Chapter 7 – Connected (cont.)

Mahabir and the team started the wireless system by setting up a base station in Pokhara at the house of Mahabir’s uncle. Local welders built a tripod with a long pole and mounted

Server in Pokhara.

the equipment at the top. This system was comprised of an antenna, radio and ethernet cable which plugged in to connect to the Pokhara server. It was tricky to get it raised but Mahabir knew which direction to point the antenna. It was aimed towards Mohare Dande, then known as Relay Station One. This relay station far up in the mountains and about a two days walk from Pokhara was actually in a direct line-of-site with Pokhara. I’ve been up at Mohare Dande. You can see the lights of Pokhara but It took me 12 hours to walk downhill, at about three miles an hour, from there to the road and another hour taxi ride to get to Pokara to give you an idea of the distance. I still find it a feat of technology that a signal can make it from Pokhara to Nangi via this one simple relay station.

Team on path to Nangi.

Packing up the equipment the team set out for Nangi, a three hours drive by taxi and then nine hour walk gaining 5000 feet over 10 miles. Porters again carried the equipment, this time high into the mountains. Mahabir set up a similar system in Nangi using the new and previous equipment which had been installed in the early attempts to connect. Robin said the systems weren’t hard to install and those early models were actually designed to be installed by technicians and not engineers. The Nangi connection was aimed at Mohare Dande. Think of Mohare Dande as sitting on a mountaintop between Nangi and Pokhara.

The next location would require the team to climb higher into the mountains to Mohare Dande. Join me next week to learn about jugas, tree top antennas and one man’s ambition  aided by a gifted team.

Chapter 7 – Connected (cont.)

It’s late August 2003 in Kathmandu, Nepal and the monsoon rains are still dancing in the streets. Mahabir met his team in Kathmandu and had rented the rear seats on what Robin described as a bad tourist bus. The trip on the tourist buses from Kathmandu to Pokhara is usually very pleasant and takes about 6-8 hours with a lovely stop at a garden restaurant for lunch, but this proved to be the “bus ride from hell” and lasted 36 hours, according to Robin. First, during the civil war there were many army check stops which required buses to unload the riders and undergo inspections. The tourist buses were often spared the unload but were caught in the long queues of local buses.

Prithvi Highway, Kathmandu to Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo courtesy of WikiMedia Commons)

The road hugs the hillsides and follows the deep river valleys notorious for dangerous landslides from the rainy season…and this late into the season there were multiple landslides of thick mud and debris. Ultimately the team proceeded by a convoy of buses. When a bus came up against a landslide the riders would help dig out the mess, but when the slides proved massive they would transfer their gear to another bus on the other side of the

Typical landslide in Nepal from monsoon season and poor road construction. (Photo courtesy of WikiMedia Commons)

debris. At one point they had to hire porters to help carry the supplies over two miles of road through mud and fast moving water. The porters, wearing only flip flops, carried the well traveled and precious wireless cargo which included large solar panels as the team negotiated with their backpacks. Exhausted by the end of the first day they were fed and housed overnight at a high school. The magic of Mahabir and Nepal never ceases to amaze me…at the darkest hours someone will offer shelter.

Robin said the team was discouraged by the rough start…if it was this tough to get the equipment over the best highway in the country then how would they get it up into the mountains? But no one was ready to quit. On arrival in Pokhara they examined the equipment and found that “nothing went missing and nothing broke” despite having traveled 7700+ miles from San Francisco to Pokhara by plane, taxi, bus, porter and the grace of the Nepali gods.

Have you worked on a project against such great odds? Share your story with my readers and join me next week for the start of the wireless setup in Pokhara.


Chapter 7 – Connected (cont.)

Antenna in Pokhara. All photographs courtesy of Dr. Robin Shields.

The first permanent wireless connection was designed to connect Nangi in Myagdi District to Pokhara which was the closest large city. A test connection had been made by the original team in early 2003. It went from Nangi to a high ridge called Mohare Danda and then to Pokhara. Mahabir had used a relative’s house which was in line-of-sight from Mohare Danda, but the signal was weak and virtually unusable. Like many things in life the execution of a more permanent connection required part chance, part planning and a whole lot of sweat.

Antenna box at Pokhara.

Antenna box at Pokhara.

Robin, a former volunteer teaching English, had just  returned from Nangi to attend graduate school at UCLA. He had been in Nangi teaching English in 2002 when the Nangi to Ramche wireless system was being built by  Jonni, Johan and Mahabir. He had spent time with Mahabir but recalled he wasn’t very interested in the project. However that changed after meeting another student, Mark, in a psychology class at UCLA. Mark was the recipient of a $10,000 USD grant from the Donald A. Strauss Foundation, which is awarded to bright young future leaders. After hearing Robin’s story about Mahabir, Nangi and the wireless project he decided this would be his project – to help Mahabir connect Nangi to Pokhara.

Server at Pokhara.

Throughout the winter and spring of 2003 Robin, Mark, another student named James, another former volunteer named Sage and Mahabir planned the wireless system via emails. Using his grant monies Mark ordered and paid for all the equipment. Sage provided wi-fi radios and Mahabir worked his magic of making all things come together. All the equipment had been packed in San Franscisco and traveled from flight to flight with the USA team. Arriving in Kathmandu they met Mahabir and began what was to be the most harrowing part of the journey – their trip from Kathmandu to Pokhara.

It was the end of monsoon season when rain still falls by the buckets and most of the roads are impassable, even the main highway from Kathmandu to Pokhara. Join me next week and read about their trip and determination to haul the equipment over miles of rough terrain, during a civil war while the rains tried to sweep them away.

Chapter 7 – Connected (cont.)

First computers and components from Janita being carried to Nangi. They would arrive in Beni by taxi and then be carried by porters ten miles with an elevation gain of 5000 feet.

The first wireless connection was created between Nangi and Ramche, the village on the opposite mountainside. Jonni and Johan, volunteers from Finland, helped Mahabir set up the links in March 2003. Jonni kept a diary and was kind enough to share some of the content. He wrote, “I met Johan in Nangi on 11.3.03, he was already there. He did the computer setup with linux, and some antenna testing on 15.3.03 The 1-litre antenna
was best. On 18.3.03 we tested a connection between Tek’s house (Nangi) and some
house very high on the ridge (belonging to Mahabir’s cousin), 600 meter
distance according to GPS. The day after, I went to Ramche with Mahabir.
The computer in Ramche wasn’t suitable, so we had to send some boys to
Nangi to get another one. Finally on the 20th day, we had a connection
between Nangi and Ramche. It was quite hard to aim the antennas…I had to climb to the
roof to do it myself. It worked with just the 1-litre antenna (around
20% signal strength rating), but we decided to use it with a parabolic
reflector taken from some old TV kit, such that we had the link up to 38%.
I noted that strong wind shook the antennas, and the signal went down to
15% at times.”

Students and teachers unpack the first computers to arrive in Nangi.

It took this first team over a month to get the connection up between just the two adjacent villages. Even then the connection worked only part of the time but it was a unique start. It helped the villagers, teachers and students see the potential. Teachers and healthcare workers were the first to use the computer connection to contact each other instead of sending a student with a written or verbal message. Before the connection information was sent via runners or anyone traveling between the villages, about a two to three hour walk.

Join me next week and read how Mahabir and a team of California college students used bits and pieces of equipment they shipped from the USA or found in Nepal to make the final connection to Pokhara and connect the school with the world.