Highway of Hope

Jan 11, 2011
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Will a new six-lane highway finally bring about the development that Nepal badly needs?

It was in the early 1980s when I first saw a giant machine crawl towards Phidim, the district headquarter of Panchthar, in eastern Nepal. As it trawled its way towards our tiny village, it dismantled hillocks and ridges. The entire village had gathered below Shivalaya (abode of lord Shiva) temple to witness this phenomenon. After all, development was arriving in this small and hitherto neglected part of Nepal. It was the Panchayat period and the road was built courtesy of Padma Sundar Lawati, Nepali version of Lalu Prasad Yadav.

The memory of this came to me recently as I marked my fourth year of living on the outskirts of Kathmandu called Kaushaltar (located in Bhaktapur district). Every day, I drive through the much-talked-about six-lane highway. And, several such cranes stationed along the road remind me of my childhood wonder of the big, skeletal machines that hurtled its way through small places connecting them to the wider world. The machine epitomised road and hence development.

My economist friend Chandan Sapkota remarked recently that road is the first requisite for development. So, with the six-lane highway nearing its completion (at least, that is how it appeared when I took a drive to Suryabinayak recently), Nepal’s widest road will help ease our long-overdue drive towards growth.

But even with the hasty inauguration of Tinkue-Jadibuti section a month ago, there are already signs of its poor maintenance and misuse. Kantipur Daily recently featured a photo story in which pedestrians were seen crossing the road without following the rules, the buses were stopped in wrong place, etc. I can only hope that this road will not face the fate of Gongabu bus park – in early 1990s, when the newly built bus park was inaugurated, it attracted the young chaps like me to it, not to take a long route bus but to examine and enjoy its enticing infrastructure. Indeed, it was in better shape than the international airport. But, now it is in a sorry state. I don’t even go there to take the bus anymore. After all, Kalanki has replaced the Gongabu bus park. And, the tickets are available everywhere.

Back to the six-lane highway. The highway saw its share of disruption. And, the residents of Bhaktapur (including me) must have inhaled enough fumes to reduce their lifespan for a few years. While driving my Discover bike (mine is one of 70 thousand vehicles that ply the road every day), I nearly bumped into another vehicle due to the congestion. Twice.

But now I hope such things can be consigned to the past. The new bridge in Manohara River for the nine-kilometre highway funded by JICA is also nearing its completion. And, there are reports that the remaining work will be completed in time (the work started in 2008). I hope that this highway (I would like to call it highway of hope) will be a symbol of the rapid road to development that Nepal badly requires.


This post was originally published on Deepak Adhikari in November 2010.