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Nepal, Caught Between Realities

Coen van Wyk

Posted on May 19, 2019 07:15

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Nepal has been a hidden kingdom for much of its history. It now welcomes tourism, but struggles with the contesting forces that center on this emerging country. Between modernity and tradition, China and India, Buddhism and materialism, this small country seeks a precarious balance.

Shangri-la, a hidden valley in the Himalayas, where man finds harmony with nature, where people live for centuries and everyone is happy, is based on ancient Buddhist legends. For many, the valleys of Nepal represented this dream, from flower children who enjoyed endless, cheap drugs (no, more, no more), to mountaineers seeking the ultimate challenge.

Boudanath stupa, a holy Buddhist shrine


As with all dreams, this one too, has its reality. Long under an increasingly decrepit monarchy, a civil war started in 2001, leading, after many atrocities, to a democratic Parliament in 2006. The powers of the Monarchy were curtailed, and at present the country is ruled by a fragile coalition of Communists and Maoists. Many in Nepal, however, believe the King would, and should return to power.

Foothills


Geo-politics will always be a delicate balancing act between China to the north and India to the south. Economic pressure from both sides are balanced against each other, and Nepal houses a significant number of refugees from Tibet, despite protestations from Beijing.

This is also where the tectonic plates that make up south east Asia meet. In 2015 a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck, leaving more than 8,000 people dead, and toppling many ancient shrines and works of art.

Repairing earthquake damage


For the visitor, a few thoughts. First, make contact with the real people. A Scandinavian girl in the Durbar square market complained loudly that cashmere shawls were a third of what she had paid in the tourist-infested Thamel market. Unless you have friends to stay with, you are likely to be locked into the ghettos of five-star hotels, thus missing the reality of the city. But it is further afield that the heart of Nepal is to be found.

Temple on the lake, Pokhara


Small villages, victims of a flight of young people to the city and overseas, welcome foreigners, at the price of some comfort. Small hotels abound, and hard working peasants still work the lands, providing good and interesting food. But do specify the degree of heat you can stand, the chilies are hot!

Monkey temple, Kathmandu


And above all, throne the mountains. Hidden behind clouds most of the time, you turn at an unguarded moment and find the glittering magnificence looking down upon you. Or, on a local flight, the plane breaks through the cloud layer, and you find yourself looking UP at the snow-capped peaks.

Shiva mountain above Pokhara


Anthropologist Olga Amman told how someone had helped her find her way through a forest, and was mortally offended when she offered money, because that would take away the merit gained by helping someone. Alas, tourism has eroded that. Still, seeing fathers patiently teaching children to weave bamboo and work the fields, makes one wonder if the spirit of Shangri-la is not still alive here.

Ancient shrine to Kali
Coen van Wyk

Posted on May 19, 2019 07:15

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Source: Forbes

An interview with two Nepali entrepreneurs I encountered during my travels in Nepal, and what they've taught me about perseverance.

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