Of ferries and roadblocks: a week in Nepal (part one)

February 23, 2009 at 4:34 am 1 comment

Of ferries and roadblocks: a week in Nepal (part one)
Posted by worldservicetrust

A recent location trip for Nepali radio drama Katha Mitho Sarangiko (Sweet Tales of the Sarangi) reveals the complex ethnic and social makeup of the country, the ingenuity of the production staff and the kindness of its people. Senior producer Fiona Ledger reports on a week in the life of this popular drama.

Part One – Crossing the Koshi

With the launch of a new series of our drama Katha Mitho Sarangiko (Sweet Tales of the Sarangi) just seven weeks away, our thoughts are turning to new locations as well as new storylines. We decide to go east of the Koshi river, to what was once known as the kingdom of Kirat. Our mission is to feel our way round the political and cultural landscape and search out new dramatic talent. In the past we’ve recorded on location in Janakpur – flat, dusty and hot; in Pokhara – alpine fresh, but thick with trekkers; now the highs and lows of the east await.

Commercial prosperity fed in part by the tea gardens of Ilam and the milk production of the surrounding area means the region exports more than it imports. It has a sense of political entitlement, and a sense of separateness from the rest of the country that goes back to the 18th century. But there’s also a growing tension between the leadership of two native ethnic groups: the Rai and the Limbu.


Armed with a punishing itinerary of stopovers and meetings, we make good time along the east-west highway, but not good enough. It is after all, only a one-lane road with occasional potholes and colonies of traffic-hardened monkeys. By nightfall we are still in the flatlands of the Tarai (in southern Nepal).

Our first night is in Rajbiraj – once a royal stop-over but these days a dusty and shabby full stop. A boy has been killed by a tractor that day and local people are angry the CDO (Chief District Officer) tells my colleagues, Kedar Sharma and Deepak Rauniyar.

A UN Human Rights worker also staying in the hotel warns us the nearby ferry crossing over the Koshi river could be a problem – the queue is long and it could take 3 hours to get on. It’s one of only two ways to cross the river at this point, following the floods of August 2008.


The queue for the ferry stretched half a kilometre

The queue for the ferry stretched half a kilometre

The queue for the ferry stretches half a kilometre. We head to the front to find out what’s going on, safe in the knowledge that nothing is moving in the opposite direction. Drivers say they have been waiting ten days. Bus passengers are selling their mobile phones in desperation. Tempers are rising.

There are two ferries, but one has been sunk by a bus, which remains obstinately straddling the ferry and the water. The other is under house arrest by the ferry authorities, fearful that a heavy load will bring it down too. It floats proud, but useless, mocking the lorries that snake up into the hills on either side of the river.

But my team are first class problem solvers. It’s like we have been presented with some highly evolved team building exercise; “how would you get this car across this river, given that…” Deputy editor Kedar Sharma and senior producer Deepak Rauniyar set to work, talking to an army of drivers and conferring with the police.

People gather around the stricken ferry

People gather around the stricken ferry

An hour later the second ferry is liberated for our benefit. We cautiously drive onto the metal hulk, and the ferry operator turns the wheel which connects to the overhead cable. We cross the fast flowing river, to the growing surprise of lorries on the other side of the river and the quiet bitterness of people we leave behind.

I know some countries where the ferry would have been subjected to a last minute surge, where people would have rewarded our lucky break with anger and violence. We are lucky. We’re in a country where the international press are hugely respected.

We spend the night in Itahari, a busy commercial town on the far side of the river. The next morning a bandh (a sort of transport strike) is starting up, organised by the Tharu Kalyankari Subha, a movement protesting against the way the Tharu people are being categorised as Madhesi (another much larger ethnic group, found mainly in the flat plains).



Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Interview: Bijaya Kumar Gacchedar, MJF, Nepal Madhesi Voice: If there is another movement, we will be back on thestreets

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Madhesi  |  February 25, 2009 at 7:05 am

    At least we have ferries for buses to cross the Koshi river. I didn’t know this. It must be pretty technical. I am proud that we have this little piece of equipment. I am surprised.

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