Karnali Highway blues: A narrow road plagued by landslides

Published On: August 16, 2016 07:54 AM NPT By: DB Buda

JUMLA, Aug 15: Truck driver Bir Bahadur BK looked drenched in sweat when we spotted him along the Jumla - Kalikot road section of the Karnali Highway recently. It was the third consecutive day that he had been trying to get the truck out of a ditch that it had got stuck into. “It’s been three days that I’m trying to freeing it from the ditch, but to no avail. I have not eaten, slept, and rested properly since then. While setting off for journey to Karnali you should be ready to face literally all kind of woes, even death,” he lamented. 

The route is indeed deadly. BK said that he starts missing home and feels desperate to get back as soon as he sets for the journey along this highway. “It’s because you feel like you’d die anytime when you are traveling here. Feelings like whether you will ever get to see your loved ones or not comes in your mind so intensely that you love to quit driving and get back home,” BK shared his experience. 

Another truck driver Gyanendra Khadka narrated a recent accident on the way. “Accidents are occasional along this highway. Trucks and buses keep slipping off. Just last week, a heavy jeep had fallen off the road,” he said. 

Khadka said that the risky route put drivers in extreme pressure. “We fear not only for ourselves but also for our passengers. Anything goes wrong, we die and along with us, life of hundreds of people is finished. Such thoughts constantly haunt us while driving along this highway,” he said. 

Traveling along the Karnali highway is no different than crossing through the mouth of death, drivers say. It takes four days to get to Jumla from Surkhet. The four days are the worst nightmares for the drivers. Since the last two months, the condition of the highway has worsened due to incessant rainfall. Dozens of passengers and drivers have been left stranded along the highway as landslides have obstructed the highway in around two dozens places along the highway. 

Locals put the blame on the government for the sorry state of the highway along with the lack of development in the region. They claim that the condition of the road reflects the government’s lack of interest in developing Karnali. “Such highway has forced Karnali residents to confront every time they travel through it,” remarked Khadka.

Most of the drivers spotted on the way shared that that they are forced to continue with such risky occupation for the sake of meeting their family’s need. The journey is so risky that some of the drivers call back home whenever they get through risky turns along the highway. “Updating our family members about it is necessary, for our and our family’s relief. It’s a relief to talk to your family members when you cross through a dread turning,” said Khadka. 

Some drivers that drive along the Karnali Highway shared that their family members keep pressurizing them to quit the job. However, in lack of opportunities, they have been not able to fulfill their requests. 

One of the deadliest landslides this week was seen in Khallagand of Jubitha - 9. The massive debris has not been removed at all. Long queue of stranded vehicles on both sides of the debris has forced many passengers to sit their helplessly, while some others have started walking off. 

Drivers lamented that their suffering while driving along the highway is inexpressible. They have to go on without food and sleep for days at times. “We literally cry. But, there is no way out of it. We have to do it,” Khadka said. “It’s not just us, the passengers live without food for days, we have seen that many times.” 

The pathetic road condition of Karnali highway has affected local businesses in Khalanga. When the transportation service is affected for days, food crisis is normal in the market. “If the transportation route gets blocked, scarcity of even essential commodities is apparent in the market,” said Prem Pyakurel, 30 of Sija village. Pyakurel was walking towards Khalanga with a sack of rice on his shoulder after abandoning his bus that was stranded due to the landslide at Khallangad. 

“Karnali and its residents have remained poor. We have remained porters. Earlier we carried loads through mule routes, now we do it through roadways. That’s the only difference seen,” he added. 
Pyakurel blamed government’s lack of interest in developing Karnali for its resident’s woes. Karnali Highway has not been able to serve its purpose because of the government’s apathy towards it, he said. “Why is the government being a silent spectator while we make such risky journey across the highway everyday?” he questioned. 

Over 300 people have lost their lives in road accident along this road. And considering the condition of the road, Khadka feels that the road will continue to claim more lives in the days ahead. 

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