LOUIS J DECARLO
There is one government sub-health post in Tipling, but there are no health workers. The primary school is basic, the enrolment rate is low because most children help their parents in the millet fields. Drop-out is high.
"Dhading is so close to the capital, but it may as well be as remote as Humla," says Sharad Parajuli, founder of a non-profit agency, Himalayan Healthcare, working in the region. From Kathmandu, Tipling is only a 17-minute helicopter ride, but it is a three-day hike to get here from the nearest road near Trisuli. There is no electricity, no phone and no presence of the government.
Apart from chronic government neglect, part of the reason for Dhading's lack of development was the war. Along the trail, there are electricity transmission lines cut by local rebels. The wires have long been stolen. Teachers, health care workers and other government officials fled and have only now started coming back.
This remote northern belt of Dhading below Ganesh Himal has a lot of catching up to do, but it also has tremendous potential. One of them is the spectacular scenery and unspoilt villages which remind visitors of Nepal as it once was 50 years ago, before tourism. An eco-tourism project like ACAP in the Annapurnas would benefit locals directly and create jobs so villagers wouldn't have to migrate to Kathmandu or India.
Chhabi Bhattarai has been working in the region for the past eight years. Things are changing, he says. "Dhading may be extremely poor, but it has come a long way. There is now a new sense of taking command over one's destiny."
Health care is a priority for local people. Even simple infections can kill children, the nearest hospital is days away in Trisuli. Parajuli and Bhattarai work with Himalayan Healthcare to improve the facilities at health posts in Tipling and surrounding areas. Other organisations are helping build suspension bridges and solar lamps. Christian groups bring in investment but are also actively converting locals.
Minister Giriraj Mani Pokharel told Nepali Times that the lack of facilities, even in terms of health, may be due to inadequate pressure by the people. "To an extent, they have the responsibility of making their own villages, and we are willing to help," he says.
But local official Rajendra Pandey says the government must take the lead in making up for past neglect of places like northern Dhading. He says: "Unless government-led development is carried out, these mountains will continue to be forgotten."