Nepali Times
Still among us

There are times these past years when we have despaired. As crisis upon crisis has been heaped upon this hapless nation we have wondered aloud if we have been abandoned even by the divine benefactor.

A country already cursed with inequality, injustice and poverty was saddled with a conflict that made it all much worse. Brutality that we had only heard about in the epic wars of our scriptures became the order of the day. Violence begat more violence and often seemed to be an end in itself. It was hard to believe that ordinary family men with children of their own could be capable of such inhumanity.

Nepalis who were ignored for so long by the state suddenly were at the receiving end of its security agencies. Then our rulers massacred each other in a slaughter of mythic proportions. The brother king took over and ruled with an iron fist. And even when democracy was restored and a ceasefire put into place, there is little to celebrate as terror still stalks the land.

We thought we had seen it all, until Saturday's helicopter crash that wiped out nearly all the country's top conservationists and many of our well-wishers. One of the few things this country can be proud of in the last 30 years was the calibre and experience of our environmental and biodiversity experts. People like Harka Gurung, the authority on Nepal's human geography, Chandra Gurung who masterminded the unique model of ecotourism-based conservation in the Annapurnas, Tirtha Man Maskey who ensured that Nepal's national parks were sustainably preserved for future generations, or Mingma Sherpa whose conservation expertise from Nepal was sought after worldwide.

In a country where there is so little to celebrate, it is a cruel blow to take away the little that stood out. The people who boarded the helicopter in Ghunsa on Saturday morning were all enormously talented, experienced, and dedicated. We owe it to them to continue their work, to innovate and prove by doing that nature conservation and economic progress can go hand in hand.

This cheerless festival season, let us honour the memory of those who perished by re-dedicating ourselves to our professions. Even if we are not environmentalists let us pledge to do whatever we do with utmost commitment and integrity.

For every Mingma Sherpa let us nurture a hundred grassroots conservationists. For every Tirtha Man Maskey let us have a hundred civil servants who make a difference. For every Chandra Gurung let us cultivate a hundred self-made, hard-working Nepalis.

Our friends have not gone. They are among us every time we hear the wind rustle in the trees above Chandra Gurung's home village of Sikles, or when we catch a glimpse of Himalchuli from Harka Gurung's district of Lamjung, or when we smell the fresh forests of Mingma Sherpa's Khumbu.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)