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An encounter with Maoists: Being robbed politely

By Stuart Pengelly

KATHMANDU, Nov 3:It was October 5, 2002. We were trekking up to Makalu Valley from Tumlingtar towards the Mt. Makalu base camp. After two days of walk, we could no longer see people looking like army or police personnel. On the 4th day of the trip we were in Sheduwa of Makalu-Barun area. In the afternoon when we were resting in a hotel, four people- three men and one boy- came into our room. Appearing very polite, they shook hands with us and introduced themselves by name and claimed that they were the members of the Maoist party. Out of the four one had a pistol, one was in army combat pants and the rest were mostly in casual dress.
They had come for a ‘donation’. They had already passed information via a guide of an American tourist, who was also robbed a day before. The guide understood what the Maoists wanted, and he explained what they wanted. The Maoists understood most English and one of them spoke French as well. They were very polite but quite serious about the donation. They were not interested in other equipment like cameras or watches. They were quite formal, and started documenting in their notebook our name and address and the amount of money we would be paying. There was a separate list of other people in another notebook. The notebook contained the names and ‘donations’ from previous tourists.

Then they said there would be a big problem if we didn’t pay. So we three paid Rs. 4,000 each as per their ‘rate’ for trekkers. Climbers were to pay more, may be Rs. 5000 or Rs. 6000. After we paid, they relaxed a bit and even became friendly. They soon got to know that we hadn’t eaten lunch yet. They got some Horlicks biscuits and gave us a packet each. What expensive biscuits!

To be honest, we had some information that a group of tourists had been previously robbed in this area. We were expecting some problem near Sheduwa. Despite expecting the robbery, it was still stressful. To our surprise, the Maoists also offered a helicopter ride for Rs. 7000 from Sheduwa to Makalu base camp, where we were going. We understand they have that helicopter. A helicopter has been missing since the past 3 months. May be it is the same helicopter.

They gave us the receipt after receiving money from us saying it would be valid for three Maoist districts between Tumlingtar to Makalu base camp. They asked us to show the receipt if any one asked for money. But if you go out of Sheduwa to Lukla, then that is a different area altogether and the receipt will not be valid, we were warned. But we did not come across any other Maoists except that group of four. After the incident, we kept going and we finished the trip without any problems.

Yes, I think it’s certainly bad to have this kind of problem, but not as bad as what the locals have been going through. To some extent, we were mentally prepared for the encounter with these people, but we were still nervous. Obviously such incidents will have a negative impact in tourism industry in Nepal. However, nothing happened with us except that we were robbed. But the publicity about the internal security has resulted in the decline of tourists. Indian tourists number has gone up while that of the westerners is down. The cause is not just the Maoists. Maybe last year’s Indo-Pak conflict have had a negative impact in the whole region as well.

The guide who was doing translation for us said these Maoists are very friendly and very polite. He also said that Maoists he met in different districts were not the same. So our experience is that we lost our money but we were robbed very politely. Maybe in another areas the risk is higher. Westerners are not violently being attacked and our experience was not too bad.

We were certainly stressed, it’s not a nice experience. But we didn’t think we would be attacked. I think it would not do the Maoist much good to start physically harming foreigners. So my concern is for the people in the village who must live under the threats of demands and violence. The local people have been facing problems from the Maoists. For us that was one day of stress, and that too finished when we left Sheduwa. Along the way, I also met one American and two German nationals who were robbed by the Maoists. I wouldn’t like to say our experience was bitter. I have concerns for stability, peace and security of the people. I will definitely come back to visit again here, as long as there is not a big threat personally.

We were aware that the tourist areas might have Maoist problems. We did have the information about it but still we were ready to visit this beautiful place. This is my experience relating to Maoists. I am in no position to give suggestions or recommendations but I think, smart Maoist must surely realise that violence and misfortune are no way to help people or gain support. I wish Nepal a quick and peaceful end to the Maoist issue.

(As narrated to Guna Raj Luintel. Stuart, a bilogist, is an Australian national.)