Weekly Musings Shocks After Shocks
Shocks come when the rock movement underground generates seismic waves causing the earth surface to move a little resulting in havoc in the form of earthquakes – big moderate and small ones. Shocks are also created when untoward incidents and actions take place. One is shocked by the air, water and noise pollution one sees all around in some cities that consider themselves to be modern but are in fact carry a primitive mentality among the inhabitants who care nothing for others. In this connection, this writer had to attend several receptions within the past week or so and most of them were held in party venues inside the city core. As one walked to the venues, one was subjected to shock followed by more shocks in the form of controllable traffic congestions and jams, pedestrians crossing the streets in a haphazard manner, drivers racing their vehicles in crowded areas even at zebra crossing. All of the shocks indicate that the people themselves and the administration do not care much for the law and order situation in the country and anyone does as one pleases without bothering to gauge the consequences their actions (and inaction) might have on others.
One of the worst shocks is to see the chaos that prevails around the centre of the city, Kasthamandap area. The area is known to be one of the most historic sites in the Kathmandu Valley as it is here that such heritage sites like the Hanuman Dhoka, Gaddi Baithak, Kathmandu Ganesh temple and others equally historic heritage are located. But even here the life of the people who live in the area must be made chaotic by the unusual mix of men and machines on the road that generate so much street congestion compounded by the equally unbearable noise levels. The great shock of the 25 April 2015 earthquake and a series of aftershocks that followed (and continue even to-date) devastated many of historic heritage in the area; one of the most important being the Kashtamandap sattal (from which the city gets its name). The monument is said to be almost a millennium year old was completely flattened and reduced to rubble by the 7.8 magnitude quake. The question is why such a calamity befell the temple that must have withstood several and even higher intensity earthquakes that rocked the Valley in almost 1000 years. Are we the residents as well as the government in some small but significant way responsible for the devastation of many historic and unique heritage in the Kathmandu Valley?
The congestion that one witnesses at every turn in the Kathmandu city core is really shocking. Men are forced to mingle with the machine in order to walk properly in the streets, roads and lanes of the city. The roads in the city were never meant to handle the mechanised traffic one sees everywhere these days. The roads and lanes are narrow but the city administration and those who drive around think that city roads are highways with little or no right for the people who walk. In the narrow lanes around Kashthamandap, cars and motor cycles are allowed to ply as if they will have no impact on the historic buildings that dot the area. And to crown it all, these narrow roads and lanes are forced to handle two-way traffic situations. If it is hard for the people to walk along these roads, one can only imagine the adverse impacts these situations will have on the surrounding areas. Blowing of horns is a normal practice among our drivers but one wonders if they are aware of the consequences it will have on the health of the people. The maddening road situations in the city are highlighted by the situations in Bhimsensthan-Bishnumati road, the Pyaphal-Ashok Binayak Temple and numerous other areas in the city. It’s not merely the noise pollution created by unnecessary honking by drivers that poses problems. The traffic in these areas also tend to rock buildings because of the jolts many vehicles encounter every 10 metres or so. Even such slight rocking of buildings by heavy vehicles will invariably diminish their durability and render them fragile. And earthquakes when they occur will take their toll in human lives and in flattening of buildings including temples. The streets most certainly have their kind of effect on the buildings including temples, some of which are this country’s heritage.
The country’s administration almost certainly knows that this kind of street traffic chaos will have bad effects on the people as well as historic sites and on the houses of ordinary people. The government and the local administration (Kathmandu Municipality in the city’s case), always try to find an easy way out. Instead of regulating traffic – that is making effective one-way traffic rules or banning motorised vehicles in important historic areas of the city – the tendency is to root out the old inhabitants from their homes by forcibly but legally acquiring their houses or portion of their houses in order to broaden the streets thinking that this will solve the problem. But the fact is that until long term plans to preserve the heritage and to cause least pain to people who have been living for generations in the city core are drawn and effectively implemented, shocks after shocks in the forms of disasters and health problems will continue to be felt. Can we work for the greater good of the people? Only time will tell.