Royal Nepal Airlines flight #202 departed Bombay at 5:20 p.m. destined for Nepal.
Stepping off the airplane in Katmandu was like a breath of fresh air after being in India for nearly ten days. No longer were the temperatures 104 degrees Fahrenheit. There was actually a cool evening breeze wafting through the valley nestled at the foot of the Himalayan range and the great Mt. Everest.
Equally refreshing was the quickly consummated friendship with Dr. Mark Zimmerman and his Irish born wife Deirdre. They were at the terminal holding up a sign for us as we walked out of security after having cleared Customs. Once in the auto it didn’t take us long to realize that by traveling into Katmandu we had jumped right into another of the world’s political “hot spots.” Fourteen “Maoist rebels” had been shot to death by Nepalese soldiers the day before.
In 1996 the radical leftist party in Nepal, called the Nepal Communist Party (Maoist) or NCP-M had became frustrated with not being able to seize more power within the structure of the government of Nepal. They had decided to launch a guerrilla terrorist movement against the people and the government, styled after the model of China’s revolutionary leader Mao Tse-tung. Their goal was to topple the constitutional monarchy by hiding out in Nepal’s mountainous locations and performing deadly attacks of terror on government leaders, civil facilities, military outposts and other high profile targets.
As was always the case, militant groups would feed on their own terrorist activities and the violence would always escalate into more frequent and more severe atrocities. The militant’s army of terrorists had grown to over 4,000 strong and they had equipped themselves with sophisticated weapons by raiding small and poorly protected military outposts and arsenals.
In November, the Nepalese government had declared a state of emergency. The rebels stepped up their violence and instead of staying mostly in western sections, planned attacks were aimed at Katmandu, other major cities and tourist areas and base camps near Mt. Everest. By the beginning of the year hundreds of people were being killed in surprise attacks by the Maoists. The guerrillas would declare a “strike” in Katmandu or other cities and completely shut down commerce, transportation, government services and people movement in the city for a day at a time. If shopkeepers left their doors unlocked and continued business, those establishments would be stoned, shot up or burned. If taxis or buses tried to drive the streets the drivers would be beaten and the vehicles burned.
Just a week before we arrived the violence was ratcheted up another notch. The Maoists attacked and took over a city airport. They almost simultaneously then set fire to buildings and fired at police in the town of Mangalsen. Forty-nine police were killed. Twenty-seven more were killed in another airport takeover. Shortly afterward another 48 Royal Nepalese Army officers were killed.
The night we arrived in Katmandu the Maoist rebels burned a large number of government vehicles and some buildings and killed another 12 people in the city.
To add to the civil unrest and instability, Nepal had gone through another shocker in June, 2001. King Binendra, Nepal’s Monarch and 8 other members of the Royal family, including Queen Aiswarya were fatally shot in the Royal Palace in Katmandu. All evidence pointed to Crown Prince Dipendra as the mass killer. He then almost botched his own suicide attempt but died a short time later at the hospital. An official investigation was conducted later which confirmed that the Crown Prince did perform the massacre in a drunken rage of anger. His uncle, Gyanendra Bir Bikram, was the one left upon whom the title of Regent of Nepal was bestowed.
With that opening of confusion and insecurity, the Maoists intensified their onslaughts of violence to try to topple Nepal’s government.
The Zimmermans had chosen a quaint Nepalese Hotel in the Patan area of Katmandu for us to stay. We were perfectly safe there and the cool night and our tired bodies successfully promoted the thought we skip dinner and go straight to bed.
Saturday, March 23
The birds were singing, the flowers were blooming and the leaves were beginning to bud out on the trees. We awoke to springtime in Nepal! Even by then the negative aspects of our India experience were beginning to fade into historical perspective. We had been at the right place at the right time speaking to the right people. God had blessed us and protected us.
We took a little local taxi from our Summit Hotel and met Dr. Mark Zimmerman and Deirdre at the front gates of the Patan Hospital to go for lunch. They took us to the ancient Hindu Temple of Patan which was the center of one of Four Kingdom state cities which sat on the present site of Katmandu. Much of the sprawling temple had been turned into a Hindu museum with a quaint little restaurant attached.
After lunch Anna Marie and I walked the narrow streets of Katmandu absorbing all the sights, sounds and smells of the city that some claimed to be 10,000 years old.
Dr. Mark Zimmerman had finished his medical education at some prestigious schools in Eastern USA. He had traveled to Africa during his medical school days to do a short stint there. He agreed to go to Nepal for 3-6 months to help out before he started his practice in America. He went to Nepal and stuck. He had been there for 15 years and had become the Medical Director of the Patan Hospital.
When Nepal opened up to the world in the l950’s it was decided that there would not be just an influx of humanitarian and religious groups allowed in the Hindu Kingdom. Instead, it was agreed that the Methodists, Presbyterian, etc. groups would be allowed to jointly open one medical venture in Katmandu. Eventually, that effort became known as the United Mission of Nepal and they were allowed to open a hospital in an old palace where even the patient wards boasted of crystal chandeliers.
The medical work built a strong reputation throughout Nepal and soon outgrew the old royal facilities. What amazed me about Patan Hospital right away was the fact that such an ecumenical diversity could get organized and work together on any project for that long and be of such a success. My attention was captured. I was eager to learn more about the hospital and its mission.
Next Week: Patan Hospital a Good Place to Start
© Dr. James W. Jackson
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