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Namaste – Impressions of Nepal

NEPAL | Sunday, 11 March 2007 | Views [3693] | Comments [3]

Annapurna South

Annapurna South

Nepal has had rather a mixed press over the last few years; countries going through a Civil War tend not to be on the list of ‘must see’ places for most travelers. Since late 2006, the countryside has been quiet with the Maoists now in the government and their guerrilla army in camps. So now is the time to make that trip.

I was last in Nepal in 1998 and I had forgotten what a pleasant and welcoming country it is. Arriving from India the differences soon become apparent once you get past the border zone. The country is better tended, the streets for the most part are clean and there is less traffic and noise. When the people here say ‘Namaste’ (the all purpose greeting) they genuinely greeting you, not saying ‘Namaste’, would you like to look in my shop, do you want a taxi etc,etc. Women also play a bigger role in daily life, working in shops, taking part in discussions in the street and even waiting on tables, which gives the whole society a more mellow feel.

Where Nepal is far ahead of India is in the provision of tourist services. This is a country that lives on tourism and has worked out what tourists want. So the hotels really are clean and there really is hot water. Although the tourist menus are pretty much the same everywhere, the quality is consistently good. Even up in the villages on the trekking trails you can always get something tasty to eat.

In Pokhara I was surprised by how much the Lakeside tourist area had expanded, obviously things had been going well until the downturn during the war. What was very different were the tourists themselves. On my last visit, most of the tourists and trekkers were European, now they are outnumbered two to one by Asian travelers. The Nepali’s had worked out that if the Westerners were going to be scared off , they should try and attract tourists from countries closer to home, where people were keen to travel - like the Chinese. Nepal offers free Visas to the Mainland Chinese and there are direct flights to Kathmandu while the Koreans have direct charter flights all through the peak season. Many businesses had signs up in Chinese, Japanese and Korean and some restaurants and hotels catered only for one particular nationality.

The Chinese were mainly groups of young women (I suppose the men are all at home building the economic miracle), all of whom spoke good English and were from the prosperous Eastern cities. They are all kitted out in brand new outdoor clothes and nearly all carried a big digital camera. Unfortunately, city life had not prepared them for the rigours of mountain trekking, and even with guides and porters carrying their bags, many of them found it very hard work. As one poor girl said to me as she was helped through the snow by a porter, ‘I don’t think I’m going to make it out of these mountains alive!’

No doubt these are the vanguard of the new Chinese middle class tourists, who as more countries open up to them, we will be bumping into more and more often around the world. This is great as they are pleasant and good company.

Despite the tourists coming back, there are still signs everywhere of the problems the country has had. Army posts and principal buildings are surrounded by coils of razor wire and heavily armed soldiers man sand bagged gun emplacements. The Maoists are now part of the government and their soldiers have surrendered their arms to the UN on a temporary/permanent basis. What they need now are jobs. To help things along the USA has now cut their aid budget to Nepal by 25% as it regards the Maoists as ‘terrorists’, which will make things interesting if they should win the forthcoming election. I didn’t dare ask the young Chinese what they thought of Maoism, no doubt they would have no idea what it meant and the great helmsman himself would just be a figure from history.

With the new government and the removal of the monarchy from power the ‘Royal’ word is being expunged from society, so the Royal has been painted out of some of the signs for what was the ‘Royal Chitwan National Park’. It was interesting to see that many businesses and houses, particularly up in the mountains, had pictures of the Royal family on the walls. Unfortunately all those in the picture died on the same night on 1st June 2001 when they were gunned down by the Royal Prince. It seems that the Royal Family per se were quite popular, hence all those pin ups, it was the last King, the evil uncle Gyanendra who really alienated the country.

As elections are on the way, various interested interests are jockeying for position. In Nepal that means that if you are traveling around the country you will soon be taking part in the great Nepali Participation event – the road block or strike. My trip was delayed a couple of times by bus strikes, which doesn’t always mean the drivers are on strike but that the main roads have been blocked by stone wielding youths. I had the same thing happen when I was last in Nepal so nothing much has changed in that regard. On one journey on this trip I had to wait for a couple of hours in a mini van because of a road block. This had been caused by a bus hitting and injuring some children as it passed through a road side village. Given the terrible standard of Nepali driving, this sort of thing is fairly common; I saw the wreck of one bus that had crashed into a river valley a few days previously, killing 16 people, and two overturned Lorries on one 100 km stretch of main road. In a country with no third party insurance this means that the local lads blockade the road until some agreement for compensation is made, which involves getting a senior policeman from the nearest main town, plus a couple of passing monks to make a deal with a bunch of emotional youths. This all takes a long time.

Most of these kinds of problems can happen in any third world country; I endured plenty of such incidents when traveling in the Andes last year. What Nepal does offer is a World Class outdoor experience, from trekking with varying degrees of difficultly, rafting, mountain biking and paragliding. It also has accessible wildlife in the Chitwan National Park and historic towns. This along with affordable and good quality services for tourists and very friendly people make it a great country to travel in. So don’t let recent headlines stop you from making the trip, like me you will find yourself going back again and again.

To see pictures click here

Tags: Observations

Comments

1

Good article.It seems like we haven't yet loose people of the rest of the world after all the circumstances in Nepal.

  Ashesh Shrestha Jun 22, 2007 3:56 AM

2

Great writing. I appreciate if you post photos too.
Thanks !

  bishow Paudel Oct 9, 2007 11:50 AM

3

Namaste William!

You have a thorough understanding about Nepal. I guess you have traveled most of the tourist destination of Nepal and you went through some of the difficulties while travelling our beautiful country, I am very sorry for that. Maoist are creating violence, extortion, intimidation to general public and sometimes foreigners too which is shameful. We regard foreigners as our god so do we respect and try to cater courteously as much as we can. Demagogue politicians are ruining our country, political instability is making country worse day by day. But our courtesy will always be there to welcome you people from first world. I hope you will have a very good time in your future trip to Nepal.

  Umesh Chaudhari Dec 6, 2009 5:51 PM

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