September 12

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Going West – Far West: Part 1 – Top Gear Challenge

So as promised and slightly overdue, here is the first instalment on my trip to the Far West.

For those of you who studied the map from my last post you will know that the country is split into 5 regions: Eastern, Central (where Kathmandu is), Western, Mid-Western and Far Western.

A few weeks ago, I left the relatively developed area of Kathmandu and headed to the Far West, which is the most underdeveloped and impoverished part of Nepal. Here getting around is a lot more challenging with poor or often non-existent roads.  As we set off to visit the various health facilities, communities and partner organisations involved in the GSK-CARE project, it felt more like I was embarking on a Top Gear challenge than a work trip.

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As we drove through deep wheel spinning mud, past landslides, over rock beds and through rivers, all I could think was, ‘I’m glad I’m not driving’ and ‘we’re not seriously attempting that, are we?’. Safe to say, my Mini would never have made it out alive….

The CARE driver skilfully negotiated his way round obstacles and challenges that I thought were too much even for a 4-WD. Even a bout of heavy rain which rose the river levels to non-passable heights didn’t stop the team.  Using the high tech ‘stick and stone’ method to measure water levels we waited until the water receded sufficiently to pass (note this was still thigh high!).

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Whilst for me the challenges of the trip were in many ways fun, I don’t imagine I would feel like that if it was a daily occurrence given how frustrated I get with the London commute. Not to mention the real danger of landslides in the monsoon season – one of which we narrowly missed by a day.  For the people who live here lack of good transport links pose a real challenge and impacts much of the development work.  For many people, they must walk or be carried for hours and sometimes days to reach the health outposts, with an even longer trip across tracks and basic, bumpy roads if a referral to a hospital or Doctor is needed.  Returning to Kathmandu, I was glad to see the sight of tarmac roads and the smoother and quicker ride they promised, even if they are heavily polluted and in need of repair.  It’s interesting what you miss….