It has been six months since King Gyanendra took over in Kathmandu promising to restore peace but in remote district towns across Nepal people are losing even the flicker of hope they had that the violence would soon end.
Since February, I have traveled across Nepal: from Pyuthan, Rolpa, Achham in the west to Terathum and Charikot in the east. In Terathum, Kamala Tamang's policeman husband was recently killed by Maoists and she is worried about the baby that was born soon after. In Jajarkot, teachers are humiliated, extorted and forced to teach children violence. In Dang and Jhapa, villagers are concerned the army has restricted community forestry on suspicion that money from timber sales was going to the rebels.
Teachers are being forced to tear out and burn pages in new Grade Eight textbooks that carry portraits and the life histories of the royal family. The rebels blame the teachers for being government employees, the state suspects they are Maoist sympathisers and doesn't trust them. "We have khukuris at our necks, what are we supposed to do?" asks Lab Kumar Rai, a teacher in Khotang.
When they find out we are journalists from Kathmandu, peasants, teachers, traders, tea shop owners, women and social workers across Nepal always have the same question: where is the peace that the king promised?
They were already living in fear of Maoist intimidation, threats of violence, torture and killings. Now, in many places there is also fear of the security forces. The people find it increasingly difficult to tell the two sides apart and they are confused. "We thought the army would go after the Maoists but they are coming after us," is a common refrain.
In Libang's little bubble, uniformed school children in ties go to the only private school while the rest of Rolpa is effectively Maoland. Civil servants call Libang "India" and the rest of the district "Pakistan", with the barbwire fence that circles the town as "Line of Control".
Picturesque Diktel in eastern Nepal and surrounding villages had till recently escaped the worst of the conflict. But after the fierce Maoist attacks on 19 June and 2 July in which the district administration building was destroyed, the ruins look like a scene straight out of Afghanistan.
The police and army barracks are at each end of the town and there is a military base camp in the middle of the bajar. On the night of 19 June, the people of Diktel found themselves caught in the crossfire as a ferocious firefight raged all night.
"There were bullets flying everywhere," says a mother of two, showing us holes on her wall, "the children were not harmed but imagine the psychological effect on their minds." Bhuban Acharya has turned his room into a bunker, piling stones on his window but still doesn't feel secure.
The root causes of conflict are ever more entrenched: social exclusion, official apathy and long-standing neglect of the hinterland. Here in Diktel, the only sign of development is a powerline from Gaighat. But it brings electricity only from 6-8PM. Rebels have halted construction of the British-aided highway from the Arun valley and threatened to 'eliminate' anyone who supports the road.
In village after village on a three-day walk from Sindhuli, there is no drinking water, disease is rife, malnutrition is everywhere, and there are no jobs. The attraction of rebellion is obvious but so is its futility.
"If only the soldiers would treat us decently and not be rude..." says one man but he doesn't complete the sentence. It is clear which way the people would go if only there was a government worth its name and a political alternative to the Maoist gun. Repeatedly humiliated and insulted by an uncaring state that treats them as the enemy, disillusioned with the political parties, fed up of Maoist violence and now losing hope that the king means what he says, Nepalis across Nepal have no one to turn to.
The only entity that could change this fear into hope is the political parties. If they would only show their presence in areas where the people are most isolated, their faith in a democratic alternative would be restored. But nowhere do we see the political parties. Instead, every school, bridge and chautara has a Maoist flag fluttering on bamboo poles. The east is red, and has turned into what the mid-west was five years ago. This week, Ilam's tea estates have been forced to close and the army is confined to barracks, venturing out occasionally on short patrols. It's almost as if the rebels and the army are trying to avoid unnecessary confrontation.
"This country is turning into Vietnam and no one cares," says Nayaran Prasad Joshi, a respected elder in Diktel who thinks there are plenty of possibilities for the parties, the king and the Maoists to meet halfway. He adds, "They are just not trying hard enough, and that is why we continue to suffer."
Kishore Nepal's program Mat Abhimat airs on Nepal Television every Wednesday at 8PM. Archives can be viewed at: www.nepalpoll.com/ntv/mataabhimat/