Till 1957, this forested trail from Bhimphedi to Kathmandu was the only way in or out of Nepal's capital. Invaders from the East India Company, pilgrims, traders and Nepal's royalty had to walk this road to Kathmandu.
Even the cars Kathmandu's aristocracy rode in the valley were dismantled, and hauled on porters' backs over this trail to be re-assembled in Thankot.
"There used to be hardly any space to walk, there were always people coming and going," recalls 85-year old Bhaira Bahadur Basnyat, who's lived in Chitlang all his life. Today, the trail is a deserted dirt path. The pati where travelers rested are crumbling, and villages along the trail wear a desolate look. Even a shop where King Birendra reportedly stopped for tea is gone.
But a few still make the trek from Bhimphedi down to Kulekhani up to Chitlang and down again to Thankot. Part of the historic trail along with the suspension bridge built by Chandra Sumashere in 1911 are now all submerged under the Kulekhani reservoir.
The road may seem lifeless, but it has reinvented itself as alternative forms of livelihoods have popped up. Even in mid-afternoon, when the sun's rays are harsh, villagers work hard on their flourishing vegetable patches. Chitlang valley is a major source of potatoes, cauliflower, cabbage and even strawberries for the Kathmandu market. The reservoir provides fish for the city and investors have built a trout farm, a goat cheese factory, a sericulture farm and even an olive plantation. Although there has been a mass exodus of young men to Kathmandu, there are plenty of jobs in the farms here. Bikash Chand Shrestha set up his trout farm in Chitlang because the area has 24-hour power and for its proximity to the Kathmandu market.
Along the way, signboards propped up on houses reflect a community that is committed and integrated. There are environment protection notices printed on walls, and a board that specifies cleaning tasks to every house in the village.
The area is also culturally vibrant: although predominantly Newari and Tamang, there is a large community of Chhetris and Bahuns and they all seem to get along well. Most here were unaware of the call by the Tamsaling activist for a banda on the day we passed through.
Says 40-year-old Sano Maiya Moktan (pictured right) : "Why would we want an individual state when so many of us here from different ethnic groups are living and working together peacefully?"
Roma Aryal and Shradha Basnyat, Chong Zi Liang in Chitlang
PICS: CHONG ZI LIANG