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The photograph is from April 26, 2019. It is a scene of destruction, attempts at reconstruction, and lost hopes. On the left is the bridge over the Liping river; on the right, the Bhote Koshi river which flows down from China; center-right is a white tarpaulin covering the final work on a new Friendship Bridge to replace one destroyed in 2016. The bazaar that stands between the two bridges was heavily damaged by two unrelated but highly destructive events in 2015 and 2016.
In the top right-hand corner is part of the once-thriving town of Zhangmu in China; since 2015, it has been deserted. Close to the river on the right is a digger and two tents. They belong to employees of the China Railway 14th Bureau Group, deployed under the auspices of ‘The China Aid Araniko Highway Repair and Maintenance Project’. By the date of the photograph, most of their work was complete.
Early in this year’s monsoon, the area again suffered extensive damage which, along with other damage, destroyed the Liping Bridge, cutting vehicular movement across the frontier. All of this is elaborated on in this article, which aims to provide a tentative answer to the question posed in the sub-head.
Three names are in common use to describe the area on the Nepal side of the bridge. Historically, it has been referred to as Kodari, which is the name of a nearby village. Kodari is part of Tatopani which was a Village Development Committee up until 2017, and is now a Rural Municipality. The area of shops and small hotels leading up to the bridge is known as Liping bazaar, also named after an adjacent village. The road leading up to the bridge from the south is called the Araniko Highway.
The Bhote Koshi river flows down from Tibet through a steep canyon where it is known as the Boqu River. A little further south it becomes the Sun Koshi. In geological terms, the area is referred to as the Poiqu/Bhote Koshi/Sun Koshi Watershed. It is highly susceptible to landslides along its entire length.
Two significant ones on the Nepal side in recent memory are worth noting at the outset. On July 22, 1996 at Larcha, a major landslide killed 54 people, destroyed 16 houses, and swept away 150 meters of the Araniko highway and a highway bridge. On August 2, 2014, just south of Bahrabise, a very large landslide killed 155 people, completely destroyed 120 houses, and washed away one kilometer of the Araniko highway which remained closed for three months. This landslide was a major factor in speeding up work to bring the Rasuwa-Kyirong crossing into operation in late 2014.
I have long maintained a keen interest in developments on Nepal’s northern border and particularly on changes at Rasuwa Gadhi and Kodari, the two historic border crossings for trade between Kathmandu and Lhasa.
The first sentence of an article in The Kathmandu Post, dated September 20, 2020, neatly summed up the state of the road south from Liping Bridge as it was towards the end of last year’s monsoon: “The Bahrabise-Tatopani section of the Kodari Highway, a major road that links Nepal with China, is in a dilapidated condition.”
Readers unfamiliar with the area south of Friendship Bridge will find this screenshot from Google Earth helpful.
This extract from The Kathmandu Post article highlights many enduring problems with this road. It is an essential prelude to what follows:
The 26 km-long road stretch has been damaged by several monsoon-induced disasters this year. The road has sunk down in various places as the flooded Bhotekoshi river continues to erode its embankments. During the monsoon, vehicular movement along the road section gets obstructed on a regular basis by numerous landslides
China Railway Construction Group Company had repaired the Baseri-Liping road section, which was damaged in the devastating 2015 earthquakes, two years ago. The highway that was constructed in 1960 with the grant assistance of China is the oldest road connecting Nepal with the northern neighbour
“The fragile topography weakened by the 2015 earthquakes has led to the occurrence of various landslides along the Bahrabise-Tatopani section,” said Bijaya Kumar Mahato, chief at the Charikot Division Road Office. According to the office, frequent landslides disrupt the vehicular movement at Chaku, Jhirpu, Mahabhir, Sirese, Jambu to Dashkilo, Duguna and Liping in the rainy season.
A technician preferring anonymity said the asphalt concrete has come off in many areas of the road section, as the Chinese company used substandard construction materials while repairing the road. The road started caving in at several places, as the road support was not repaired properly, he added.
Bad news on the state of the road this year came early in the monsoon. On June 6, Himalsanchar carried a report, sourced to Onlinekhabar, stating that all movement from Friendship Bridge south was stopped because of severe damage to the Liping Bridge.
The article was headed by these two dramatic images.
It may be significant that further details on the extent of the damage came in a report, dated June 24, from Sicomedia, a Chinese media company. It stated:
After the incessant rains damaged the Liping Bridge on the China border and Araniko Highway, the goods imported from China are carried by local people to the Tatopani customs office. “After the bridge was collapsed by the flood of Liping river, oxygen cylinders, medical supplies, apples, garlic and other goods brought from China are being carried by coolies to the other side of bridge,” said Raj Kumar Poudel, the chairman of Bhotekoshi Village Municipality.
Compare and contrast these two photos:
The first is of the Liping Bridge, again taken on April 26, 2019. One can see clear signs of work by the Chinese contractor to improve the supports on both sides of the bridge.
The following photo is taken from the Sicomedia article and shows the source and extent of the damage.
The next day, on June 25, this dramatic video clip made the source and extent of the damage strikingly clear [Sound on!]
The next published report on this damage came on July 14, with an article in The Kathmandu Post headed, ‘Overland commerce suffers due to damaged highway’. It gave some concerning detail but was reasonably positive about the prospects for repair:
An official of the Division Road Office, Charikot, which oversees the roads in Dolakha and Sindhupalchok districts, said it would repair the road at Kodari Bazaar in two-three days for temporary use while it would take around 15 days to repair the damage at Liping.
Bijaya Kumar Mahato, divisional engineer at the Division Road Office, said it would take some time to repair the road as the portion washed away by the Bhotekoshi River has to be filled to bring it to the original level, which is about 60 metres above the water.
“As there is a village containing around 100 houses just above the road where the damage occurred, locals didn’t allow the hillside to be cut to widen the road fearing landslides,” said Mahato. “So we are trying to bring the washed out part of the road to the original level by filling the gap with boulders.”
According to Dipendra Shrestha, chairperson of ward number 2 of Bhotekoshi Rural Municipality, there is a real risk for the village if the hillside is cut, and it is natural for locals to be concerned.”
Given the fragile state of the steep slope above this road, the villagers mentioned have every reason to be very concerned.
The next media report appeared on August 6, under the heading of, ‘Kodari Highway section near Tatopani border collapses, disrupting vehicular movement’. It gave disturbing news on the nature and extent of the damage, and the prospects for repair:
With the highway section rendered impassable, dozens of container trucks have been stranded in the Miteripul area.
Vehicular movement between Bhotekoshi Rural Municipality in Sindhupalchok district and the China border has been disrupted since past one week after the road surface started caving in at places like Liping, Kodari and Ghatte.
The highway section was damaged by the rainfall in mid-June and was repaired a month later. But the repaired highway lasted only for a few days before the surface started to develop cracks and cave in.
“Workers and technicians are making efforts to repair the damaged section of the highway,” said Bijaya Kumar Mahato, chief at the Division Road Office in Charikot.
The road repair work, however, has not made much progress due to continuous rainfall and landslides.
Mahato said rainfall and landslides have also put the settlements in Upper Kodari and Chauki Danda at risk.
Every monsoon season, the highway section gets damaged by landslides and erosion caused by rain-swollen Bhotekoshi river.
“The land keeps on caving in near Liping bridge and along the road in Kodari area. The Tatopani border point is also yet to come into operation because the highway is not safe for vehicles,” said Dipendra Kumar Shrestha, the ward chairman of Bhotekoshi Rural Municipality-2.
Narad Gautam, the officer at Tatopani Dry port and Customs, said that dozens of container trucks have been stranded in the Miteripul area as the highway section has been rendered impassable.
To understand why it would be wrong to ignore such reports with a dismissive remark about it being the season for such news, some background is worth giving.
My first article on this subject, ‘All change at Rasuwa Gadhi’, was published on March 31, 2014, in HIMALAYA’, the Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies.
The title was chosen because I had recently taken some photos of the early stages of the construction by the Chinese of a new reinforced concrete bridge over the river at Rasuwa Gadhi but the article also gives details on the history of the Kodari crossing.
The article has been downloaded over 1,900 times by people from all over the world. It is gratifying to know that so many are interested in this small aspect of the history of Nepal, including why King Mahendra rejected China’s advice to build the first road from Lhasa to Kathmandu via Rasuwa Gadhi, insisting instead on China’s second preference via Kodari.
I included the article as a chapter in my book, Essays on Nepal, Past and Present which was published in the autumn of 2018. To take account of the impact of the 2015 earthquake, and other occurrences, I took the opportunity to add an addendum.
Part 1 of the addendum covered the changes that had taken place at Rasuwa Gadhi in the four years since the article was published while Part 2 dealt with significant changes that had occurred in the area of the Kodari crossing. I repeat Part 2 here with some additional links added, mainly to pass on some pertinent new imagery that was not available to me in 2014.
The story up to 2018
The area around the Zhangmu/Kodari crossing, and the approach roads to it from both sides, suffered severe damage in the April 2015 earthquake. The image below, taken from the Chinese side of the border, shows large scars on the slope above the Liping bazaar. These were caused by the debris flow, including some very large rocks, which hurtled down the steep hillside into the bazaar during the time the earthquake was active.
Images of the earthquake damage in Liping bazaar can also be seen in this one-minute Chinese news report. It is well worth a look.
Over three years later, cross-border trade and movement had not resumed; nor did it seem that there were any immediate prospects of it starting. The bridge suffered damage, the extent of which was unclear at the time, and the large town of Zhangmu above the crossing, the point of transhipment of goods on the Chinese side, moved 1.5 metres down the steep slope on which it was built. The inhabitants, both Han Chinese and ethnic Tibetans, were evacuated and relocated to Shigatse, 475 kms away, to live in a new and semi-permanent enclave known as Zhangmu Mall.
An even greater catastrophic event, known as the Bhote Koshi flood, hit the area on the evening of July 5 or 6, 2016. A report in The Himalayan Times, dated, July 10, 2016, ‘Bhote Koshi flood adds to the woes of Tatopani earthquake victims’, gives a clear description of the destruction:
The deadly earthquake of last year had devastated Liping and Tatopani Bazaar of Sindhupalchowk. Before these places could recover, flood in the Bhote Koshi River has left these towns so battered that reconstruction seems impossible.
The flood in the Bhote Koshi River triggered by heavy rain across the border in China from last Tuesday night has wreaked havoc in Tatopani and Liping bazaars. Before these places could recover, flood in the Bhote Koshi River has left these towns so battered that reconstruction seems impossible. Of the 200 houses in Tatopani and Liping bazaars, the Bhote Koshi flood has washed away 67 houses till today noon, police said.”
More photos of the extensive damage appeared in an article in Republica on July 13, 2016, ‘Liping Bazaar turns lifeless again’.
The photos in the article are well worth a look. The text states that, “the flood washed away over two dozen houses in Liping alone. Dozens of other houses are under risk due to serious damage to the soil. The popular bus park at the center of the bazar is no longer intact.” The article also reports that the flood and landslides destroyed settlements on the Chinese side of the border. A local man is quoted as saying that Chinese officials had told him that, “the road has been swept away and parts of it have fallen into the river. Buildings, parking and shelters for waiting passengers have disappeared.” The photos in the article show extensive damage to buildings on the Chinese side of the bridge.
A further article in Republica, dated July 13, 2016, ‘After Bhotekoshi’, explains the likely cause:
Though the exact cause of the flood is yet to be established, the huge volume of water and debris brought down suddenly by the river points to the likelihood that a landslide dam upstream may have breached. Satellite images have indicated heavy rainfall in the upstream areas, which could have triggered a landslide in an area rendered geologically weak following the earthquakes. Information passed on by the Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, suggests that a heavy rainfall of about 85 mm in 24 hours caused a landslide in the area near bridge No. 707 in the Zhangzhangbo valley blocking the river and accumulating water behind it. The subsequent outburst of the landslide dam caused the flood.
[In preparing this new article, I am grateful to Professor Dave Petley, from the University of Sheffield and editor of The Landslide Blog, for drawing my attention to this short abstract which confirms that the 2016 flood was indeed the result of a glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF): click here.]
Subina Shrestha’s excellent report for Al Jazeera on October 1, 2017, vividly brings to life all the above.
Two screenshots from this report admirably capture the scenes of utter devastation caused by the power and ferocity of the event known as the Bhote Koshi flood. The houses near the slope took the brunt of the earthquake’s destruction but, just over a year later, most of those overlooking the river were swept away by the forces unleashed by the flood.
This is how I concluded my 2018 addendum:
In sum, the prospect for this crossing resuming its dominant role as an international crossing between Nepal and China looks bleak even though, on March 15, 2018, China and Nepal signed an agreement which included a Chinese pledge to help with ‘Post-disaster Recovery for Tatopani Frontier Inspection Station Project’. In reporting this news, an article in Republica, “China to reopen Tatopani border point”, quoted the Chinese ambassador as saying that China had been making positive efforts to reopen the Tatopani transit point but: “unfortunately, given the frequent occurrence of geographical disasters, facilities and roads surrounding Zhangmu port are further deteriorated. But the Chinese government will carry out positive work of disaster treatment and road repair on the Chinese side of the port.”
This commitment from China, though sounding somewhat limited in scope, will be warmly welcomed but the geological challenges remain very great. The 40kms section of the road from Balephi to the border follows an alignment that crosses a series of old landslides. New landslides are common, causing blockages and a need for year-round repair.
The following extract from a 2009 PhD thesis, ‘Landscape, Livelihoods and Risk: Community Vulnerability to Landslides in Nepal’ by Katie Oven, referring to the last 15 kms of the route, gives a graphic description of the geology of the area:
The roadside settlements of Chaku, Larcha and Kodari are located along a stretch of highway deemed to be particularly problematic due to landsliding, characterised by large, deep-seated failures, with active gully erosion above and below the road, combined with high rates of river incision. While the level of landslide hazard can be seen to vary along the highway, in a number of areas the hazard is acute, with the occurrence of landslides characterised by high movement velocities and long run-out distances, often from a distal source area. These events sourced higher in the catchment, are commonly not anticipated. rarely directly witnessed, and hence have often catastrophic impacts down slope.
This was written before the earthquake. These slopes are now much more unstable and will be for years to come.
In conclusion, even before the earthquake, there were signs that the Chinese were going to give top priority to the new Rasuwa road crossing. One assumes this was partly driven by the planned arrival of the railway in Kyirong in 2020, (now not anticipated until 2024/2025) but the major geological challenges surrounding the Friendship Bridge crossing must also have been a factor. The Rasuwa route was, of course, the one the Chinese first proposed to King Mahendra in 1961. We must wait and see.
What happened next?
The most important happening was that — notwithstanding the cautious note struck by the ambassador about the frequent occurrence of geographical disasters causing further deterioration in the facilities and roads around Zhangmu port — China delivered on its precise promises with impressive speed.
The opening of the new Friendship Bridge
It is instructive to compare and contrast how the Chinese and Nepal media covered the opening of the rebuilt Friendship Bridge. With the former, a warm welcome but many cautionary notes were sounded; with the latter, unbridled optimism that the good times were about to return.
A good place to start is this long article in CGTN News, headed, ‘Largest China-Nepal port set to reopen’. It was published on May 28, 2019, on the day before the opening ceremony.
There is a link to a two-minute video at the top of the article that is well worth watching. From the 00.20 point, there is good imagery of the destruction caused on the Nepal side of the border by the 2015 earthquake. This leads to an interview with Dipendra Shrestha, the local ward chair, who speaks very positively of the prospects for his village and the whole immediate border area after the bridge comes back into operation.
The interviewer says that the good news is that people started to come back about six months ago after hearing that the port was going to reopen. Dipendra Shrestha says, as correctly recorded in the article, that large numbers of people have come back after they heard that the bridge was rebuilt: “They are sure they can live here after the border reopens. They can make their businesses here, they can study here. They can do everything here”.
At the 00.57 point there is a 10-second clip of the 2015 earthquake hitting the Nepal side of the bridge. [Ignore what the commentary says] Starting at 01.17, at the start of the interview with a Chinese Immigration Police Officer, there are views of damage caused on the Chinese side. This leads into [at 01.27] powerful imagery of huge rocks and large debris raining down the steep hillside into the bazaar on the Nepal side of the bridge. This is worth watching as a reminder of the grim reality of the threat and dangers posed by exposed steep slopes in landslide-prone areas. At 02.00, there is this dramatic image of the ghost town of Zhangmo featuring, “Immigration police officers attending morning training at their station in Zhangmu, China-Nepal border who after the earthquake and the evacuation of all residents of Zhangmu to Shigatze, 450kms away, had stayed for four years in isolation at the port preparing for the reopening.”
This 21-minute video broadcast on the day of the opening is very drawn out. There are a few interesting parts and I will offer guidance.
Starting at 05.49 there are good views of the new bridge and the steepness of the escarpment on the Nepal side. At 06.00, the interviewer makes the point that “the port is not going to fully reopen. It will be open for cargo trucks on a limited basis because the surrounding mountainous terrain, disrupted by the earthquake… We still need time to evaluate the surrounding terrain and to evaluate if it is safe to make more use of this port. And right now it is only open for freight.”
There is another good view of the work done on the bridge at 12.10. There is little consequence said in the rest of the video.
In the last two paragraphs of this Xinhuanet article headed, ‘China Focus: Border port reopens between China, Nepal’, dated May 29, 2019, Li Zhaoping, director of the port management office, stated that until the end of 2019, only general trade and small-scale border trade are allowed to pass the port during the trial operation period.
“If the trial operation is successful, general trade and small border trade can be carried out on a regular basis. And after ensuring the geological conditions of the port are stable and safe, other functions will be restored gradually in due course,” Li added.
The quotations from the Chinese officials all echo the words spoken by the Chinese ambassador in Kathmandu on March 15, 2018 but few journalists in Kathmandu seemed to take any notice. On the day of the opening of the bridge, The Kathmandu Post published an article headed, ‘Nepal-China trade set to surge with Tatopani Customs re-opening’, but it quickly became very clear that there would be no surge. From the outset the Chinese authorities restricted the flow of trade and insisted on tight bureaucratic procedures for the trade that did occur, much to the great annoyance of the Nepali traders.
On August 10, 2019, The Kathmandu Post again published an article, headed, ‘China’s focus on Rasuwagadhi-Kerung puts Tatopani-Khasa border in the shadows’.
For ease of reference it is worth giving this extended extract from the article since it sets out clearly the basis of the traders' complaints:
When the Tatopani-Khasa border point reopened on May 29, after remaining closed for four years following the 2015 earthquake, it gave hope for revitalised bilateral trade with China. After all, before the devastating quake-damaged border infrastructure, the border point was a major mainland route for trade with China, with the Tatopani Customs Office collecting over Rs15 million in revenue daily.
But expectations were short-lived. Movement across the border point has been negligible over the months since it reopened. Rather, the Rasuwagadhi-Kerung customs point, which was being used as an alternative route after the closure of the Tatopani-Khasa point, seems to be getting more traction.
Multiple traders the Post spoke with say Nepal has not been able to make a push to once again make the Tatopani border a vibrant trading point, largely because of China’s focus on the Rasuwagadhi-Kerung route
Though China has not said anything explicitly about its border point preferences, the stringent regulations put in place for cross-border trading via Tatopani-Khasa say everything, according to traders.
“Nepali importers are facing a difficult time complying with China’s security norms,” Hem Rawal, president of the Nepal Foreign Trade Association, told the Post. “The Chinese side has apparently put in place security concerns due to which the pace of trade through Tatopani has been slow.”
According to traders, the Chinese government has been allowing cargo movement via Tatopani under stringent regulations. Only a handful of containers have entered Nepal in the two months since the border point reopened. Until a month ago, only five trucks had entered Nepal. Since then, new trucks have barely made it through.
In contrast, there has been a massive rise in the movement of cargo via the Rasuwagadhi-Kerung border, according to Bacchu Poudel, president of the Nepal Trans Himalayan Border Commerce Association. On average, over 30 containers make their way into Nepal through the trade point every day.
Traders are now concerned that the Nepal government’s apathy for fully opening the Tatopani border and China’s cumbersome regulations for trade will direct all trade towards Rasuwagadhi, even though it is a more difficult route and is farther away from Kathmandu. Kerung is situated at a distance of 190km from Kathmandu while the distance between Tatopani and Kathmandu is 115 km.
“Apart from the distance, road access to Rasuwagadhi is very poor, which leads to high transportation costs for traders,” said Poudel.
Though the Tatopani-Khasa route was reopened with much pomp and ceremony, traders say the construction of the Kodari Highway is not on par with what the Chinese had committed to. The dry port too has failed to fully come into operation.
According to Poudel, the Chinese have been allowing Nepali truckers to load and unload Nepal-bound goods only from Lhasa, which is around 600km from the Nepal-China border point in Khasa.
“This is a clear indication that neither Nepal nor China is willing to fully operationalise the [Tatopani] trade route,” said a member of Nepal-China Chamber of Commerce on condition of anonymity.”
Similar articles have kept appearing, though this next one, dated February 5, 2021 widened the charge against China as indicated in its heading: ‘Traders say China imposing ‘undeclared blockade’’. The article accuses China of slowing down trade at both Rasuwa Gadhi and Kodari though the latter was still bearing the brunt of the restrictions. There is only a limited mention of the possibility of Covid being a factor.
Assessing the validity of the Chinese ambassador’s concern
This last post from The Kathmandu Post broadens the discussion to an assessment of the totality of Nepal-China trade, which would require another article to address properly. On the narrower issue of how and why trade across the Kodari crossing was so restricted after the new Friendship Bridge was opened, I can see no justification for the accusations made against China by the Nepali traders. The March 15, 2018 warning from the Chinese ambassador could not have been clearer. What she said, she clearly meant, and she wanted all in Kathmandu to take note. After the opening of the bridge, China intended to proceed cautiously for the reasons she gave: facilities and roads around Zhangmu have been deteriorating because of the frequency of geographical occurrences. These last images are intended to indicate that the ambassador had a sound basis for her concerns.
As a prelude to the two photographs shown above, the text of the reference quoted states:
There is a worry of additional landslides and rockfalls after the Nepal earthquake, especially of large ones, that might block river valleys and impound water. Indeed, both the number and range of collapse and rockfall have clearly increased in the year's rainy season following the earthquake. (Chengcan Zhou, personal communication, 2015) noted that before the earthquake, collapses and rockfalls only occurred on steep hill slopes on both sides of the Boqu River north of Zhangmu Town, but now they take place along the entire highway in this area. He reports that the increased hazard has caused many road closures and damaged vehicles but no casualties as yet because the town was evacuated after the earthquake. The increased hazards are mainly distributed nearby along the highway between Nyalam to Zhangmu where 18 major landslide groups were identified after the earthquake by the National Disaster Reduction Center of the Ministry of Civil Affairs using high-resolution remote sensing images.
All of Zhangmu is located on a group of old landslides (Figs. 4a, 7a, and 7b). Discontinuous tension fissures, which are tens to hundreds of meters long, about 10 cm wide and 2 to 4 m deep, were found at its upper edge and on its sides after the earthquake (Fig. 8a and b). These fissures indicate the possibility of the failure of the entire landslide group.
The two images above show new and old collapses and landslides on both banks of the Boqu river near Zhangmu. The first shows the east bank and the second the West Bank. The yellow lines show the boundaries of old collapses and landslides. The red triangles show new collapses during the 2015 earthquake.
Finally, anyone who has ever travelled down the steep and winding road from the Tibetan plateau to Zhangmu will appreciate how vulnerable it is to earthquakes and landslides. It was rebuilt some years ago but suffered heavy damage in the 2015 earthquake. The long section below where the GLOF outburst hit was also heavily damaged in 2016. These three final images show that the northern approach to Zhangmo with its long and winding rapid descent from the Tibetan plateau through a steep gorge is probably more vulnerable to what the ambassador referred to as geological occurrences than the approach from the Nepal side even allowing for its well-identified vulnerabilities.
My sympathy is with the long-suffering people from the area, from the villages of Liping, Kodari, Tatopani, and others. They suffered cruelly in 2015 and 2016. When they saw the road being repaired, the new dry port being built and the construction of a new bridge, it was perfectly natural for them to return in the belief that it would soon be like the old days, with jobs and business opportunities for all. No such sympathy goes to those in Kathmandu who ignored the ambassador’s stark warning when she signed the agreement for China to do the work mentioned, and who were responsible for building up the totally unreasonable belief that trade across Friendship Bridge would soon surge back to the pre-earthquake level.
There was no basis for such high levels of expectation. As I stated in the conclusion of my 2018 addendum, even before the earthquake, there were the clearest possible signs that China was going to give top priority to the new Rasuwa road crossing at the expense of Kodari. I assumed this was partly driven by the planned imminent arrival of the railway to Kyirong but the major geological challenges surrounding the Friendship Bridge crossing, from north and south, must also have been a factor. The damage caused by the 2015 earthquake and the 2016 Bhote Koshi flood could have been taken as reinforcing the decision. The early days of trading after the reopening of the new bridge at Kodari could also be taken as a further clear sign from China that in the future Rasuwa Gadhi was to be China’s crossing of choice for trade with Nepal. Nepal will have to learn to live with this.
So, to the question posed in the sub-head: Is maintaining the Kodari crossing linking Nepal and China as an international highway a lost cause? No, not in the sense of it being degraded to local trading only. In strategic terms, just one of anything is dangerous. China will want to retain Kodari as a fallback option in case there are serious problems at Rasuwa Gadhi. At some stage over the coming weeks or months, a way will be found to reconnect the road to Friendship Bridge. [A recent amendment to the Kodari entry on Wikipedia spoke of the crossing being shut until the end of 2021].
However, China will know, as Nepal should, that the conditions which caused the problem in the first place will increase in intensity and frequency in the coming years. How to plot a way forward given this new reality is something that should jointly engage the best brains in both countries.
Addendum, September 21, 2021
Since I wrote the article, it has emerged that during the immediate heavy onslaught of the monsoon in early June, a section of the road running from the Liping Khola bridge through Kodari bazaar up to Friendship Bridge was severely damaged. The river cut in and removed a section of the road completely, causing the collapse of some houses.
These first two photos explain the significance of what happened and why.
The photo above, taken from the Chinese side of the Bhote Koshi khola, shows the aftermath of the April 2015 earthquake. It can be seen that the houses on the far side of the road were heavily damaged — with many totally destroyed — by the debris flow, including some very large rocks, which hurtled down the steep hillside into the bazaar during the time the earthquake was active. However, the photo also shows that many of the houses on the riverside survived, albeit with some damage.
The above photo was taken after the catastrophic event known as the Bhote Koshi flood, which hit the area on the evening of July 5-6, 2016. On this occasion, most of the houses overlooking the river were swept away and the few houses which remained were left in a highly perilous state. They were left even more vulnerable after the heavy monsoon rains in early June this year caused the river to cut into the road and sweep away a section of it, thus cutting communications between the lower and upper part of the bazaar.
This explains the above photograph taken from an article, dated June 24, in Sicomedia, a Chinese media company, which I quoted from in the article. The photo shows that porters had to go into the hills to get around the problem of the lack of a road. Recent photos show porters walking straight down to the Liping Khola bridge so a path for pedestrians now exists through the bazaar.
In a recent article on the BBC Nepali Service, dated September 1, 2021, Chief of the Division Road Office, Charikot, Bijay Kumar Mahato, indicated that reconstruction of the road within the bazaar was difficult:
“There is a risk of houses collapsing as soon as they hit the wall. We finally opened the road after discussing it with the locals. But it was not sustainable. But we are rebuilding. Then three houses collapsed and people left their homes.”
Mahato further said that it was necessary to build a structure to protect the road in the river but it had not been completed due to the high water level.
A look at the steep slope rising immediately behind the back of the houses shows that there is limited room to maneuver to reconstruct a road through the bazaar. As with the bridge over the Liping Khola, it may take a little time.
I am hugely grateful to my friend, Dr Galen Murton, of James Madison University, for sharing his excellent photographs with me and giving me permission to use them in this article.
Sam Cowan Sam Cowan is a retired British general who knows Nepal well through his British Gurkha connections and extensive trekking in the country over many years.
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