Nepali Times

After the storm

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

This week’s blizzard in the central Himalaya was a wakeup call to install effective early warning weather systems

The devastating death toll from this week’s blizzard and avalanches in the Annapurnas has once more highlighted the urgent need for weather early warning for trekkers in the Himalaya.

Till press time on Thursday, 32 people were confirmed dead in Manang and Mustang, with 85 still unaccounted for. There is still no word on dozens of trekkers who were planning to cross Larkya La in the Manaslu circuit on Tuesday.

Hover over the map for photos and number of casualties. 

This is not the first time blizzards and avalanches have hit the high Himalaya in recent years. Post-monsoon typhoons from the Bay of Bengal have been particularly disastrous. In November 1995, 13 Japanese trekkers and 11 Nepali guides were killed as they slept during a blizzard on the Gokyo trail. In October 2005, 18 Nepali and French climbers were killed in an avalanche on Kang Guru in Manang.

The casualties among trekkers in blizzards and floods tend to be higher in the peak autumn season, since heavy rains are not expected. However, weather experts say October is when trekkers and mountaineers have to most careful because it is the cyclone season in the Bay of Bengal.

The storm came in October, when locals and trekkers least expected it. Nepal Army helicopters arrived on the morning after to ferry out the survivors of the blizzards and avalanche in Manang

The storm came in October, when locals and trekkers least expected it. Nepal Army helicopters arrived on the morning after to ferry out the survivors of the blizzards and avalanche in Manang

‚ÄúGiven that there is mobile¬†and internet access along the¬†Annapurna circuit, you cannot¬†blame weather alone,‚ÄĚ says¬†climate analyst Ngamindra¬†Dahal, ‚Äúthis wasn‚Äôt a surprise¬†storm. The real question is why¬†weren‚Äôt the warnings heeded?‚ÄĚ

Indeed, Indian and Nepal meteorological offices had been warning about heavy precipitation from the remnants of Cyclone Hudhud as it veered north towards Nepal ever since it made landfall on 12 October. International tv channels warned of heavy rain in western and central Nepal. Two days before the storm arrived, Nepali media had warned farmers to protect their harvests.

The information was there, but it doesn’t seem to have got to the trekkers high up behind the Annapurnas. The question is why.

One reason could be that weather forecasts are usually unreliable and Met offices have cried wolf so often that many people ignore the warnings. Also, for a country that is so dependent on trekking and mountaineering, there isn’t a formal channel to provide official and dependable early warning to people in the mountains. Since climate change is making weather more unpredictable globally, there is all the more reason to have multidisaster preparedness systems in place.

While trekkers in Chame and Manang watched weather reports on tv or on mobile internet, up the valley lodges do not have electricity and there is no phone signal. Trekkers at Thorung Phedi or Kangshar would essentially have been incommunicado unless they had satellite phones.

The Annapurnas had seen a spell of brilliantly clear and crisp autumn weather till Sunday, which suddenly turned overnight. By the time the blizzards hit on Tuesday 14 October, many trekkers and their guides were trapped high up on the passes.

Weather forecast maps like this one by metereologist Eric Leister predicted two days before the storm hit Nepal: ‚Äėthe core of the heaviest rain into the middle of the new week will likely sweep to the northeast toward the India-Nepal border‚Äô.

Weather forecast maps like this one by metereologist Eric Leister predicted two days before the storm hit Nepal: ‚Äėthe core of the heaviest rain into the middle of the new week will likely sweep to the northeast toward the India-Nepal border‚Äô.

Former British Gurkha officer and avid trekker Gen Sam Cowan says the Thorung or Larkya traverses are closer to mountaineering, with the very high and exposed mountain passes requiring long commitment at high altitude, and allowing plenty of time for the weather to change rapidly for the worse.

‚ÄúIf it looks bad, it probably¬†is going to be bad,‚ÄĚ says Cowan,¬†and advises, ‚Äústay put in your¬†tent or shelter, wait for one¬†day or two. To hell with the¬†flight home. No one should¬†have ventured out to cross¬†Thorung La with the weather¬†as threatening as it was, nor¬†should their trekking guides¬†have allowed it.‚ÄĚ

Hundreds of trekkers are still stranded in the Manaslu Circuit (right) where hikers on the trail look like ants amidst the snow cover in a picture taken on Wednesday morning.

Hundreds of
trekkers are still stranded in the Manaslu Circuit (right) where hikers on the trail look like ants amidst the snow cover in a picture taken on Wednesday morning.

The other aspect is proper disaster planning with preparation and proactive dissemination of early warning of weather. In 1999 when a cyclone hit the coast of Odisha in India, 10,000 people were killed, but with new satellite-based early warning, communications and mandatory evacuation of coastal areas there were minimal casulaties during cyclones Phailin in 2013 and Hudhud this year even though physical damage from both storms were huge.

It is not enough for the authorities to know about approaching weather through weather satellite imagery, they need to communicate this quickly and effectively to people and visitors on the mountains. In Nepal, this could be done through the media, networks like the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN), Nepal Mountaineering Association, Himalayan Rescue Association, or even telecom companies which can send warnings through mass texting to selected parts of the country.

In the high mountains of Nepal there are telecommuncaiton blind spots, which means trekkers may not receive warnings. To get around this, it could be made mandatory for huts at Thorung Phedi or below Larkya to have CDMA phones. Trekking groups on passes above 5,000m could be
required to carry satellite phones.

Says Cowan: ‚ÄúSadly, it is¬†all so obvious but people think¬†that because it is trekking, they¬†can take chances. You can never¬†do that in the high mountains¬†where the weather can change so¬†quickly.‚ÄĚ

Read also:

Narrow escape Sunir Pandey

Anatomy of a Himalayan tsunami Kunda Dixit

Dangerous business Editorial

Extreme Everest Bhrikuti Rai and Matt Miller

Working in high places  Ayesha Shakya

Taking chances in Chomolungma David Durkan

A dangerous place to work Jon Gangdal

Demography and democracy

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

Federalism is looking fraught, it may be wiser to address exclusion in the new constitution but leave state restructuring for later.

In the political roller coaster ride we are all in, many of us haven’t fully taken in the implications of the results of the 2011 census for the new constitution. Last week’s Dasain holidays bore out some of its findings. Kathmandu’s registered population in the census was 2,517,023, with a floating population of about 1 million which roughly corresponded with the police’s estimate of the numbers that left Kathmandu for the holidays.

The main flaw of the census, as was pointed out when the results were announced last year, was that it did not count the absentee population away for more than six months. This cutoff essentially disqualified from the total the estimated 4 million Nepalis who are away at any given time. By putting Nepal’s population at 28.412 million, therefore, we undercounted the total by 1.9 million according to the Census Bureau. Of these, 1.1 million were from the hills and 800,000 from the Tarai, 1.7 million were men and 200,000 women. But even the undercount is an undercount because many Nepalis working long-term in India (estimated at 2 million) were probably excluded in 2011.

What this means is that all extrapolations on gender ratio, annual population growth rate, or the proportion of population in the Tarai are probably off by a wide margin. For instance, based on a total population calculation of 28.412 million, we concluded in this space two years ago that Nepal had defused its population bomb by bringing down the population growth rate in the past decade to 1.3 per annum. Of the missing population in the census most are men, which means females do not outnumber males as the census results, at first, seemed to infer. Also, since most of the absentee population is from the hills, the actual Tarai population in 2011 was still slightly less than the hills. If Nepal’s actual population (counting migrant workers) was nearer to 32 million in 2011, then the conclusions need to be revised.

The fertility rate does seem to have fallen. And the ongoing exodus from the midhills means that some districts have been depopulated by up to one-third compared to 10 years ago. Also, the youth bulge would be even wider if the young absentee population is counted.

These corrected census results have serious implications for the debate on federalism that has stymied constitution-writing. As Norwegian economist Magnus Hatlebakk of the Christian Michelsen Institute concludes in a recent article in the portal only 14 of the 75 districts have a majority from a single ethnic group. Hatlebakk has counted Brahmins and Chhetris separately, but if one lumps them together it is clear that a majority of the districts have a hill caste majority, meaning that many of the proposed federal provinces will not have a majority from the ethnicity they are named after.

His analysis indicates ‚Äėa clear conflict between economic viability and ethnic federalism‚Äô and that¬†‚Äėno hill ethnic group that will have a majority in any (proposed) province‚Äô. The situation in the¬†Madhes, which some politicians have tried to portray as a monolithic and homogenic region, is¬†even more fragmented.

Take the 2011 census breakdown for Kathmandu Valley, which would be a part of a future Newa-Tamsaling province. Nearly half the population of Kathmandu district is composed of the Brahmin, Chhetri, Thakuri, Sanyasi combine. It is 33 per cent in Lalitpur and 35 per cent in Bhaktapur. In the Tarai districts which would be part of one of the proposed Madhes provinces, the concentration of Pahadi people is even higher: 81 per cent in Chitwan, 68 per cent in Jhapa, and 70 per cent in Kanchanpur.

To be sure, the demand for ethnicity-based federalism stems from centuries of feudal neglect, centralisation, and the domination of hill caste groups of Nepal’s politics and economy. This needs to be set right. However, as the census shows, carving Nepal up with new internal federal boundaries is fraught. The challenge for the next four months to constitution deadline is to find a balance that doesn’t leave any party aggrieved.

If it looks too fragile to handle now, it may be wiser to address exclusion in other ways and leave state restructuring for later.

(Proportion of Pahadi residents in selected districts based on the 2011 census.)

Kanchanpur 69%
Kailali  51%
Dang  65%
Nawalparasi  56%
Chitwan  81%
Morang 51%
Jhapa  68%
Rupandehi  45%
Sunsari   43%
Bardia  37%
Kapilbastu 22%

Read also: 

Censoring the census, Editorial

In a state of flux, Anurag Acharya

Nepal’s population 26.6 million

Children of war

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

The most vulnerable victims are still those who were children during the war.

Purnima was 13 when the Maoists took her father, they tortured him by cutting off his leg, then they shot him. Her brother was also severely tortured, and is disabled. Purnima herself was forced to become a child soldier. Today 23-year-old, Purnima earns Rs 3,000 a month and supports her remaining family including her cancer-ridden mother. She didn’t get any support from the government.. Here she is holding a picture of her murdered father.

The death this week of Nanda Prasad Adhikari after nearly a year-long hunger strike demanding justice for the torture and murder of his son in 2004 has thrown into sharp focus the violent legacy of the conflict.

Adhikari’s death exposed the apathy of the state, the collusion between former enemies to forget past atrocities, and the unfinished business of setting up commissions to look at truth and reconciliation and enforced disappearances. The state, under successive governments since 2006, would like to conveniently forget gross violations of human rights during the war.

Now, there is concern about the health of Nanda Prasad’s wife, Ganga Maya. Women and children witnessed unimaginable cruelty during the conflict, and they have been forgotten during the peace process. Many of the children are now young adults, and besides the physical wounds they also carry emotional scars. Some wounded got artificial limbs, but we largely forgot the psychological injuries suffered by children.

The state now pretends the war is finished business. But as long as the physical and mental trauma of the survivors remain, it will not be over. The government says the emphasis is now on repairing bridges and building highways, it wants to move on. There are just too many loose ends to do that.

Post-traumatic stress is still rife among women and children who witnessed and suffered brutal violence, and it afflicts young combatants too. Many lost their homes and property and haven’t been able to go back. Thousands of others were internally displaced, or migrated to India with their entire families, never to return.

Many of them never received any support from the government. Resources earmarked by donors through the Peace Ministry and distributed through local Peace Committees have often been siphoned off by party faithful and fake victims.

Among all the victims, the most vulnerable are still those who were children during the war: whole-timers who became child soldiers, students force-marched to reeducation camps, the wounded, and orphans. Many thousands of others were victims of gender-based violence, sexual abuse,unlawful recruitment by armed groups. Even after the war ended, it is the childrenwho have been killed or have lost limbs to unexploded ordnances.

Eight years after the war ended, at least 740 children are still residing in childcare homes across Nepal and waiting to be reintegrated with their families. No one knows the real figures, but it is accepted that the official statistics grossly underestimate the numbers of war-affected children in the country.

After the¬†2006 Comprehensive Peace Accord, the emphasis was on¬†identifying, reintegrating and supporting children associated with armed forces and groups. Some verified minors below 18 and late recruits got support for reintegration. The government endorsed a ‚ÄėNational Plan of Action for Reintegration of Conflict Affected Children‚Äô in 2010, but not much has happened. The international conventions on rights of children that Nepal has ratified do not make any difference for those who were minors during the war.

All photos:¬†Jan M√łller Hansen

Read also:

Death of justice, Editorial

Statute of denial, Mallika Aryal

Still missing them, Deepak Gyawali

The sad saga of the Adhikari family, Damakant Jayshi

Post-conflict stress syndrome, Taylor Caldwell

On the sidelines of justice,Trishna Rana

Nine years later, still in shock, Michelle J Lee

Why the children?, Naresh Newar

This conflict is child’s play, Rameshwor Bohara

Thinking small

Thursday, September 18th, 2014
FATHER TO SON: Karna Thapaliya and his youngest son upgraded the traditional water mill of their ancestors to generate 5kW of electricity to sell to 26 households in the neighbourhood.

FATHER TO SON: Karna Thapaliya and his youngest son upgraded the traditional water mill of their ancestors to generate 5kW of electricity to sell to 26 households in the neighbourhood.

Nepal’s chronic electricity shortage is a result of its inability to harness its big rivers, but how about small streams? There are tens of thousands of water mills across the country, and improving their efficiency by replacing crude wooden paddles with turbines is lighting up villages and providing power for micro-enterprises.

Karna Thapaliya’s ancestors set up a water mill by the banks of the Rosi River. Three years ago he upgraded it to generate 5kW of electricity that he sells to 26 households in the neighbourhood. The power is used for lighting at night, and by day Thapaliya sells his power to a furniture shop across the river.

‚ÄúMy grandfather and father raised the family with the flour they earned from grinding grain, now I sell electricity,‚ÄĚ says Thapaliya, 71, whose sons work in Kathmandu and Qatar.

The improved water mill was made possible through a government subsidy scheme which is part of a nationwide campaign supported by the German agency, GIZ, and the Dutch SNV. The technology is perfect for remote areas, and is more sustainable than subsidies for solar installations.

‚ÄúWe are trying to upscale this program by getting private banks involved, and adding a productive end-use component to make it viable,‚ÄĚ explains Ram Prasad Dhital of the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC). ‚ÄúIt is an appropriate renewable alternative, the only challenge is local management.‚ÄĚ

Krishna Shrestha (left) uses power generated by Karna Thapaliya's improved water mill to run a small furniture factory by the banks of the Rosi in Kavre.

Krishna Shrestha (left) uses power generated by Karna Thapaliya’s improved water mill to run a small furniture factory by the banks of the Rosi in Kavre.

Barsha Shrestha of Clean Energy Bank inspecting an improved water mill

Barsha Shrestha of Clean Energy Bank inspecting an improved water mill

But in a country which has successful models of community-managed forests, women-led cooperatives and biogas programs, Nepal has experience in local mobilisation.

‚ÄúWe believe improved water mills can be a viable business that builds on a traditional vocation even though earnings for the bank are not attractive,‚ÄĚ says Barsha Shrestha of Clean Energy Bank, which wants to support up to 23 new projects.

In the Rosi River, households pay Rs 150 a month for six CFL lights and a tv, and the income pays for an operator. The savings are used for repairs and upkeep.

‚ÄúWe have the hardware, technology and a working model from the biogas program, all we need is to focus on financing and getting the community to work together,‚ÄĚ says Saroj Rai of SNV.

Nearly 10,000 water mills across Nepal have been improved in the past 12 years, and here in Kavre 250 mills have been upgraded by the Centre for Renewable Technology Nepal (CRT/N) to provide electricity to 200 households.

A water mill can be made more efficient to double the rate of grain grinding for Rs 40,000. To generate electricity and install an oil expeller can cost up to Rs 300,000, for which subsidised loans are available.

Cumulative Trend of Market Development for Improved Water Mills

(Hover over the infographic for the exact number of improved water mills built each year).

Kunda Dixit in KAVRE

Read also:

Wheels of change Mallika Aryal

Flour power  Ayesha Shakya

Improved water mills improve lives  Madhusudhan Guragain

Getting out of grinding poverty Naresh Newar

Nurse’s book wins Madan Prize

Sunday, September 14th, 2014
Radha Paudel

Radha Paudel

As a young girl in Chitwan, whenever Radha Paudel complained about not having new shoes or pencils, she remembers her father telling her that children in Jumla didn’t even have enough to eat. When she grew up, Radha became an anesthesiologist at Bharatpur Hospital and applied for a more senior position. There were only two openings: a relatively easy job in Rupendehi, or the hardships of Jumla. Without hesitation, she chose to go to Jumla.

Her father, who had worked in Jumla previously, tried to make her change her mind. It is dangerous, he said, there is a war going on and life is hard in the remote mountains. But Radha reminded her father that it was he who had inspired her to go to Jumla in the first place, and do something for the people there.

When she got to Jumla in 2001, Radha could not sleep at nights seeing how mothers died at child- birth, children toiled as porters to earn a living. It was fluke she wasn’t born there, she thought, and she was troubled by the low esteem with which the rest of Nepal looked at Jumlis.

Radha got a job with a safe motherhood project supported by DFID and immediately set out to the remoter parts of the district to care for women even though it was a war zone. The security forces and the Maoists both looked at Radha with suspicion and thought she was an enemy spy.

Khalanga Ma Hamala (The Attack on Khalanga)

Khalanga Ma Hamala (The Attack on Khalanga)

The Madan Puraskar Guthi announced on 14 September to award this year’s Madan Literature Prize to Khalanga Ma Hamala (The Attack on Khalanga). In the book, Radha Paudel relives minute details of the battle of Jumla and  how that close brush with death motivated her to continue to work for the upliftment of the people  of this remote part of Nepal.

But, as Radha Paudel, reminds us, ‚ÄúThe end of the war has not meant peace. The roots of the¬†conflict are still there. As long as people are hungry, there will be war.‚ÄĚ

Radha Paudel went through similar doubts, but persevered because she thought it was important to¬†tell the story so people understand the true meaning of peace, and valued it. She teared up during¬†a recent interview and said in a choking voice: ‚ÄúI had to go back to Jumla and help the people I¬†went there to help.‚ÄĚ

After the battle of Jumla, Radha started writing down everything she remembered about the 13 terrifying hours of the fierce Maoist attack on Jumla on the night of 14 November 2002. The CDO, DSP and dozens of army and police were killed, and no one knows how many Maoists died.

Radha first just hid under her quilt, thinking it would protect her. Bullets whizzed all around, hitting the ceiling and walls. The army’s helicopters hovered overhead, dropping mortar bombs, while the Maoists and the army exchanged fierce gunfire in the street below. She peeped out of the window to see captured policemen being beheaded like goats.

Radha Paudel with some members of the community she worked with in Jumla in 2002

Radha Paudel with some members of the community she worked with in Jumla in 2002

She went to hide in her landlady’s room, but a neighboring house caught fire and they were trapped between the smoke and the gunfire outside. Radha thought this was the end, but somehow survived the night. Radha kept working in Jumla, and got the Women Peacemaker Award last year for her selfless work in rural Nepal during the conflict. Radha’s first manuscript was lost, and she wrote it all over again from memory.

Radha says she will plough the royalty from Khalanga ma Hamala to her 
group, Action Works Nepal, which works in Jumla, Kalikot and Achham to help the Karnali people to stand on their own feet.

Kunda Dixit

Disastrous management

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Nepal is woefully unprepared for calamities which are made even more deadly because of bad planning and poor response

We call them ‘natural disasters': earthquakes, floods, landslides. Yet, earthquakes don’t kill people, unsafe buildings do. Our ancestors instinctively knew not to live along river banks, settlements were located along ridges. Countries exposed to seismic and tsunami risk, like Japan, have detailed prevention and rescue plans in place. Most disasters may be natural, but the casualties are mostly manmade.

In 2010, two earthquakes struck the Americas. The one in Haiti killed more than 300,000 people, but a much greater earthquake in Chile a few months later killed less than 600 people. The Chileans were better prepared, had stricter building codes and had trained rescue teams. Nepal has Chile-like earthquakes and Haiti-like preparedness and rescue planning.

The Himalayan arc is the planet’s highest and youngest mountain range, and it is still rising. The bedrock is on the move with the top soil clinging precariously to steep slopes. The mountains act as a rain barrier, too, giving the Himalayan foothills some of the heaviest precipitation rates in the world. In this naturally unstable terrain is situated the most-densely populated country in the world. Now, add to this mix a prolonged state of flux in which criminalised politicians recklessly resettle people for vote banks and plunder of natural resources and you have a recipe for manmade human catastrophes.

Nepal’s location makes natural calamities a given. We have to learn to live with them occurring at regular intervals, we should not be taken by surprise when they happen. Yet, when they do we blame god (“daibi prakop”) even though most of the casualties are a result of bad planning, lack of hazard mapping, the non-enforcement of zoning and building codes.

Let’s start calling them ‘unnatural disasters’ because most of the damage is preventable. The Kosi embankment did not breach by itself in 2008, quarrying of the boulders on the levee has weakened it. This was repeated on the Kamala this year. The Siraha bridge did not just collapse this month, it was caused by illegal sand-mining upstream. The highest death toll in the mid-west on the night of 12 August was among people recently resettled along riverbanks. Indiscriminate mining of river beds along the Seti, Trisuli, Narayani and other Tarai rivers increases water velocity, making even a normal river run amok.

However, there are extreme weather events or catastrophic once-in-a-lifetime floods that are completely unexpected, like the Bhote Kosi landslide, the Seti flood of 2012, or a month’s rainfall total falling in one night, as happened in Surkhet three weeks ago. But even here, we should be prepared.

In 2008, the government after much prodding from a consortium of donors, set up a¬†Central¬†Disaster¬†Relief Committee under the Home Ministry which drew up a ‘conceptual framework’ for response management. The focus has been to decentralise disaster preparedness and relief to the district level.¬†¬†The aftermath of the Bhote Kosi landslide showed that decentralised response management worked well. The Sindhupalchok district administration organised rescue, relief and is trying to rehabilitate survivors. First response is always by local communities, and the lesson learnt from the landslide was to further strengthen local capacity to deal with calamity. However, national coordination was found to be lacking. The Nepal Army acted promptly, but by being slow to accept an offer of help from Chinese engineers with experience in unblocking rivers from the Yunnan landslide¬†on August 3,¬†may have unnecessarily prolonged the crisis.

However, the 12 August flashflood in the mid-west showed that central disaster management and coordination is still woefully inadequate. Rescue was managed locally, and emergency relief was too little too late.

Both disasters also showed a disproportionate number of the dead and displaced were women and children. This is a result of male out migration, but it carries a  valuable lesson for future disaster planning: that the most vulnerable segment of our society will be even more vulnerable in future disasters.

Read also:

Man made disasters Editorial

 Unnatural disasters Editorial

Disaster unpreparedness Binod Bhattarai

Coping mechanisms Ashutosh Tiwari

Calculated risk Editorial

A flood of floods

Anatomy of a Himalayan tsunami


A guide to what is left

Friday, August 22nd, 2014
FIRM GRIP: Hemanta Mishra with a gharial bred in captivity in Chitwan in 1977 before releasing it into the wild.

FIRM GRIP: Hemanta Mishra with a gharial bred in captivity in Chitwan in 1977 before releasing it into the wild.

In Hemanta Mishra‚Äôs new guide book to Chitwan, there is a striking aerial view of the Inner Tarai¬†valley probably taken from a flight to Meghauli in the 1970s. The tropical jungle and riverine¬†grassland stretch far into the hazy northern horizon. And rising improbably into the sky like a¬†distant cumulus are Himalchuli and Manaslu. This is an image that does justice to Nepal‚Äôs¬†topographical and biological diversity ‚Äď nowhere else on the planet is there such a treasure trove of¬†plant and animal types in such a small area.

Mishra was a young wildlife biologist, straight out of the Indian Forestry Institute in Dehradun, when he was assigned to Chitwan in 1967. Five years later, Nepal’s first national park was set up by royal edict in a valley which had been decimated by trophy hunting and faced the threat of habitat destruction due to the government’s mass transmigration program.

Despite its rich habitat, Chitwan’s charismatic mammals didn’t stand a chance against royal hunting expeditions. In 1850, Jang Bahadur Rana killed 30 tigers in just one hunt. In 1911, Nepal’s royalty hosted King George V in Chitwan and the 600-elephant hunting party massacred 36 tigers, 18 rhinos, leopards, bears and even porcupines in one day. Juddha Shamsher was even worse: between 1933-40, he personally slaughtered 433 tigers.

Hemanta Mishra, in a career spanning three decades, was instrumental in protecting what was left of Chitwan. And in doing so, the park managed to bring back the tiger and rhino from the brink of extinction, and was listed as a World Heritage Site. There are now over 200 tigers, and 500 rhinos in Chitwan alone. As the park got overcrowded, Mishra spearheaded the translocation of tigers and rhinos to other national parks like Bardia. He started the collaboration with the Frankfurt Zoo to set up a breeding centre for the endangered gharial crocodile in 1977.

Mishra admits: ‚ÄėMy western academic knowledge of forests and ecology was not good enough in¬†Chitwan ‚Ķ decisions had to be politically palatable to rulers, socially acceptable to Chitwan¬†communities, and economically viable.‚Äô This is why Nepal‚Äôs Chitwan National Park: A Handbook is a¬†guidebook like no other ‚Äď your guide to the flora and fauna of Chitwan is the person who is¬†personally responsible for Nepal‚Äôs great conservation success story.

Nepal’s Chitwan National Park: A Handbook

Nepal’s Chitwan National Park: A Handbook

Hemanta  R Mishra with Jim Ottaway, Jr

Vajra Books, Thamel, 2014

238 pages

The book is a must-have for everyone going to Chitwan, serves both as a backgrounder to the history and geography of the place, but also a book that you carry on safari so you can reference what you see from elephant back.

But this book is not just a listing of flora and fauna, the chapters draw heavily from the personalised accounts of Mishra’s previous books The Soul of the Rhino and The Bones of the Tiger. The threats to Chitwan are not over. Poachers thrive in Nepal’s unstable political transition when  wildlife smugglers have political protection. The population explosion of the Nepal Tarai puts increasing pressure on Chitwan’s habitat. There is also the threat of the new East-West Railway bifurcating the park. Pollution, overfishing and dam construction on the Narayani threaten the fresh water dolphin, Nepal’s most endangered mammal.

It is to the credit of pioneer conservationists like Hemanta Mishra that unlike in Africa and India, the national parks of Nepal have become models for eco-tourism and sustainable nature protection. And Mishra’s book is a primer on why Chitwan is so important to protect.

Kunda Dixit