© 2009                    

 Petersplassen skriveverksted

 Peter Svalheim


 Odd Hoftun biography

 Sample translation

 made by Katherine Parent




Introduction. The Guru and the gorge

In a way, this story begins with a part of Africa charging up from the south and crashing its way into a part of Asia. The continental plates fold around each other like a colossal car wreck and rise up high on edge.


India is created.  The high edge is known as HimalayaNepal lies here and stretches over close to a third of the southern slopes of this mountain chain, from east to west.


And the clouds roll in over the new continent and collide with the mountains. On impact they drop their loads of moisture and wetness with a splashing harp-song called monsoon.  And the water gathers in rivers that hurry back to the sea, water the fields and the Indo-Gangetic Plain before it runs out into Ganges and farther to the Bay of Bengal and the IndianSea, where it evaporates again and drifts up toward the north.


In the course of the millennia a similar movement begins, a movement of human thoughts and ideas on the Indian continent.  Simple tribal religion among the Dravidians in the south is swallowed, digested and shaped by the more philosophically inclined Aryans who invade from the north. This is the start of that which in our time is known as Hinduism.


This is a direct cause of one man setting off to find his place in the world.  It is the 1950’s. The man’s name is Baba, and he belongs to the priestly caste, the Brahmins.  Now he wants to follow the commandments in the ancient Vedic texts about devoting one’s old age to meditation and the noble art of extinguishing oneself.  He turns his footsteps northward. For there, between the steep, white tops, is the life-giving mother of primeval power.


Along the way, Baba rests for a day or two in the dusty little marketplace in Butwal by the banks of the river Tinau, three miles inside the Nepali border. Right behind this place rise the Himalayas, the first variation in the landscape after 1100 kilometers of Indo-Gangetic Plain.


The heat, the floods and the malaria mosquitoes that wreak havoc in the monsoon season do their part to see that almost nobody lives here year-round. But now there is teeming life. Trucks from India stop at the riverbank, and coolies swarm around them to carry the goods across the temporary plank bridges that are removed before the floodsset in again. Mountain farmers mill around and hawk their wares to buyers who sit and wait in their booths. 


Baba stands in the market and follows a little, sinewy man with his eyes.  He has pronounced features and dark, bristling hair under a colorful cap, a topi, that almost all men in Nepal use. The topi is shoved far back on his neck to make room for a forehead strap. The strap bears the whole weight of several large cans of paraffin. The cans are filled with rancid buffalo butter, ghee. Baba waves at him to approach. The farmer’s name is Durga Bahadur, and he shows Baba the honor due a sadhu (holy man). 


“Where does the road go from here?” Durga turns and points towards the hilly landscape where the trail meanders upwards to Tansen and onward to Baglung, Jomsom, and all the way to Tibet.


The day after that, they leave Butwal. Durga has gotten a good price for the butter, and carries with him a heavy sack of salt along with a roll of colorful cotton cloth back to his village in Palpa. He hurries up the trail that snakes along the steep slopes over the TinauRiver. The holy man follows, but his feet are not accustomed to this terrain. Durga Bahadur has to give him time.

Farther up the trail, Baba stops entirely. He leans heavily on his staff. The river under him roils in falls and rapids. The mountainsides rise right out of the riverbed with a defiant streak of green across their necks.  Here and there rockslides have left long scrapes in the brush.


Baba has never seen a place like it. This landscape is so wild that it can never be tamed. It must simply be obeyed, like Shiva himself, the destroyer and founder, the lord of the cosmic dance of creation, who sits in a trance high in the mountains and makes the rivers flood when his mate Parvati shakes him to stir up his haughty life-force.


Durga Bahadur turns under his burden to look for his companion. He sighs and gives up on the sadhu. Then he disappears up over the path, which turns off from the river valley and winds onward up a steep, forest-clad hillside.


In the years that follow Baba sits in the doorway of a simple hut he has built at this exact place along the river. He contemplates the river while he controls his pulse and breathing. It is men like him that are behind the rumors of the holy men in Himalaya.  They are said to be able to slow the rhythm of their hearts to one beat per hour.  They don’t eat food, they nourish themselves with only the dew on the leaves. They can live for hundreds of years.  There are said to be kings among them, kings and princes who everyone thought were dead, but they are not dead, they have come here to do penance for their wrongs and become immortal. They walk as one with the landscape, and are almost invisible.


So Baba became the master teacher; Baba Guru, or Guruji in politeaddress. He enjoys the respectful attention from passersby, opens his eyes when he sees someone coming, and is always pleased to have a little chat.


But who is that man there? A gorhe — a white man? And what is he doing? He doesn’t seem to be on his way past, like all the others. What is it he is writing and drawing? And what is that instrument he is holding in his hands? Baba Guru can’t help himself. He has to ask. “I am going to build ahydropower plant”, the foreigner says. “The river will give light and drive machines.”


Baba has sat in the doorway for years and seen how the monsoon has made the river rise 10-15, perhaps 20 meters toward him where he sits.  Then tree trunks and perhaps even entire houses whirl down over the masses of water, which can make boulders to roll like dice. Now he lays his head back and howls with laughter. “This river is Shiva. Shiva will never let himself be tamed!”


Baba Guru lives to see the lights turned on. Because the power plant does become a reality. Now water from the river runs through a two and a half kilometer-long tunnel that was wrestled into place against all odds, after 12 years of construction work. The water drives turbines which were virtually salvaged from scrapyards in Norway.  The monsoon floods came and tore along with them parts of the plant. There was a lack of money, of dynamite, of trained workers; almost everything was missing.  The only thing there was really enough of was need itself.


For precisely that reason, the project can serve as a model. Here is the proof—it is actually possible to exploit the hydroelectric potential of Nepal using local resources. 


The foreigner’s name is Odd Hoftun — known as the missionary-engineer in Nepal. “When I look back, I am struck by how the long lines through my life have added together to make a whole,” he says. 


This book is an attempt to follow these lines. Where did the combination of accesses and preconditions come from that made Odd Hoftun capable of having such direct influence on development and industry building in Nepal? What were the policy, and what thoughts, attitudes and principles lay beneath? Do the experiences, principles and working manners used have relevance and validity today!