Bliss at Sathimure

October 31, 2018.

You have been climbing for three hours. Every pore of your skin is sweating. Your legs are tired. Your head is spinning. You are still conscious of not slipping down the narrow foot trail. There are small round seeds that have fallen off the tress beside the trail. They threaten your existence. The peak is just “there” but you can’t seem to reach it. The peak is just at an elevation of thousand metres, and it takes your breath away. “What if it was Mount Everest?” you ask.

One of your friends, Anish, climbed a five-thousand metre peak last year, above the Everest Base Camp. “It was cold. I felt my fingers would fall off. But once I reached the peak, I forgot all the pain.”

‘This is not even a tenth of the harshness of close to the Everest’, you think. Your spirit lifts up a little. Legs drag you up better than they had a couple of minutes back. But your lungs are not helping. Your low stamina hampers your movement.Luckily, your friends are in your support. They themselves are tired, but they do not lose the hope of reaching the peak. The hope of finding the target village-Sathimure.

***

Your climb began from Mugling—an old hub connecting Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan with three of your friends: Anil, Anish and Ishwor. The town is at the altitude of about 180 m from the mean sea level,well-developed, full of life. Your twenty-eight years old topographic map shows a foot-trail leading to the village in question. The policemen show you a road. It looks easy, but it’s long. ‘How long will you have to walk?’ you discuss with your friends. You and your friends decide to take a foot trail if possible.

You are not hiking. It’s a geological exploration. You measure the rock orientation, wonder at the folds you see and imagine the amount of stress the region might have undergone. You know these rocks tell the history of the evolution of the Himalayas over a million years. These mountains are not as tall as the mighty mountain peaks that are popular as the Himalayas or Great Himalayas. You call them Lesser Himalaya, but reaching its peak is tough. More so, when you realize you have to climb up another two hundred metres and climb down to Kalikhola if you are to make an accurate geological map. But you lack time, and you make a rush.

You realize your stamina has lowered because of eating and sleeping for the last couple of months. You are panting. You take long breaths. Nothing helps. You have not walked a mile and you have felt the heat. You strip off your jacket. Your body balances heat by sweating. You reach a shade. The sweat cools you. After a rest, you don’t want to move. Yet you carry your legs forward. “Return back if you can’t,” your friends suggest. It’s a good advice. One person should not slow the group. Yet your ego gets hurt. You can’t give up before it has begun.

You ask help from the locals. Most of them are girls. Some help, some don’t. It’s a cultural thing. Villagers don’t trust city men. Girls are told to shy away from men in most of the occasions. Male-female interaction is still spied in the cities. Anyway, you find help and catch a foot-trail, width decreasing with each footstep.

You don’t find villages along the trail. One house at an interval of about one-hundred metres climb. They have farms and gardens. You and your friends express desire to reach Kalikhola. The locals say it’s a dangerous path. Three people died some months back. You and your friends are scared. Safety comes before the map. Your teachers did not expect you to go all the way. You give up the thought of completing the track. Had you been allowed to stay for a day at Sathimure, you could have hit the target. But you have restrictions. You decide to reach the village, at least.

A garden somewhere in the route

***

“Look out for the real trail,” Anish calls. Foot-trail has forked. Each time you saw a fork, you made a unanimous decision: “Take the route that goes up.” This time, the up-going trail looks dangerous. Ishwor says the other path goes nowhere. “Are we stuck?” you fear. Anil goes up the dangerous route, reaches the peak and calls out. You follow. The ground is slippery and covered with grass. You don’t know where you are stepping. “Goats would not climb this,” your friends behind you tell. You are attacked by ants.One last step. And you reach the top. You lose yourself for a moment. At that moment, you have become victorious over the mountain. You feel blessed.

A little farther, you see what you had been longing for. Sathimure. A small village. A place where you have found solace in it even from the distance. Bamboos, oranges, cucumbers and other fruits and vegetables. A farming village. That’s what you wanted all day.

The village has less than twenty houses—small, all of them painted in blue and red. The people are amicable. Your group wants to buy some oranges. They don’t fix a price. “Give whatever amount you want to give.” These people have hardships. There is some help from the NGOs but the nearest town, Mugling, is miles downhill. There is no good road. They have to buy everything.Yet, they are generous. They don’t take our offer for granted. They believe in emotional relationship, not commercial. They give you noodles. You longed for it but can’t help wonder that noodles have made way into even in a village that small.You eat anyway. The taste reminds you of home.

***

You begin to descent. There was an error in the map. You have decided to correct it. Sitting upon a ground facing north, you look at the Great Himalayas, the Lesser Himalayas, and the miniature town of Mugling. You can’t see a human from that height. You feel lost. “Humans might have built civilizations and have dreamt of exploring other planets but we are microscopic in the universe. If a portion of the Earth is this big, how big the Earth is! And it is not even the largest planet.” The extent of universe amazes you. It’s not for the first time, though. The universe has always fascinated you. Geology was one way you thought that would help you understand the universe.

Mugling viewed from Sathimure

The walk downhill takes two hours. The villagers at Sathimure had told it would take about forty-five minutes. “Time is relative,” you begin to understand. They have lived their whole lives going up and down the hill. Their legs have strengths your legs do not. They are faster because they have lived with the mountain. You see school children going up and get a stronger proof.

When the journey ends, you are satisfied. You might not have met all your goals but you made memories. You have learnt something. You have something to tell others. You have stories for your children and grandchildren.

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On Scientific Inquisition

We humans have always been guided by two fundamental systems: Faith and Science. Faith implores us to live life as it is and accept what comes in life as the will of God or fate. It has its own pros and cons, which I shall not discuss here. Science, on the other hand, urges us to transcend the boundaries that are created by our surrender to the fate. The advancement in medicine and technology is the result of inquisitive minds who studied the nature and imagined what else they could do with the knowledge they gained. They also disseminated the knowledge they obtained so that it would not be lost with time.

Suppression of knowledge and scientific inquisition in Europe during the Middle Age (5th to15th century) led to numerous wars, widespread famine and submission to fate. During this period in the history of humanity, also known as the Dark Age, several scientific discoveries are said to have lost. Scientists were termed “heretics” by the Church and were executed. The Renaissance Period, of which the Republic of Florence and Leonardo da Vinci are central, gave rise to art and through it, promotion of scientific discoveries, inventions and rediscoveries.

In the ancient Indian sub-continent (most of the times attributed to the Indus Valley Civilization), the Vedas and Upavedas, and later the Upanishads promoted the culture of scientific and logical discourse. Proverb such as Vaade Vaade Jaayate Tatwabodha (वादे वादे जायते तत्वबोध:), i.e. knowledge is gained through debates is alone sufficient to understand the importance of discourses in order to discover the truth of the world. The knowledge however came under the control of few people on the administration for centuries. The lack of effective dissemination of the ancient wisdom has created a lot of problems in the sub-continent.

Scientific discoveries have made things possible that were treated only as imagination in the past. The discovery of sea-routes brought people closer, the invention of aeroplane reduced the time for the journeys between different parts of the world, the invention of telegraph and telephone changed the way messages were shared. On the basic principles of navigation, aerodynamics and telecommunication, the humanity has moved from the Age of Cultivation to Age of Global Communication.

Not just that, humanity has also given up the instant submission to fate. In the Dark Age, Black Plague killed thousands of people in Europe. Venice, because of the lack of burial grounds, suffered the most. Instead of contemplating that the disease was spreading through the canals, they believed they were suffering the wrath of God and their loss was God’s will. In the modern age, humans do not readily submit to Faith when they encounter diseases. They investigate the disease, their causes and work on the vaccines and inoculation.

As students of Geology, a branch of science, we have gained some fundamental knowledge about the Earth and how it works during the four-year B.Sc. programme. We have learnt to observe the rocks and soils, to ask what they are and why they are there. We have familiarized ourselves with the Earth processes and the benefits and the problems they bring. We have studied about natural hazards and some ways to mitigate them. We can strive to learn more and publicize what we know. We can make the world a better place.

There is no doubt that the Earthquake of 2072 B.S. (2015) gave rise to a mass awareness about how that particular earthquake occurred. Some people used to say, with much politicisation, “There are two plates: Indian and Chinese. The Indian plate moves to the North to encroach the Chinese plate. Nepal is in middle. That was why the earthquake occurred.”

While I myself tried to remove politics whenever I could, there is a mass of people who believe the above statement to be true. They are right that Nepal lies in between two plates. But most of them are not aware what “plate” really is and that the Earth’s lithosphere is made of a number of plates. As a student of Geology, I feel that we have a lot to do to make the public aware of what the plates are and how they are formed.

We, ourselves however should be ready to face skepticism. Science is not a belief system. Whenever scientists come across hypotheses and theories, they first question, “Is it true? What are the evidences?” A hypothesis can become a major theory if evidences support it. The theory of Plate Tectonics is a common example. If the evidences from submarine navigation and Paleomagnetic studies had not been available, the theory would still have remained a hypothesis. Similarly, if a new hypothesis can challenge and prove that it is stronger than an existing theory, the existing theory, even if popular, will be discarded.

Many people put a blame upon science for the problems we’ve been facing. Sure, guns and bombs have been developed by science and are being used to inflict terrors. Nuclear weapons have threatened the existence of our dear home itself. The knowledge of making explosives and harnessing nuclear energy was not bad itself. Gunpowder and dynamite were used in construction works, and nuclear energy has become an important source of energy in many nations. That’s why I firmly believe that it’s not science that is faulty. The fault is on our crooked desire of using knowledge that we have.

In short, as a student of science, I appeal to everyone to gain right knowledge from the nature, from each other and from what our ancestors have passed on to us. I urge everyone to deliver the knowledge to the public and to the generations to come. Because only with the right knowledge, we the make the world a better place.

[The above article was intended to be the editorial for GEOWORLD Students’ Magazine, Vol. 8, 2017. It was heavily cut in the magazine for the sake of relevance and space]

Understanding Hazard, Risk, Vulnerability and Disaster- Through Football!

Last week I took a class of Engineering Geology (finally getting into something practically useful in the beginning of fourth year). I will give brief definitions and examples of the terms used. Then before you get bored, I will get into a funny way to remember the technical terms using football (soccer).

Prior to that class, I thought hazard and disaster were the same. However, technically, they are different. Let’s take a look at the definitions I studied.

Hazard: Probability of occurrence of an event or phenomenon which can damage lives and properties.

Disaster: The actual occurrence of a dangerous phenomenon which damages lives and property.

When seismologists say, “Nepal lies in a seismically active zone,” they are talking about the probable damages an earthquake can cause (hazard). When they talk about the damage caused by the earthquake in Nepal last year, they are saying something about disaster the earthquake brought up.

Let us also look at two more terms- risk and vulnerability.

Risk: The consequences in terms of “potential losses” for some particular cause, time and place. Specific risk is the product of hazard and vulnerability (Johnson and Degraff, 1988).

Vulnerability: The degree of risk a community is at due to various factors. For example, poor designing and construction of a house makes it vulnerable for a disaster and people living in it are at risk.

I am done with the definitions. Let’s use football- in particular, a famous footballer to understand the above defined terms. The footballer is (as you might already have realized) Eden Hazard.

E. Hazard is a hazard to his opponent team because he has the capacity to score a goal although he may not score in every match. In this match we are talking of, Hazard attacked several times but did not succeed. E. Hazard remained a hazard until 88th minute.

In the eighty-ninth minute of the match, when no goal has not yet occurred, E. Hazard gets a pass from his teammate and he dribbles ahead. His skill allows him to get through the defenders of opposition team. Their defence which had been vulnerable by previous attacks, is now exposed and is at a greater risk (due to the combined effects of Hazard and vulnerability) Hazard shoots and when the opponent goalkeeper cannot save the goal. Hazard has brought a disaster to his opposition. A draw would have made the opposition the league winner. But Hazard’s goal changes the equation. The other team is damaged psychologically.

Reduce Risk! Save Lives!!

The First Mass Extinction was a Result of Evolution

Evolution of organisms can bring about change in the ecosystem which can lead to difficulty in survival of organisms that had thrived well in the past. How were the first unicellular organisms replaced by new organisms that could produce oxygen? How oxygen became the first pollutant? More on the article.

Evidence that Earth’s first mass extinction was caused by critters not catastrophe

Chinese cave ‘graffiti’ tells a 500-year story of climate change and impact on society

While we have been wondering what climate change can cause, a recent finding in China says a story of climate change that occurred 500 years ago. The inscription found on the caves is business-like and presents details on what the people had to undergo to fight the dry conditions. More on the link below.

Chinese cave ‘graffiti’ tells a 500-year story of climate change and impact on society.

 

पोखराको भू-बनोट र सिंक होल

केही समय देखि पोखरामा जमिन भासिएका खबरहरु आइरहेका छन् | पोखरामा रहेका चुनढुंगा र मसिना सिल्टका कारण उक्त समस्या देखिएको हो भनेर विज्ञहरु बताउनु हुन्छ | पोखराको  भू-बनोट र सिंक होल बारे थप जानकारी लिन तलको लिंक क्लिक गर्नुहोला |

http://nagariknews.com/opinion/story/43150.html

Nepal Earthquake: The Geologists’ Role

Saturday, (April 25, 2015) Baishakh 12, 2072 B.S.

A date that will be remember forever by the people of Nepal. On this darkest Saturday, at 11:56 a.m., an earthquake of 7.6 local magnitude struck Barpak of Gorkha. The shocks were felt as far as Kanya Kumari, India in the south, Bangladesh in the east and Pakistan in the west. The earthquake affected districts mostly in the Hilly Region. About 10,000 people died. The destruction of properties and cultural heritages was huge but compared to what was previously imagined, Kathmandu was not affected much. Within a month, the capital city regained its economic activities.

Geologists had been warning of such a disaster for long. Unfortunately, the government did not give utmost importance to the matter, nor did the people think much about it. The earthquake of 1990 in Udaypur had affected the eastern region and the people there remembered the loss of lives and properties it had brought. The earthquake of Taplejung four years ago had shaken Kathmandu Valley as well, but neither the government nor the people had been careful in designing and constructing earthquake-resistant structures. A few Geologists saying from the background that there could be much bigger loss of lives and properties were unheard of. It was also a weakness in their part. I would never have known this had I not been a Geology student myself and by the time I knew, it had already been late. The disaster had already struck.

One month since the major shock, the Seismologists, who have branched off from mainstream Geologists, gave information to the public on earthquake like never before. People immediately caught up words like ‘plates’, ‘tectonics’, ‘faults’ and many other geological terms. It made me happy and sad at the same time. Happy in the sense had basic geology had become household terms (plates, for example) and sad in the sense that it did not happen prior to the earthquake. But, as i discovered later, the people gave credit to the newspapers and magazines as the source of this information. The Geologists of Nepal had failed again. They had been too late.

A problem I see with scientific researches worldwide is that they are complex and totally illogical to the common people. Scientific terms come up here and there, which off course cannot be ignored, but can be made simple through adequate explanations. Journals have always been vague and common people just ignore them. I think they should be able to understand them, interpret and use in their daily lives. Why not publish scientific works that include public interests in two bases- one for the academicians and the other for public? If such a system had existed, I believe that science could be much useful to people. I think the Geologists of Nepal would have got the credit they deserved.

As explorers of a mountainous country, Nepalese Geologists have a lot many works to do on floods, landslides, avalanches, glaciers and so on. And there are people who still ask, “What’s the scope?” I have nothing to say to them, literally!