Nepali Times Asian Paints
Remote control for prosperity


TWIN TOWN: Darchula in Nepal and Dharcula in India are separated by more than just the Mahakali River, there is also a big development gap between them.

As the farthest district in Nepal's far-west, Darchula is the last place one would find stories that would be inspirational for the rest of the country. Yet, in the past five years with the end of the war and the arrival of the road, communities in this remotest region of Nepal are changing for better. The first sign of change is access: a district that one had to travel to via India is now a rough 9-hour ride from Dadeldhura.

The contrast between Darchula and the namesake Indian district of Dharchula across the Kali River couldn't be starker. On that side, smooth roads, a bustling market, developed infrastructure and on the Nepal side, it is still dust
and squalour.

Despite the bumpy ride, most Nepalis prefer to travel from Dadeldhura rather than face hassles at the Indian border. And now, farmers have a market within Nepal for their produce. For a place that has long been synonymous with food deficit, farmers here are producing a surplus of vegetables. Vegetables used to flow in from India, now it is going in the opposite direction.

"This is a changed place," says farmer Hari Singh Mal from Gokule village, "I couldn't have imagined a few years ago that I would be supplying vegetables to the Indian market." (See box). Local communities are now setting up technical schools and colleges. Just across the river in Baitadi is the only other college in Nepal besides Rampur that offers a BSc in agriculture. The campus feels like an oasis of learning (See box).

More than anything else, locals say, it is the improved security situation that has enabled change. During the war, Darchula was a restricted area. The Maoists required "visas" for villagers to travel to another VDC, the military harassed any visitors. Development agencies all needed permits and had to pay "donations" to the Maoist parallel government. The ruins of the airport building in Gokule is still a testimony to the violence of the war years.

Narayan Joshi of a community organization, Sankalpa, remembers being banished to a Maoist labour camp for travelling without a permit, and being regularly interrogated by the army. "There was no development for many years, we were pushed back decades," says Joshi, adding that aid groups now venture to the most remote parts of the district running health, sanitation and education projects, collaborating with women's groups to build schools, toilets and drinking water systems.

And there are roads being built everywhere. After the completion of the road from Darchula to Tinker at the Tibetan border, this will be the shortest route to Mansarovar. "There is a great potential for developing this place," adds Joshi, "people suffered so much during the war. There is new hope now."

Down on the farm

At just 30, Hari Singh Mal of Gokule (pictured) has achieved more than most Nepalis his age. In a place where there was no culture of growing or eating vegetables, he started farming tomatoes and spinach after bringing seedlings from Delhi. Thanks to road connectivity, he now has a much bigger market than he could ever imagine. Today he grows all kinds of vegetables and fruits and supplies them to as far as Baitadi, Dadeldhura, Nepalgunj and Pithauragad in India. Other farmers, encouraged by his example have followed suit and now Gokule, lying along the fertile Chamelia river basin is largely self-sufficient in vegetables. "I earn Rs 200 thousand a year staying in my own village," says Hari Singh, "it is this road which has made this possible. I just hope there weren't all these bandhs."

Another farmer Dharam Singh Joshi earns Rs 500 a day after the road opened up new markets. He is upbeat about Darchula's future, all the district needs now is irrigation. "If the government just chipped in, we could grow even more food," he says.

Sowing seeds of change

The last place you'd expect to see an agriculture and veterinary college in Nepal is in a remote township in the far-west. Yet, there it is: the Gokuleswor Agriculture and Veterinary Science College across the river from Darchula in Baitadi (pictured below). When Parmananda Joshi, the college's principal and other like-minded people decided to open a college in the middle of nowhere, their peers scoffed.

A year later, this community-run and managed college is looking forward to its first batch of 21 students. The remoteness of the place means retaining qualified teachers is a challenge, but the road will hopefully change that.

At Rithha Chaupata VDC, the community has set up another agriculture training centre. The Latinath Higher Secondary School now runs a CTEVT-accredited course for 40 students. "We wanted to run a technical course that could be of use to this place," says Suresh Bista (pictured below), who returned after graduating in Sydney to uplift his home district with what he believes is the only way to make Nepalis prosperous: agriculture. Bista divides his time between working in his farm, helping local farmers and supporting the school.

"Now that there is peace, there are lots of possibilities here," says Bista, "if we can tap the Indian market alone, we will be prosperous."

1. who cares
why dont govt. build smaller than one lane road parallel to 1km near east and west boarders, another 1.5 lanes road parallel to that road with in a few kms, then another 2 lanes good road parallel to 10-20 km from the road? they can build links between those roads.

they can build similar roads above the big cities like pokhara, kathmandu, biratnagar. 

govt. should invest a few billions on boarder towns. 

commies, talks about dignity, but does not know the meaning of dignity, how to preserve dignity?


2. beeb
This story should be read by as many people as possible. I remain awestruck after reading this piece and learning of people like Bista, Joshi and Mal.

Basic infrastructures like road, education and stability can yield huge dividends- it is a sad story that we're still having to fight for such needs that are pre-conditions to everything else. And it's not even asking for fast-track highways (though that certainly makes sense)- most people are only looking for seasonal dirt-roads to start with- everything else follows.

It's good NT occasionally brings such heart warming stories to us- Rubeena deserves a big thanks.

3. RMT
nice to know of positive signs. yes, possibilities are endless. high hopes in coming days. thanks Rubeena for this article.

4. FanOfNT
A good inspiring post by Rubeena! Thanks a lot. It is just incredible to read this piece of article  about Darchula where I have never been. Thank you for making me feel closer to the realms of this place.Cheers!!!

5. neil
it's good to know.......thumbs us......this was really a good news that i have read after long....

6. Anonymous
Roads are like arteries and veins in the human body, which carry both nutrients and toxins. With road, of course, comes flow and dynamism to the region, as opposed to frustrating stagnation. Better means of transportation means better stimulus to get involved in local small-scale economic activities such as growing vegetables, raising cattle for dairy products, opening community colleges, health posts, promoting eco-tourism. But roads may also bring "side-effects" such as threat to the local culture and tradition, increased road-traffic accidents, intrusion of the outside "bad influences", such as increased criminal activities, prostitution, women and child trafficking, drugs, gangs etc. The key is to empower and educate the local community so that they can best judge and manage their own resources and provide leadership for change management. Perhaps with the use of internet and distance education, HR institutions in Nepal could offer training programs for VDC Chairs, Town Heads or community leaders (specially, women leaders) to get better skilled in local resource management. Here is a real opportunity to create a vibrant connectivity between the 'Center' and the 'Periphery'! I salute youth leaders like Suresh Bista for his courage to return from Sydney to his own native place and work to bring positive changes in the lives of his fellow countrymen and women.

7. NTReader
Thanks a lot for bringing this story. Stories like this give hope about our future to all Nepalese home and abroad. Congratulations to the hard working people of Darchula who despite facing such oddities are prospering due to their own hard work.

8. areader
@anonymous Suresh Bista gives a very good example of reverse brain drain. India has been experiencing this phenomenon due to the ample opportunities that have been fathered by their economical success over the last decade or so. Nepal needs decent of trained and responsible people and guide her through this crisis - just like Suresh.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)