Baywatching in Pokhara

Features Issue 154 Sep, 2014

In Pokhara, a tower stands still, looking over the Fewa Lake, making sure any accident on the lake doesn’t go unnoticed.

If you take right at Lakeside – the road that leads you to the shores of Fewa Lake where boats take you to Barahi Temple and beyond, you will notice a tower jutting out into the sky. The tower stands tall; and you wonder if the view would be better from up there, wishing you could scale it and judge for yourself. As you approach it, the sign reads “Fewa Lake Watch and Research Center (FLWRC)” and you will find the members of the Armed Police Force – Disaster Management Team (APF-DMT) climbing up and down; busy talking to locals, the tourists and the boat handlers. 

The FLWRC started in September last year and is the only watch and rescue center of Nepal. “Usually at around two in the afternoon, the wind from northern side brings waves and high current to the lake making it risky for the boats. This happens in the dry season that spans from April to June. So for those months, we stand by in case there are some incidents in the lake.” shared Sub Inspector Dharmendra Choudhary. 

One of the incidents took place on May 10. At around one in the afternoon, the waves started to crash onto one boat trying to circumvent the temple. “We rescued around nine people at that time” Tilak Dhami, one of the team members recalls. There are around nine members on standby for 12 hours shifts, while if necessary the rest of the team are also active. From first aid to taking oxygen cylinders to the people stuck underwater, these team members are well trained by national and international standards. While the national training takes place at the DMT headquarter in Kurintar of Chitwan, the international training took place in Bangladesh. 25 AFP personnel have taken the Pandupi (submarine) training in Bangladesh out of which four are based in the Western Region. The DMT team is based in Malepatan in Pokhara itself. “You can never predict what might happen”, another team member said, “Sometimes, there might be five to six incidents at the same time. At those times, the rest of the members are also deployed while the local boat handlers help us as well.” 

On a normal day with no incidents, the members patrol the lake time and again to check for anomalies. Although swimming isn’t allowed in the lake, both Nepalis and foreigners alike break the rules. “It is really steep to swim in the lake, but people don’t consider that. Also the ground of the lake is very rocky – people get stuck in them as well.” Another member shared. For that reason, one member is on watch all the time with binoculars. In case of an emergency like a big wave approaching a boat or a sudden change in weather, the watch dispatches warning signals through megaphones or sirens. 

Several factors cause accidents. The wind creates choppy waves making it difficult to row boats properly, sometimes risking capsizing or drowning. At the same time, most people do not use precautions like wearing a life jacket while boating. Sometimes foreigners take boats all by themselves and might get themselves into trouble as they aren’t used to the conditions. The boat itself might also get trapped in fishing nets that aren’t visible from the surface. The introduction of the center is an attempt to avert these avoidable accidents. While life jackets are now compulsory before getting on a boat, fishing is only permitted after six in the evening. 

While the center is not that new, the locals agree that the center has been able to leave a mark when it comes to rescuing and preventing incidents. With motor boats and rafts, throw bags and safety kits, these brave members have been able to save many lives. While some of the rescue is done by giving instructions or warnings from the tower, others are done manually when the boats cannot cross the lake by themselves. Either by helping to prevent the incidents from taking place or by rescuing the victims FLWRC is literally proving to be a life saver and its members true heroes.