FO CHEE CHANG
Those who grew up in Kathmandu Valley in the 80s and 90s have fond memories of the green and white trolley bus as it snaked through the capital's major thoroughfares. Starting from Tripureswor and ending at Surya Binayak, the Chinese-gifted buses served the residents of the Valley silently and smokelessly for more than three decades for 15 paisa per ride, later increased to Rs 5.
But like all other public services run by the state, the trolley bus service fell victim to political interference, neglect, and corruption. Instead of extending the routes, even the one route collapsed. By 2009, the trolley buses had ground to a halt and its Min Bhavan terminal with 32 rusting buses was turned into a dorm for the Maoist YCL.
The trolley bus service, the Kathmandu-Hetauda cargo ropeway, Nepal Airlines, fire hydrants, post boxes, and other public services now live only in the public memory.
Today whenever there is a fire, fire engines have to first make a trip to fetch water. "When there is a fire in Makhan, we have to spend 45 minutes travelling to Mahankal by which time houses have been reduced to ashes," says fire truck driver, Rajendra Bahadur Shrestha.
It's not just the fire hydrants, the three fire brigades in the Valley have fallen into disrepair as well. In a valley with 3.5 million population there are only four functioning fire engines. These fire trucks not only serve Kathmandu residents, but also travel as far as Kavre and Dhading. A study done by Juddha fire brigade estimates that the Valley needs one central fire station with 10 branches, 16 fire engines, and at least 200 fire fighters. However, the state has neither been able to repair and upgrade existing infrastructure nor add much needed smaller fire engines which could navigate the tiny alleys of Kathmandu.
Another public service to fall by the wayside, as it were, are post boxes. Fifteen years ago the bright red unique temple-shaped boxes in New Road, Ram Shah Path, Dilli Bazar or Putali Sadak would be teeming with personal letters and official documents. Today, except for letters from the Agricultural Development Bank and Land Revenue Office, no one uses them says Bandhu Bastola, a senior official at the General Post Office.
Administrative documents, legal notices, bank statements, and newspapers are still mailed via post. Private houses, apartments, and commercial complexes all have mail boxes at their main entrance, but the post boxes are gone.
Established in 1878, Nepal's postal service which covers more than 3,800 VDCs with 3,991 offices and 20,000 employees is still capable of reaching Nepalis living in far corners of the country. However, the progress made in the past 134 years has been wiped away by state neglect.
In the past few years trees, public toilets, water fountains, parks, and traditional rest houses have also slowly faded from the landscape of Kathmandu's memory. Instead, the city resembles the aftermath of an earthquake with the half-finished road expansion drive.
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Photo feature: Last look at the trolley bus