July 02, 2009
We spent four full days in Jiri plus the 2 full travel days there and back. I had been there 15 years ago and was surprised both at how much things had changed and how much things had stayed the same. Jiri is an amazing place 60 miles east of Kathmandu. It used to be on the route to Everest before helicopters took trekkers all the way to the mountain. The Swiss saw Jiri as a wonderful place to invest in and built a hospital and a cheese factory. Over the years it has grown quite a bit. Many years ago, my sister started a project there to study infectious diseases. I am sure there is a lot more to it, but it is way over my head. She still goes out there to help manage the project, and has funding to continue another few years with various other projects.
In the fifteen years since my last visit, the town has grown immensely. There are so many more houses along the road down to the town at the bottom of the valley. There are many new businesses that have started to buy supplies, house visitors, and more. Its really incredible to see that. What hasn’t changed all that much is the basic infrastructure. But that isn’t limited to Jiri as you can see the same lack of progress around the entire country. Most of the homes in Jiri have a single bare electric lightbulb for light. Power goes out at various times throughout the day. Kitchens are basic with one or 2 portable gas burners. Toilets are often outside with limited or no running water.
My sister’s clinic is quite advanced by local standards I think. The bathroom is actually indoors. There is a tap in the bathroom that can be used to fill the bucket required to flush the toilet. Its a crouch over kind of toilet, but that is standard in many countries. Whats really amazing for us is that there is now an shower in that room. Its not a Western shower, but it does occasionally get some warm water for a few minutes so if you time it right, it can be almost perfect. You should not expect that kind of luxury in most lodgings in the area. They will all promise it, but you rarely get it. The clinic is also unusual in that when the power goes out, there are generators that can kick in to keep things going.
The ground floor of the clinic is used for health care activities. There is a small office to do initial diagnosis, a back room for more private assessing and an x-ray room used for some of the bones studies. When more light or room is needed, they just step outside into the sunlight, assuming its not raining. While I was there, they needed to set a badly broken arm someone came in with, so that was done on the driveway. Thankfully I broke no bones during my stay, because I would probably not been man enough to stand it.
The next floor up is the living quarters and lab area. There are two rooms for guests who stay over. My sister took the front room and I took the back for a couple nights. The back room was also the main living room. The lab is on that floor, as well as a few small offices and the bathroom. One more floor up is the kitchen and dining area.
Dining at the clinic is wonderful though a bit repetitive. Morning is a fantastic spicy omelette, some curried vegetables, and roti. Lunch is some Magi-noodles (I think they are the local brand of Ramen Noodles) mixed in with fresh onions, peppers, and other vegs. And Dinner is rice, yellow dal, curried veg, and something really spicy that I couldn’t handle. Repeat that menu every day and that was dining in Jiri. The big change over the last time I was here was the variety of the available vegetables. Pumpkin, cauliflower, and more are all grown locally. And they use not only the pumpkin, but also the pumpkin greens which taste wonderful. Groceries are easily available so there is less need to store in-house for several days like before.
Since there are several projects going on, mostly by researchers at my sisters institution, they needed a second building. So just up the street is another house where I stayed the nights I wasn’t in the main clinic. The benefit to me was that this had a real bed. It wasn’t very comfortable, but it gave me a bit more space to spread out. Now let me be clear. I don’t mind roughing it so an uncomfy bed is OK. But a ThermaRest pad on the ground would be an upgrade. Its hard to believe my sister stays here 3 or 4 times a year up to 2 or 3 weeks at a time.
But when staying out in Jiri, you have to plan a significant amount of time for travel. Although i mentioned it was 60 miles away, that is a full days journey. It really does take 8 or 9 hours to drive that distance. And the road is rough. VERY rough. Often it is a single lane with huge buses flying toward you from the opposite direction. On every bend you have to honk many times to let the other driver know that you are coming and they do the same (usually). If you run in to each other, the only escape is to fly off the edge and often its a long way down to the valley below. In the last 15 years, this road has improved immensely. It is paved almost the entire way, though there have been a few landslides that have taken out small sections.
At one of the higher points in the road, it gets very bumpy. Its a stretch of about one or two miles and it takes about 15 minutes to traverse. Its all rocks and its the bumpiest ride I have ever seen. I took a movie of it so when I get to a faster connection point, I will be sure to upload it somewhere. Thankfully that is the only point where it is that rough.
Jiri has fallen off of most tourists’ maps which is unfortunate. In my next post, I’ll talk about what makes Jiri such a nice place to visit. There are quite a few things to see here that are amazing.