Ages ago a civilisation with roads and bathing facilities existed at Mohen-Jo-Daro so that the inhabitants could keep themselves clean and healthy. Then the wandering Aryans who had moved from Bharat Varsha and travelled afar to Lithuania and the Baltic States in Europe with their Swastika symbol depicting them as a race always on the move.
The next lords of the world were the Romans who after their conquests of many lands had their roads, their buildings and their bathing facilities. They had no shortage of funds following their aggressive onslaughts all over the place.
After them came the British, who having conquered and colonised many parts of the world enriched themselves and had an empire in which the sun never set. Naturally they too had no lack of funds to set about developing their own country. In the 17th and 18th Centuries their streets too were dirty and stank too. One knows of the Broadstreet pump which was the harbinger of cholera in their land. They developed their water supply and sanitation facilities, roads and railways in their lands with what they had obtained from the colonies.
After them came the Americans, who in their heyday came on the scene as the new overlords of this earth. They had highways, motorways, dams and canals, to provide facilities simply because of their financing capabilities.
Giving a description of our capital, Daniel Wright wrote in 1877, "The streets of Kathmandu are very narrow, mere lanes in fact, and the whole town is very dirty. In every lane there is a stagnant ditch, full of putrid mud, and no attempt is ever made to clean these thoroughly. The streets it is true were swept in the centre and part of the filth is carried off by the sellers of manure; but to clean the drains would now be impossible without knocking down the entire city, as the whole ground is saturated with filth. ..... In short from a sanitary point of view, Kathmandu may be said to be built on a dunghill in the middle of latrines."
Though Nepal had some enlightened leader as Prithvi Narayan Shah, Jung Bahadur and even Chandra Shumsher, the country emerged from the dark ages only after 1950 when democracy was ushered in. Toni Hagen who travelled extensively in Nepal had a photo exhibition in Bal Mandir sometime in the nineteen seventies. He had pictures showing the Bagmati at Arya Ghat, overfilled with water which flooded the stone steps leading down and showed naked boys jumping into it in full revelry. All this soon changed with development. As the population of Kathmandu valley increased and sewage disposal had to be carried out outside the inner cities, instead of making individual septic tanks sent the effluence to the many rivers flowing through the valley. Some went to the extent of diverting the effluence to old well which had been displaced by piped water supply. Even now, as one travels along the highways of Nepal one sees not only the hotels along the route, but also the private houses disposing their excreta and kitchen wastes directly on the river. Just the announcement of a 10 point National Sanitation Declaration will not solve problems.
All this led to a situation that the river in the valley became more and more polluted. The banks of the River Bishnumati became a garbage disposal site where dead animals were thrown. Then some thirty forty years ago occurred the sudden sinking Hyumat Tole along river banks.
Some changes have now taken place. The establishment of a crematorium on the banks of the Bagmati has lessened chances of remains, like clothes and remaining wood of the funeral pyres being dumped into the river. Utilisation of more crematoriums on a countrywide basis will decrease air pollution of the environment and result in cutting down fewer trees.
It has been many years since Rajiv Gandhi, when PM of India started the cleaning up campaign of the Ganga Action Plan in April 1986. This is still ongoing and has been given a tremendous boost by present PM Narendra Modi.
The cleaning of the Bagmati was started after the cleaning of the Arya Ghat by stopping or diverting sewage coming into it from the surrounding area by the building of diversion channels for it. In fact the students of Nepal Medical College had been involved in 2000 for two years in a 'Keep Bagmati Clean' campaign. Kathmandu Medical College has been involved in the Sinamangal down river area since last two years.
On 11th March 2017 the 200th week of the Bagmati Campaign took place at eighteen points from Sundarijal to Chobhar. One has to remember that it is the enthusiasm of the nameless half a million supporters, from different areas of the valley who have been along the banks of the river for almost four years. They deserve many thanks. Nepal Telecom too has done a great service by reminding many mobile users almost every week to come along and help. The men and women of the armed forces contributed tremendously having come prepared to confront the situation by being suitably attired and with equipment to pick out the wastes from the river bed. The concept of gardens and greenery along the rivers banks, highlighted by gathering places such as at Sankhamul will help in making the citizens of Kathmandu aware of their heritage and encourage them to keep it so. Because of touristic compulsions one sees change. Not only is dumping of wastes into Phewa Tal banned but the lake is regularly cleared of water hyacinth which is a national scourge.
The fact of the matter is that our rivers of the valley will never be clean and swift flowing until such time as all sewage flowing into it, plus the disposal of garbage is stopped. It was only after the sewage was diverted from the River Thames in London that it became clean and did not stink. One can get a similar smell as one crosses the Bagmati River at Thapathali during the summer months.
The author writes fiction under the name of Mani Dixit. Website: www.hdixit.org.np. Twitter: @manidixithd