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The International Writers Magazine: Revolutions in Nepal

Our family witnessed a Revolution
• Lorenza Bacino
In the spring of 2006 my husband was offered two months work in Kathmandu, Nepal, working with an organisation promoting peace and reconciliation. We knew that there was an ongoing Maoist rebellion there, but after talking to people on the ground,  we decided we would not be in any danger and took our two children, aged three and six months for duration of the contract.

After a long and protracted journey, we touched down at the airport in Kathmandu. The city was dimly lit compared to what you see when landing in other capital cities around the world.  It was also pouring and the children were exhausted and fractious. We were ushered into a waiting mini-bus which had a green banner across it in Nepali and English – ‘tourists only’. I was told it was necessary due to the insurgency and the possibility of being stoned by demonstrators. Ours seemed to be the only vehicle on the roads however, and the only lights were from a few small fires on the roadside. I remembered Kathmandu from my trekking days as a lively bustling place and this was not what I had expected. I had a sinking feeling in my stomach, wondering what I had agreed to.

But when I woke up to a glorious sunny morning, the lilac jacaranda trees just outside the window and bright orange and yellow flowers everywhere, I forgot my apprehension from the night before. Our accommodation consisted of a simple, but largish and airy apartment, which was part of a very beautiful hotel complex.  Large windows on all sides gave me a great view with even the Himalayas visible on clear days. All the other hotel rooms were arranged around gorgeous gardens, with an assortment of flowers and trees and even a glistening inviting swimming pool. Nepali carvings adorned the outside edges of the rooms and my surroundings exuded calm and tranquillity. It was aptly named The Summit hotel perched on the top of a hill, and it was to be my family’s home for the next two months.

Summit Hotel On that first morning as I wandered about the grounds, I couldn’t help thinking the place was eerily silent. It was prime trekking season, and this was where enormous numbers of trekkers would come from the world over and plan their Himalayan adventure from this starting point, with the help of the manager, Kit, a former gurkha and  Brit who’d been there for donkey’s years and knew the place inside out. His wife, Moyra, was a very friendly Scot and teacher at the nearby British School. We hooked up pretty quickly and got the lowdown on the current situation.
There were daily demonstrations in the streets of the capital. Strikes were regularly called which meant cars were not permitted to travel. People power or Jan Andolan was the name of the democracy movement which was protesting against King Gyanendra’s direct rule and demanding his abdication.  The SPA or seven-party-alliance, was calling for national strikes and rumour had it the Maoists were about to make it into the capital. Curfews were in place and there were orders to shoot protestors on sight.  And they were shot. The tension was palpable. Revolt

It was uncertain whether we would be able to leave the compound, and questionable as to whether my husband could actually get to where he needed to be for his work, only half a mile away, and whether he could make it back in time for the curfew. Our whole trip was in jeopardy and at one point I thought we’d all just have to give up and head home.

There were very few tourists as a result. Journalists, most of the aid workers and UN staff came daily to the Summit hotel to meet, catch up on the latest news and sit out the curfew. No one knew what the following days would bring and no one could do what they were supposed to do. There were endless exchanges and debate about the situation which I found exciting and stimulating. Everyone had an opinion on what the King might do next. It all seemed a bit unreal given the beautiful surroundings and physical detachment from events in the streets.

The Summit felt a secure and wonderfully peaceful place to be, despite the unrest just beyond the gates. I loved being there and couldn’t get my head around the reality that there were actually food and fuel shortages. Trucks were being prevented from entering the city and so it was only a matter of time before supplies ran out.  But Kit ran a tight ship and knew where to source what was needed to keep the hotel running smoothly. Power cuts were something everyone just lived with and prepared for, and as long as there was diesel for the generator, the guests were never aware of the difficulties. Somehow the water trucks and the diesel trucks arrived and everything kept ticking over nicely. When the supermarkets ran out of stuff and I could no longer forage for our own supplies, we could nip over to the hotel restaurant and virtually get what we wanted. Occasionally things ran out, but the staff members were incredibly stoic in the face of adversity. Unable to get home at the end of a shift, many stayed through the night, using a meeting room as a makeshift dorm with mattresses and bedding on the floor. The next morning they would emerge ready for duty, smiling and friendly as always, delightful with the children and immaculately turned out. Some did not see their own families for the following three weeks as the instability, curfews and protests continued.

My husband and his colleagues managed to get in and out between curfew times to get on with their work, and somehow we ended up staying on throughout. My son and I made friends with one of the hotel taxi drivers, Surendra. He was our regular companion on our jaunts and he would arrive nice and early to pick us up and take us to see the sites before the 11 o’clock curfew. We always felt safe with him. He knew where to go and how to get there to avoid any blockades. My three-year-old son was much happier staying in the car with him and playing, instead of traipsing around the temples and other tourist attractions with me.  And who was I to complain? I got a babysitter and a driver all in one! The baby stayed mostly at the Summit Hotel with the most caring and wonderful ayah (nanny) you could ever hope for. When there were strikes, which meant that no vehicles were allowed on the streets, Kusum would walk from her home on the other side of town to come and help us out. She never failed to turn up and the children and I adored her. She even sourced fresh vegetables for us on her way and cooked the most delicious meals. In the short time we were there she became like one of the family and I was heartbroken to leave her behind at the end of our stay. We have remained in touch ever since.

It was a very intense time for everyone. Because of the curfews, people spent so much time together that strong bonds were made in a very short time. I could hear the riots from the rooftop of the Summit, I could smell the burning rubber from the tyres, I could even see the cars and motorbikes queuing miles for fuel but I felt strangely removed from it all cocooned in my own little paradise at the top of the hill. 

After three weeks the King came out on national TV. We all congregated in one room and watched with baited breath as he announced he was abdicating and returning power to the people. It was a truly historic moment for this tiny country and I will have to remind the children when they are older of how we witnessed a revolution from a hotel rooftop.
© Lorenza Bacino March 2012
lorenzabacino (at)

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