Friday, November 28, 2008

The Spectacle of Terror

I cannot help watching live telecasts of the so called "War on Mumbai" on the CNN/IBN website. Its live, fast paced journalism, but somewhere I cannot help wondering if the channel is also capitalizing on its newly found popularity. I hear too many words like "exclusive", "our correspondents are tirelessly working", in typical high pitched hyper-fast reporting that is typically Indian... Even on a low volume, it sounds loud for some reason.

So I end up thinking, is this really responsible? A friend of mine in Mumbai, wrote a small note on facebook outlining her feelings at this moment, and tried to put it to perspective. I have to thank her for bringing this to light. You would think that India was under attack at this moment, if you watch the news channels.
It is terrible all right, over 140 people have died so far, and there is no describing the horror of actually being in that situation and having a loved one injured or dead. But do we get the same level of sensationalism and media interest when murder, rape and torture happens in Sudan or the DRC?

There is a world outcry because it is India, and somehow, India is an important place for the world. India is also loud, and has a presence that can be felt in this world. Sudan and Congo do not have that. Hence, one does not have to be too loud about their feelings towards the atrocities going on there.

I would love to see Michael Moore take on the media in his next movie and their marketing of terror. I hope he still has some energy left, after all his fights!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Gastronomic Guide to Thamel

I have started writing a gastronomic guide to Thamel, the tourism district in Kathmandu. Its up at the website and you can find it directly here. This is a new initiative from and is a wonderful place to add your travel tips... or to learn about them.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Trekking back on track!

Going by what is being reported, we might be just back on track, after seven/eight long years of being in the slump. News reports are now showing that the trekking business is rebounding back in giant leaps. Looks like "change" (the big buzzword nowadays in the world) in government was what was required in Nepal too. 

picture courtesy: rajesh k.c

Even the Khumbu reported choked villages in October, full of trekkers, and situation of not finding accomodation starting to happen. Read this in this Nepalitimes Article

It is difficult to say if this is a blessing or a curse. Tourism entrepreneurs who are reading this might have a shine in their eyes, and even have tears of joy (we are back in business! yaaah!) but the trekker who wants to peacefully enjoy his walking holiday will be like, how can I avoid this rush (damn, sounds like mass tourism!)

There is good news for both parties though. And you can read it in that article hyperlinked above, or in the synopsis right here. Some years ago, the idea of a trans Himalayan trekking route, stretching from Pakistan, and including Tibet, Nepal for most of the way, India and Sikkim began to emerge, and was called the Great Himalayan Trail. The idea was to create this trail that would take several months to complete, but would offer options for people to enter at a particular point and exit at another, giving rise to possibilities of several custom trips (and side trips)... this might save the industry in Nepal... creating increased possibilities for both industry professionals and for the clients alike, so that everyone does not have to tread the same ground.

This has multiple benefits of course. The trekking dominated tourism of Nepal, has mostly been limited to the Annapurna Region, the Everest Region and the Lantang Region, in that order. It is not that trekkers do not go to other areas, but few and far between (good for them, but a small critical mass is required for the industry as a whole and the infrastructure to develop). Also, for too long, these three areas have been the only ones to benefit directly form the tourism Dollar (Oops, should I rather say Euro or Pound?) so its high time the rest of Nepal (which is equally if not more beautiful) gets its share too.

Only recently has new routes such as the Chepang Hill Trail (to Chitwan), Renjo La Trail (Everest Region), the Tamang Heritage Trail (Langtang Region), and Nar Phu Valley trips (Annapurna Region) been worked on and marketed. Good news is trekking these new routes can result in (thankfully) smaller number of other trekkers.

Of course, traditional off the beaten trails like Dolpo, Kanchenjunga, Gauri Shankar Area and Humla have always been there and are reasonably developed, but for normal holiday makers with normal budgets, these are a bit expensive.

So, for the benefit of the Nepal Travel Advisory 


1. Time your trek in the beginning or end of the tourism season. This will ensure that the villages are not crowded. You will also do something really responsible by doing this. Help spread the tourism season a bit more. Nepal is still beautiful. So when is this

Spring before season timings: early Feb or late April, May
Fall before season timings: End August or Late November, December

2. Be drastic, and choose to come in summer. Yeah, yeah everyone talks about the monsoon and all, but there are tons of areas in the rain shadow, and trekking in summer can be real real cool up there! Places like Manang, Mustang (ok, thats a bit expensive), Gosainkunda etc, can be real fun. We actually even have a big group coming next year in June - (peak summer/rainy season)to go up to Everest Base Camp, and i tell you, they WILL have a blast!

3. Forget the race to EBC, ABC, Kanjin Gompa, and try some of the Off the Beaten Trails... You will notice a drastic difference in the charm of trekking there.

4. Wait a few years, train a lot, and hit the Trans Himalayan Trail for three months, from Pakistan to the Northeastern border of India.

See you in the mountains!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Internalizing Environmental Responsibility

I can see that it is getting progressively more and more complicated to "put your money where your mouth is" in the world of responsibility. As we "develop" ourselves, we generally get more and more "irresponsible" if we live normal lives, and unless you turn yourself into a eccentric ascetic, you might as well be ready to compromise heavily on what you believe in. I think a beggar in the streets of Kolkata is more environmentally responsible than I am, though I might consider myself the more "sensitive".

Living now in Austria for short time has reinforced the Western dominance in the world of environmental degradation and energy consumption. Agreed, most things seem unavoidable, but I feel that life in air polluted Kathmandu beats living in Austria in terms of environmental responsibility if calculated in terms of "per capita negative impacts".

I work in a cold cellar, with a heater on (I try to turn it off from time to time) and with the onset of winter, its also dark, so I use lights. Everything around me guzzles electricity, and the moment I walk out, I need to drive to go anywhere, mostly alone, as public transport is few and far between where I live. The mailboxes are always full of junk paper, which I would rather not have in the first place, and I need more energy to cook each meal, as I also have to drive to the grocery to bring the stuff back, usually alone in the car. Everything I buy has tons of packing on it, usually plastic, the fruits even have a small brand stamp, which I have to chuck. I could go on, roping in all facets of responsibility, but I think the point is made.

The one thing that I can appreciate is the waste disposal mechanism, where everything is sorted, recycled or vanishes out of view. I think, in Kathmandu, I produce less than one tenth inorganic waste than when I am here, except my waste in Kathmandu is probably on the streets, later taken away to ugly open dumping sites! On the trek, I probably produce very close to zero inorganic waste!

It is also true that one can live a "green" life even here, but I am just a normal person, wanting to live a normal live, albeit a slightly "greener" one.

Unfortunately, in this world, we are all moving towards the lifestyles of the west, and though one might think that "progress" is when Kathmandu will be like Vienna, I am glad I will probably not be there to experience it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A nation of contrasts!

It is a day of mixed feelings for me today. Early this morning I got alarm emails from Nepal and the UK concerning the student protests in Kathmandu over the alleged YCL murder / assasination of two youths in a remote district. As stoic Nepalese, we have come to terms that these events are regular normal happenings in Nepal. However, we have clients currently there and their safety is our prime concern. Events such as these always bring the same emotions of hopelessness, sadness, and frustration knowing what potential Nepal has, and how we are effectively throwing it all down a drain.

Later, I read about Subina Shrestha and Dawa Steven Sherpa, and my heart lightened up. Subina is a good friend who was a finalist just last week for the prestigious Rory Peck Award for her outstanding journalism in the Irrawady Delta in Myanmar. She was the first journalist to reach there, posing as a buddhist pilgrim from Nepal.

Dawa Steven Sherpa, a fellow entrepreneur in Nepal, is making us all proud of his innovative conservationist skills, in the world arena. He is only 24, has reached three 8000 + m peaks, Mt. Everest twice... and is a beacon for conservation efforts in mountaineering, and is winning awards right, left and center.

Nepal proves to me more and more regularly, how badly we suck as a country in providing a good environment for the citizens of this country, and how vast the differences are in terms of education, thinking, and understanding of priorities. The students on the streets today are also a proud, fierce lot, but I personally believe that their thinking a bit clouded by the political motives dictated or brainwashed by politicians with ulterior motives, into their young and angry heads. So they go on disrupting live, business, education in the name of change, without realising that they are stomping over their own ingenuity, creativity and potential.

When will Nepal realise that all we have to do is SIT TIGHT. Create a stable country, a stable political environment and sit tight. China and India, in between whom we are fortunately sandwiched, will carry us through!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Where is the Industry now?

This follows something that I have written about before, but it is important in my mind that we revisit it. Where is the tourism industry in Nepal today?

The tourism industry had taken quite a hit in the 10 or so years of insurgency in Nepal, which finally seems to have closed its chapter. We have other problems, but hopefully insurgency at a nationwide scale as before will not come now that the Maoists have come overground.

However, the industry proved its resilience, growing even during some peak turmoil years, after the initial shock and lowest point in 2001. I personally think that part of this growth was also a global trend, fueled by the 9/11 attacks, the Bali bombing, the Madrid bombing, and the London bombings, which all proved to people that there were worse problems than in Nepal, and really, we are not really safe anywhere. So people kept coming, and the tourism industry had enough people coming to keep it striving. It also did other things.

It made the industry resilient. The industry had learnt that they have to fend for themselves, and traditional agents in the markets were quick to be disloyal when the advisories went sour. This made companies making efforts at reaching to the market, going into trade fairs, starting building better websites and marketing direct. Clients now are dealing with better websites, service, and more professional companies than before.

Companies are also now more conscious of market requirements and responsibility issues. In 2006, a project on marketing of sustainable products of Nepal by UNEP, SNV, Nepal Tourism Board and the Nepal Government, got over 50 private sector operators join the Sustainable Tourism Network. Several of them got selected for the MAST project and received training and even attended some trade shows as part of the marketing effort. It does not prove much, but shows that operators are conscious and willing to make changes for the market.

Internationalism is also coming in. Nepal recently hosted a major international mountain biking championship, actively does an international kayak championship every year, and boasts the highest marathon in the world, the Everest Marathon, which starts at 5350 meters or so at the Everest Base Camp and ends at 3440 at Namche Bazaar. (interesting fact: the first race was won by a Nepalese trekking cook!)

So the message is: Nepal is more than ready. If anything good came out of the insurgency, it did make the industry more resilient and professional.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Competing with the "developed" world: Issue # 21 - Travel

Frankly, I have not counted the issues, I have to admit. I just put in # 21 because I am quite sure that the list extends beyond this, and I might continue this series (lets see!). This comes first hand, trying to travel to the UK right now for WTM and years travelling in the "developed" world - for business and to compete in the global travel market as a Nepalese entrepreneur.

Business is about opportunities, and one has to be able to pounce on them. This means the ability to quickly get to places where the opportunities arise. Unfortunately, for a large part of the world, travel has several hindrances, and the biggest hurdle is the visa.

You are guilty unless proven innocent, and the visa official is the judge. We have to prove that we have no intent to stay or seek employment. All this sounds OK, countries have the right to check this. But how can this be proven.

1. Are you employed? If yes, give us originals of your salary sheet for at least three months to six months and a letter of temporary leave from employment.

2. Are you self employed? prove that you have an organization. Is it legal? Give registration papers, and possibly bank statements, to prove that this is not a paper organisation.

3. Are you married? do you have children (you might consider coming back to)?

4. Who invited you to the UK? Do you have papers to prove this? Originals please, no emails or faxes! Can this organisation please prove that you will go back once the business is over? (by the way, there is not much chance that an organisation from "our" parts of the world would have enough money and zeal to actually travel on their own, without having to get an invitation)

5. Have you booked your tickets? Return please. We want to make sure you are coming back. So there is no chance that you can change your dates without spending big money, even if the opportunity arises?

6. Are you applying from your home country, or a country where you are a resident? If not, please go back there to apply. (no way you are allowed to change your itinerary)

7. Do you have enough personal savings? please give us an original of your six monthly bank statement of your personal account.

Finally, after all this preparation, you might get a visa (or you might not!).

Compare this with someone coming from the UK, or the US, or the EU into Asia, or Africa or Latin America, specially in some countries with entry visa that can be bought at the airport, or have a limited gratis visa.

How can WE compete in this globalised world?

btw, I have not been refused the visa!


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