Saturday, May 30, 2015

Recollections from Nepal: Travelling in Bhulbhu, a village trying to rebuild itself

“If you are in Kathmandu, you are not in Nepal”, a friend from Nepal told me while discussing what real Nepal is. We were discussing this at a time when a massive earthquake of 7.8 magnitude had shuddered the nation and another massive quake of 7.3 magnitude was still to come in a day’s time! And this was so true. Twenty kilometers away from Kathmandu and you witness the devastation which is so alien to the capital city.

In Kathmandu, people moved on in a week’s time. Offices resumed, markets reopened. But time has stopped in villages nearby. People are trying to move ahead, but there is something which is not letting them go ahead.

Bhulbhu is a village 25 kilometers away from Kathmandu. It is difficult to locate on maps. Sankhu, five kilometers away, is the closest market village. My friend Uday Singh knows people from the village and is involved in relief work in the village. There has only been two deaths in the village due to the earthquake, but almost all the houses in the village have been destroyed. Although, 103 people had died in Sankhu till the time I visited the area on May 11.

Uday explains. Romesh and his brother listens.

As soon as we- Uday and I- reached Sankhu, two bothers- Romesh Thapa and Ganesh Thapa, both in their early 30s, met us. We were advised to park the car in the open area in Sankhu. “It had rained the entire night. The car cannot go to the village. We will walk upto the village with the relief material.” Uday made me understand the situation after having a conversation with the Thapa brothers.

I have been to villages in Uttarakhand- a Himalayan state in India. But the terrain in Nepal is a bit different. Also the continuous rain had made it difficult for us as the road had become extremely fragile. As we walked, Uday and Romesh helped me understand the situation after the earthquake in a better manner.

“The houses in our villages are very far apart. It is also a reason why it becomes very difficult for the relief material to reach every person.” Romesh told us. Uday added, “Houses in Indian Himalayan villages are built closely. But in Nepal the houses are quite far.” Uday is essentially from Uttarakhand in India, who settled in Nepal twenty years back. The primary occupation of the villagers in Bhulbhu, Sankhu and many villages of Nepal is agriculture. The farmers build their homes near their farming lands. Thus the distance between houses exists. The continuous rain in the month of May will result in bad crop this year.

Population of Bhulbhu stands at 1,130 from 260 families in the small village. As we moved further inside the village- up in the Himalayan terrain- Romesh introduced us to another problem which has hardly been reported anywhere. Bhulbhu is a Hindu village. And like any other Hindu village, caste plays an important factor in the village. At a time when almost every house has been destroyed, and people are forced to sleep in the open, people from upper caste families find it difficult to receive the relief material alongside the lower caste people. This was also a reason behind many scuffles in the villages after the teams with relief material leave the villages. “This is not the bigger problem right now. And I do not think we can fight it ever in the villages. It is better that we acknowledge this and distribute the material accordingly.” Uday shared his views with everybody. I agreed.

Building new homes

I noticed that many houses looked fine from outside, but still people have vacated them. When I enquired, my local friends suggested to get inside one of the houses. Romesh took us to his own house. As he asked us to enter, he started laughing and said, “Even I am scared to enter my own house!” We laughed. But then I realised how tiny we- humans- are in front of nature. Minuscule. It takes an entire life to build a home. And a small movement of earth can destroy it- forever.

As I entered the house, every pillar had fallen. Even a small tremor had potential to collapse the remaining structure. The houses were uninhabitable now. The local villagers use clay to bind the bricks instead of cement. The clay is not a good substitute for the cement. It is weaker, and rain makes it even weaker to hold up the structure. This brings us to another major problem which every village will be facing in a month’s time from now- rebuilding the houses from the scratch. This will require lot of investment, and the bad crops in the present year will not make things easy. The only hope the villagers have is from government and volunteers from all across the globe.

The Nepalese government has not been able to tackle the problems properly. The poor economy of the nation makes it difficult. The villagers get relief material from the municipality in Sankhu- which is five kilometers away. And as Romesh informed us, the Sankhu municipality has been able to provide seven kilograms of rice, one egg and one packet of chow chow per family. It also provided potatoes which is the local crop. This was shared by Romesh and his brother, and I could not meet anybody from the municipality to confirm this.

Inside Romesh Thapa’s new home

In the tent in which Romesh and his joint family stays together, things did not look fine. The continuous rain had made it difficult for the people to sleep on the ground. The quality of the sheets they received from the village municipality and various volunteer groups was not very good. The plastic sheets were very thin. In this particular tent which Romesh and his family members had built, a total of 27 members were living together. The kids looked very happy- as they got enough time to play in the open! And also because the schools had been shut down.

As we walked around the village, we saw many people have started building their houses again. I hear many plans by volunteer groups and government that they were planning how to make the houses. But here the villagers have already taken charge. They are making bamboo hoses- using the tin shelter from the older structures of their houses. One could see how people are collecting bits and pieces from their lives to restart everything. People are trying to move on.

Nepal is always seen as a tourist destination. We hardly know about the country. The massive earthquake has brought our attention to the geography of the country. Apart from being a country known to host Mount Everest, it lies on crucial tectonic plates which have potential to generate massive earthquakes in the coming days. It becomes important for India to understand Nepal, as the earthquakes in Nepal have direct affect on India as well.

The walk in and around Bhulbhu made us understand the problems in detail. It is high time the authorities also try to understand the problems in much detail, and create a better tomorrow.

Bhulbhu was just one of the many villages which needs immediate help. Hope that the people in numerous villages are able to come over the difficult times as soon as possible.

This article was first published on LokMarg on May 19, 2015

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