Asia

The high-wire bridges of Nepal

The idea of inching along wires high above broad ravines in the mountains of Nepal seems like the stuff of adventure tourism. But for Nepalese villagers, the experience has long ceased to be a novelty.

Many villagers have to endure a perilous journey along the high wires just to get their produce to market, see friends and relatives, or even simply to get to school.

Accidents in and around the villages of Charaudi and Jogimara have bolstered demands for better bridges to cross the often fearsome Trishuli river, as the BBC's Surendra Phuyal reports.

Image copyright Laxmi Ngakhusi

Charaudi and Ghyalchok are villages about 75km (47 miles) west of Kathmandu, separated by the Trishuli river. The main way to cross from one village to the other is by using the high wires. There are nearly a dozen in the area, many of which are little more than a flimsy cable with a ramshackle wooden box attached.

Image copyright Laxmi Ngakhusi

Some of the high wires have been improved recently, either by adding supporting pillars or by upgrading the boxes.

Image copyright Laxmi Ngakhusi

However, what the villagers really want is a proper suspension bridge. So far, one has been built in the area, but many villagers still opt for the shorter route using the high wire.

The villagers have good reason to demand safer crossings. On 27 June 2011, five people from Ghyalchok village died when a wire bridge collapsed. Mother-of-four Sanu Kanchhi Gaire was among those who lost loved ones: "I was coming home around midday when my neighbours told me my husband Ranjeet got swept away after the wire bridge collapsed. Then I lost consciousness."

The wife of 39-year-old Kumar Shrestha (L) was another who died in the tragedy: "We are used to using the wire crossing, but it's scary. When the river is flooded, I try to avoid it and take the suspension bridge. It's a longer route but safe. When it's flooded, I get scared, naturally, because five people lost their lives. I have children. If something happens to me they will be orphaned."

Image copyright Laxmi Ngakhusi

The villagers have many stories of near-misses. Sanu Kanchhi Thapa (L) says her son Suraj was involved in the same accident, but he survived and managed to swim ashore.

Punmaya Gurung, from the village of Gordi some 10km downstream from Charaudi, says she has asked the government for a bridge, but there has so far been no movement. She says of the high wire: "It hurts, we get blisters, sometimes it cuts and in winter our hands bleed."

This unidentified man of Ghyalchok is more fortunate as his route to sell beans at the market takes him over the suspension bridge.

The government says it simply doesn't have the resources to build all of the bridges demanded by the villagers. As a result, youngsters like 13-year-old Hitmaya Chepang will continue to winch themselves across the river every day just to get to school. "It's easy while coming to school, when we are energetic and fresh," she says. "But while going home, it's hard, and takes a lot of effort to get to the other side."

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