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Crisis in the Himalayas

Life can be hairy, especially upon coming back to Kathmandu after trekking in the Himalayan Mountains. I desperately needed a wax. So, I ventured out to my favourite beauty salon, Teko’s. While lying on the “Table of Terror” listening to Rita and Sumitra chatting away in Nepali, I silently tried to bite back the immense picture1pain I was experiencing when the hairs were being ripped out simultaneously from my legs and underarms. And while I was expanding my Nepali vocabulary with the useful word Kalam (pain), I suddenly heard loud shouts and yelling from the street below. I forgot my pain for a second and jumped half naked to the windowto peer down six floors to the street. Low and behold, I witnessed a sight that made my heart sink. The Nepalis were demonstrating. The entire street was in complete chaos. Tuktuks and motorcycles were desperately scrambling to escape the marching masses that were waving the red hammer and sickle. A couple of red and white parliament flags popped up once in a while. The unique flag of Nepal was nowhere to be seen. I was in complete awe upon watching a usually such humble and peaceful people being so aggressive.

As it so happened, directly underneath my window, a small group branched off and grabbed a police motorcycle standing on the sidewalk. The policeman was alone and defenceless only managing to blow his whistle in weak protest. The group dragged the bike to the middle of the road. After stomping on it they lit it on fire whilst rejoicing the horrific sight of the fireball of Government property. The entire street was in uproar, whistling and clapping thundering up to the 6th floor. “Down with the King” and “Democracy” were the intense words recognizable amidst the thunder. As I watched the street below me become a scary chaotic forum of cars, trucks, motorcycles, tuktuks, cows and people trying to somehow escape the madness they were creating, I looked at the Himalayas in the distance and felt so lost.

picture2Nepal, the forbidden Kingdom has been hidden away for centuries in the magical Himalayan Mountains. It is truly a different world. Living in this country is something that can never be described. It is one of those countries you can only grasp once you have smelt it. The smog of Kathmandu, the crisp teasing air coming off the peak of Mt. Everest, the musty cow dung that penetrates the streets and the sweet smell of Nepali tea brewing from every house and shop are smells that discovery channel can never show you. To me, Nepal is perfect in its every imperfection, but unfortunately it is falling apart. Nepal is being marred by the never-ending political problems harassing the entire country. What I saw today, is something that happens every single day somewhere in the country. Recently King Gyanendra of Nepal has been under extreme pressure from students and academics that are furious with his decision two years ago to dissolve Parliament. It hardly makes him more popular that the majority of Nepalis believe that he was behind the gruesome massacre of his brother King Birendra and the entire royal family in 2001. The people of Nepal want democracy and they are not going to stop demonstrating until they get it. However, they seem to forget that Nepal did in fact have democracy for 14 years and it simply did not work. The Government was unable to full fill its promise and obligation to hold elections. As a consequence, Gyanendra brought the Parliament out of power bringing students in total uproar. Violent demonstrations erupt every day resulting in burning police cars and hundreds of arrests. The king has now banned demonstrating which is yet another reason why they will continue doing just that. To make the situation worse, the five political parties engaging in the demonstrations cannot come to an agreement between themselves on a proposal to present King Gyanendra.

This is not even close to the worst of Nepal’s worries. The mountains are in turmoil. Maoist rebels want a communist regime and will do whatever the cost to picture3reach that goal. They hide in the mountains killing with no mercy; chopping their opponents body parts off until they bleed to death or die of shock. They have killed thousands of innocent people. Not only innocent people have been victims, but also countless army and police posts have been under attack resulting in staggering number of deaths. The sad part is that the insurgents are mainly young boys between 13 and 20 years old from isolated mountain villages. They have either been forced to join the rebels (quickly convinced by the Maoist slogan: Do or Die) or have been falsely attracted to a cause that they do not comprehend. This is a battle that has been going on for eight years and now the Maoists are strongly influencing eight out of the 14 districts of Nepal. The situation seems hopeless. The Government has chosen to solve the problem by killing Maoists. The Maoists are simply returning the favour. Peace can never come when there are killings constantly, but neither of the parties will back down. The Maoists are now officially regarded as terrorists by the Americans and are a vital threat. Nepali people are otherwise a peaceful folk. The Hindus and Buddhists live side by side in complete tolerance of each other and even worship at the same temples. When their different religions can live in harmony, why can their politics not? Nepal is in desperate need of help.

I watched the demonstrators disappear around the corner and ten minutes later the sound of sirens was everywhere. The police and army had arrived, but just a tad too late. The 50-year-old fire truck came panting 20 minutes later. As I watched with humorous curiosity the joint effort they produced by frantically trying to stomp out the motorcycle fireball, I laughed -only in Nepal. As Rita and Sumitra pulled me back to the “Table of Terror”, I thought to myself that the pain I feel when hairs are being ripped from my body is nothing compared to the Kalam I feel deep in my soul when I see such magic falling quickly to the deadly fate of civil war.

By Marie-Louise Olson
May 2004

Story and Photos Copyright © Marie-Louise Olsen 2004