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Out of Nepal

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The land of the mountains. A city with the strange sounding name of; "Kathmandu". Nepal has eight mountains that tower over 8,000 meters. With the Granddaddy of all mountains reaching beyond the clouds to a height of {8,848} meters "Sagarmatha{Mount Everest}. This King of the mountains is the top drawing card for the shutterbugs; the seasoned and the amateur climbers, the tourist at large and the worlds' thrill seekers. During the two peak seasons for climbing, as many as 100 climbing permits can be issued, with the going price as high as $ 70,000 per. permit, for seven climbers. Quite a bonanzas for the two governments, Nepal and China. Not to mention the ad promotion for all the equipment that is used.

But Nepal is not just about the challenge of climbing Everest or the other {8000 plus-meter} giants. Or the picture perfects postcards. This country of 25.5 million people is about a wide divergence in culture, traditions and customs. Nepal is among the poorest and the least developed countries in the world. Added to the impoverished living conditions; we can list illiteracy, substandard hygienic conditions, unemployment, a fifty percent mortality rate for children in their first five years, With adult mortality set at around fifty-eight years of age. We are not talking about a paradise or a Garden of Eden. But a country that is struggling to keep its' head above water. Or a country that is waiting for an accident to happen.

The city of Kathmandu is a mix and match "hodge- pogh" of the old and the new. And this is especially true when one enters "Thamel". With the new restaurants sandwiched in-between the older ones. And the same being true of the hotels. Then we have the high tech cyber-shops, with wall to wall computers for the tourists' hotmail and yahoo. While the average Nepali's live in homes that still have dirt floors and outside washing and toilet facilities

The noise level on the central streets of Thamel during the daytime could well be compared to the noise of a three- ring circus, calliope and all. That never lets' up. You have the hawkers with their "tiger balm" their "Buddha statues" and the famous Gorkha knife. Along with the beggars, the hashish and marihuana salesmen, The taxi drivers, the auto rickshaw drivers, the bicycle-rickshaws drivers yelling; "want a taxi, want a rickshaw". Now add to this, all the horns, whistles and the bicycle bells that never stop their honking and ringing. And the shop owners or their helpers saying; "hello or good morning, want to buy something". It is pure bedlam!

And, if this is not enough, you have to walk or run the gauntlet once you enter the streets of Thamel. Did I say streets, they are not streets by any stretch of the imagination. They are oversized footpaths. Barely room for one car, with most of the storefronts to the very edge of the street. On these, "Lilliputian "streets that have no center line and no traffic rules as to what side of the street you drive on, or when and how you pass. It is a pedestrian's nightmare.

The taxis, motorcycles, cars, trucks, vans, buses, rickshaws, tuk, tuks, mo-peds, bicycles and the "status" four wheelers are vying for this single lane, all at the same time. Pedestrians beware!

Insanity, Rules" the streets. The policemen who are stationed at various points in Thamel are just taking up space. The vehicles, which speed through the streets, risking life and limb, are invisible to the police.

No vehicles should be allowed within the central streets of "Thamel". Deliveries and supplies should be made before ten-o-clock. All taxis, tuk, tuks, and rickshaws should be ticketed if they are in the area after ten, unless they are dropping off Hotel or Guesthouse patrons. I have no doubt the owners of businesses within the area are fighting any changes that might be suggested to solve the utter confusion that exists in the streets of Thamel.

Of course the sensible solution would be to relocate this Tourist hotspot to an area closer to the airport. With some far-sighted city planning and proper zoning laws, that would be enforced. Along with enforced laws and rules to expedite the traffic. But here again, the power structure, the landowners, politicians and the special interest groups will get around to doing something, probably when the "ice age" returns.

The one redeeming feature about Nepal is the genuine hospitality of the general population. But the down side of Nepal lies within the business sector. Here we are talking about lack of efficiency, service and ethics. Plus the glaring discrepancy of over pricing across the board. The profit scale is out of proportion. In light of a figure of $ 212.00 per capita income a year and a failing economy. Some owners are gaining a hundred to two hundred per cent mark-up at the expense of the tourist trade. But as has been proven in the past. The tourists industry; "can kill the goose that lays the golden egg". The business philosophy seems to ape some of the politicians' philosophy. "Get in and get as much as you can. Even though the goose may die".

There are a number of factors that must be addressed if Nepal is to leave its' backward stance and its' portrait of being one of the lesser developing countries in the world. Of course the writer is aware that there is no simplistic answer. And that the elements to be mentioned cannot be isolated. Each affects one another, or spawns one another. All, need to be corrected for a good society to exist and serve its' people.

So what are some of these negative factions that hinder, instead of engendering and enhancing the general "good". There is a problem of illiteracy that hovers at 73 per cent of the population. Of those who are literate; 40 per cent our male and 14 per cent are female. Now one does not have to be an Einstein to figure out the disproportion that exists in these figures. And that education should be the number one priority for the country.

That goes for every country.

The above mentioned, leads us into the next factor. The existing poverty level which stands at 42 per cent. How utterly demoralizing, dehumanizing, degrading, unfair and uncalled for in this day and age. Who is responsible? The government, "yes", but all are responsible. Is there some light, at the end of the tunnel? "Yes", a little, but not enough. The private schools cannot solve the total problem of educating the masses, simply because the cost is prohibitive. The government must raise the needed monies to subsidize education. So that every child has the opportunity to be educated. No child should be penalized, by refusing to give him or her an education. And while speaking of "her", let us not forget' that it is the woman that shoulders the greater responsibility in the rearing and nurturing of the child. So it is equally important that the woman be educated. Tell me, that a woman doesn't need to be educated!

And lastly, but not really; there is the matter of "Human rights". The Constitution of Nepal is bound to protect and provide the basic human rights to its' citizens {children, women, laborers and the oppressed classes}. And "yes" even the rights of the Maoists.

In the same light, the Constitution reads; "no news item, article or any other reading material shall be censored". No press shall be seized or closed for any news item printed".

It is no secret that journalists, who criticize the rampart corruption in the government and its officials, are oppressed. Ten journalists have been arrested this year. In 1998, eight newspapers were seized. In the same year, two journalists disappeared while in police custody. No society can condone, these kinds of travesties again its' own citizenry.

The last travesty is that of corruption. As the saying goes; "power corrupts". And this becomes so true in governments and some of its' officials. But it does not stop at this level. It trickle's down, all the way down into the grass roots. In other words it becomes the acceptable thing to do. For you hear; "well, everybody else is doing it, I might as well get a piece of the pie myself'. No society, no country, or individual can become and fulfill their intended destiny in a corrupt environment.

There are other factors, that affect the above mentioned societal deficencies. Such as the existing caste systems and class distinctions held among the peoples of Nepal. Governmental struggles in the past two years with five different swings in leadership. With non-productive collaitions that cannot get their act together because of the power plays between them. Conflicting self-interests, greed and self-indulgences. And let us not leave out that old favorite "cronyism".

Is there a solution, "yes"? The solution lies in the problem. Are the "powers to be" aware of the problems and the solution. Again the answer is "yes" What would be of a tremendous help. That the elected remember: "that the government is of the people and for the people". And this should never be forgotten, especially by these servants of the people. Those who should have the best interests of their constituency at heart.

Having said all this; the number one priority is still. Education! Education! Education!

Nepal 4/2000

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