Between 2010 and 2012, S&C photo essayist and local resident, John Callaway, lived in Nepal. In a new series, John looks back at his time there in the context of the pandemic and lockdown. This week, John remembers a local lockdown of a different kind.
Between 2010 and 2012 I was living in Nepal. In the midst of the current lockdown, I’ve started to look back at my time there, mostly because travel is something of a vicarious activity at the moment, but equally because I wanted to see whether there was a different narrative to be written from a geographical and temporal distance.
And because I quite liked some of the photographs too…
I lived in Banepa, the Kathmandu Valley, for about a year, working as a volunteer with VSO for two local HIV/AIDS organisations, Sakriya Plus Nepal and Navadeep Jyoti Kendra (sadly no longer operating). My arrival in Banepa coincided with a lockdown of a slightly different kind. The Araniko Highway is the main road out of Kathmandu to the Chinese border, but as you can see, the first two photographs show the road to be completely devoid of vehicles.
In a blog post on 29th April 2010, a few days before these photographs were taken, I wrote that:
…the coming weekend appears likely to be to be the first of a number of significant political events for the country. A planned mass demonstration organised by the UCPN-Maoist Party in Kathmandu on 1st May appears to be a possible catalyst for a protracted general strike from May 2nd….
On 3rd May 2010, when these photographs were taken, I wrote:
…as day two of the ‘indefinite nationwide strike’ called by the Maoists comes to an end, press reports suggest that dialogue between both sides is slow, although further talks are scheduled for this evening. The deadlock appears to boil down to the fact that the Maoists appear adamant that they will not discuss ‘other issues’ unless the prime minister goes, whilst the PM has indicated that the government will only be ousted through constitutional means…
Surely none of these behaviours would become standard operating procedures for certain western democracies, including our own… 🙂
Despite the fact that there appears to be a large representation of Maoists from the Kavre district in Kathmandu, there is still a sufficient presence in Banepa to ensure that the bandh is enforced. There are no vehicles on the road, save for the occasional motorbike, and shops, offices and banks are closed. There are quite a number of pedestrians out walking, and at least one group of children has taken the opportunity to play in the middle of the Arneko Highway…
There is a small gathering of Maoists at the main crossroads in the town who make it their business to flag down and turn back any motorcyclists who are contravening the bandh by being on the road. It appears to be something of a game of cat and mouse, as motorcyclists either turn round as they approach the crossroads, or seemingly ignore the frantic attempts of flag waving Maoists to bring them to a standstill. Undoubtedly the fact that the whole thing is carried out under the watchful eye of a group of armed police has some bearing on things!
In the backstreets, things are a little less clear. I walk to the shop where I usually buy my beer, to find that it is open. Sitting with the storekeeper who kindly offers a piece of water melon to eat as we chat, she says that she is usually able to open during the bandhs, and there are a few other small traders that appear to be open. Similarly on the walk back through the fields, a number of small stalls appear to be open. Common sense tells me that it is easier to ensure compliance with a banda in a large city such as Kathmandu, particularly if you have a few thousand Maoists in the city to help you!
Word from our colleagues in Kathmandu tell us that commercial activity in the city has largely been stopped.
Strange parallels once again? Such levels of confusion could never occur in the land of Bojo and Donny, where everything is either world beating or just plain ‘great’ at the very least.
This article was originally published on John Callaway’s website, Ideas & images from Portsmouth and beyond. You can read more of John’s writing on his website and also see his live music photography.
Images used with permission of John Callaway.