Time seems to have stopped at Kodari and Zhangmu, the once-bustling trading towns on either side of the border between Nepal and China ever since the April earthquake brought boulders the size of houses crashing down here.
Khasa, the Nepali name for Zhangmu, was evacuated four days after the April earthquake, and seven months later the residents and businessmen still haven’t returned to this town with its multi-storey buildings clinging to the mountainside.
Khasa grew as trade between China and Nepal boomed in recent years. Nepali traders brought poultry, pork, vegetables, handicrafts and Buddha statues to Khasa, while Chinese consumer electronics, apparel and construction material flowed in the opposite direction to Nepal. Last year, bilateral trade at Kodari alone totaled Rs 171 billion.
Container trucks used to travel back and forth across the Friendship Bridge all day long. This week, there was only one Chinese border guard and one Nepal Armed Police facing each other at the bridge. The Chinese customs and immigration offices at Zhangmu are closed.
At the bridge, porter Lukman BK has brought a sack of grocery to deliver to a resident of Zhangmu, but the Chinese trader hasn’t shown up yet. That was the only Nepal-China trade going on at the border on Tuesday.
Seven months after the earthquake, most of the landslide debris has been cleared but the road from Kathmandu to Kodari is still rough. The highway on the China side is also badly damaged. There are ruins of homes, bent electric poles, dangling wires all along the roadside from Kathmandu to remind people of the ferocity of the quake, and the Nepal government’s lack of a sense of urgency in reconstruction.
A delegation from parliament’s Development Committee visited Kodari this week and on return to Kathmandu urged the government to get a move on reconstruction of the Arniko Highway and restore trade along this border point.
Most of the towns north of Lamosangu are not safe, there are still boulders coming down, and one injured an elderly woman in Tatopani this week. After the earthquake, half of the original population of Kodari moved out. The ones who remain pass the time playing cards in the sun.
“The earthquake was bad. But the closing of China border makes things even worse,” says Maya Tamang, a shop owner.
Tamang doesn’t understand why the Chinese border remains closed. “The road condition is about the same as before. Trucks can still come through, and yet they don’t open it,” she says.
The Nepal Handicraft Shop stands out on the main street of Tatopani with its blue façade and bright red signboard and the name in Nepali, Chinese, and English. The only occasional customers here since the earthquake are Chinese customs officials and police who come to buy chocolates and wine.
The single restaurant still open near the Nepal customs office has a cracked shelf with instant noodles, Red Bull and Coca Cola cans with Chinese characters. Chyang Dolma Sherpa buys her provisions from the canteen of the Chinese border guards on the other side. Like most others she has no idea why the border is still closed, or how long it will remain so.
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