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Manoa 13.2 (2001) 1-15
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Ghale's Fugitive wife: A Story of the Nepali Highway
Peter J. Karthak
The winter chill of this first week of February 1976 is everywhere in Nepal. It is seven thirty in the morning, and I feel the cold even here--the eastern banks of the Narayani River, barely two hundred meters above sea level--as I wait for the ferry to take me across. But the air already foretells the tropical heat and humidity that will descend in a couple of hours, when the hot sun pierces the thick mist and blazes with vengeance.
I arrived half an hour ago, after my Land Rover broke down. Now I have to hitchhike my way to the British camp at Barghat, which means throughout the day I will be in the hazy furnace of this highway. I will spend a week in Barghat, which is situated between Narayangarh and Butwal, dispatching construction materials, plants, and equipment to the project site at Bharatpur. The goods comprise iron rods, cement bags, wire nets, and steel frames, as well as some forklifts, dump trucks, and theodolites. I will also dispatch Land Rovers, crushing plants, and corrugated sheets. I am a young Nepali administrative officer for a Thai contractor, and my highway construction company from Bangkok had placed bids on these items. We won all the tenders. It will be my job from tomorrow on to send these goods to our project site at Bharatpur, about two miles from here.
I am standing on the last of the lush, rocky, and precipitous Himalayan foothills, at the final serpentine bend of the glacial river from the Annapurna Himalaya. The narrowest and deepest gorge of the river, it is the ideal place for the ferry to ply back and forth. In the swirling winter mist, I see the deep aquamarine color of the water at my feet. The river's vortexes and whirlpools are the most dangerous in this section. A few feet downriver are huge boulders and rocks that break up the waves of the ferry path and separate the Himalayan foothills from tropical Nepal. In a sudden sweep, the heights of the Himalayas surrender to the Gangetic plains, beginning with the northern ramparts of sleepy and misty Narayangarh. The local people say that this same fault prevents the salmon and carp of the nearby hills and mountains from venturing downriver. And south of these boulders are the realms of the fifty-kilo mahseer fish and playful dolphins. The [End Page 1] river flowing alongside Narayangarh is placid and docile, and when the mist parts now and then, the distant town emerges like the subject of an Impressionist painting.
The day before yesterday, I flew from Kathmandu to Bharatpur Airport. Then I went to Narayangarh to meet my subcontractor. He and I contracted forty-two trucks to drive to Barghat to start bringing all the British goods we purchased to our project site. Last night, my contractor and I went to a new "go-go" restaurant and bar in Narayangarh, which is now full of personnel from multinational contracting firms and consulting companies. We met many of these foreigners in the bar: Indian and Chinese engineers, American Peace Corps volunteers, Canadian and Japanese consultants, Thai, South Korean, and Filipino contractors. They all crowded in the Don't Pass Me By Restaurant & Bar, next to the Hungry Eye Disco. We drank Khukuri Rum and Star Beer while listening to many old Motown records and the songs of Lovin' Spoonful.
Down here it is a world without women. No wives or girlfriends accompany their men to these remote corners. I spent the night in an air-conditioned mobile home at the U.S. AID Camp, which stands in sharp contrast to the wild green mansions of Nepal's tropical lowlands. I went to bed after leafing through a recent issue of Playboy with a naked Barbie Benton spread out over many pages.
At nine o'clock the ferrymen arrive. They tow and adjust the ferry's overhead cables from one side of...