The Chepang community of Bhumlichowk VDC makes a living crushing stones. The work is hard enough. But transporting the stone to Jogimara in Dhading district on the way to Hetauda Cement Factory makes life for them even more difficult as they have to cross the Trishuli River over a dilapidated rope-bridge.
Some 20 km from Muglin Bazaar along Prithvi Highway, the locals can be seen using the rope-bridge for lack of any alternative. Around 15 to 20 people on average, including Chepangs, risk their lives every day crossing the bridge.
“I have to cross the rope-bridge back and forth six to 20 times every day,” said 18-year-old Rikhe Chepang, while crushing some stone. “I´ve been doing this work since five years; this is how I feed my family”, he added. He dropped out of grade two in school to take up stone-crushing and help support his family of seven. Due to very low wages, the Chepangs are hardly able to eat without having the children also take up work.
The Chepang families in Bhumlichowk and Galchowk are poor and have no land of their own to cultivate. They sometimes work the fields for others but crushing stone is their main livelihood. “We have no choice but to make the risky river crossing every day. We carry the crushed stone in bamboo baskets on our backs and negotiate the rope-bridge,” said Rikhe.
If the rope snaps and one falls in the river the result is serious injury or even death. That is the risk the Chepangs take for a daily wage of Rs. 400.
“Rs 400 is not a huge amount, and just enough to meet our daily necessities,” said Krishna Bahadur Chepang, 46. “It has been 15 years since I started crushing stone to support my family of 11,” he added, showing the cuts in his hands. He said he has hurt his hands many times while crushing stone or crossing the rope-bridge.
Another Chepang laborer who was nearby said, however, that he was grateful to nature – and the hills – for the stone. “If these did not exist, how would we survive?” he asks, and says he hopes the cement factory never shuts down. The Chepang villages are not so far from the highway but remain very much isolated. The Chepangs have been making a living in this fashion since 30 years.