There is a specific reason behind why I decided to write on this particular topic. It is inspired by the very popular poem by Siddhi Charan Shrestha¬––Mero Pyaro Okhaldhunga––that was made even more popular once late Narayan Gopal decided to lend his voice to it. I am not sure about other television channels but I have noticed state-owned channels playing it very frequently.
Okhaldhunga is the place where my paternal family hails from. My first visit to the place was when I was very young, just in grade six. It was memorable because it also happened to be my first plane ride. The flight was short and after landing at the Rumjatar airport, I remember being stunned with the airport itself. Perched atop a plateau, the pilot had to take the plane almost to the edge of the cliff before bringing it to a complete halt. He then made a u-turn and parked the plane where a group of people were standing. As soon as he jumped off the cockpit onto the field, the crowd offered their ‘namastes’ and within minutes, he was comfortably seated on a wooden chair enjoying a cup of pure warm milk. That was the moment I made my first ever career choice, to become a pilot.
As a kid, I remember having assumed that we could reach our ancestral home with ease since we were travelling by air. I had taken it for granted that after landing, we would hire a local taxi. However, it was only after a seven-hour uphill trek under the scorching sun through barren villages and schools that had no roofs as well as after witnessing abject poverty that we reached my father’s home. To sum things up, the place was nothing close to what I had imagined. I had already read that particular poem and could not connect with the poet’s description.
I have not visited the place since then and people tell me that the house is in a bad shape, especially after the decade-long conflict. Today, I am firmly settled in Kathmandu some ten meters off the main road between Sinamangal and Old Baneshwar Chowk. I don’t quite remember when the prefix ‘old’ was added, but today, we have not just an ‘old’ and a ‘new’, but also a ‘middle’ version of this area.
In this beautiful place which probably has the highest population density in the capital, a sense of timing is very important when venturing out. If the decision made is not right, the traffic will be so bad that you may not even find the space to walk, forget about driving your car. Though it has pavements on both sides, their widths are so uneven that in a certain place there is enough space to park a small car while in others, the pavement is barely a foot wide. Hence, you have to be completely alert at all times so as to not to step on someone’s ‘domain’ or small ‘markets’ on these pavements.
It doesn’t finish just yet. A little south from my house, there is a downhill road that meets a bridge before continuing further towards Sinamangal and finally the airport. That particular bridge, one of its kind in terms of design, gave away more than six years ago. That was a makeshift bridge made up of huge pipes laid next to each, and after its collapse, the construction process of a new one began. It has been several years and the construction is still on. What this place, therefore, offers you is the understanding of an entire bridge construction project, almost brick by brick, one rod a time. This will also help you gain enough insight into understanding why Nepal has continued to maintain its position as a least developed nation.
And finally, another attraction of this place is the number of vegetable vendors on cycles that line up on one side of the road almost everyday occupying if not half, then a significant portion of the road. Every day, at a certain time, these vendors conduct their business in the most cost-effective way, without having to pay any taxes or rent. With them on the road, there is a certain spectacle you get to see at a certain time in the evening. Almost every day, a traffic cop comes blowing his siren forcing all these vendors to get off the main road; with them scampering to all possible vacant spaces only to venture back right onto the same spot as soon as the officer disappears.
Unfortunately, one such hiding place happens to be a small stretch of road leading up to the main gate of my house. Once, enraged to see almost a small vegetable market emerging out of nowhere, I went to meet the cop who was driving them off. All I had to ask him was whether they had the right to utilize the street––property of the state––for their business. His response was an emphatic ‘no’! The rumor has it that after all they do pay taxes, but not the kind that goes into state coffers. Anyway, what matters is in Old Baneshwar you get to see this entertaining spectacle every evening.
Perhaps you now have some idea about the place, just as Siddhi Charan’s poem gave you a peek into Okhaldhunga. I may not have described it in a poetic manner but like him, I too feel I am doing my bit for my beloved, Old Baneshwar, by writing about it.