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Mystical Gosainkunda

IMG.jpgThe maximum distance I walk on a daily basis is to a restaurant nearby office for lunch and back. Once in while when I go for hikes with my friends in the outskirts of Kathmandu valley, I’m often the last one to reach the destination. So, a couple of weeks ago, when my family and friends proposed a trek to Gosainkunda, I quickly went on Google to search for images of the trail and read about people’s trekking experiences, as well as watched videos of Gosainkunda on YouTube. Watching the videos made me want to go on the trek because I realized, that to walk for around 30 hours in just three days, I’d really have to push myself.

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It took us almost five hours to reach Dhunche in Rasuwa from Kathmandu due to the bumpy roads. For the first night, we had planned to stay in Chandanbari so we started walking at noon after two hours of rest in the district headquarters. We knew that it was going to be an uphill trail to Gosainkunda as we had to climb up to 4,380 meters starting from 2,000 meters where a four-wheeler had dropped us.

As we left Dhunche, lush green forests, flowing rivers, and gorgeous waterfalls accompanied by the non-stop chirping and singing of birds made for a pleasant trek. The weather was also on our side with a partly cloudy sky shielding us from the heat. But we were all amateur trekkers so we had to rest after a few minutes of walking, and this was the case for all the three days of our journey.

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We finally reached Chandanbari, our first day destination, after walking for eight hours.Chandanbari is located at an altitude of 3,300 meters. And, much to our surprise, it had quite a few hotels, and a government-owned cheese factory as well.The view of the sunrise from here was breathtaking.

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The second day was the toughest of the trip as we were approaching higher altitude. Many people we met on the way would warn us to be wary of any altitude sickness symptoms. Scarier was the fact that, in the entire route, there were no medical centers if one of us were to suffer from altitude sickness. If the medicine we had didn’t work, the only option we would have was to descend.

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I kept checking my breathing pattern that fastened as we climbed but nothing serious happened to make me miss the stunning view. While walking through the Langtang National Park I kept hoping I’d spot a red panda and I thoroughly enjoyed coming across flora and fauna I had never seen before.

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We reached the lake on a Saturday afternoon and spent a couple of hours in the serene surrounding that gave off a mysterious vibe.

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Perhaps that was also because we knew that the lake held a religious significance. The myth is that Gosainkunda was formed after Lord Shiva dug the land with a trishul in search of cold water to quench his thirst after drinking poison during samudramanthan. The Trishuliriver originates from this lake.

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After a few well-spent hours around the lake, it was time to go back for a night stay in Lauribinayak. People often avoid staying around the lake area due to the fear of suffering from altitude sickness.

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The third day of the trip entailed a relaxed downhill trek to get back to Dhunche and then to Kathmandu.

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This strenuous trek has given me the confidence that I can attempt even more difficult ones in the future and I definitely plan to go on more treks from now on. I’d highly recommend the Gosainkunda trek to anyone wanting to challenge their adventurous side, and willing to spend a couple of days walking.

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nirjanasharma@gmail.com

Originally published in Republica Daily

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2015: A setback for education

setback

The children had just started getting their new textbooks in the first week of the new academic session, and there was excitement at studying in a new grade. That was when the earthquake struck. The children’s books, along with the family members of many of them, got buried in the rubble of the devastation.

When school resumed at May-end, as many as one million children had their own stories of suffering to share. Over 6,000 schools were damaged. A few of the students got to sit inside makeshift classrooms in the initial days after the quake while many others had to manage in the open.

The children’s suffering did not stop there. The protests in the tarai districts triggered by dissatisfaction over the demarcation of federal provinces kept the children out of school for another 100 days from August to November.

In the earthquake-affected 14 hill districts, children are forced to study inside makeshift classrooms which are almost completely run down by now. Many schools have shifted back into classrooms damaged in the quake, disregarding the red stickers indicating that these are unsafe.

At the same time, students in the tarai are perplexed about their future.

A month after schools resumed in the central tarai, following 100 days of forced shutdown, Kishan Shreevastav wanders around the protest sites in Birgunj at 10 in the morning, when he should have been inside his classroom.

A 10th grader at Shree Maisthan Vidya Pith, Kishan said going to school was a waste of time as the teachers came only occasionally during the last one month.

“I and my friends are taking coaching classes with a private school teacher as our own teachers are yet to start teaching the third chapter in any subject,” said the 17-year-old, showing a lack of interest in going to school even through his SLC board exam is scheduled to start from March 31.

Kishan’s problem is shared by three million students in the eight district of the province 2, where the students were forced to stay away from school following violent protests over the demarcation of the federal provinces. Fourteen-year-old Shayub Kumar Sah is only one of many who have decided never to go back to school.

This is the longest spell in the educational history of the country during which children have been unable to go to school, and the government has failed to show its presence to ensure them the right to attend school.

The setback in the education sector caused by the earthquake disaster, the tarai protests and the Indian blockade are a nightmare for the country

While the Department of Education estimates that it will take three to five years to reconstruct the schools damaged during the earthquake, the costs could go as high as Rs 38 billion. At the same time, the series of violent protests in the southern plains have had a negative psychological impact upon the children. The government is yet to flash the number of school dropouts this academic session. But experts warn that the psychological impact on the children could be as devastating as during the Maoist armed insurgency.

In the hills, children are yearning for a ray of hope for their education and for a better future. In the plains, school-going has suffered, with the involvement of both teachers and students in the protests. Children will have to live for the next decade with the consequences of these sad developments of 2015, experts warn.

See more at: http://admin.myrepublica.com/society/story/34011/a-setback-for-education.html#sthash.FQYDo7rX.dpuf

Tarai schools reopen on 98th day, attendence less than half

NIRJANA SHARMA

KATHMANDU, NOV 20

Less than half the students reached their classes on school resumptions on Friday, the 98th day of the indefinite strike enforced by the Madhesi front in the eight districts of the central tarai.

According to Department of Education (DoE) Director Khagendra Nepal, around 90 percent of the schools were open and most of the teachers reached there to encourage all students to join school in the following days.

“More students are expected to join from Sunday,” said Nepal.

In Parsa district, which has remained a centre of protests in the last three months, only one third of the total student population turned up at schools, reports Republica district correspondent Ritesh Tripathi.

More than 150,000 students are enrolled at school to college level in this district alone. The school owners said they are planning to start extra classes and coaching sessions to cover the loss of 97 days from the academic calendar. Less than 30 percent of the course has been completed due to the forced closures, and the final exams and SLC board exams are scheduled from March.

Republica correspondent Mithilesh Yadav reports from Siraha district that guardians are fearful of violence being triggered anytime, as this will affect their children also.

“We are not convinced that it is safe for our children to go to and return from school at present,” said Sunita Yadav, mother of a school goer.

After Madhesi front cadres set fire to a truck loaded with essential medicines in Birgunj on Friday morning, fear of more violence and clashes between security personnel and protestors has gripped the locals of Siraha as well.

No to academy session collapse: Minister

While the decision of the Madhesi front to allow the operation of schools only till 11 a.m. has received mixed reactions in the tarai in view of the dipping mercury and the possibility of cold waves for several weeks in December and January, Minister for Education Giriraj Mani Pokhrel said that opening the schools is vital despite all the challenges.

Organizing an interaction program at Padma Kanya School in the capital on Friday, Minister Pokhrel said that the government cannot afford a collapse of the academic session, and resuming classes at odd hours had become unavoidable.

“With just four months at hand, students and teachers are under immense pressure to complete the course no matter how and start a new session in April,” said Pokhrel.

The ministry is organizing interaction programs among district education officers, teachers, guardians and all party mechanisms in the central tarai districts from Saturday onwards to create a favorable environment for conducting classes uninterrupted.

See more at: http://admin.myrepublica.com/society/story/31388/schools-reopen-on-98th-day-attendence-less-than-half.html#sthash.KDkt4RND.dpuf

Rebuilding quake-hit schools expected to take 3-5 years

NIRJANA SHARMA

KATHMANDU, Oct 17

The red sticker pasted on the wall of a fragile school building after the Gorkha earthquake is still in place while 65 children aged three to 15 years attend classes inside. Shree Janata Primary School at Phoolbari, Kavre district is compelled to use earthquake-damaged classrooms even six months after the devastating April quake.

“The teachers decided to take classes inside the unsafe building after the temporary learning center collapsed during the first few days of the monsoon,” said headmaster Tulsa Ghimire.

Meanwhile, officials say that the government can reconstruct the schools only in three to five years. Little more than half the total amount required for the reconstruction of over 5,000 schools has been arranged, said Senior Divisional Engineer Jhapar Bishwokarma.

“The Department of Education (DoE) is initiating the work with only a little amount in hopes of getting more funds as the construction proceeds,” said Bishwokarma.

While the DoE estimates that Rs 38 billion will be required for school reconstructions and retro-maintenance in the 14 severely-hit districts alone, only Rs 21 billion has been lined up so far.

Among the donors, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has provided grants and JICA also made a pledge recently, according to Bishwokarma.

ADB issued Rs 8.65 billion in grants recently and JICA pledged 11.7 billion. Some 47 non-government organizations have shown interest in working closely with the DoE to build the schools and spend Rs 1.5 billion for the purpose, Bishwokarma told Republica.

In 44 quake-affected districts, around 6,000 schools, 15,000 classrooms, 1,809 toilets and 1,058 drinking water facilities have been damaged badly, according to data updated by the DoE. As many as 5,000 of the schools are situated in the 14 severely-hit districts.

Within the Valley, some 300 schools, both government and private, have been affected, with over 600 classrooms destroyed. Another 904 classrooms are at the risk of collapsing.

According to a government official, the design work is in the last phase and the division is preparing to call for bids for the construction of primary schools in some districts after the Tihar festival.

“We are working in full swing as the children face miserable conditions at the temporary learning centres,” claimed Bishwokarma.

At least Rs 20 million is required to build a standard primary school using the prescribed earthquake-resistant technology. The cost would be higher for secondary and higher secondary schools.

The reconstruction plan will cover only 14 districts and the other districts will get their new schools in different phases as per the School Sector Reform Program, officials said.

See more at: http://admin.myrepublica.com/society/story/29887/rebuilding-quake-hit-schools-expected-to-take-3-5-years.html#sthash.fXBGNcTS.dpuf

Millions of schoolchildren in Tarai districts hit by protests

TARAI SCHOOL

There was a time when minors were either brain-washed or forced to join armed conflict waged by the Maoists. During the insurgency era, parents who sent their children to school spent the whole day worrying about whether their wards would ever make it home.

Although the current situation is not as terrifying as it was during the armed conflict, the indefinite protest led by the United Democratic Madhesi Front–which entered 56th day on Wednesday surpassing any continuous shutdown imposed by an agitating group in Nepal’s history–threatens to jeopardize the education of millions of children in Tarai districts.

Over 3 million school children have been directly affected by the strike, whose daily routine involves either watching the protests or participating in them, instead of going to school.

“Preventing children from going to school should be defined as crime,” said educationist Bishnu Karki. He termed the closures in Tarai as worst in the last two decades, after the end of conflict and the conclusion of peace process.

While the impact on children who attended school when the insurgency was at its peak is still reflected on their performance, the fall out from this new political conflict will weigh on the minds of the children for the next decade, said Karki.

Emblematic of Karki’s fear was a picture that circulated in the social media that showed school-age children impersonating police, a Madhesi and three others who appeared to be mimicking the chief of big three political parties. In the picture, the boy playing the police was pointing a toy gun at the one who acted as a Madhesi protestor.

Although those who are holding the protests have sought to portray it as a struggle for the establishment of equality, a huge gap between rich and poor is emerging in Tarai, explained Karki.

“The guardians, who could foresee the impact of the protests on their children, sent them to schools in India. But the children from poor family have been left to suffer,” said Karki.

“If there is any sector that feels complete absence of state, it is the education sector,” said Private and Boarding School’s Organization, Nepal (PABSON) chairperson Lakshya Bahadur KC.

The effort of the Ministry of Education and the National Human Rights Commission aimed at resuming schools smacked of tokenism as schools continue to remain shut due to protests and Indian blockade.

See more at: http://admin.myrepublica.com/society/story/29376/millions-of-schoolchildren-in-tarai-districts-hit-by-protests.html#sthash.WpvzQU0D.dpuf

The void

NIRJANA SHARMA

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She gets all her needs (and demands) fulfilled even before she voices her wishes. Roshani Gautam, 12, has quite a good, if not luxurious, lifestyle. Delicious food, fancy dresses, and good school are things that she now takes for granted. This girl who seems to have it all, however, has one unfulfilled wish: She wants to meet her father.

But her father cannot come to her neither can she run to him when she wants to share her little achievements at school or talk about the friends. For the last couple of years, her father has been in Malaysia, toiling away to provide for his family and little girl.

“My father asks me to study hard and promises rewards if I do well and make him proud,” said Roshani on her way to Baglung from Pokhara recently, explaining that their phone conversations are usually limited to such topics.
Once in a while, the girls go home to meet their mothers. But they do not have the option of meeting their fathers whenever they wish to do so. Roshani has met her father just a handful of times. Her father came home in January and she got to spend some time with him. This recent visit is the only memory she has of her father. She does not remember his earlier visits.

Similar is the story of her cousin Sujata Poudel, whose father is in the Gulf. Both the girls, who currently study in grade six, are hopeful of seeing their fathers by the time they reach the eighth or ninth grade.

The mothers have convinced them that their lives are easier and better because their fathers are working hard abroad. But the girls have realized that the comforts come at a heavy price: Their relations with their respective fathers are non-existent.

Roshani and Sujata are the representative cases not only in the western region of the country where they belong but across the country, hundreds of thousands of children are growing up in the absence of their fathers, only hearing their voices once in a while. The fatherly affection for this generation is limited to the few occasions of union and telephone conversations.

Nepal, being a country that went through a decade long civil war, gave little option for youths to find a job to sustain their lives. Following the prolonged political instability, the rate of youths living abroad is ever increasing, and so is the rate of remittance flowing into Nepal.

At present, remittance contributes to 30 percent of the share in the total GDP of the country. But the absence of an important member in the family is fast changing the social dynamics. Moreover, the children are being raised without certain family values and there is no concept of having a father and a mother in a family. And this family breakdown has taken a toll on the innocent children.

“Fathers are no more the heroes or role models. They are merely the ones who earn and send in money for the families to be able to lead a good life,” says psychologist Ganga Pathak analyzing the changing psychology of migrant workers’ children.

Baglung, Roshani’s hometown, is one of the districts of Nepal that brings in the highest rate of remittance. Myagdi, Sujata’s hometown, is considered equally important in this department.

From the three districts of Dhaulagiri zone – Parbat, Baglung, and Myagdi – around 80,000 youths were working abroad at the time when the national census was taken in 2011. Some 1.9 million youths were recorded as working abroad on the basis of the absent population throughout the country. The number has gone up in past four years ensuring that more amount comes home as remittance.

These three districts are considered the country’s most prosperous districts in terms of remittance. In terms of development, these districts house big hydropower projects of national grid. The youths’ working days and nights abroad have improved the living standards of the residents in the districts while the emerging cities in the districts show signs of a bright future.

Beni, headquarter of Myagdi district, dazzles days and nights. Fancy outlets of branded clothes are not a surprise at this small locality and locals sporting private cars are nothing new. There are many jewelry stores too at Beni Bazar. There are hotels targeting trekkers and tourists as Beni sees an overwhelming number of tourists each year, being on the way to many trekking destinations like Ghorepani, and Cave hills to name a few.

The jewelry shops, and the fancy stores are always bustling with customers. People from the far away VDCs have got enough money to go on lavish shopping sprees at the district headquarters.

But there is no denying that family breakdown has victimized the children. In the last year alone, over 70 cases of divorce have been cleared by the Myagdi District Court. The number of cases filed for divorce pending at the court is even more.

The children’s apathy increases in many ways after their parents get divorced, shows one of the cases in Myagdi. The divorce due to an accusation of infidelity on the wife’s part left their two children in a lurch, said the officials at the court.

After returning to Malaysia after the divorce, the father started sending Rs 7,000 per month to cover the cost of his children’s education to one of his relatives. The amount was settled at court to ensure that the kids are looked after.

The children almost paid a high price for their father’s hatred towards their mother. The money he sent never reached them. Now, the mother has again gone to court to ensure that the money reaches her, and in turn her two children.

“Poverty might have gone from people’s life but the fragmentation of family structure is the biggest problem we see here now,” said a local journalist Pratap Baniya. Seeing no opportunities to invest their earnings and stay back home, the migrant workers prefer to return to those countries. According to Baniya, lack of opportunities in the country has, in a way, compelled them to stay abroad.

Psychologists find multiple impacts upon children raised by a single parent. “A person’s childhood shapes his actions, behavior and attitude as an adult. The mother and father together bring in balance to a kid’s life, and the absence of even one creates a huge imbalance,” says psychologist Pathak.

Many children have started believing that fathers are obliged to fulfill their needs and that their role begins and ends with this responsibility. According to Pathak, this mindset and detachment could make them arrogant and self-centered when they grow up. And Pathak’s analysis has, to some extent, already come true in Myagdi.

Far off at Babiya Chaur village, six miles away from Beni, a teacher has a worrisome thought to share. Uma Devi Poudel, a primary level teacher at Tribhuvan Mangal Secondary School says, “Many children show no emotions when they talk about their fathers who are away. For them, a father is someone who goes away to work and sends in money for them to be able to buy what they want and lead good lives.”

– See more at: http://www.myrepublica.com/the-week/story/26756/the-void.html#sthash.oVCghvWR.Ngovxpnm.dpuf
nirjanasharma@gmail.com

What Did Dharahara Mean to You? (#NepalEarthquake)

What Did Dharahara Mean to You? (#NepalEarthquake)

I had a Déjà vu that Dharahara had this fate

I had a little knowledge about the Dharahara through textbooks before I came to Kathmandu for the first time in 2005. That year, government had opened Dharahara for commoners. Many of my friends who had come to Kathmandu had a plan to go to the top and view Kathmandu. I too had an excitement to climb the tower. Despite of my tight schedules in several campuses for entrance exam to get into higher education after SLC, I managed to go to Dharahara within the first week of my arrival in the Capital.
But that attraction with the monument didn’t last long. Stepping over some 100+ staircase didn’t fill me with any joy, sense of achievement or pride to share with people. Rather the destructive thought, the fear of earthquake and being killed went across my mind on my way to the top of that cylindrical monument. It was thrilling that I had never seen down from that height in my life before. But I felt vulnerable at the balcony. Since that day, I felt Dharahara would not survive the strong jolt.
I second time went to the top in 2012 when a Kathmandu-born friend of mine insisted to accompany her. Sandhya, on returning from her two years stay in Japan, had made me and three other friends- Binod, Yuvraj and Sabin join in her “adventure” to climb Dharahara.
For me, the fear of being shaken and falling to the ground was even more this time. Less than a year before, I had already experienced the 6.8 magnitude tremor with epicenter at Taplejung/Sikkim border.
Binod, my college time friend who also worked with me at the Post also talked about that quake while we peeped out to take a glimpse of major portions of Kathmandu. I saw Kathmandu merely like the piles of bricks in my second experience too. But this time I also noticed several giant structures. I guessed they were the high-rise buildings of Dhapasi, Gothatar, Kalanki and other places. This time Binod insisted four of us to get down after we spent nearly six-seven minutes at the balcony that had no wall support but only net-barred on the eighth floor.
The 2011 quake had increased awareness level among people regarding the quake. The cover story on Himal Khabar Patrika with the photo- shopped image of Dharahara broken into three pieces also came across my mind. “What happened to Dharahara,” I had asked my colleagues at The Kathmandu Post, the paper I worked with at that time. After the escape from the life-threatening building of Kantipur Publication after the shock (the building was severely damaged in April 25 quake and now is being demolished).
During 50 seconds of the Nepal Earthquake on April 25, Dharahara was probably the third thing I thought about. The reason could be my frantic psychology that Dharahara was fragile. It will fall down and kill many.
First person I was concerned was my Vinaju who was at his home in Handigaun that Saturday. My di was with me at Balkot along with her new born. Looking at the one and half month old boy that my didi was carrying, it was obvious to think, how well is the father of this baby? In another corner of my heart was the concern for my boy friend. I was also worried whether he managed to take his ailing father out from the three storey-building. For a second I thought, can I ever see him again? The news of them being safe arrived to me soon.
But my long time Déjà vu with Dharahara had come true. Binod, the Post guy dropped a message on facebook that Dharahara had collapsed. More than my psychology, it was the reality now. My fear with that monument since 2005 had come true claiming more than a hundred lives at once.
However, I had also expected such a huge reaction from people on collapse of Dharahara. That was probably because most of the generation alive today, had not seen Kathmandu without Dharahara. At times, they failed to imagine not seeing Dharahara in Kathmandu anymore. Many of the commoners are not concerned with the historical background of the tower, I believe.

Wagle Street Journal

Collapse of the Dharahara tower symbolized all quake-related devastations. But did the Bhimsen Stambha embody our pride and morale?

Soldiers and volunteers launched rescue efforts at the fallen Dharahara tower Soldiers and volunteers launched rescue efforts at the fallen Dharahara tower

The #NepalEarthquake claimed thousands of lives. A million houses have been destroyed, most of them in rural villages. If there was a symbol of this destruction, it was the fall of the Dharahara tower. The tower’s collapse resulted in the death of more than one hundred fifty people. A few survived. This included some who were at the eighth floor circular balcony, enjoying the view of the city, when the quake hit.

Perhaps the most famous landmark of Kathmandu, the Dharahara tower is no more. Perhaps the most famous landmark of Kathmandu, the Dharahara tower is no more. A pro-democracy rally in 2005.

Judging by the way people have reacted to the destruction of the eleven-story minaret with Shiva’s statue at the top, I feel that its collapse symbolized all quake-related devastations. It was as…

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