News from Nepal-Will Weber, April 2002

Journeys international ist ein amerikanisches Reiseunternehmen, welches von Jahren mit einer Nepalreise begonnen hat. Der Gründer Will Weber beschreibt hier in einem sehr fundierten Artikel seine Sicht zur aktuellen Lage.

Erscheinungsdatum April 2002

 News from Nepal Relayed by JOURNEYS International http://www.journeys-intl.com/index.html
I just returned this week from my 21st visit to Nepal. I look forward to my next visit. I would like to share my traveller's perspective with you. Within Kathmandu everyone is concerned about the future of Nepal, but few people have changed their daily patterns of life. Most people dread the Maoists more than hate them. Anger is more directed at the elected politicians whom many people believe are looting government from the inside. Few people who are not politicians, seem at all confident that the parliamentary government has any hope of mobilizing either the moral legitimacy or political unity to suppress the Maoists. I was surprised by > the number of people who seem to feel democracy has proven a failure in  Nepal and that it is now time for the army or king and the army to assume full powers of State in order to really crush the rebellion and throw out corrupt politicians. The parliament seems to fear this too and is undergoing a somewhat feeble soul searching and anti-corruption campaign while denouncing military officials who dare to criticize the political efficacy and self-serving policies of elected officials. During my three weeks in Nepal, I did not see anyone I could identify as a Maoist. There are no posters, pamphlets of public demonstrations. Anyone who would admit to being a Maoist, outside of Maoist controlled areas, would be immediately arrested and vigorously interrogated. Unfortunately, many non-political villagers are terrorized by Maoists by night and harassed by law enforcement by day. Many are abandoning their homes and farms in Maoist areas and moving to cities. Kathmandu now has a severe housing shortage even as the tourist hotels are mostly empty. I spoke with villagers from some areas who said the Maoists come into villages at night demanding money, guns and food under threat of harm. Parents fear their children will be kidnapped and impressed into the Maoist brigades. Many people suggest the Maoists they have encountered in their home areas are from other areas of Nepal and some do not speak Nepali. Several Nepalese trekking leaders I met who have encountered Maoists > indicate that the usual experience is for the Maoists to interrogate trekking porters about how much they are being paid and how much they are requested to carry. If Maoists decide that porters are asked to carry too much, the Nepali sirdar, or trek leader, is forced to carry a very heavy load himself. Typically, trekking porters receive more pay for lighter loads and shorter days than other Nepal porters and so Maoists only solicit a "donation" from the trekking group which may range from a few hundred rupees to 10,000 rupees per foreigner, as in the case of recent mountaineering expeditions in the Makalu Base camp in far east Nepal. The Maoists typically provide a receipt for such "donations". Foreigners are never harmed. The Royal Nepal Army has mobilized to protect key trekking areas. Most particularly the Everest area, Annapurna area and Langtang National Park are heavily patrolled by armed military personal. Careful inspections of all porter loads take place at certain trail choke points leading into the Khumbu and Langtang valleys. Every airport is heavily guarded. Luggage coming into Nepal is x-rayed and security screened. The army operates numerous road blocks on the main roads. Namche and Lukla are under 7 PM to dawn curfews. The Army has taken over the National Park headquarters above Namche Bazar and cut down many of the recently-planted pine trees. They seemed to feel these provided hiding places for rebels and obstruct the view> of the surrounding area. Army personnel in civilian clothing wearing tourist-type back packs walk the trekking trails as if to invite or intercept Maoist solicitation.

Every morning Nepalese eagerly listen to the news or read the daily papers for the overnight events. Typically, most of the action is in the impoverished far west of Nepal. The army reports the total number of Maoists killed overnight in general terms and another story or two tallies up the police and civilian deaths attributed to Maoists. Occasionally, some kind of fire is set or explosion goes off in Kathmandu but this is usually more dramatic for its incidence than its effects.
Maoists are actively extorting money and goods from whomever they can, including the elected politicians. Most businessmen receive visits from Maoist representatives who are knowledgeable about the whereabouts of the business owners' children, family and personal residence. Maoist leaders,it is believed, have stolen enough money to educate their own children in India and Europe.

Tourism throughout Nepal is visibly down, perhaps as much as 75% below levels of a few years ago. Thamel is not deserted, but most shops wait a long time between customers. Restaurants are never crowded. Taxis are readily available. Everybody is ready to make deals as the Nepal rupee approaches 80 to US$1.00. Few trekkers now visit Dolpo or areas farther west. Newly-opened trekking areas around Makalu and Kangchenjunga are in Maoist territory. Tourist still visit Chitwan and all the areas around the Kathmandu and Pokhara Valleys without any adverse encounters.
If you are contemplating a visit the Nepal or concerned about friends who either travel to Nepal or live in Nepal you should not worry too much. To date, no Maoist violence has been directed toward tourists or foreign interests. It is easy to avoid the areas of Maoist influence and still have a great trekking, wildlife or cultural vacation in Nepal. There is a widespread feeling of uncertainty and lack of confidence in the future among many educated Nepalese. These are not new feelings, but rather feelings compounded by both political apprehension and a sense of the economic strain of fighting a costly war even as the revenue of trade and tourism is diminishing. Personally, I would not hesitate to make another trip to Nepal soon. Apart from the ongoing events, most of Nepal is as friendly, safe and enjoyable as it has ever been. Nepalese in the tourist industry are extremely appreciative of all visitors who do come from immigration officials to hoteliers to the army personnel at check posts. Kathmandu is cleaner than I have seen it in many years, many of the historic and religious sites have been restored and preserved, the choice of restaurants is greater than ever, many tourist fees have been reduced or eliminated, airline reservations to and from Nepal are easy to confirm on any date, and you will see fewer trekkers even as they are now concentrated on fewer routes.

Will Weber, Director