Thursday, March 1, 2012

In and out of Magical Nepal - Poonhill Trek

Nepal is a Magical place, a great place to visit and just walk around aimlessly. There is always a great panorama at the top of every hill you climb and at the bottom of every river valley and the shores of lake Phewa.

Yet those born here are eager to get out. Kathmandu and elsewhere is full of language schools for guides and those who want to pursue education in - Korea, UK, USA, Australia, Japan, India and anywhere but Nepal. By my estimates there are 4 ways out : Matrimony, Magnanimity, Military and Money.

The last is brought in my the steady streams of tourists taking Visas-on-Arrival at the airport (they only accept foreign currency) or paying in dollars at the trekking agencies for hikes, helicopter rides or a splash down the Trishuli in a raft. The government money concentrates in the hands of the Chhetris (who hold political power) and the tourist money in the hands of the Bahuns (who hold economic power). This sends their sons and daughters to the language schools and eventually abroad. There is nothing wrong with this, just how things operate. I went to Calcutta Medical College with the daughter of former Interior Minister Khum Bahadur Khadka - Irena Khadka.


The hills people particularly the Gurung, who live in the Poon hill - Ghandruk - Ghorepani area which I trekked in get recruited by armies worldwide particularly the British. A lot of the infrastructure around this area is funded by them. The electricity(solar and hydro) and water in these remote areas much more consistent than in the towns - Pokhara and Kathmandu. The bridges are solid and a picture of a retired military patriarch adorns every tea-house. In such a tea house I met Jimmy Woods, a wild and weird man from Banff, Canada who has spent the last 30 years learning traditional Nepalese skills and teaching them to Commando units. He speaks nearly fluent Nepalese and spends half his time in Canada and the other half in Nepal. The martial history here runs deep and lets the people leap beyond the borders of their country.

The other source of foreign currency is donations, some to individual children being sponsored - like the kid I met on top of Swyambhunath, who said his Canadian sponsors had promised to take him to Canada if he aced his SLC (school leaving certificate) and insisted that I buy him some English books. The other lot of donations go to orphanages which tend to sprout up everywhere and attract foreign donations and mostly act as grand swindles at the expense of the kids. Luke, a fellow traveler, tried unsuccessfully to locate the orphanage his parents support. Anyway some magnanimity serves to pull the Nepalese out of Nepal.

The first option I am all too familiar with, as the never ending phone calls my parent keeps receiving after putting up my profile in a local website, of what nature I have already gone into before. When all is considered Nepal is a beautiful place and everybody wants to go there, but the Nepalese want to have a go on the outside. Grass is always greener on the other side, the entire economic system functions on people having different value systems. May be we should sue CocaCola for not providing adequate recycling and causing the accumulation of garbage everywhere including the Annapurna conservation area. The Nepalese are used to biodegradable packaging and are having a hard time adapting to rubbish that does not just rot away in the rain, instead stands around in brightly coloured heaps.

The Himalayas are a rare place and have enormous value in their grandness and breathtaking beauty, they will keep existing for a while and watch the flow of people in and out of Nepal.
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