Kathmandu’s Little Bajura

Farmers from western Nepal, now prefer to migrate to the capital than to India

All photos: SUMAN NEPALI

From his village in Bajura in western Nepal, the Indian border is much closer than Kathmandu, so that is where Manbir Sanjyal  has been going to find work since he was much younger.   

India is referred to here as कालापहाड, beyond the black mountains. And hundreds of thousands of Nepalis, especially from western Nepal, have for many decades crossed over to work as apple pickers, porters, domestic help or security guards in India. 

Sanjyal worked in Kumaon, Garhwal, Delhi, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh for years, and eventually he returned to Bajura. Kathmandu may be 800km away, but with better connectivity Sanjyal and many like him do not have to be migrant workers in India — they can be migrant workers in the capital.

Sanjyal, now 59, moved to Kathmandu six months ago after farming in Bajura became insufficient to feed his family. He rented a farm in Panga at the western edge of the Valley and grows vegetables to sell in the market. He is doing so well, he plans to get into dairy farming as well.  

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“When we were young we toiled in India, now our grandchildren can make a living growing food in our own country,” says Sanjyal, looking out from his greenhouse. “In addition, the grandchildren can get better education and health care here.”

Sanjyal’s son Jeevan completed high school in Bajura, and wants to go to college in Kathmandu. Bajura ranks lowest among Nepal’s 77 districts in the human development index. Poverty and poor harvests are endemic in the district because of lack of state support for irrigation. This makes Karnali Province the most food deficit part of Nepal with one of the highest rates of stunting and wasting among children.   

News of Sanjyal’s success has reached his village in Bajura and inspired other families to also make a move to Kathmandu.

Lali Prasad Pandey came to Kathmandu after hearing about his sister’s successful commercial vegetable farming business in Kirtipur. He had worked in Qatar for three years before returning home to Saunegaun in Bajura, where he attempted unsuccessfully to make a living farming. 

“I did make some money during my time overseas, but it was not enough to cover costs of healthcare or my children’s education,” he says. Pandey has been a vegetable farmer in Kirtipur for six years now, and his neighbours are also farmers from far-western districts like Bajura, Humla, Jumla, Kalikot, Mugu, and Rukum-West. 

Like Sanjyal, Pandey has set up greenhouses to grow seasonal vegetables and finds a ready market in Kathmandu, even though over the years the profit margin has fallen. 

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Kathmandu's little Bajura

So, Pandey recently bought four cows to diversify his business, and sells milk door-to-door at Rs100 per litre. The cows also provide fertiliser for his vegetable farming business. 

“Dairy farming is like having a salaried government job,” Pandey jokes, referring to the secure income it provides. 

But the extra work also means he and his wife have to work 24/7 on the farm, and there is no time to go home to Bajura.

Coming to Kathmandu was a good move, and Pandey has been able to send his children to better schools, and he is happy he does not have to be separated from his family any more. 

Tilakhuni BK was Pandey’s neighbour in Bajura, and also came to Kathmandu hearing about the favourable business environment and schooling for the children.

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But Tilakhuni has not been as successful with her farm in Kirtipur. Her family invested Rs200,000 on the greenhouses and terraces, but then came the Covid lockdowns. She had to sell her cows, and her husband had to go to Saudi Arabia to supplement their income. 

Tilakhuni was bargaining with a customer on the phone, and when she hung up complained that she would do all right if she could deal directly with buyers more often. But the middlemen take away most of her margin.  

While Tilakhuni sells her greenhouse tomatoes at Rs15/kg, middlemen sell them to city wholesalers for Rs50. “We do all the work, but get none of the benefits, no matter how hard we work,” she says. 

Despite this, life in Kathmandu Valley is still better than in her village Bajura. She says, “I may not be earning as much as I expected, but I am happy with what I have. Whatever hardship we face here is nothing compared to the struggles we had in the village.”

Tilakhuni’s priority is that the children get quality education in the city. Her brother, children, and nephew attend school in Kirtipur. Her eldest son has completed his SEE exam, and her daughter is currently in middle school. 

“The quality of education in the city is much better than that in the village,” says BK’s daughter Ramita. “We get an English medium education here and this improves our chances of going abroad in future.”

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Kathmandu's little Bajura

Hearing about Tilakhuni’s work also convinced Deepa BK to move to Kirtipur four months ago. Deepa currently helps Tilakhuni on her farm but is actively thinking of leasing her own vegetable farm.  

“I came here so that my children do not have to suffer and grow up the way that I did,” says Deepa. “There is no future for the children back home.” 

Her husband currently works in India, and is now making preparations to move to Kathmandu.

Health care is another reason the Bajura families all migrated to Kathmandu, and for a feeling of home, they all live near each other in Kirtipur and Panga. 

Tilakhuni BK and her husband were both unable to get medical treatment for their ailments in India, but found health care to be better and more accessible in Kathmandu. 

Manbir Sanjyal requires regular dialysis, but the facility is not available at the Bajura District Hospital in Martadi. So he moved to Kathmandu, but says the state is not fulfilling its responsibility to provide healthcare in rural areas.

Lali Prasad Pandey agrees: “Hospitals in Bajura do not meet even basic needs. If the state had made these services available in our home district, we would not have had to move here.” 

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