Author: Dr Val Inchley.
As Prithvi Narayan Shah1 stood on the ridge overlooking Kathmandu, he coveted the beautiful, green, fertile valley spread before him: by 1769 it was his, but if he were to be reincarnated today I doubt he would want it. Apart from very limited contact with British India during the Rana regime2, Nepal remained a hidden Himalayan Shangri La, but since the country opened up to the world in 1950/1 it has changed beyond all recognition. Nowadays people ‘sow’ bricks and not rice in the fields.
As today’s tourist flies into the valley s/he catches only a brief glimpse of the snow-peaks before plunging through a suffocating layer of smog – the inheritance of the internal combustion engine. From the first car carried over the hills, it is a mere 50 years to the present traffic and lung congestion, but everyone (who’s anyone) has a motorcycle or Pajero3 while no one repairs the roads or removes the garbage.
Understandably tourism – the main source of income since the 70s – is declining. Supermarkets for the national elites have mushroomed but souvenir shops and hotels are struggling. Once the Mecca of the Hippie trail, Kathmandu is now rejected in favour of destinations free from armed police and pollution, but retains its legacy of drugs. Visitors bold enough to browse the bookshops of Thamel4 saunter among the saris, attired in mini-skirts or jeans, serenaded by “Om Mane Padme Hum”5 & hard rock before savouring an international menu.
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