Villages Along Nepal’s Araniko Highway Wait for Quake Relief

A trip along an important road link between Nepal's capital Kathmandu and China illustrates how hard it is to distribute aid — or even reach some of Nepal's remote mountainside villages.

Nepal 2015

By Kirk Siegler

May 01, 2015

Also aired on NPR

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

People say that the most important part of a journey is not the destination. It's the experience of getting there. That is tragically true in some remote parts of Nepal. The recent earthquake wiped out some mountain villages. Reaching those villages and distributing aid remains a big challenge. NPR's Kirk Siegler traveled to a rural area.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: The Araniko Highway is the main link between Kathmandu and China.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC)

SIEGLER: A short drive east in the polluted capital gives way to wheat fields and rice paddies. The highway narrows and climbs fast over Sanga pass. It then makes a harrowing, twisting plunge into the rural Kavre District. Big diesel-spewing trucks hog the tiny mountain road. Large buses with dozens of men on the roof honk with a second's notice to get out of the way.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORN)

SIEGLER: Here, the scale of the earthquake devastation and the challenges of bringing aid to isolated mountainside villages in Nepal becomes clear.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

SIEGLER: It's a steep, rocky hike down to the village of Thakle, where mud and stone houses perched on small terraces are demolished. Everyone survived, the villagers say, but there's not much left.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

PURNA SINGH TAMANG: (Foreign language spoken).

SIEGLER: This man, Purna Singh Tamang, and his wife ask if we've heard whether there are more earthquakes coming. Tamang's wife is fermenting the local liquor over a wood fire. What else can we do, she says. We can't sleep. Tamang is pounding bamboo, building a temporary shelter for his cattle and goats. Aid workers tried to reach this village yesterday, but they turned back in the rain. It wasn't safe to hike down in the slippery mud. It's drier today.

TAMANG: (Foreign language spoken).

SIEGLER: The couple is worried about running out of food. People here blame a corrupt Nepalese government for being slow to respond to rural areas. There haven't been local elections in these districts for more than a decade, they say, so there's no official contact for aid workers. And distribution of supplies has been plagued by favoritism.

(SOUNDBITE OF GENERATOR HUMMING)

SIEGLER: About 20 miles farther along the Araniko Highway, a generator hums in the small town of Dolalghat. It takes about two hours just to drive here on the ruddy road. Mudslides triggered by the earthquake washed it out in places. Here, it's also clear many Nepalese frustrated by the government's response are doing things themselves.

(CROSSTALK IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

SIEGLER: Twenty-two-year-old Nick Magar hops out of the van. He and some college students from Kathmandu drove here with bags of donated food - rice, powdered curry, biscuits.

NICK MAGAR: So we thought that we should - we could not stay like that in the home just waiting around for the government to act because our government doesn't care about much. They are very slow.

SIEGLER: Locals around this town depend on the massive Indravati River that flows into this valley from Tibet. And Magar has heard that a fishing village nearby is wiped out. Turning off the highway to reach it poses a new set of challenges for the volunteers. Their van gets stuck on the dirt track that snakes along a cliff over the water. They decide it's better to walk. Watching all of this is Nima Lama. He's 23 and just got off a bus near the highway clutching a duffel bag. Lama is trying to reach his boyhood village, and he's one of tens of thousands of Nepalese leaving Kathmandu right now for their home districts.

NIMA LAMA: (Foreign language spoken).

SIEGLER: "I was able to reach my parents late Saturday night after the big earthquake," he says. "But there's been no contact since, and there have been many more aftershocks."

LAMA: (Foreign language spoken).

SIEGLER: Lama doesn't know if the house he was born in is still standing or if his parents are safe. The only way to find out is to walk, a four-hour trek from here. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Kavre District, Nepal.

Kirk Siegler reported from Nepal on a fellowship with the International Reporting Project (IRP).