The gravitational release – the hillside story of the western Nepal


January 2nd, 2019

I always get ‘fascinated’ by gravity goods ropeways. The first time I came across one was in Dhading. I don’t remember exactly when but I am sure it was a long long time back. Once I was travelling on a bus from Pokhara to Kathmandu and on the way I saw this giant cage coming off a hill. I wasn’t sure what it was inside the cage, nor did I know how that giant cage was moving. It was all mystery, until in 2012 when I joined Practical Action. During my first week at Practical Action, I was going through annual reports and brochures and that’s when I spotted the same giant cage in one of Practical Action’s brochures. Instantly I could tell that it’s the same cage I saw in Dhading. I became curious and started reading about the giant cage. Little did I know, the giant cage was called ‘gravity goods ropeway’ (GGR) and it was one of the technologies Practical Action was promoting, especially in the hilly regions where they don’t have proper road access.

Technological enlightenment

The GGR works on a very simple mechanism. It is a green technology which does not require any fossil fuel and operates on gravitational force. It consists of two trolleys, rolling over two separate steel wire ropes (track ropes) suspended between two stations. The trolleys slide on the track ropes with the help of pulleys. When a trolley loaded with local goods rolls down from the upper station along the track rope, another trolley with the consumers’ goods hauls up along the next track rope from the lower station. A simple brake system is fitted to the sheave at the lower station to regulate the speed of the moving trolleys. As a rule of thumb, the downward moving load should be three times heavier than the upward moving load. The same year I joined Practical Action, I got a chance to visit the GGR project sites in Dhading and Gorkha, and I was really impressed with this simple technology. Whoever came up with this technology must be a genius. It is so simple, yet so effective.

Pic: Gravity Goods Ropeway at the upper station of Mana Gau, Bajura

The trail is no stroll through the jungle

The topography of the Far-West Nepal is a very challenging one. The rugged terrain, narrow trail, steep hills and mountainous ridges surely act as defiance against anyone’s will. The locals are forced to commute this trail without any option. So was my situation when I reached the GGR station in Tipada, Bajura. After having a conversation with Prem Saud, the GGR operator, I intended to visit the upper station to get the clear picture of the community at the upper station. I spoke with Gopal Nepali, our field coordinator, he smiled at me, pointed a massive hill in front of me and said, “The only way to get there is to climb that hill.” I did not have any option but to follow his lead. I checked my watch and it read 10:45 am.

We went down the road following a trail which led to the bridge connecting the two hills. As we were crossing the bridge, we could see a group of people fishing by the bank of the Budhiganga River. I know for sure that asking the locals the time it takes to cover the distance is just irrelevant but somehow I felt like asking for the sake of it. Gopal was walking in front of me, he turned around and said, “Umm, maybe it takes around one and half hour?” I did not know how to comprehend that statement. I just shook my head and kept following him. As we went higher, the trail became narrower and steeper. We were literally walking inside a forest. All I could hear was the squishing sound of my shoes against the slippery trail and my own breath. For a second I had to pinch myself just to make sure I was not suffering from the so called Patulous Eustachian Tube (PET). Just before I left Kathmandu, I was reading about PET. It is a dysfunction when the eustachian tube stays open most of the time and you start hearing your own self-generated sound, such as breathing, voice and heartbeat. I stopped for a while, took the water out from my back pack, took a sip and kept walking. After walking for almost an hour, we took a rest under a shade of a tree. I asked Gopal if there were any wild animals in the jungle. He said there were bears, wild cats and other random animals. My jaw just dropped. I did not know how to react. The way he said was very casual, as if they were his pet animals. I was so confused at one point, I did not know whether I was to show my fear or act brave? I am sure they must have come across these animals multiple times and it is nothing strange for them but for someone like me who has never seen a bear, the name itself is very scary.

Pic: Mana Gau village as seen from atop the hill

I knew the rest of the walk would be a long one for sure. After resting for a while, again we continued with our walk. There were so many thoughts in my head, what if the bear attacks me, what if I get bitten by wild cats, what if I fall off from this slippery trail, there were just too many what ifs going on at the same time. All of a sudden I heard a crunchy sound behind me. I could tell that someone was following me and it sounded like a giant footstep. My heart was pounding like a heavy metal drum beat. Again all these random thoughts were pouring in like a huge tsunami. Gopal was just a few steps ahead of me but somehow I did not even dare to call his name. I turned around without thinking twice and there I saw a young couple with a new born baby on their back. I guess it took me only a second to turn around but that one second felt like forever. (Thank god that was not a bear.) I let the couple go ahead of me. I watched them as they were climbing up the hill, there were no signs of tiredness or fragility. I kept looking at them for a while. The young husband was carrying a huge back pack and the wife was carrying the new born, it looked like they were taking a stroll through the jungle. Whereas, for me, I was still trying to catch my breath. Finally, after almost three hours we reached Mana Gau.

Commute that lasted days

The view from the top was magnificent. I could see the beautiful Saipal mountain range smiling at me. The small community comprising of around 204 houses looked almost similar. I could spot a lot of terraced paddy fields from a distance. As we entered the village, people were busy with their daily chores. Most of them were either attending the field or grazing cattle. We stopped by a small tea shop where a bunch of people were sitting in front of the shop, sipping a cup of tea, basking in the winter sun. I approached this friendly looking man and asked his name, with a strong voice he answered, “My name is Dan Bahadur Saud.” I introduced myself and he offered me a chair next to him.

Pic: Dan Bahadur Saud

Our conversation went on for more than an hour, it was an interesting one though. Mr. Dan was in his early 50s. When he was growing up, it used to take days to carry salt on their back from Rajapur and Dipayal but after the motorway access, the commute was cut short to a day. Nevertheless, they still had to go to Tipada and carry goods on their backs. From Badimalika, it used to take 2.5 hours to get to Tipada and on the way back it was around 4-5 hours steep walk, carrying heavy goods on the backs.

 

Basically, it used to take them the whole day to get goods from Tipada but after the installation of GGR things have changed. “Now, we don’t have to go all the way to Tipada. We call the shop owner and place our orders, and he sends the goods on the GGR. Within a couple of minutes, it reaches our upper station and from there it only takes us 15 minutes to reach our home,” smiled Mr. Saud.

The joyful faces

Pic: Nirmala Dhani

Inside the tea shop I spotted a woman who was nursing a year old baby. After putting her baby to sleep, she came out and was doing the dishes. I went up to her and asked her the same question I had asked Mr. Saud. She introduced herself as Nirmala Dhani. Her story was no different to that of Mr. Saud.  She too walked the whole day to get goods from the market (in Jadanga or Tipada). She shared, “It used to be very tiring and risky at the same time. The roads were very steep and narrow. Sometimes I was all by myself crossing the jungle, it used to be very scary.” But after the installation of GGR, just like Mr. Saud’s, Ms. Dhani’s life has also changed for the better, within 15 minutes the goods reach her doorstep. Likewise, Krishan Mati Devi Saud also shared her joy, “I’m glad with the installation of this GGR, women don’t have to suffer (like me) walking the long trail, especially during pregnancies.”

Work in progress

I spent almost three hours in the community talking to people and listening to their stories, and everyone shared their joy of having the GGR. After that three hours walk, I can totally relate to the joy of having a GGR installed at Mana Gau. It was already time for me to bid adieu, the sun was trying to hide behind the hills in the west. My watch read 4:45 pm. The thought of taking the same trail back gave me goose bumps but I did not have any choice. I knew that the next two hours will be one hell of a walk. I just do not know how I managed to cross that jungle, nor do I want to recall that again.

Nevertheless, I was really glad to see those happy faces of this small hilly community. The installation of GGR in the hills of Mana Gau in Bajura district has definitely made life easier for hundreds of Dans, Nirmalas and Krishnas. Gone are the days when one had to carry goods on the back and walk along the treacherous trail like a mule. A whole day commute has now been reduced to half an hour easy walk. A simple technology can indeed change one’s life for better but to be honest Mana Gau is still far from development. I cannot argue to the fact that the GGR has made life easier for the locals but still they face uncertainty due to lack of proper road access and basic health services. I wish to not see any of those young couples with a new born walking through that jungle, nor do I want to see a pregnant woman rushing down the hills for immediate attention. I am glad that the GGR has helped reduce drudgery and promote inclusive and sustainable growth but as long as there is road access that connects the village to the main market centre and basic health services where the people can take benefit, then only I can smile with my heart out.

I have a dream

I know that Mana Gau is work in progress but I cannot wait to see the full-fledged development of this humble community. Just like Martin Luther King, I too have a dream. I have a dream that one day this village will be free from drudgery. I have a dream that one day this village will have its own health clinic. I have a dream that one day this village will have its own road access. I have a dream that one day this village will make a living from its own agricultural produces. I have a dream that one day this village will be free from poverty. I have a dream that one day this village will have all its men back from the Gulf countries and India, and all of them will live in harmony. I am sure one fine day I will be able to witness all these and that will be the day when I will be smiling with my heart out.

The BICAS project is co-funded by the European Union and Jersey Overseas Aid. The project aims to promote inclusive and sustainable growth through better livelihood opportunities, thereby enhancing economic infrastructure by installing GGR. Likewise, it also focuses on pro-poor value chains which include better business linkages, enhance entrepreneurship skills of rural farmers and local traders, business networking and business development service provision to facilitate commercial/ urban value chain actors to make their business services accessible to rural areas. To learn more about the project, please click here.

2 responses to “The gravitational release – the hillside story of the western Nepal”

  1. Valerie Godfrey Says:

    Great article! I am puzzled though: if the downward cage needs ideally to be 3 x weight of upward cage, with what do they load it? Can it be used to transport people? Can GGR only be used therefore when loads are needed to come up AND down simultaneously?

  2. Prabin Gurung Says:

    Hi Valerie, thank you. To clarify on the GGR, it is used only for transporting goods. Sometimes, when there is not enough load to be transported from the upper station, we stack up with log or a sack of sand or something heavy that approximately maintain the 3:1 ratio. I hope that clarifies.

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