December 11, 2019
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You Can't Go There

You Can't Go There
This remote and desperately beautiful part of Nepal is somewhat of a non-place these days, its dreamy hills and lush valleys seemingly airbrushed from the map. Ask a fellow journalist in Kathmandu about Rolpa and he’ll say, "Oh, you can’t go there. The army will stop you." Or "It’s too dangerous, the Maoists will kidnap you". Well, in the case of your humble diarist, so far so good. I’ve been twice to the heartland of Nepal’s tenacious and bloody Maoist guerrilla war, and I’m still here to tell the tale. Once I went with the Royal Nepal Army, clattering over the misty landscape in a military helicopter that seemed to have a target painted on its belly—next to the words "Shoot here" in Nepali script. Or so it seemed to me at first, as I watched some of my fellow passengers put bullet-proof vests under their posteriors, just in case a Maoist round came with any accuracy. Of course, nothing like that happened and the only Maoists I saw were dead ones, dragged from shallow graves and put on display on a rice terrace where they had died in an otherwise successful siege of an army garrison. Talking to soldiers stationed in Rolpa’s district headquarters Libang, I heard of the horror of frontline duty and marvelled at the courage of these men—still not well-equipped enough for the grinding terrain and night attacks that the Maoists use to their advantage. My second trip was to the heart of Red Rolpa, where no security forces dare to tread. Not yet anyway.
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