Journal Highlights: Roads I Have Traveled ... Excerpt #1 from October 1997

NEPAL: Project C.U.R.E. received previous requests to become involved in Nepal, but the present circumstances and timing seem just right for this new venture. 

I have always been intrigued by the country of Nepal, hearing the reports of climbers who use the country as base camp for their climbing assault of Mount Everest. The whole country of Nepal is predominantly mountainous and is about the same size as the state of Wisconsin. The Himalayas, in the northern third of the oblong country, contain some of the world’s highest mountain peaks. Six of those peaks are higher than twenty-six thousand feet, including Mount Everest at nearly thirty thousand feet. 

I have been used to hearing the accolades and applause for the fourteen-thousand-foot peaks of the Colorado Rockies, so I am curious to view mountains nearly twice as high as those in my backyard in Evergreen. Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, is located in the middle hills, which are more comparable to our Rockies and are historically known for the exploits of the famous Gurkha foot soldiers. To the south lies the Terai, where you can find everything from cultivated fields to the subtropical jungles at the northern rim of the Gangetic Plain. Obviously, with that much diversity in elevation, there are radical changes of weather within short distances of travel. The cool summers and frigid winters of the north become the subtropical climates of the southern regions. To add spice to the weather variations, the effects of monsoons on the middle and southern regions between June and September are thrown into the mix, compliments of the nearby Indian Ocean.

Nepal is situated on the border between China to the north and India to the south. Historically, it has always been an important buffer state and a negotiation referee between the two giant countries. In fact, the size of Nepal has varied greatly over the years due to border squabbles. In 1990, King Birendra canceled the ban on political parties, which led to an interesting experiment in Nepal’s endeavor to embrace democracy. The struggle has not been entirely successful. Today there are now three major parties, and no one party has been able to achieve a majority hold on the parliament, which consists of the upper chamber known as the National Council and the lower chamber called the House of Representatives. So far, each government election has necessitated a coalition government. The system lies somewhere on a governmental organizational chart between a multiparty democracy and a constitutional monarchy, because although the prime minister runs the governing chambers, the king is still chief of state.

In Nepal, agriculture still employs 93 percent of the labor force. Most of the country is, therefore, a no-cash-income economy. More than four million Nepalese work in India and send their pay home to their families in Nepal. So Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, with an annual gross national product per capita of only US$165.

Health conditions have somewhat improved in the recent past. Even so, a very high infant-mortality rate of ninety deaths per one thousand babies born still exists, and the life expectancy is right at fifty years. There is no organized plan to purify the water supply, so diseases such as meningitis, typhoid, and hepatitis are widespread. I have been warned to never drink any water except bottled water and to be sure to keep my mouth and eyes shut whenever taking a shower. Nepal has needed Project C.U.R.E. for a long time.

Nepal also needs some help with their educational system. Only 13 percent of the females are literate due to farm work and prearranged marriages, and the total literacy rate throughout the country is between 25 and 26 percent. About 88 percent of the population adheres to the Hindu religion, and Nepal, I think, is the only nation in the world that has declared itself a Hindu state. There are very few Christians in Nepal, and proselytizing is officially and strictly forbidden.

Nepal’s population is somewhere around twenty-five million, about the same size as North Korea. It is growing at quite a rapid rate now, which has a lot of the world health groups flocking in to shame them into a position of imposing a lesser burden on dear Mother Earth.

Narayan Shrestha suggested I accompany one of his volunteer medical teams heading into Nepal. They are to leave Denver on October 8, and they are all staying for at least one month, with some volunteers staying as long as six months or more. I told him I have plans to be in Romania by October 16, but there is a possibility I could squeeze in the Nepal trip on the front end of the schedule and then go from Nepal directly to Bucharest, Romania. Agreements were made and plans confirmed.

Next Week: Nepalese Protocol and Customs 

© Dr. James W. Jackson   

Permissions granted by Winston-Crown Publishing House