KATHMANDU, Feb 10: Vultures land on the terrace and roofs of the buildings. They fly, dive into the Bishnumati River and return with carrions. The air all around is heavy with foul smell to the extent that a newcomer not used to the reek cannot stand it.
Despite this, the roads on both sides of the river teem with street vendors, barbershops, shoemakers and pedestrians. Kids from the nearby homes play in and around the filthy water as if they are blissfully immune to the stench.
That is what you´d find if you walked the nearly half kilometer stretch of the riverside between Dallu and the Bishnumati bridge that links Teku with Kalilmati.
The locals admit that they live in a hellish environment. Those of the older generation say they still remember the time when the river, free of the filths and garbage, looked lively and beautiful. But the younger generation remembers the river as a place meant for dumping wastes, one that perpetually gives off disgusting odor.
"I was three years old when I came here with my parents. The river was very clean then. We bathed in the river till I was about six years old," said 25-year-old Geeta Pandit, a resident of Dallu.
PHOTO: BIJAY RAI
"Today, I try to avoid the river as much as possible. When I have no option but to walk past the river, I walk as fast as possible as the smell makes me feel like puking," said Pandit.
Pandit thinks locals, the slaughterhouse in the area, the crematorium and the irresponsible administration are equally responsible for the sorry state of Bishnumati.
"While the slaughterhouse dumps bones and other parts of buffalos in the river, the locals openly throw garbage from their homes into the river. Even the rag pickers and garbage collectors have been using the place to throw things they don´t find useful," she added.
Sharada Nepali, a peon at Naradevi hospital, refrains from placing the blame on the government though. She thinks keeping the place clean is the sole responsibility of people living in the area.
"But I just do not understand what kind of people live here. So many times the government and we ourselves have taken initiatives to keep the river clean," said Nepali. "But in the end only a few people seem to be worried about the river, the rest simply do not bother. It´s as if they have grown used to the filth and they don´t care about it. They continue to throw wastes anywhere they like," she fumed.
Bimala Magar, a seventh grader at Pravat Secondary School in Chettrapati, laments that the she has had to put up with the terrible smell everyday as she walks to her school.
"In school we learn about health and hygiene. Here we live in such a place," said Magar, whose mother owns teashop near the Paropakar School. "But things get worse during rainy season. Outsiders cannot enter this area due to the smell."
PHOTO: BIJAY RAI
Rabin Man Shrestha, environment division chief at Kathmandu Metropolitan City, said that there is no immediate plan to address the problem right now though some concrete step may be taken after two months.
"Even earlier efforts have been made to keep the area clean. Last time, the Army was deployed for the purpose and they had really done excellent work. But the problem persists, as without the support of the locals, the authority alone can hardly bring about a lasting change," he said.
A few parks alongside the river are among the several initiatives taken by KMC, which is indeed remarkable. However, the enormous garbage zone seems to have totally overshadowed the small parks. The three parks each built on one ropani of land along the riverbank are mostly deserted and dusty.
But the authority has kept the park out of bounds for people for now after it came to light that the park mainly served as a gathering place for drunkards.
Sarita Basent Bhujel, a housewife
Who will keep the river clean except ourselves, but the locals simply do not care. People must segregate the garbage produced at their homes but they hardly do that. The problem is that the people here find it convenient to throw the wastes in the open and they are not willing to change that habit. I was eight years old when my parents bought a house here. I have never seen this place clean ever since. After I left the place after my marriage, I come here only occasionally. But I make sure not to come during the rainy season. While I am here I worry all the time about my daughter´s health.
Asarfi Thakur, a barber
I have been working in this area for a decade now, therefore, I cannot think of opening a shop somewhere else as I have many regular clients. However, sometimes it becomes too difficult to tolerate the smell. I often go to my village in Sarlahi during the rainy season when the streets here are full of stinking water.
Sonika Maharjan, a housewife
Until the authorities show us the place to throw garbage, people will keep throwing it wherever they like. I have asked all my tenants to hand over their garbage to the garbage collector only. But since there is dirt all around, you never know who is throwing what. The government once in a while brings projects to clean the river, but that´s not a long-term solution. The Army had made the place so beautiful that we loved to sit on the terrace and enjoy the view. But gradually garbage began to accumulate again.