Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Political Situation in Nepal

I have to admit it. When the latest deadline approached for the new constitution last month, May 27, I was bracing for the worst. I walked to the old city and could count the white people on one hand. I worried about my neighbors here and the fate of this adorable, little country. One judge, said to be corrupt, was assassinated during the first few days after the deadline, but the strikes stopped now and I haven’t seen even one scary thing since they announced yet another extension. Things work surprisingly well when the government gets out of the way-sometimes. 

Prior to the deadline it did get a bit scary. One day my assistant and I were going to go to Kathmandu for something and when we got to the main road all I could see were people with political flags and I could not see one car or motorcycle on the entire road in either direction. “Oh my God! No!” I started to panic. I insisted that we get off that road and stay in Bhaktapur for the day, even though the young men monitoring the strike would let us pass, since I am obviously a westerner. They never want to involve a foreigner in their political issues. 
Even when there were roadblocks or other obstacles they usually just wave me through. For example, one day a Chinese dignitary came to Bhaktapur and they had to close off the old city for the person. I was motioned in and got to take a few pictures of the famous person. I was having fun trying to figure out which one was the famous person, probably the older woman with the hat and white jacket. If you know, please leave a comment.
They call all of us ‘tourists’ even when we have business visas and live here permanently. Another funny label they give all westerners is 'American.' Sometimes they get the US mixed up with the UK and think I’m an American from Great Britain. But their geography is admirable. I am impressed by how much knowledge many Nepali have about America.  
So, can I recommend Nepal for the vacation of your lifetime right now? Yes! Unless you are a fire truck chaser or you just happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, I sincerely believe you will be safe. Take responsibility for your actions and be a smart traveler by following all the guidelines for safety abroad. Register with the embassy, know who you are walking around with and be in your guest house before 10 pm unless you have business late at night. In my book, Nepal: On a Budget, I suggest always carrying a torch of some kind. When the lights go out it is very dark and the streets are lined with potholes. I’ve seen some that a grown man could fall into. 
We are into the monsoon season, but you would never know it by looking out the window. It started with a bang but seemed to fizzle out for a bit. The locals have planted rice and are starting to worry about getting enough rain now. It isn’t all that hot when you consider how hot it is elsewhere in summer. If you want air conditioning in your guest house you will have to pay up to $20 a day for it. It’s probably best to get over it and just know you will be hot here sometimes. If you stay in Bhaktapur, Kapan, or any of the other villages higher in elevation you will really be glad you did. Less pollution and a nicer breeze. It always cools down in the evenings.
It is interesting to understand a little history of Nepal in order to understand what’s going on right now in the government. There are many ethnic groups in Nepal, all speaking their own language and having distinct and diverse traditions. It seems to me, just an expat living in Nepal, that many of the Nepali are their ethnic origin such as Newari or Chhetri first and Nepali second. In this very small country there are so many divisions that it is very difficult to get everyone to agree on anything. There is a need to federalize the country, but the groups seem to see this as a threat to the individuality of their caste. I read in the newspaper last month that a man from a homeless, nomadic tribe of forest dwellers came to Kathmandu to protest and make sure his people would not be left out of government representation.  He wasn’t asking for land for his people or anything like that, just to have his nomadic way of life guaranteed for future generations.
Next is the issue of a country with a very long tradition of monarchy. Up until about 10 years ago there was a king that the people loved. Now, with no education in politics many of the Nepali see the chaos that the country struggles with now and longs for the return of a king, as if that were the only choice. So, with these things in mind, it is easy to understand how the situation is progressing. They are almost all Hindu or Buddhist so there is no religious struggle like elsewhere. When I ask if a person is Hindu or Buddhist I often get an answer like, “Same, same.” There doesn’t even seem to be a prejudice toward Christian or Muslim either, probably because there are so few of them they are unable to make much noise. They do have a lovely mosque and several Christian churches here in the Valley. During the Christmas season last year I finally found a Christmas tree. The Christian man at the guest house assumed I identified with Christianity and said, “We believe in the invisible god.” Religion here is a matter of choice, not ‘my invisible friend is better than yours.’ So, there is little or no animosity from one group to the other; they are just trying to make their own way and get their needs met.     
As far as I can tell, there is no hatred for anyone by the Nepali people, except maybe towards the politicians. And that brings us to the actual problem within the problem. When the people finally get to vote, when the constitution is finally written, there isn’t likely to be a Politician left standing in Parliament. And, in my humble opinion, that is at the core of the issue, staying in power.
I don’t actually expect any problems that would affect tourists’ safety until just before the October 27 deadline, and even then it would not be very likely. Fall is when Nepal is at its best. So, for now, please do not worry about coming to Nepal, but if you are really worried you should probably come in September and plan on leaving a couple weeks before the deadline. But, if you are an adventurer stay for the show. I do not see any danger that cannot be avoided by a prudent tourist. These are very peaceful people. Maybe they are bit enthusiastic about helping a westerner out of some of our excess money, but seldom does a tourist actually come into any kind of real danger.
If saving money and learning your way around society here is important to you, you will enjoy my book, Nepal: On a Budget. There are several pages you can read and the table of contents under the ‘Sample of the Book’ tab. This part of the book that I really want to share with you are the three lists that will help you get your vacation off to a great start. Following the advice from the lists will net you some real savings.

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