Posts Tagged ‘Kathmandu’

Kathmandu’s Day Off

December 8, 2009

The 6th December will have been one of the clearest days in Kathmandu all year. The 6,500 metre Himalayan backdrop is usually almost never visible, hidden behind a smog layer trapped in the valley.


But today there are no cars, no trucks or buses, no bikes, mopeds or tempos emptying their kerosene-heavy exhausts into the winter sky. The towering white peaks loom over the city. And without the vehicles, the usual soundtrack of the city, an incessant cacophony of horns, is absent. The quiet is somehow at once soothing and unnerving. Sunday is a work day in Nepal but without public transport, no-one is able to go to work. No shop or cafe is open either.

Yet it feels like the whole of Kathmandu is out on the street. People are enjoying the novelty of hearing the crows in the trees above and walking in the middle of the main distribution roads. The kids are certainly making the most of it, zigzagging on their bikes across the whole of what are usually gridlocked streets, their only danger arising from the armed police’s turreted pickups that unnecessarily speed by.


On every street corner a couple dozen heavily armed police troopers lean against their shields, batons and rifles. But the mood here in Kathmandu is one of unexpected holiday. As New York sees its first snow of the winter, Kathmandu is having its version of a snow day.

Around a month ago the Maoists led a land grab in the buffer-zone between Bardiya National Park and Shuklaphant Wildlife Reserve in western Nepal, settling landless poor and setting up co-operative farms. Yesterday the armed police came in to remove the squatters. A fire fight ensued resulting in five deaths, including the brutal lynching of a police officer, and more than 50 injuries. Last night scenes of violent protest broke out across Nepal and a country-wide bandh – shutdown – was called by the Maoists for today.*

Nepal’s young democracy is going through crippling growing pains; the eight month long political deadlock periodically spills onto the streets, sometimes with inspiring scenes of mass protest, sometimes with ugly scenes of violence. Yesterday was a particularly grizzly example of the latter, but today was something still different: a day off.

But in a country where over 50% of the population live under the national poverty line one wonders for how many ‘a day off’ was really welcomed. For the struggling shop owner, tempo driver, store assistant, factory worker and rural farmer who really need that daily income and access to basic services to secure their fundamental needs, having to take part in the bandh out of solidarity or fear of reprisal is unlikely to feel like a holiday. The Maoists in their protests are likely hurting those they purport to speak and work for the most.

*Read more on Saturday 5th December’s events.