandu.

“We started out by raising funds through deusi-bhailo” Moti Ghimire, the president of Jagriti Nagar Tole Bikas Samiti recounts with a smile, “We’ve come a long way.” Jagriti Nagar is a tole, or neighborhood, located on the western bank of the Bagmati river between Naya Baneshwor and Purano Baneshwor. Occupying an area of approximately two hundred square meter with about four hundred homes and small businesses, much of the early history of this tole consisted of people from many districts of Nepal purchasing land and constructing homes in this area, with the first house in this settlement being built around 2046 BS. As the settlement in Jagriti Nagar expanded, a committee was formed in 2048 BS to develop the infrastructure of the tole. However, it took another four years for this entity to be registered with the Central District Office of Kathmandu.

Given the newness of the settlement, the main priority of Jagriti Nagar Bikas Samiti during its early stages was to build proper infrastructure for its denizens. This has led to the gravel roads being upgraded to black-topped roads with the Kathmandu Municipality Corporation (KMC) funding 60% of the project and the other 40% coming through the contributions of the community. With unfailing persistence, the Bikash Samiti has been advocating for a cleaner neighborhood. Despite the fact that Jagriti Nagar is right next to the notoriously dirty Bagmati river, it is relatively clean as the members of the tole have taken the initiative to periodically clean the tole themselves. On the roads of Jagriti Nagar, one can see speed limit signs and marked speed breakers, which are some of the undertakings of the Bikas Samiti. Also, this Bikash Samiti has declared the tole free from sand and gravel exploitation in the neighboring Bagmati river.

Today, Jagriti Nagar Bikash Samiti has diversified in its approach to developing the community. “We do a lot of things throughout the year,” Mr. Ghimire says, “We have blood donation programs. We felicitate those who passed SLC with distinction and the octogenarians of Jagriti Nagar every year. We have community fundraising programs during Dashain and the Nepali New Year. We have a poetry recitation festival. But everything we do, we do it together as a community. No matter where you come from, where you live, it is always important to develop a mutual sense of responsibility.”

In addition to developing a mutual sense of responsibility, the members of the Bikash Samati also believe in developing self-reliance. Hence, the Bikash Samiti does not receive funding from any NGO, INGO or other external development partners. All the office holders in the Bikash Samiti are volunteers and do not receive any form of renumeration. Funding for their activities is derived from the community itself: through a household membership fee of Rs 100 which they collect from every household every two years.

A commendable and exemplary initiative of Jagriti Nagar Bikas Samiti was to search for any annexed public land in the tole that had appeared after the Bagmati river had changed its course. The present working committee was able to identify such land on the eastern part of the tole, on the banks of the Bagmati river. The Management Committee then wrote to the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) requesting it to look into this particular land and to transfer the ownership to the Nepal Government. CIAA and the branches of the Nepal Government, including the Department of Measurements and Kathmandu District Land Revenue Office, KMC, KMC Ward No. 34 came to the assistance of the Bikash Samiti in gaining control of the public land. After the ensuing litigation, land area of about six and a half ropanies was transferred to the Nepal Government. Several months later, the Bikash Samiti received a formal letter from KMC stating that it was entrusted with safe keeping and building a community park in this land. Again, the Bikash Samiti raised funds from the community to pay for 20% (Rs 291,000) of the proposed park while KMC funded the remaining 80% (Rs 882,000). A boundary wall and a temporary gate have already been constructed.

The Bikash Samiti has also been working with KMC, KMC Ward No. 34 and Nepal Government to raise funds for the construction of a concrete bridge on the Bagmati Bridge. This new bridge, which is already under construction, will connect the Airport section of the Ring Road with the proposed Bagmati Corridor Road. “More work on this bridge has been completed than on the main bridge connecting Purano Baneshwor to Sinamangal” Mr Ghimere states with a smile “To aid the construction of this bridge, we have provided our public land to store steel rods and other construction materials. For this reason, the work on the park has been temporarily put on hold” Mr. Ghimire points to three large circular steel pillars of the bridge under construction, “But as most of the column of the bridge has already been completed, we can hope that we can begin work soon.”

Standing on the banks of the Bagmati river, looking at the bridge being constructed nearby the empty plot of land that will soon become a park, Mr. Ghimire further underscores the fact that “We can’t always ask the government to do everything for us, sometimes we have to take the initiative ourselves. That is what we do with this Bikash Samiti, we provide a platform for the community to take the initiative, to fulfill their needs themselves, to fight for their rights. It is not only enough that we ask for things, it is equally important to work with your neighbors to bring about positive change.”

Mr. Moti Ghimire Standing outside the Jagriti Nagar Bikas Samiti Office

 

The New Bagmati Bridge that will connect the backside of the Ring Road to Jagriti Nagar

 

The Steel Pillars of the New Bridge Across the Bagmati River Under Construction

 

Macchhegau is a Village Development Committee (VDC) in Kathmandu district.  This area has some lush forests that border the VDC.  I spotted a water tank under construction in this area.  Far from the concrete jungle of urban Kathmandu and oblivious to the demand of urbanization, these locals are taking advantage of the underground water to fulfill their needs.  Constant water is a luxury in Kathmandu.

A Water Tank under Construction

High Tension Wire Towers in Macchegau

There has been a construction boom in Kathmandu.  The main construction materials are cement, bricks and steel rod.  Consequently a lot of brick factories have sprung up in Kathmandu.  In Macchegau VDC, there are about five or six such factories.  I visited one of them.  These brick factories are closed during the monsoon as the wet climate hinders proper combustion and green unbaked bricks are easily damaged by the rain.

A Brick Factory with Kathmandu City on the Background

An Idle Truck is Parked outside the Brick Factory

Industrial Chimney

Kids have a Chitchat at the base of the Chimney

A Stack of Bricks

Finished Bricks have been Taken Out of the Bull's Trench or Dug

In the vicinity of the Brick Factory were the remains of a defunct ropeway system. This ropeway system linked Kathmandu to Hetauda and was built in 1960 with American aid.  The Tribhuwan Higway that linked Thankot to Bhainse was completed some 7 years prior to the start of construction of this ropeway system.  After the construction of roads that linked the Kathmandu valley to the Terai, this ropeway died a painful death due to bad management, apathy and corruption in 1994.  I happened to stumble upon its rusty remains while I was on the ‘off the beaten path.’

The Top Section of this Ropeway Tower has Fallen to its Side

Another Ropeway Tower - One of 280 Such Original Towers

The Steel Framework of the Tower as Seen from Below

I Look down as I Climb this Rusty Tower

This is Me Near the Top of the Tower - One of my Crazy Endeavors

Ropes of Steel

The Two Towers

The View of a Gondola from below

In Chobhar, some eight kilometers from Balkhu, I stumbled into the black and white world of the now non-functional Himal Cement Factory.  This cement factory was built in 1974 by the Germans as a gift to the Nepali government.  This government run factory was shut down in 2002 after a finding which showed that 50% of the pollution in Kathmandu was contributed by this factory followed by strong local protests.  Prior to its inevitable closure, Himal Cement Factory had become a punching bag for environmentalists as the valley began getting engulfed in perpetual smog (along with those infamous Vikram Tempos) in the wake of urbanization.

In Chobhar, lost amongst the forest are the remnants of a now black and white factory.  Nepal was once an isolated kingdom with despotic rulers.  Until 1990, people had difficulties in obtaining their passports so very few people had visited a country other than India.  In the later half of the twentieth century, Nepal was still a country indifferent to happenings around the world.  During the cold war, Nepal joined the Non-Aligned Movement, and thus was never affected by the conflict between the USA and the USSR.  In the midst of a housing crisis, the king razed the old, magnificent royal palace and spent a fortune building a new “modern” kitschy and superficially retro palace when most of the country didn’t even have proper roads.  Nepal began making a transition from mud and stone to cement and concrete.  To fuel this transition, the government built the Himal Cement Factory in Chobhar.  Using limestone from the surrounding hills in Chobhar, a new revolution began.  Concrete began displacing mud and wood structures in Kathmandu.  It was the birth of urbanization in an insular kingdom.  Cement houses began chewing into the Kathmandu skyline, gravel roads got a black topped makeover.  Whilst Kathmandu was reinventing itself, rest of Nepal continued to depend on subsistence agriculture.

By the time the cement factory was closed in 2002 Kathmandu was headed towards a new direction.  The Maoist Insurgency had reached its peak.  The world read about the largest royal massacre since the decimation of the Tzar’s family.  Bagmati river started to become intolerably filthy.  People began pouring into Kathmandu for jobs in droves.  As pollution start to soar in Kathmandu, the locals of Chobhar began a campaign to end the pollution caused by the factory by having it shut down for good.  That campaign was successful.  This resulted in a spike in the price of cement for the years to come which proved to be a minor deterrent for a massive construction boom in the Kathmandu valley.

A few days back I visited the remnants of the cement factory that possibly helped speed up urbanization in the Kathmandu valley.  With the population of the valley soaring to four million, and the construction of large  concrete high rises and row houses on the rise in the valley, I wonder what kind of future Kathmandu is headed towards.

The Defunct Himal Cement Factory at Chobhar

The Old Office Building of the Himal Cement Factory


Remnants of the Defunct Conveyor Belt of Himal Cement Factory