It’s just another perfectly ordinary Monday at the office in Bad Vilbel. I glance at the clock and am glad that it’s nearly time to go home. But then all of a sudden my boss Mr. Failer is standing at the door.
‘Mr. Höllerhage, have you ever been to Nepal?’ he asks.
‘No… why do you ask?’ I respond curiously as he takes the seat in front of me.
‘We are consulting on a hydroelectric project on the Seti River. The contract includes the design of a dam and an underground power station. Our team urgently needs support by another engineer to get the job done in time. I would like you to travel to Kathmandu on Wednesday.’
It takes me a moment to realise that he is actually talking about this Wednesday. In other words in two days. But the spirit of adventure has already grabbed me and I say yes. Nevertheless, I’m glad when it turns out that there are no seats available for Wednesday and my flight is scheduled for Thursday instead.
Marked by the earthquake
After a long night on the plane and a spectacular descent through the Himalayas, I arrive in Kathmandu. I collect my luggage and prepare myself to push my way out of the airport and bargain with brash cab drivers to get a reasonable price for a taxi. I experienced situations like this on trips to Sierra Leone and Kenya. Instead, I find the Nepalese especially polite and reserved, and I am grateful for the peace of mind.
Leaving the airport, I find the congested roads and thick smog in stark contrast to the wild nature I had marvelled at from the sky. Signs of the 2015 earthquake that devastated the country, killing 9,000 people and injuring 22,000 more, are everywhere. Most facades show wide cracks, rubble and debris lie all around and makeshift support structures are stabilising many houses. There are also countless scaffolds, for the Nepalese people are working hard on rebuilding their capital.
In a time of its own
Arriving at the hotel, I check in and move into my room. It will be my home for the next four weeks. After sending messages to my family and friends to let them know I have arrived safe and sound, I set my watch to the local time. Curiously enough, I find that the time difference to Germany is four hours and forty-five minutes. The Nepalese actually attach considerable importance to not being in the same time zone as either India or China.
There is much to be done and I soon get used to the new daily routine. Every morning starts off with the invariable English buffet breakfast of sausages, bacon, baked beans and scrambled eggs. This is followed by the drive to the office through the permanent congestion on the streets of Kathmandu. A 20 minute trip on good days or up to one and a half hours on bad days.
During the trip we listen to the news on the car radio, which always starts with the same refrain: “Load shedding, load shedding, where is this country heading?” Due to political friction between India and Nepal, important supplies of fuel are cut off, leading to shortages in energy generation. As a consequence, the available electricity is passed around in Khatmandu’s districts. Each district gets electricity twice a day for about two hours. This method of power distribution is referred to as load shedding. To be able to work continuously we run a diesel generator. Its constant humming accompanies us throughout every day.
I am thrilled to be part of Lahmeyer’s engineering team planning a hydropower plant. With this project, we are supporting Nepal to tackle its energy shortage by utilising the country’s renewable water resources.
Language, lentils and leaving
The four young Nepalese engineers who assist me are incredible hosts. Each day they teach me a new word of Nepalese. Soon ‘namaste’ (hello) and ‘dhanyabad’ (thank you) are part of my regular vocabulary.
It is a culinary journey too. I discover plenty of delicious treats, especially a variety of ‘dal’ (lentils) dishes. The most famous being Nepal’s national dish ‘dal bhat’ (lentils with rice), which is always served with a delicious curry.
In the evenings my colleagues and I sit on my balcony sipping whiskies and discussing the hydro power project and life. We are never short on conversation.
After a short month it is with a tear in one eye and a smile in the other that I depart Nepal. A tear because my time here was so enjoyable and exciting and it flew by so quickly. But with a smile also because I am looking forward to seeing my family and friends back home. Fortunately, with Lahmeyer, I am likely to get the chance to travel to this beautiful country again some time – probably, once again, supporting Nepal in developing its huge hydro potential for power generation and ending the dreaded load shedding refrain.