Helambu, March 10: Helambu, the mountainous rural municipality in Sindhupalchowk, is as remote as its proximity from Kathmandu. Vehicles can't reach the village during the monsoon season every year. Transportation of essentials is difficult during those months. It is difficult for the cement to harden in cold months. So, houses can be built only from mid-March to mid-June.
But despite these challenges, Helambu has returned to its original glory by making satisfactory progress in the reconstruction of private housing and schools. According to Mingmar Lama, ward chairperson of Helambu-1, 480 beneficiaries out of 882 beneficiaries who have signed the agreement have taken their third tranche and 736 beneficiaries have taken their second tranches.
According to ward chairperson Lama, some beneficiaries have still not been able to start the work of house reconstruction due to lack of construction plots, or because the beneficiaries have left for foreign employment or due to lack of financial resources. Yet, he hopes many houses will complete construction by the end of this fiscal year in mid-July, if beneficiaries who were waiting for summer season for construction start building their houses soon.
Narayan Adhikari, an engineer deployed by the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) in the same ward, hails from a Terai district of Dhanusha. He has been working in the same area since he started his job with the NRA, and is satisfied working in the remote mountainous district. According to Adhikari, one of the reasons for delay in house reconstruction is the practice of making large rooms - which adds to the cost - as per tradition in Hyolmo culture, and the requirement of more time to arrange money for the added cost.
Sitar Lama, 53, who has been building his house in Syugenchhe in Helambu, has already taken his third tranche. Lama is looking forward to complete the construction as soon as possible and move to his new house. He has constructed his house with large rooms as per his cultural requirement by deploying trained masons as per the advice of engineers.
"The construction got delayed because transportation of construction materials was expensive and we required large rooms," he shared. "I will now complete the construction as soon as possible and move to the new house."
When we reached Helambu, we also met fellow Nepalis from western Nepal engaged in reconstruction of houses and other infrastructure. Man Bahadur Roka from Sanibheri-1 in Rukum district has been building houses in Syugenchhe for the past four months. Workers like Roka get Rs. 800 to Rs. 1,200 per day in wages with two meals and a snack.
Melamchi Ghyang, one of the northern-most settlements in Sindhupalchowk, is a tourist area. Particularly, this is a site for night stay for foreign tourists who go for trekking in Langtang region. Tourism activity in this area had stalled for two years after the earthquake. Almost all houses in this area had collapsed. But now, more than half the houses have been reconstructed and tourism business has been rehabilitated.
Sili Dolma Ghale, who runs Wild View Hotel, says that reconstruction of her house and hotel got delayed due to transportation cost and it was difficult to transport the construction materials due to lack of concrete bridge over Melamchi river.
"We have managed to complete reconstruction by overcoming the hurdles, and tourists have started coming again," she said. "I hope we can pay back the loans of construction in next three to four years."
Forty beneficiaries in Tembathang of Helambu have constructed an integrated settlement together; four additional houses will be reconstructed. Reconstruction of houses in the settlement has completed and there is a plan to handover the houses amid a function around the anniversary date of the Gorkha earthquake. Locals plan to open four home-stays in the settlement for livelihood.
Sange Lama, a beneficiary from the settlement as well as an active tourism entrepreneur, believes this will help the domestic and international tourists. The settlement covering 42 Ropanis (2 hectares) of land was constructed with efforts of the NRA, Helambu Rural Municipality, Oxfam, Janaheet Gramin Sewa Samiti and the local community.
School reconstruction is also going on in Helambu in addition to the private houses. According to Mingmar Lama, Ward Chairperson of Helambu-1, reconstruction of six schools in his ward has completed.
The building of Golma Devi Secondary School reconstructed in Timbu in Helambu-1 with support from Caritas looks like a standard school in Kathmandu. There are separate hostels for boys and girls in the school with 199 students.
This has provided opportunity for students from farther locations to stay in the hostel and get education. One of the teachers of the school, Om Prakash Dhungel, said that learning interest among students has increased after the construction of the new buildings and absence rate has reduced.
The 11-room building of Melamchi Ghyang School located in Melamchi Ghyang - famous throughout Sindhupalchowk district - is under-construction. Head Teacher Purna Bahadur Gautam said, 285 students studying in this school will get big relief after completion of the building being reconstructed with support from Caritas.
Helambu area is moving towards concluding the reconstruction of private housing. Local residents have started returning to their normal daily lives after completing reconstruction of their private houses. The glory of tourism is returning. Residents of Helambu - which was once famous for its apples - have started growing new apple trees. And, they are also exploring new ways of livelihood in Rainbow Trout farming and Kiwi farming.
Dipak Sapkota (after returning from a visit to various areas in Helambu Rural Municipality)