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RIBLET IN NEPAL'S DEVELOPMENT

Bill Stone discovered my Blog and wrote to me reminiscing on his young days in Nepal and living in Kiran Bhawan. I encouraged Bill to give an account of the time he spent in Nepal as it would provide a fascinating glimpse into a past we have come to be nostalgic for. Bill has kindly obliged and, in his own words he writes, "I have thoroughly enjoyed the 'project' and would be glad to submit further installments". Keep 'em coming, Bill!

This is Bill's story.

INTRODUCTION
I came to Nepal as a 10 year old in October 1959, having lived my childhood in the US Pacific Northwest (Oregon, Washington, Montana). The four years we spent in Nepal were the longest I had ever lived in one place, and so special. Since returning “stateside” I have enjoyed several careers, in pharmaceutical manufacturing, as a Deputy Sheriff, a truck enforcement office, tax fraud investigation manager, and shipping manager. I have never been back to Nepal, but I remember it and its people so fondly. Since we left in 1963, we have had the good fortune to be visited by Father Marshall Moran, our dear friend Raj Satyal, Prof Mondol (one-time RNAC pilot), and I have reconnected with many friends from those days. 

JOURNEY TO NEPAL

In May 1959 my dad, Jim Stone, left Portland, Oregon for Kathmandu, Nepal. He had been hired by the Riblet Tramway Company of Spokane, Washington, to build a ropeway in Nepal to transport goods from the Terai to the Kathmandu Valley. Nepal is a country bounded on the north by the Himalayas, Kathmandu is kind of in the middle, north-south, and sits at about 4420 feet elevation (the Gaucher Airport).  There is a series of lesser mountains to the south, which transition into the Terai, which is plains/jungle/savannah.

Jim Stone's Nepali Identity Card

Because of the terrain between the Terai and the Valley, the principal road, the Raj Path, was tortuously slow and windy, and very unreliable because of frequent slides. In Nepal, as the rest of southeast Asia, there is a monsoon season with torrential rains, which causes landslides in unstable areas surrounding the Raj Path.



A more reliable, and it was hoped, economical, method of transporting goods into the Valley was sought. The British-built ropeway was constructed back in the 1920s. It fell shortly into disrepair due to poor maintenance and poorly trained operators.

While viewing these photos and other documents, it is essential to understand that, in 1959, Nepal was quite primitive. There was little infrastructure. All the materials used in the construction, including steel, parts, cables, sand and cement (and even the water to mix the concrete) had to be carried to the construction sites by porters. Some of the photos show this. Further, Riblet became obliged to build a power line to get power to some of the terminals. Also, a telephone line to connect all the terminals to the operations center.

The ropeway started in Hitaura (now called Hetauda) with the first terminal. A series of towers carried the two separate cables to the next terminal, Golping. Then on to Bhainse, Chesa Pani Gari, Nyagaon, Duri Pani Duerali (DPD) which was the highest point of the ropeway, at about 8570 feet, Dhakse, and finally on to Kathmandu.

The cargo carriers that rode the ropeway were akin to the chairs on a ski lift, except designed to carry goods instead of persons. They rode on the 1.5" track cable, and clamped to the .75" traction cable. At each terminal, the carriers clamped onto the traction cable, and at the next one, released from it, slid along rails through the terminal, and clamped onto the next section of traction cable, because of the great length of the overall ropeway, it was necessary to build it in these seven sections.

While Dad was getting settled in Nepal, my mother, my brother Mike and I stayed in Portland until the fall, when we were to take an ocean liner across the Pacific to Singapore, then fly on to Nepal. My dad's frequent letters home spoke of Nepal as an Asian Switzerland, making the idea of living there for some years an exotic and attractive proposition.

For some reason I have forgotten, we were unable to take the ocean liner trip and, instead flew from Portland to Kathmandu via Seattle, Washington, Shemya, Alaska, Tokyo, Japan, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Thailand, Rangoon, Burma and Calcutta, India. This was my first time flying, which, in 1959, was still romantic & special. Mom, my brother Mike and I left Portland in mid-October, 1959. Our plane to Tokyo was a DC-7 turbo-prop, which needed to stop to refuel way out in the Aleutian Islands on Shemya Island. I debarked the plane so I could "experience" Alaska for the few minutes we were there. It was cold & dark and windy (probably about 4 AM).

We experienced a great many misadventures on our trip, which could constitute a whole other story. When we arrived on a PanAm 707 in Calcutta at about 2:30 AM, we were met at Dum Dum Airport by my dad and Prasiddha Shumshere Jung Bahadur Rana, who was working as his aide. We drove through the streets of Calcutta and couldn't help but note many bodies lying on the streets' sides. Dad said there was a cholera epidemic. I remember feeling very uneasy.

Om Rana, Bill's Mom Fearne, Prasiddha Rana and Bill
I had a bad cold for the few days we spent in Calcutta, and most of what I remember was the inside of the Oberoi Grand Hotel, and Prasiddha teaching me to play chess. The only time I went outside the hotel, I recall being horrified by begging lepers and amputees. We were told that beggars would maim their children to use in gaining sympathy and alms.
Gauchar Airport in Kathmandu

Consequently, I was much relieved to be leaving early on morning by plane for Kathmandu. The plane was a twin-engine Douglas DC-3, with bucket seats along the sides, not very comfortable for a 4-hour flight. It was operated by Royal Nepal Airlines Corporation (RNAC). I don't recall too much of the flight, except that being sick, I was kind of cold, and it seemed like the flight went on forever.


SHANGRI-LA

We touched down at Gaucher airport about 10 AM on a weekday morning, my strongest memories of this arrival are a large number of what I learned were Tibetan refugees "hanging out" at the airport, and a Jesuit priest wearing a leather jacket over his robes. I learned he was Father Marshall Moran, long-time Kathmandu resident, who in those days tried to meet the infrequent incoming planes to assist disoriented and bewildered tourists. I soon discovered that he wore the jacket because he rode around town on his motorcycle.

Riblet had rented a number of rooms at the Royal Hotel for employees and their families until permanent housing was ready. The company had leased most of Kiran Bhawan from General Kiran (Prasiddha's father). It was being remodeled into separate apartments. Our family was to occupy the separate bungalow on the north of the estate. We settled into the Royal and learned about the owner, Boris Lisanevich and his cigar-smoking, very tall, (and as I recall, blonde) wife, Inger. He was quite a character, an emigre' from Russia with a very colorful past. My 5-year-older brother Mike and I liked to go peer into the Yak & Yeti lounge, which seemed so exotic to us.

During our two-month stay at the Royal, we did a bit of sight-seeing, visiting the shrine at Bodhnath, the school at Godavari, and general touring of the Kathmandu area, seeing Singha Durbar, the seat of government, Himalayan Heights where most of the USOM (later USAID) families lived, downtown Kathmandu, the Tundikhel. One of the first unpleasant experiences was having dysentery. I remember clear lying on the marble floor of the hotel bathroom being so miserable that I wanted to die (at age 10!).

Some of the memorable sights to a newcomer Nepal were the almost universal smiles on the faces of the people; how many small children ran around naked from the waist down, while wearing caps; the emaciated cattle wandering around; the unbelievably rough roads on which we bounced around at about 5 miles per hour; the overpowering mountain vistas from as far to the west as one could see, to equally as far to the east.

Hotel Royal 1959
By Christmas 1959 we had settled into our new home at Kiran Bhawan, which was located in an area I think was called Sanepa. The residence had been remodeled by a local contractor who became a close friend, Mr. Ram Shanker Shrestha. My mother soon hired a household staff, a young man she taught to be our cook, Maila; three housemen, Chirinjabee, Jagdish & Purna. They were so friendly and enthusiastic, and made life so much easier for our family.

Ram Shanker Shrestha, in the background is Kiran Bhawan


In January I started school at the Lincoln School (which was principally for American children) at Rabi Bhawan, headquarters of the United States Overseas Mission (later US Aid). I remember being driven across the bridge over the Bagmati, which was so narrow I always feared we would hit pedestrians who walked on either side of our vehicle. 

Rato Pul, Red Bridge over the Bagmati River


My driver, Nuchay, never seemed to be concerned. Nuchay was like another father to me, trying to guide my childish behavior, and telling me about his three wives. I later realized my father had picked Nuchay to driver me around because he knew he could trust him to “keep an eye” on me.

Nuchay the driver


Comments

  1. Loved the entry! Such a different world it was then. Thanks for sharing!

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