Welcome to my Blog

Welcome to my blog. Please read my selected articles published in various newspapers and magazines, and feel free to pass your comments. Besides, my books are available in leading book stalls across the country. At the same time, I would be glad to send a free copy of the book to journalists/writers interested to review in the newspaper/magazine.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Documentary on Nepal's Tibetan refugees

LB THAPA
Some 50 years ago, a wretched family of four left Tibet at midnight. It was of course a hard decision to leave one’s own land behind, but they took that bold decision anyway.
The journey was difficult for Sonam Wangmo, as she was heavily pregnant. She walked with her family for four days, and then one afternoon when the sun was beating hard, she had labor pains and gave birth to a girl child. Her husband held the baby in his arms and continued the journey. Eventually they reached Lomanthang (Mustang) in Nepal.
This sounds more like a scene from a popular commercial cinema. But this is not! Sonam Wangmo presently lives in the Tashi Palkhel Refugee Camp of Hemja in Pokhara. The baby who was born on the trek is Tsete Dolma who is now 50 years old. She lives in the Tashiling Refugee Camp of Chhorepatan in Pokhara.
*****
Journalist Shree Bhakta Khanal has made an investigation into such Tibetan refugee issues. And he has come up with a documentary, “An Incomplete Story”. Khanal himself wrote the script and directed the documentary, which has ably highlighted Tibetans’ culture in general and their political problems in particular.
It narrates the story right from His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s self-exile from Tibet to India; and all the troubles followed after then. In one part of the documentary, it has shown how some Khampas waged a guerrilla war against the mighty Chinese for a quite sometime. This was no doubt a daring effort.
Tashi is one of the guerrilla fighters. The fact that he was trained in Colorado by the US to fight against the Chinese interests has added a new dimension to investigative journalism.
Yet another guerrilla fighter, Lobsang, says: “We’re Buddhists. We believe in non-violence. But the way the Chinese authority compelled our holy master the Dalai Lama is an unpardonable act. Hence we took up arms against the Chinese authority.”
*****
Namgyal & Doma are husband and wife, who are childless. They give a touching reason for this.
“We’ve been living in Nepal for a long time. But we still don’t have valid refugee Identity [ID] cards. In this condition, the government can take any legal action against us. When our future is bleak, how can we think of having children?” asks Doma, with tears rolling down her cheeks.
*****
In a nutshell, the documentary successfully presents the Tibetan refugees’ actual lives in Nepal, which are filled with uncertainties. The documentary also focuses on the Nepali government’s predicaments regarding the Tibetan refugee issues.
The issue of Bhutanese refugees of Nepali origins vis-√†-vis Tibetan refugees is another matter to deal with, and not treated on par because of, among other things, prejudicial tones. For instance, there are young Tibetan boys and girls, though born in Nepal, who still don’t have valid refugee identification papers with them. This has been an irksome issue.
*****
Without doubt, director Khanal has made a truthful effort to show the ideological clashes between the Dalai Lama who believes in an autonomous Tibet, and the new generation of Tibetans not ready to accept anything less than completely “Free Tibet”.
There is an interview with the foreign secretary and the health minister of the exiled government of HH Dalai Lama. These diplomats believe in autonomous Tibet whereas the president of the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) strongly voices for Free Tibet. This shows, for one thing, that exiled Tibetans’ views are largely divided among themselves.
*****
Director Khanal’s labor in the making of this documentary is praiseworthy. He says that the name of the documentary is “An Incomplete Story” because the story will be complete only when the Tibetan people are welcomed back in Tibet with their presently lost honor and dignity restored.

(Credit: This article was originally published in The Republica)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Hot-air ballooning: An experience of a lifetime
LB THAPA

Pokhara has always been eulogized for its mesmerizing beauty. Besides its majestic mountains and snow-clad Himalaya, Pokhara also offers a wide range of adventure sports. Power gliding and paragliding have already become much popular among tourists. In the early dawn, colorful powergliders and paragliders soar over the Fewa Lake and Sarangkot.

Adventure lovers have decided to add one more thrill to the list—hot air ballooning! Visitors can now experience wonderful flights high above the Pokhara Valley in hot air balloons that rise above the Annapurna, Dhaulagiri, and Lamjung ranges, leaving its passengers mesmerized.

Professor Wolfgang Nairz, the man behind the ballooning concept in Pokhara, is an alpine consultant.

“Ballooning is one hundred percent safe and secure because even if the burner goes out of order, the balloons descend slowly,” said Nairz, speaking at a program. He added, “Balloons are made from Ri-stop nylon. The material is treated with polyurethane to stop porosity and to enclose hot air.”

Recently, Tara Ballooning and Yeti Airlines jointly organized a five-day demonstration flight of hot air balloons in Pokhara. Their sole purpose was to introduce hot air ballooning as the most exciting form of airborne adventure. Thirty certified pilots completed test flights with success, amid a wild crowd.

“Hot air ballooning is more exciting because balloons can reach heights that power glide and paraglide can’t,” explained Graham Saunders, a British adventure consultant and photographer. “Hence, regardless of cloudy weathers, one can get still get a beautiful view of the Himalaya.”

Hot air balloons are capable of ascending to a maximum height of 10,000ft.

However, only highly trained pilots can fly hot air balloons with ease and an international license is required to fly one.

“Flying a hot air balloon is not about accelerating the throttle and injecting hot air; one needs to go through two years of intensive training course to obtain a professional license,” Saunders informed.

The takeoff and landing spots for hot air balloons in Pokhara are Pame, Begnas Lake, and the nearby International Mountain Museum in Tatapaira.

“These are venues from where we can lift off and land at the same time,” put in Saunders. “To make flights safe, all the electronic equipment of the balloons will be directly controlled by the air control tower of Pokhara Airport, and all flights will be fully monitored.”

A support team on the ground also follows the balloon in a retrieval vehicle. They are in constant radio contact with the balloon pilot.

Hot air balloon flights will be available in the morning because the weather is ideal for ballooning at that time.

Daman Pradhan, executive officer of Yeti Airlines, announced, “Very soon, we’re going to launch commercial flights. The rate for foreigners is US$250 per person, but for Nepalis there will be revised rates.”

Ballooning in Pokhara is quite an adventure and it is, without a doubt, an experience of a lifetime.
(Credit: This article was originally published in THE WEEK OF My Republica)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Porters: Tourism industry's backbone

LB THAPA
The lives of Nepali porters are miserable. They carry loads of trekkers and walk up and down craggy trails with cautious steps. Journeying to high altitudes can be like having one’s heart pop out of the mouth. This risky job so far has resulted in uncountable porters having lost their lives while many fatalities also go unreported. A body of a dead porter is left for wild animals, or buried without rituals.

To sum up, Nepali porters have always been neglected and exploited. Poor as they are, they also have little to safeguard their rights. Poverty and illiteracy push them to take on this occupation. Their job is tough indeed. Whether in the scorching sun or freezing cold weather, porters – called “bhariyas” in Nepali – are expected to walk continuously. No matter how heavy their load, they have to trudge on and ahead of the trekkers. This is the rule of the job that every porter has to follow.

There are allegedly over 50,000 porters in Nepal. Most are farmers. But due to lack of proper policies, this sector is most unorganized. This is one reason why they are exploited. A complete laissez-faire is applied in the porter’s labor market. Anyone can join the job without meeting any requirements. The only prerequisite is that one have enough physical strength.

Poverty is the culprit. Most porters in Nepal are farmers, but farm yields are always uncertain. Agriculture alone is unable to meet their needs. This is why they opt for an alternate income source during the off season. Being unskilled, portering also comes in handy. Many rush to popular trekking destinations where bhariyas are in demand.

“Every year during the off season, I go to Kathmandu or Pokhara to be a porter. In my absence, my wife and two daughters mind the household chores. But even after six months of carrying loads, all I end up with is a paltry sum and severe back pain,” lamented Dil Bahadur Rana Magar from Gorkha.

Yet another disappointed bhariya is Krishna Manandhar, 51, who wants to quit this profession and go to India for better prospects.

“A job of bhariya is also hazardous,” he says. “I’ve seen many fellow bhariyas dying. But a bhariya’s death makes no difference. His load is shared by others and the body is left for wild animals.”

High altitude trekking is a challenging task even for experienced porters. But there is no substitute for porters, especially in several places where even pack mules and donkeys can’t negotiate. Hence, surefooted porters are the only reliable vehicle to carry goods on trekking and mountaineering expeditions.

If a trekker suffers from high altitude sickness, s/he is carried by porters to safety. If the condition worsens, airlift to a nearby hospital is the

next move. But a bhariya does not receive the same treatment, no matter what. Humanth Chapagain, 45, from Chitwan says, “We porters are responsible for our own misery. We’re in cutthroat competition with our own co-porters. Due to this, mountain guides and trekking agencies take advantage of our weaknesses.”

A mountain porter is meant to carry a maximum of 15 kilograms. But in reality, he has to carry more. Also, sometimes a porter’s weight is shared by other porters and he is made redundant.

“Last year, I was sent back from Chumrung because others agreed to share my load,” added Humanath.

Illiterate and unorganized porters cannot defend their rights even with the formation of the Nepal Trekking, Travels, and Rafting Labor Union (NTTRLU) to protect the rights of porters. But sadly, this organization has failed to meet expectations.

Additionally, there is no living space for porters at night. They must sleep in the open. Hotel staff don’t treat them humanely, either. Many porters eat at small hotels and sleep in nearby caves. Some porters even carry ration with them.

However, some arrangement has been made for porters in the Annapurna and Langtang areas, where a common room is provided to them. There is also a porter’s house in Khumbu. Such shelters must be available in all major trekking and climbing destinations of Nepal.

In recent times, porters have demanded insurance. Their labor union has proposed Rs 200,000 for a porter’s death at 17,000 feet, and Rs 300,000 for such fatality above that altitude. The labor union has also fixed an individual porter’s wage at Rs 350 per day for Annapurna and Rs 450 in the Sagarmatha regions. Sick and wounded porters should also get the same facilities that trekkers get. However, these demands have not yet been fulfilled. The government did introduce a Tourism Act in 2002. Accordingly, porters are entitled to receive some benefits. But when this scribe spoke to many porters, they flatly denied getting any benefits whatsoever. Many were ignorant of any such Act with a provision to benefit them.

Even then, it is their abject poverty that compels them to continue portering. Promod Bhandari started as a porter 10 years ago. After one year, he quit. He then became a trekking guide. This profession is not as difficult as portering. After five years in this profession, he has his own trekking agency in Pokhara.

“I’ve experienced the hardship of a porter. This is where a porter earns neither decent money nor satisfaction. And the nature of the job is uncertain,” said he.

“Nowadays, there’s been some improvement in the condition of porters,” said Harka Gharti, a longtime porter from Dhading. “Porters are paid 500 Rupees a day. Most hotels and lodges also provide a common room for us. However, we must pay for ourselves. It’s simply difficult to save any money even from a month-long trek.”

Making Nepal Tourism Year 2011 a success is not possible without making Nepali porters happy. The government must issue strict directives against the trekking agencies for providing adequate facilities to porters. The government also must ensure that no porters are exploited. Most importantly, porters’ grievances should be given due attention and prompt action should be taken without further delay.

(Credit: This article was published in The Week of My Republica)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Selling Sex To Survive

L. B. Thapa
No official attempt has been made to register the number of commercial sex workers in the country so far. Nevertheless, various reports have confirmed that some 30 thousand sex workers are in the country. Of them over 5000 prostitutes are believed to have carried their profession in the Kathmandu valley alone. A big number of minor girls below 16 years of are also found in this profession. They sell sex to survive.
Although the law of the land prohibits prostitution, it is flourishing in cities and towns. There could be many reasons. Unemployment, rampant poverty, lack of job opportunity and illiteracy among others are responsible for the rise in prostitution. Widespread poverty and lack of job opportunity leave many adults jobless. Finally, many boys are compelled to leave their homes and look for greener pastures, while the girls join the flesh trade as it is an easy way to make their ends meet.
It is poverty that has to be blamed again for girl’s trafficking to India. Poor girls of villages are easily lured for a better employment in the neighbouring country. It is believed that every year around 10,000 Nepali women are trafficked to different Indian brothels.
More people have migrated from villages to cities in recent decades. Most of them fled from their villages to avoid Maoists’ constant highhandedness. City life is harsh and replete with many difficulties for these new comers. Due to illiteracy and lack of skill, many girls find life in the cities extremely difficult.
Many of the prostitutes are actively engaged in massage centers, beauty parlors, discotheques, dance restaurants, cabin restaurants, hotels, lodges and so on. More prostitutes are active in the hotels and lodges located nearby the bus park areas. Since prostitution is an illegal act, it is operated secretly. Hotel owners, pimps and prostitutes work together so that they can dodge the police and continue their business. In recent days, it seems that prostitution has reached to an uncontrollable point. Sex is being served on demand anyplace and anywhere including religious sites! Prostitutes are now available on highways’ thatched roof local bhatti to posh resident areas. Prostitutes are sent to entertain rich and VIPs to their apartments and star hotels!
Prostitution is managed in a most hotchpotch manner where sex workers are more exposed to various sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) including HIV/AIDS.
Taking advantage of weak law enforcement, the employers use sex workers like milking cows, and throw them away when their charm fades away. The real world of sex workers is horrible indeed.
Shanti (name changed), a Tamang girl, from Dhading spent nearly seven years in a Bombay brothel. She was the fifth daughter of her parents. She said that in order to have a son their parents went on having daughters. "I was just 14 when my parents sent me to India along with a local relative. I was told to work there as a housemaid. He took me via Sunauli to Gorakhpur. We stayed one night at a hotel in Gorakhpur where I met five other Nepali girls. All of them were of my age. From Gorakhpur we boarded a night train to Bombay (Mumbai) where I was thrown to suffer a hellish life," she said with tears in her eyes.
Shanti made a few unsuccessful attempts to escape from strongly fortified brothel and each time she was punished severely. Eventually, she gave up all efforts and made compromise against her fate. One day she was diagnosed HIV/AIDS and was asked to leave the brothel. When she refused, one strongman dragged her out of the premises and left her in the mercy of god.
Shanti’s woes didn’t end here. Anyhow she managed to reach her village where her parents gladly accepted her, but not by the village folks. She was an eyesore for the villagers. Circumstance turned so hostile in the village that she had to leave her village to Kathmandu where she stayed with one of her friends. In order to douse the flame of hunger, she jumped into prostitution, knowing that she is carrying deadly virus. "I always advise my clients to have safe sex. And most of them follow as well. But some lahures on leave prefer to spend whole night, indulging into unsafe sex. Some use condoms but after having drunk they refuse every thing and get into unsafe sex. I really feel sorry for them, but I can do nothing," she said.
Poverty, lack of job opportunity and illiteracy as mentioned above encourage many to take prostitution. Unless such problems are eliminated from the country, flesh trade will remain here.
Now voices are heard from different quarters about legalization of prostitution. Many people might be offended by the idea of legalization of prostitution in a society like ours, but time has come to address this issue with adequate attention. It can’t be avoided or leave for tomorrow. It should be dealt today and now. It would be wise enough to manage it in a most effective manner.
If prostitution is legalized, hundreds of thousands of prostitutes across the country can heave s sigh of relief. The first thing, they can’t be exploited any more. Law will protect their rights. Their profession will attain legal status, and they can carry on prostitution as a profession like others. This will, in addition, check the spread Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) to a large extent. After the legalization of prostitution, they do not have to operate their business secretly. In case of exploitation, they can knock the door of the court for justice. One can stay in this profession as long as they please.
One should clearly understand that legalization of prostitution will not encourage women into flesh trade. It will draw respect for their labour instead. Prostitution has nothing to do with morality; it should be treated like a profession.
(Credit: This article was originally published in The Rising Nepal)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mysticism in the modern age

L B Thapa

Medical science has made rapid advancement, yet there are times when medical science finds itself unable to treat a particular illness. Dhamis and Jhankris (otherwise known as shamans), considered unscientific and illogical by most outsiders, continue to foster despite all the advances made in medicine, science and technology.

I recently visited Jita, my village in Lamjung, where Dhan Bahadur Dura, a very popular shaman lives. People fondly call him Dura Jhankri, and local myths about him abound. It is said that he was taken away by a Ban Jhankri (forest shaman) at the age of 14, who released him after five years of training in jhankri vidhya (knowledge). Ever since, he has been treating people with various illnesses.

When I reached his place, there were many people waiting to meet him. I saw a gentleman with his wife waiting their turn. I was surprised to hear their story. The man, a manager in a reputed bank in Pokhara, said that two years ago his wife suddenly became depressed. Doctors tried to treat her for six months, but to no avail. One day, she tried to commit suicide by hanging herself. A neighbour saved her, but after that incident, the man took his wife to Kathmandu for treatment.

Someone advised him to get his wife treated by Dura Jhankri. His first reaction was a big no, but with no options left, he decided to give it a try. Less than a week later, his wife seemed to much better. “I did not see my wife smile for almost a year-and-a-half. Now she smiles, she laughs, and also cracks jokes. Before we came here, she was on pills and capsules, but there was no improvement. I was almost on the verge of nervous breakdown myself,” he told me.

That same night, I met Dura Jhankri. He was high on marijuana, but his face was calm and confident. I greeted him with two bottles of whisky, which made his face turn bright and eyes twinkle. “I am 65 now. I have been practising this art for the last five decades. People like you don’t believe me when I tell them that I was picked up by a Ban Jhankri at the age of 14. I spent about five years inside a cave where the Ban Jhankri taught me this art.

He is my only guru, my god. After five years, he dropped me back to where he had picked me up. His parting words were ‘never work for money’.” Dura Jhankri says his guru had told him to serve the needy, and he tried to do just that. Sometimes, when he failed to control an adamant spirit, he has asked for his guru’s help in his mind. He told me that there are many who visit him because they cannot afford a doctor’s fees, but, surprisingly, if their ailments were physical, he would himself suggest a doctor.

The shaman showed me a photo of a foreigner. “This German woman visited me about five years ago. She used to get burns along her respiratory track. She received the best-possible medical treatment in Germany, but nothing worked for her. Doctors said she was allergic to some foods. She didn’t eat the items she was supposedly allergic to, but there was no relief. I treated her for a month, and she became perfectly alright. Instead of any fees, I asked her to construct a temple with a restroom for wandering sadhus,” Dura Jhankri said, showing me the temple she had constructed. There are, of course, certain conmen who deceive people by pretending to be Jhankris. But, instead of doing any good, they end up doing more harm, as they don’t know how to practise the craft.

Dura Jhankri told me about an incident in which a fake Dhami beat a woman to death. He beat the lady with nettle, then with a hot flat spoon. The lady, already exhausted, could not stand such a merciless beating, and finally collapsed. The Dhami continued beating the corpse until the first ray of sunlight. Early in the morning, when he realised the woman had died, he ran away. He was caught by the local people who tied him up until the police took him away.

Dura Jhankri said every word has an effect on a person. “If you eulogise a person, he will be very pleased with you, and vice-versa.” It may be difficult to explain the craft to modern minds, but, in the minds of people like Dura Jhankri’s patients, the traditional art of Jhankri vidhya has been a life-saver. Thapa is a Pokhara-based freelance writer who blogs at lbthapa.blogspot.com.

(Credit: This article was originally published in The kathmandu Post)

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Important Publication

Gandhi Raj Kafle

LB Thapa who has been writing in English is one of Nepal’s recent time’s authors. Prior to this, he was a teacher. But, he quit it to boost his writing career as a freelance author. Now, it seems, he is much diversified. He contributes articles to many prominent newspapers and magazines. And, freshly, with the publication of the book of Gems of Nepali Literature, he has three book sin his credit. The Quest of Dead man, a novel, which Thapa has promised to launch soon, also delivers good news to his readers.
In this backdrop, the book under review can be regarded as one of the fresh publications. Yet, the author is humble because he does not like any glorification of his writing. Even for the Gems of Nepali Literature, he says it is neither a research work nor a critic’s analysis on Nepal’s literary luminaries, whose contributions to the Nepali literature is important beyond words. But, the book has both the merits of critical analysis and research. To especially those, who are non Nepali speakers and interested to acquire knowledge in literature of this language; this publication will be an interesting reading material.
The book contains eighteen biographical essays. The first one is on pioneer poet Bhanubhakta. The other prominent litterateurs whose biographies figure here are Motiram Bhatta, Chakrapani Chalise, Lekha Nath Paudel, Dharanidhar Koirala, Mahananda Sapkota, Paras Mani Pradhan, Bala Krishna Sama, Laxmi Prasad Devkota, Bhim Nidhi Tiwari, Siddhi Charan Shrestha, Gopal Prasad Rimal, Madhav Prasad Ghimire, Lainsingh Bangdel, Parijat, Dharma Raj Thapa, Hari Devi Koirala and Ali Miya. These figures are certainly gems of our literature as claimed by the author.
A few words, however, need to be added about Pokhara. The author seems to have special love for this place. That’s why he has written on the significance of Pokhara’s literary tradition in the sixteenth essay of the book before covering biographies of ‘Jana Kavi’ Dharma Raj Thapa, Hari Devi Koirala and Ali Miya
Though the book does not cover any noted litterateurs of the fresh time, the prominent litterateurs whose personalities have been covered here provide invaluable knowledge about not only the life history of these figures, but it also helps to know some important literary tradition of the country. In fact, it is they who shaped Nepali literature, nurtured it with their all might and achieved a claimable success to put this faculty of human knowledge into the era of modern development.
But, it does not mean that the author has shown any indifference to write about these honourable litterateurs’ important events. In fact, he has tried his best to give more and more details about them. The language, the author has used is simple. It is, in fact, a book which covers literary personalities of longer time. In this vein, this is also helpful to know the literary history’s many ups and downs, which our litterateurs faced during their writing career. In essence, author LB Thapa deserves congratulation for publishing such a nice reading material in English.

(Credit: This article was originally published in The Rising Nepal by Gandhi Raj Kafle)

NEPALI TEA: The champagne of the Nepal Himalaya


LB THAPA

Nepal began producing tea 146 years ago through Gajraj Singh Thapa, a relative of Jung Bahadur Rana. Rana had received tea saplings from China, and Thapa planted them in 1863 and 1865 in Ilam and Soktim.

After that, no major steps were taken to promote tea farming in Nepal until 1966 when Nepal Tea Development (NTD) was established. Today there are seven tea gardens and two factories in Jhapa alone.

During the British rule in India, tea plantations began in the hills of Darjeeling, and soon it was commercialized. The tea was good, and soon it captured the international market. The success story of Darjeeling Tea definitely encouraged Nepali farmers to grow their own in the sloppy hills of the eastern Himalaya.

In the last two decades, Nepali tea has been doing exceptionally good. Private investment has soared up in the industry. Farmers in the east and some parts of the Tarai have found tea farming to be a more secured livelihood than growing cereal crops.

Tea plantation is a more assured source of living because its demand is greater with every passing year. Unlike seasonal crops, tea plants don’t require to be planted every year. Once planted and taken proper care of, it can be harvested for several years.

Tea can also be a nice family business. Tea estates have created job opportunities, and tea has become an export item, earning foreign currency and enriching the national coffers. Tea gardens also enhance the natural ambience of the surrounding areas.

Tea estates spread on cascading slopes look beautiful and prevent soil erosion. This definitely attracts tourists to visit tea “gardens”. So, tea and tourism can be a wonderful draw for the hospitality industry of Nepal.

Ilam has natural beauty. But in recent times, tea farming has made the district even more popular. Lately, more farmers have turned to tea farming across Ilam.

“If things go right, we can earn upto Rs. 20,000 annually from tea production on one ropani of land” said Hira Dangol, a resident of Panchakanya Village. Therefore, several farmers have opted for tea planting instead of traditional agriculture. By 2003, over 10,000 hectares of land was brought under tea cultivation, and it is growing steadily.

Annually, the production and growth of Nepali tea has been registered at 10 to 15%. This is because tea connoisseurs worldwide have found Nepali tea young, fresh and more aromatic. In 1998-99, Nepal earned Rs. 300 million by exporting its tea.

Over 70,000 people are employed in the tea estate and the factories. Tea entrepreneurs think that Nepali tea must be advertised abroad more professionally to capture more market. The Nepal Tea Association (NTA) and the government must work together to popularize Nepali tea in the international market.

Nepal presently grows two kinds of tea: Orthodox, and CTC. Orthodox tea is grown in six hill plantations of Ilam. Other eastern tea-producing districts are Panchthar, Dhankuta, Tehrathum, and Sindhupalchok. Kaski is another district further west.

CTC tea is produced in Jhapa. About 90% of it is consumed in the domestic market. The National Tea and Coffee Development Board (NTCDB) has made efforts to promote Nepali tea. There are, however, still many problems that Nepali tea farmers face.

While more land must be brought under tea farming, many new farmers are unable to begin due to lack of funds. Special policy should, therefore, be introduced so that more investment can be made in the Nepali tea sector.

In addition, the present inadequate infrastructure, excessive use of chemicals, low-skilled labor, and a lack of well-planned strategy to improve the production process and marketing of the finished goods are top priorities to be addressed. Training centers for farmers is also urgent in the tea sector.

Transportation is another priority for Nepali tea to reach the nearest seaport or airport. Many farmers still carry tea on their backs to the nearest exit points. So, tea farms must be connected with the nearby towns so that quick delivery of the produce is ensured while it is fresh.

Nepali tea producers must also enjoy comparative subsidies or incentives in the region. Competitive micro and macro financial institutions must promote tea farmers. In addition, Nepal needs its own tea research centers.

Nepal’s tea plants are among the youngest in South Asia. Therefore, its natural and tender freshness and organic aromas are bound to be top sellers in the world market.

These are a few among the prime pointers to be considered by Nepal’s private-public partnership initiatives to promote the exotic Nepal Himalayan brew internationally.
( Credit: This article was originally published in MY REPUBLICA)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bhanubhakta Acharya: Lost and forgotten

LB THAPA
Every year Bhanubhakta Acharya's birth anniversary is celebrated just for formalities. Various government and other organizations hold programmes to mark his birth anniversary. Looking at this it seems that the whole nation is much indebted to Bhanubhakta Acharya for his invaluable contribution to enrich Nepali literature. The other day, however, I decided to pay my tribute to this great man by visiting his house all alone. This write-up is the outcome of my visit to Chundi Ramgha, the birthplace of legendary Bhanubhakta Acharya.
Bhanubhakta Acharya lived with a purpose and spent all his life serving Nepali literature. He was a poetic genius of his time. He played a crucial role to bring Nepali literature from obscurity to limelight. He was the father figure of Nepali literature who worked hard and uplifted Nepali literature to a respectable platform. His contribution to the genre is of supreme historical importance not only for his pioneering ability to make Nepali a living language but also the craft of prose-poetry writing with a degree of impeccable success. The literature he produced was simply unsurpassable. In brief he is credited to bring Nepali literature from obscurity to limelight.
However, the bitter truth is that the celebration of Bhanubhakta Acharya's birth anniversary has been no more than just a routine formality. The programme is attended by VIPs who deliver floury speeches and eulogize Bhanubhakta and his great works. The audiences greet these VIPs with resounding clapping at the end of each speech. And in the end a flower garland is put on the bust of the poet. This way a job is done until the next anniversary. This is a common sight of Bhanubhakta's birth anniversary celebrated in many parts of the country.
How serious the government is to recognize national figures one like Bhanubhakta Acharya can only be realized after visiting his home in Bhanu VDC ward No 3, Chundi Ramgha, Tanahun. Looking at his home, it is hard to believe that this is really the house where Bhanubhakta Acharya had spent most of his childhood and adolescence. Deserted and neglected the house is in dilapidated condition. The poor house stands in solitude. The windows, doors, and pillars are broken, which provide free access to one and all. Small plants have grown up inside the house. It is really very hard to believe that this is really the house of Bhanubhakta Acharya.
Bhanubhakta Acharya's house lies within the area of Bhanu Community Forest Committee (BCFC). The Bhanu Birthplace Development Committee (BBDC) was set up in order to protect and develop Bhanu's ancestral house. But looking at the poor state of the house, it does not seem that a penny is spent on the renovation or maintenance of the house.
Local residents show their frustration and resentment against the committee for doing nothing to conserve and promote the historic house. They blame the committee for not spending money on the renovation of the house. They spend the money for other purposes instead.
Most unfortunately the government has shown almost no interest in the renovation of Bhanubhakta Acharya's house. Had government been serious in the renovation of the house, today it would not be in such a sorry state.
The government dispatches a little budget to the BBDC and thinks their job over. But the truth is that the BBDC has not done its job honestly, complain locals. And they are not wrong either. Looking at the rickety condition of the house anyone can see the poor state of the house. Every year during Bhanubhakta Acharya's birth anniversary, a little pent up work is done. After then nobody cares about the house until the next birth anniversary, said one of the villagers.
Half of Bhanu's house has already crumbled down. Even the remaining part of the house does not look better. I am afraid if the house could bear the brunt of this year's monsoon.
The community forest is spread in 60 hectare where only Bhanu's house stands. More, day by day the population density of the village is also getting thinner and thinner. Lack of job opportunity, seeking for higher education, and willing to lead more comfortable life has compelled many locals to leave their village to nearby cities. The village does not have that charm today which it held until a few years ago. But still there are many people regularly visiting to Bhanu's house. It is no less than any pilgrimage for them. However, everyone who visits here to see the historic house of Bhanubhakta Acharya receives an unexpected shock as if they have arrived at a wrong place. They come with a different image of the house in their minds, but when they see the present state of the house they become extremely disappointed. The house has almost converted to remains.
Thanks to a motion picture which was made into the life of Bhanubhakta Acharya in 2000. For the shooting purpose the entire house was renovated. But all was not well. A sudden fire broke out in the forest that damaged most part of the house. It was partially renovated but the job was abandoned without completion.
(This article was published in People's Review Weekly, Kathmandu, Nepal)

Fake Certificates

LB Thapa
Over the years the quality of school education has largely deteriorated despite the fact that the government has increased its budget. More money has been poured in the education sector but the achievement is far too less than anticipated. At the same time, private investment in education has started with some positive results. However, due to lack of clear policy and mushrooming of private schools the entire education system has gone awry. Meanwhile, the performance of government run schools is vastly dismal. There is no doubt at all that the government run schools require a comprehensive commitment and proper utilization of available resources to bring sea of change. If not, the standard of such schools will further degrade.
To bring improvement in government run schools is easer said than done. There is no concrete base on which a solid foundation can be laid. Government schools lack even basic infrastructures. Educational resources and skilled teachers are always inadequately supplied. On top, political interference, nepotism, favoritism and corruption have marred smooth run of government schools. More, these schools have become a sort of training centers of political parties where more politics is discussed than education. One reason of poor state of education in many government run schools is that most of the teachers hold fake Indian certificates. One can simply imagine about the pathetic condition of education when such incompetent and unqualified teachers impart education to a large number of students in the country.
The government is well aware of fake certificates holders pursuing teaching career across the country. The past government had also made a strong commitment by forming various committees to investigate the case but the zeal of the government soon evaporated. As today we can see no legal action has been taken to cease hundreds of thousands of fake certificates. The fear of government's hollow rhetoric to take severe action against the fake Indian certificate holders is now completely over. When asked to a headmaster of a government high school about the possible legal action against those teachers who hold fake Indian certificates, he laughed ridiculously and said: "No government can take any action against the fake Indian certificate holders. Who does not hold fake Indian certificates? There are many professors, doctors, engineers, politicians, police and army officers in service by holding fake Indian certificates. Does any government have guts to take legal action against these heavyweights?" It was a shocking revelation indeed---but worth contemplating.
It is generally believed that about 20 thousand teachers out of around 143 thousand carry on teaching profession with fake certificates. These sham teachers with fake certificates must be bared from teaching as there are scores of well qualified teachers stand in queue for an opportunity. It is therefore the government can't afford slowing down the investigation into the case. This is absolutely a very sensitive issue the present government should take with due attention. Those teachers teaching in schools and colleges with fake Indian certificates must be brought to book as no one can play with the future of the students. Even those teachers, who quit their jobs in fear of being caught by the investigating committee, must also be arrested by the law. They should return all the salary and benefits received over the years.
No compromise can be made against forgery practice in a sensitive sector like education. The guilty must be grilled at the earliest possible. It is true that the gravity of the problem is very sensitive but this is also true that the problem is highly complicated. The new government must resume the investigation with a renewed vigor lest guilty manage to escape.
However, this is also a golden opportunity before the Nepal Communist Party (Moist) led government to take the issue with utmost seriousness and bring all fake certificate holding teachers behind the bar. By doing this the present government can also take all the credit of successfully accomplishing the task which could not be finished by the past governments.
(This artical was published in People's Review Weekly, Kathmandu, Nepal)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Disaster Diary: The Bhopal Gas Tragedy

LB THAPA
This is not something written by a scholar or an expert. It is a survivor’s tale. The killer gas spread, showed mercy on no one, and within an hour killed many people.I was born and reared in Bhopal, from where I obtained my Masters in Economics in 1990. My father had joined the Bharat Heavy Electrical Limited (BHEL) in 1961. The factory, built in 1957, was inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India. My father is retired, but preferred to live in Bhopal with my two brothers and sister.
My Mama [maternal uncle] Prem Bahadur Thapa, a retired soldier of the Gorkha Rifles of the Indian Army, was a security in charge at the ill-fated Union Carbide Company. He lived alone in his official quarters within the company premises.It was the night of December 3, 1984. I was then an 11th grader at the Mahatma Gandhi Higher Secondary School in Bhopal.
The moon was shining and its beams flooded everywhere. But I felt uncomfortable in bed. I was trying to sleep. I felt the air was heavy and also had difficulty in breathing. My throat was parched and burning, so were my eyes.About that time, my father arrived home after his nightshift duty. He told us to wet pieces of cloth and wrap around our faces. It was 5 o’clock in the morning. I realized that many neighbors had come out of their houses, and begun asking about such an unexpected change in the air. My father called us inside and shut the doors and windows. He said something about a gas leak, but from where he knew not. Meanwhile, we heard blazing sirens in the distance. It got louder with every passing moment. And soon, we understood what they were saying on the loudspeakers. They warned us not to come out of our houses, because the air was laced with a poisonous gas. My younger brother, a science student, thought of a possible chemical bomb fired by Pakistan. We ignored him and his speculations.
By 7 o’clock, we felt a bit easier in breathing, and our eyes had stopped burning. As to our neighbors’ questions about the sudden change in the air, someone mentioned an accident in the Union Carbide Company, which had already killed many people. No sooner had my mother heard this than she began crying uncontrollably. She asked my father to find her brother, the security officer at the factory. I understood the gravity of the situation, and asked my father to stay home and we decided to go to Union Carbide immediately.My younger brother and I collected some members of the Shree Pashupatinath Nepali Samaj to go to the factory.
The Samaj was founded in 1978 by some Nepalis living in Bhopal. In 1984, its chairman was Professor Dr. Indrajeet Rai. He was a respected professor at the Maulana Azad College of Technology (MACT) in Bhopal. He was later invited to Nepal by the then king Birendra, and presently, Prof. Rai lives in Kathmandu and teaches military science.The seven of us scooted fast to Union Carbide. When we crossed Bogdapul, near Jahangirabad, we saw scores of dead buffalos scattered on the open space of a slaughterhouse. This was the first scene of death we encountered on the way to Union Carbide. This scene sent shivers down our spines and made us more apprehensive. The air around the area was extremely unbearable. Three of my friends had masks on. We covered our faces with handkerchiefs. We rode past without wasting time. As we drove ahead, more horrors unfolded. Dead bodies lay almost everywhere. Many people were running crazily, looking for their family members, and in tears. The stomachs of dead bodies were swollen out of proportion, and streaks of dried marks of thick frost were visible around their mouths. Their eyes were red and wide open. The whole situation was agonizing and messy.
With great difficulty, we reached the Union Carbide. The police standing at the gate allowed us to visit the employees’ quarters, where lay 12 dead bodies. One policeman asked me to confirm the bodies. With a heavy heart, I lifted up the sheets of all the corpses, but my mama was not among them. We rushed to the Hamidia Hospital, hoping to find him there. The hospital was packed with hundreds of thousands of people. All were victims of the gas leaked from Union Carbide. They had difficulty in breathing, and their eyes were red and swollen. The hospital was not prepared to meet a disaster of this magnitude. Meanwhile, one of the hospital workers asked us to help take away dead to the morgue. The room was already stacked with dead bodies; there was no space for any more. Among the dead were children and elderly people. I tried to locate my lost uncle among the dead. It was impossible to find him in the heaps.I saw doctors administering the patients with eye drops. It was estimated that about 10,000 people immediately died, and another 25,000 were to perish in the next few days. Mass funerals were organized while hundreds of bodies were reportedly thrown into the Narbada River. Over 5,000 dead animals were collected and buried.
Most of the trees shed their leaves. The state government declared a total of 36 wards as affected by the gas leak.The exact number of deaths would never be known. Different reports made different claims, which contradicted each other. But the truth is more people died later. The effects of Methyl Isocyanides (MIC) killed its victims slowly. Many mothers gave birth to stillborn babies, and those who survived died in the next few days. The poison of the gas was so severe and lingering that many affected people are still dying. And those who survived don’t have sound health. Soon after the incident, I developed respiratory disorder and asthma, which I still have.
Even after years of medication, I can’t get rid of the complications.After about a week, we received a call from Hamidia Hospital. And to our pleasant surprise, the caller was none other than my Mama. By then we had presumed him to be among the dead. We brought him home, some 10 kilometers away from the Union Carbide Company. His health improved. He told us the inside story of the Union Carbide Company.“At about midnight, we heard sirens. I informed the engineer on duty, who turned off the siren without delay. But after about half an hour, it started to blow again. By this time, we began feeling the effects of the gas. I’m an ex-soldier, so I knew what I should do at such a moment. I wrapped my face with wet cloth and wanted to go to a higher elevation. I told others to do the same. But many began collecting their valuables before leaving. This delay cost them their lives.
Many breathed their last before they could make an escape with their goods. I ran as fast as I could. But after half an hour, I fainted and lost my consciousness. I didn’t know how I was brought to hospital.”My Mama, being a security officer at the plant, knew more about its security-related matters than anybody else. He said the engineers and the management did not pay adequate attention to the maintenance of the tankers, which contained tons of toxic elements. The main maintenance supervisor was also absent on the day of the incident.
Moreover, the company did not have a good safety track record as there had already been many small accidents in the past. For instance, in 1981, a worker died when he inhaled a leaked phosgene gas. In January 1982, the same gas leaked, and 24 workers, including two Nepalis, were taken to Hamidia Hospital. They could be saved only after several days of intensive medical care. In February 1982, MIC gas leaked and affected 18 workers. They were admitted to hospital in serious condition. In August 1982, a chemical engineer contacted liquid MIC, and received burns over 30 percent of his body. In October 1982, there was yet another MIC leak which burnt two engineers. Similar incidents took place regularly from 1983 to 1984.Following such accidents, my uncle resigned his post in January 1983. But the management did not accept his resignation. They rather increased his allowances, and promised to improve the security arrangements to avoid frequent accidents.
A few days later, a group of workers at the factory even went on a hunger strike, demanding better security system inside the plant.The Union Carbide never accepted its faults for the accidents. And the greater truth is it was only Union Carbide which was responsible for the historic disaster. It simply ignored several safety measures because they were expensive. For instance, the refrigeration system was turned off. It was meant to keep the MIC at 4.5 degree. But it was left at 20 degree Celsius, at room temperature. The steam boiler, meant to clean pipes, was not used for a long time. On the whole, over 80 percent of its safety systems were ignored by the Union Carbide management that subsequently led to the above accident.In addition, the management also regularly dumped its deadly chemical wastes in the backyard pits, contaminating underground water. In 1982, not a single tube well was found safe to drink from in and around the plant. In 1991, the municipal authorities declared water of over 100 such wells unfit for consumption. After the incident, the BBC took water samples from regularly used hand pumps from the north of the plant, which was found to have 1,000 times the world Health Organization’s recommended maximum amount of carbon tetrachloride, a carcinogenic toxin. One can also calculate how much damage Union Carbide has caused to the environment as well.With time healing people’s wounds, life began returning to normalcy.
We were asked to fill compensation forms. I remember people across Bhopal standing in serpentine queues to fill up the documents. After spending several hours in a queue, my brother and I also filled our forms, hoping to get some compensation in future.It has been 25 years since, and a legal battle is still going on. The Government of India claimed US$3.3 billion, but Union Carbide agreed to pay only US$350 million. In fact, the sum was for insurance only. Eventually, a settlement was reached under which Union Carbide agreed to pay US$470 million. From 1990, an interim relief of Rs. 200 was paid to every one of the families of the afflicted 36 municipal wards. A sum of 25,000 Rupees was paid to the family who received personal injuries. For death claims, the average sum paid out was Rs 62,000. The total number of cases registered was 1,029,517; out of which only 574,304 were found genuine while 455,213 were rejected.Several victims of Union Carbide could get no relief, whereas many claimers pocketed large sums by producing fake documents.
This has enraged people who received no relief from the government despite having lost everything in the tragedy. These disgruntled people have waged a legal battle against the company that continues in the Bhopal District Court.Two months after the incident, my father received a call from Nepal one morning. My mama’s elder son was on the phone. He said his father was no more. We were shocked by the news of his untimely demise. Actually, we had asked him not to go back to Nepal until fully cured from the effects of the gas. But he insisted, saying he was alright, and he would return if necessary.We called his wife in Bhopal to file claims for the compensation. It was her right. But we realized it was not as easy as we had thought. Even after spending several months, she was denied the compensation that was desperately needed by my uncle’s children.
At this very juncture, however, a Nepali advocate called Dan Bahadur Malla appeared. He must be praised for his support for the Nepali gas victims. He fought their cases in the Bhopal court with all his commitment and sincerity. In the end, success came, and many Nepali gas victims, including my mama’s wife, received their sums of compensation.So many years have passed since the tragedy, but the heartrending cries of mothers and their babies still echo in my ears. And the sight of those horrible lifeless bodies haunt me in my dreams. The trauma has debilitated me to a great deal.
By writing this piece, I would like to pay my sincere tributes to all those unfortunate souls who perished in the tragedy. May God rest their souls in peace! I also ask the state government of Madhya Pradesh to do justice to all the victims who have been forced to live agonizing lives. Justice delayed is justice denied, true, but in the cases of the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy, justice has already been delayed beyond human patience.
LB Thapa, a freelance writer, is an author. His debut novel, “The Quest of a Dead Man” is soon to be published.

(This article was published in The Week of Republica, kathmandu, Nepal)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Tatopani: Wonder Of Nature

LB Thapa
Mother Nature is revered as omnipotent. She is a mystery; sometimes beyond human’s comprehension. Humankind have always been trying to understand the mystery of nature, but more they try to understand it more mystified they become.

There is a small wonder of nature at Kharpani, Kaski, which lies about 20 km away from Pokhara. Three ponds of hot water on the bank of Seti River attract one and all. It is widely believed that water in those three ponds do have medicinal value. After having taken bath in these ponds, many people have been cured from several physical ailments, say many people. A hot water pond in the icy waters itself startles many.

These three small ponds of hot water have become the cynosure of all eyes. The number of visitors has been on rise over the last few months. The flow of visitors both domestic and foreigners has lifted up the sinking mood of the locals here. Now they have started thinking of taking benefit out of it. More locals have started coming down to Kharpani with their goods to sell. This will definitely boost up the local trade.

The majestic Seti River rambles through Shardikhola and Machhapuchhre VDC enriching the fertile land with its icy cool water. The river has been the only source of irrigation along the riverside vast prairies. The crystal clear water of the river has been the lifeline of the local people who depend on this river for many things.

Kharpani is a wonderful place. Rich in natural beauty the entire area is surrounded by Parche, Puranchaur, Machhapuchhre and Ghachok VDCs. The total area of Shardikhola VDC in which lies Kharpani is about 54.05sq. km. A newly built motor road links Pokhara with Kharpani. After the construction of the road more domestic tourists are visiting the spot.

"Nowadays the number of domestic tourists has increased dramatically. This has boosted up our enthusiasm. But still we have to go a long way to manage several things properly so that no visitors should face any difficulty" said Baburam Gurung, an active member of Sayapatri Youth Club.

The place came into limelight after Kharpani Festival that was organized there recently. The participation of the people from different quarters of life in the Festival was encouraging. Forest and Soil Conservation Minister Prithvi Subba attended the Festival in order to put extra weight on it. Addressing the audience he said, "Village tourism is the future of Nepal. Now time has come the government and local people of respective villages must work hand in hand to promote village tourism. As we know that most tourists visit Nepal to see our rural ambience not the men made marvels. Hence, special programmes must be launched to meet this target and the government is well aware of it".

After the Festival more domestic tourists have started visiting to Kaharpani to take a plunge into the Tatopani ponds so that they can get rid of skin and several other physical ailments. It is believed that the hot water in the ponds does have miracle healing power.

Hari Bahadur Sunar, an octogenarian local of Sardikhola VDC told some breathtaking stories about the hot water ponds. "I was a small boy then when my father told me this story. A man from nearby village was regularly visiting to this site where now we can see the ponds. The man was chopping off the tree into small pieces so that he could carry them off easily in small bundles. For this purpose he was visiting the site for several days. During the interval of chopping wood, he noticed that a crow with one of its dangling legs was regularly visiting the site. Out of curiosity, he started watching the activities of the bird. He saw the bird was regularly taking a plunge into a certain place in the river. The bird repeated the act almost every day. Then one day the woodcutter was much surprised when he saw the bird’s dangling leg was completely healed and it was firmly standing on its both of legs".

Sunar narrated yet another interesting story about the same place. "Sometime in the past a leper was left at Kharpani to live a solitary life lest he should infect villagers with his disease. The leper began to live in a tiny cave near the Seti River. It was summer and scorching sunlight made him impossible to stay inside the cave. He began taking a plunge or two into the ponds on regular course. After a few days he realized that he was fast recovering. To his surprise he was fully cured after a few more days of bathing in the river. It was since then the villagers found out these hot water ponds hidden beneath the river.

Its reputation has spread far and off. Now not only Nepalese but many foreigners do also know about the place. Visit Tatopani anytime and one can see a few foreign tourists enjoying hot bath in the ponds.

This scribe approached a young couple who laid neck deep in the pond. When asked what led them to this pond they said, "We are from Canada. A week ago we had been to Ghandruk where we met a man from this place. He told us about this miraculous hot water pond. After then we could not resist the temptation of visiting the place. And today we are here in the pond."

Yet another foreigner John Anderson, a professional photographer from Ireland looked upbeat while relaxing into the hot water pond. "A guide in Pokhara told me about this place. In fact, I had already been to Nepal for three times, but I had no idea about this place. After having reached here I felt myself blessed. It is a wonderful place where peace and natural beauty are guaranteed. I’ll definitely go to tell more about this place to my friends back at home in Ireland. I have also planned to bring my elderly Mom who has developed arthritis."

When this scribe met a few ladies in the next pond they looked rather tinged with anger. Sita Gurung from Phulbari, said: "The place is completely mismanaged. The ponds are small and uncomfortable. A little effort is enough to expand the sizes of ponds, which the management has neglected. Our main complain is that at least one pond should be reserved for ladies alone. We feel very uncomfortable to share the same pond with men. And some try to take benefit of the situation".

Meanwhile yet another lady popped out her head from the water and said: "You can also see some people using soap on their bodies and wash it off into the pond. This is disgusting indeed. This is the gross negligence on the part of the management committee. When they take money from us they are morally bound to provide us facilities we require. A small bathroom or two should immediately be constructed so that after a dip in the hot pond, we could wash off our body with the fresh river water".

Sayepatri Youth Club has been taking care of things here. When asked about the complaint the visitors made with Baburam Gurung, the member of the club, he said: "We are very sorry for not being able to manage things up to their expectation. But efforts are underway and within a few days things will start getting change. Moreover, our club has started coordinating with other organizations including local tourism authority for the planned development of the site. However, we are well aware of the problem many people facing here. Nevertheless, more attempts will be made to provide all necessary facilities to everyone visiting to this place". He further added, "In case of emergency we have an ambulance service provided by the Indian Embassy. Likewise, there is a Dahrmasala which have six rooms where visitors can stay free of cost. Moreover, Annapurna conservation Area Project (ACAP) has built a toilet on the premises. There is also an eco-friendly campsite constructed by the ACAP".

Sushil Gautam a professional tour guide of Pokhara has something more to speak about the Tatopani ponds. He has recently been to Hungary where he was surprised to see some well-organized hot ponds there. A group of experts would test the water and ascertain available ingredients to decide what ailments it can cure. Only after then the visitors are allowed to visit respective ponds, after taking certain amount as entry fee. The place has earned a huge name only due to its hot water ponds. The local government has also left no stone unturned for popularizing the ponds at home and abroad by every means possible. As a result, a large number of tourists can be seen there round the year, said Gautam.

Taking an example of Hungary the tourism Department of the country must promote Tatopani and several other such places with due attention. Promotion of Tatopani area and several others place will surely help make Nepal Tourism Year 2011 a grand success.

(This article was published in The Rising Nepal)


Friday, January 8, 2010

Paragliding: Lifetime Adventure

LB Thapa
The valley of Pokhara is endowed with a rich stock of natural beauty. High hills, craggy mountains, cascaded fields and the Seti River meandering through the heart of Pokhara make the valley one of the beautiful places in the world. It is one of the suitable places to enjoy holidays for tourists. There is hardly any place in the world that can stand parallel to Mt. Fishtail and Annapurna ranges at the backdrop of Fewa Lake. Great scholars like Japanese Buddhist monk, Ekai Kawaguchi and Dr. Toni Hagen, a Swiss geographer, have highlighted Pokhara in their famous books.

Famous writers and poets have also been inspired from the mesmerizing natural beauty of the valley. Internationally acclaimed Indian born Nepali poet Yuyutsu RD Sharma has recently come out with his masterpiece Annapurna Poems. He has dedicated his poems to Lake Fewa.

The valley is replete with the stock of exotic beauty often regarded pristine and unique. Whether it is arduous trekking or just watching morning sunrise or boating in the aquamarine waters in Fewa Lake, all funs and pleasures are here. There is still one more thing that pulls scores of visitors to Pokhara from all over the world. And it is paragliding.

Paragliding
Over the last one decade, adventure tourism has become extremely popular among the daring tourists in Pokhara. Paragliding can offer unlimited thrills and excitement in the sky for the daring people who expect more excitement and fun. The Pokhara hills are considered to be one of the best places in the world for paragliding. The experience of paragliding over Fewa Lake and nearby mountains is truly wonderful for the adventure seekers.

An ideal peak is the first requirement for paragliding. There are some good hills like Sarangkot, Torepani and Armala but Sarangkot hill (1500m) is preferred more by the adventure seekers. While flying from the Sarangkot hill, one can have a wonderful scenic beauty scattered around. High hills, forest, temples, monasteries, majestic Mt. Fishtail and above all the impressive Fewa Lake are few to name which leave a profound impact on all paragliders. Of course, paragliding flight is a journey through nature where thrill and excitement are assured.

Surendra Gurung, marketing in-charge at Frontiers Paragliding, said, "We conduct two kinds of paragliding, one is of 30 minutes and another is of 60 minutes. These flights are conducted under the supervision of trained pilots. When the sky is clear and bit of cirrus amble idly through mountains, we reach onto the top of Sarangkot and get prepared for the flight. A 30-minute flight is conducted around the Sarangkot hill, Hyangja monastery, Fedi and around the Fewa Lake. Short flight is more popular among the adventure seekers as it comes at an affordable price while long flight is a bit expensive. A 60-minute flight takes paragliders high up in the sky and farther as well. Paragliders fly over Tibetan refugee camp, Fedi, Pumdi Bhumdi, Kaskikot, around Mt. Fishtail, world Peace Pagoda and Fewa Lake".

Paragliding has come under the scrutiny of Civil Aviation Authority Pokhara (CAA). The CAA strictly monitors the flying activities of Sunrise Paragliding, Blue Sky Paragliding and Frontiers Paragliding. The CAA has also maintained some code of conducts that all paragliding companies must honor sincerely.

History
Frontiers Paragliding came into being only in 2007 but its popularity has soared up dramatically. To a large extent its credit goes to internationally acclaimed paragliders Jamie Messenger and Adam Hill, both Britons.

Adam Hill is a more popular name in Pokhara. He is one of the pioneers to introduce paragliding to Pokhara. His unflinching service and dedication to popularize paragliding in Pokhara is praiseworthy indeed.

Rajesh Bomjan is another name in Pokhara whose name is synonym with paragliding. His unassuming effort to popularize paragliding in Pokhara is outstanding. Without doubt he is Nepal’s first professional paraglider. Biru Bomjan along with Nabhiyo Elier set up Sunrise Paragliding in 1992. Rajesh succeeded his father Biru Bomjan and now he rules the roost.

Rajesh’s persistent hard work has made paragliding a popular adventure sport in Pokhara. He is no doubt immensely satisfied with the development of paragliding in Pokhara. Yet he has some grudges to share with. "Over the years, paragliding has been successful to carve a niche as the most thrilling airborne sports. As a result, many tourists across the world rush to Nepal for paragliding. But unfortunately even after having spent over one decade, the government has not paid adequate attention for the promotion and development of paragliding in the country. There is no separate rule or policy to govern paragliding activities. Speaking frankly the government has completely neglected paragliding sector. This is absolutely heartrending for people like us who are associated with this business by leaving every thing behind".

Though there are some problems in running paragliding business, yet we can hope the business will have rosy days ahead.

Championship
Jamie Messenger, a British national, lifted this year’s Nepal 10th Open Paragliding Championship-2009 beating his friend and also a strong contender Adam Hill. The competition was fierce as there were 75 participants from 25 countries. Among them 41 participants were from Nepal. Nine lady paragliders did also participate in the competition this time. Most of the foreign paragliders were French and British. The competition was held in two categories acrobatic and cross-country. In cross-country the paragliders had to cover 40-50km distance. In acrobatic category the Para gliders had to show difficult stunts in the sky. At the end of the competition, all competitors had to land on a particular spot. Successful spot landing does fetch good score.

Sharing his experience Jamie Messenger said, "The competition was extremely tough as there were many accomplished paragliders from all over the world. However, I was confident about my success. I was bit scared of my fellow contender Adam Hill, he is a very talented paraglider. Beating him in any competition is by no means an easy task at all"

Messenger spoke at length about the weather condition necessary for the paragliding. "High hills are not enough for a successful paragliding flight. The movement of wind and its speed are equally very important. However, paragliding in competition is fast, crazy and forceful".

Messenger is surely a tough paraglider. He has so far covered amazingly long distances with the help of his paraglide. Flying with his paraglider he has covered 80km in Pokhara, 110km in the UK, 160km in the USA and 502km in South Africa. These figures speak the volume of his exceptional ability in paragliding.

Parahawking
Parahawking has added a new dimension in Pokhara’s paragliding. More tourists prefer to have a rare experience of parahawking. In parahawking, some birds of prey are trained to fly with paragliders. The parahawking concept was first conceived and developed in Pokhara and was brought into practice in 2001.

These birds are trained to fly side by side with the paragliders. And intermittently these birds entertain the paragliders with their natural acrobatics. The birds fly high up in the sky and guide the way through fluttering clouds. These ferocious looking mighty birds also perch smoothly on hand whenever called by the pilot. The passengers, sitting front, can caress them and the next moment they disappear into the patches of thick clouds and pop up from nowhere, leaving you keep on guessing all the time.

Normally a paragliding flight is conducted in tandem. The only passenger sits in front of the pilot. The pilot handles paraglider sitting behind the passenger. Only professional pilots with internationally recognized license can fly the paraglider. The license is duly verified by the authority at the Pokhara Airport and a certificate is awarded.

Nepal Air Sports Association (NASA) has been formed with a purpose to regulate airborne adventurous sports in Pokhara. The NASA makes rules and policies that help in maintaining healthy competition and avoid confrontation among the paragliding companies.

Life span of a paraglider is short, say three years. But it can be repaired so that its life can be lengthened. Senior paragliders can do necessary repairing work. Serge Benote, a senior French paraglider is popular for repairing the damaged paraglider. Most of the paragliders are imported from Brazil and Europe. They are normally available in three sizes i.e. small, medium and large. It is the weight of the pilot and passenger that determines the size of paragliders to be used for the flight.

Ms. Sotedad Onqeira, an adventure loving young girl looked extremely delighted after her memorable flight with Jamie messenger. "It was truly a memorable adventure that I can never forget the rest of my life. I flew up in the sky and bellow was all nature’s wonder. I have no words to explain how things look amazing from a height. Well, Jamie tried to scare me with his acrobatics, but I was a tough girl. I rather enjoyed the acrobatics instead…Because I knew I was in the safest hands," said Argentinean lass with a flicker of smile across her face.

Paul Patterson was another happy man indeed. When asked about his paragliding experience, he said upright, "I had great time flying with Scott and his bird Kevin. After having reached to Pokhara I fell sick for two days. After the recovery, I felt to lift up my sinking soul. And of course nothing else could be better than paragliding. Flying with a birds of prey was truly an enthralling experience that I had never had in my life. Taking benefit of thermal we soared up in the sky and below were the treasure-trove. I have preserved the experience to share with my family and friends back in Canada.
(This article was published in The Rising Nepal)

Singapore Police Force: Discrimination and injustice against Gurkhas

BY LB THAPA

The Gurkha Contingent Singapore Police Force was founded in 1949. Then Singapore was a colony of Britain. Before the First and the Second World War, the British Gurkha soldiers were stationed in Singapore. Many Gurkhas graves can still be spotted at Kanzi, Singapore. They had attained martyrdom while battling against the formidable Japanese. Advancing Japanese force was virtually unstoppable. They wrecked havoc on many parts of Singapore and captured several British and Gurkha soldiers during the Second World War (1942-1945). They were imprisoned in Changi Prison, Singapore. However, Gurkha soldiers managed to save the life of one of the prominent leaders Lee Qwan Yu Lai. He was therefore grateful of Gurkha soldiers for rest of his life.

Meanwhile, Japanese officers stationed in Changi Prison also fixed a date for the mass execution of the prisoners. During that time, the USA had dropped two powerful bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Subsequently, Japan gave in and admitted the defeat in the war. The prisoners were released outright. After end of the war, Lee Qwan Yu emerged as an influential leader of Singapore. Yu was already impressed with the bravery and loyalty of the Gurkhas. Hence, he formally requested the government for recruiting Gurkhas in the Singapore Police. Later, it was agreed to recruit the Gurkhas without making any discrimination in service. In 1978, Gurkha soldiers in Singapore split into two groups. One group was known as Singapore Gurkha Police and the second was Singapore Prison Gurkha. But in 1981, Commander B.M Niven merged the both groups and made one Gurkha unit. Since then Gurkhas have been performing outstanding service in maintaining law and order in Singapore.

DISCRIMINATIONThe British recruits one group of Gurkha for the UK army while another for the Singapore Police Force. And this trend is still on. In the past, the British would take Gurkhas to Hong Kong until the city was retained by China in 1997. Those Gurkha children born in Hong Kong were entitled to get Hong Kong ID. After Hong Kong fell in the hand of China, the Gurkhas were being taken to the UK. The Gurkha children born in the UK too became entitle to get the British residency. But, it is quite ridiculous to note that no Gurkha children get right to get Singapore residency even after having born and educated there. Singapore Police has to perform tough jobs in the course of duty. Gurkhas had been to East Timor, Indonesia, and Iraq to quell the terrorists and insurgents. But their job has never been appreciated. Talking to this reporter Balaram Thapa Magar, a retired Singapore Police officer and the president of Gurkha Ex-Singapore Police Association (GEsPA) said "We Gurkha serve for 27 years in Singapore Police with all commitment and dedication, but the kind of treatment we receive from the government is awful and disgusting indeed." He further added "Soon after the retirement, if we failed to leave the country on the stipulated day, we are treated illegal migrants. The Singapore government does not hesitate to dump us behind the bar for this crime. No Gurkha children can stay in Singapore and pursue higher education after their fathers are retired from the service. Overseas students coming to Singapore can claim for the Permanent Resident (PR), but those Gurkhas children who born and raised there are not even entitle to study in Singapore, let alone PR. This is a blatant discrimination against the Gurkhas, who serve in Singapore without caring their lives. But in return they get injustice, partiality and inhuman treatment from the Singapore government."

After 27 years of long service in the Singapore Police Force, a Gurkha gets retirement on pension. But after the death of the pensioner, the pension is discontinued. Whereas, a UK Gurkha soldier's family gets pension even after her husband's death! Why is this discrimination against the Gurkhas, who are recruited from the same place, asks Thapa Magar? "More, in 1981, a monthly salary of a Singapore police was 585 dollars. After 28 years, Singapore police has the same salary. There is no increment of any kind at all. Gurkha's children or their wives are not allowed to work there. In this situation, to meet the family expenses has become a matter of serious concern for many Gurkhas working in the Singapore Police Force. However, life could be little conformable who hold upper ranks."

When the injustice and gross discrimination crossed its limit, all the Gurkhas unanimously decided to raise a voice to draw government's attention. On 13 June 2008, all the Gurkhas in service and their family members took to street for a peaceful rally. Their only intention behind this was to draw the attention of the government to end the discrimination and injustice done against the Gurkhas. Their demands were genuine as a result positive response began pouring among the people. This scared the Gurkha Contingent Singapore Police Force authority. The DMP director tried his best to resolve the issue, but it was not possible then. The Gurkhas had resorted to continue the protest unless and until their demands were met. In the end, DMP made the promise to fulfill Gurkha's demands with due respect.

"A day later chief of the Singapore Police Force came to our unit and said that we took the issue to public and that was a punishable act in the police. So we should face a charge and possible punishment as well. They wanted to abort our campaign before it reached to crest. They targeted seventeen Gurkha policemen whom they thought were leading the campaign. They asked us to take volunteer retirement or the entire Gurkha Contingent Singapore Police Force would be disbanded. For the benefit of our peers, we decided to give in before the authority. We were satisfied because all the papers were made and we were told that we would get our pensions after 62 days. But this was merely a conspiracy hatched against the Gurkhas. Only after having reached to Nepal, we came to know about the trick played against us. The Gurkha Contingent dubbed us violence makers and rule breakers and therefore we were terminated from the service. We could not believe in what we heard and read in newspapers, but this was the reality. We were tricked by none other than our own bosses for whom we shed our blood and sweat at times when it required most. The Singapore government has stopped our pension and all the benefits that we are entitle to receive after the completion of our service in the Singapore Police Force" blamed the officer.

Now, these retired personnel want justice and only justice. Balaram Thapa Magar, the retired officer, reiterated "We want to make a sincere request to Human Rights Groups and others to extend their helping hands so that a legal battle against discrimination and injustice can be fought together. We request and warn to the Singapore government for providing due attention to the injustice done against us before it is too late. However, we are keen to resolve the crisis in amicable manner possible, only if the Singapore government is interested."
(This article was published in People's Review weekly, Kathmandu)

My Trekking Odyssey

BY LB THAPA

Trekking has always been my favorite pastime. I just want to leave the crowd and slip out for nearby trekking destinations. Over the last five years or so I have been regularly trekking in this manner. During these trips I had both interesting as well as unpleasant experience which I can never forget in my life.Here I would like to describe about an incident that changed me entirely. Until two years ago, I was a different type of trekker. I would carry only a few clothes in a small backpack, and always worried about hotels and guest houses. Food was my prime concern. I would always avoid those trekking destinations where hotels or lodges were not available.

But today my preferences have changed. I carry a complete kitbag with me including a small tent. Now I value more interesting destinations. I don't mind spending nights in my own tent.All this change came to me only after I met a German trekker, Macanzee. By profession he was a freelance writer, and an adventure loving man. His company did transform me into a different sort of trekker. One fine morning, I made my mind to set out for a trekking to Ghandruk. I kept some necessary clothes in a bag. I was on the way to Ghandruk. It was sweltering and I was walking uphill from Nayapul. To beat the heat, I sat under the shade of a tree.

Meanwhile, my eyes saw a foreign tourist, who carried a big rucksack on his back. He began chatting with me. We turned into good friends. We walked continuously and at about 8 pm we reached Ghandruk. The next morning we went round the Ghandruk village but I noticed Macanzee did not look happy. "Hey Dude, you don't look happy" I enquired. "Look Mr. Tapa (Thapa) this is my seventh visit to Nepal and of course third to Ghandruk. I am sorry to tell you but the truth is that this is not a Ghandruk that I had seen a decade ago. That was a different Ghandruk. But today there is a complete transformation. Concrete houses have occupied the places of traditional houses. I'm shocked to see such unpleasant makeover. Your government should understand that visitors like me come to see original and traditional Nepal" he said.I do agree with him. Nowadays modernity has taken its toll on many villages. Road construction has discouraged many foreign trekkers to abandon trekking to many destinations. Once peaceful trekking destinations now have turned into crowded bazaars. On the one hand, our government speaks about the promotion of village tourism; on the other it does nothing to encourage it. After lunch Macanzee told me that we would stay there by the riverside for two days. I informed him that we did not have enough rations. Then he showed me a few hooks. He said "With the help of these hooks we will try to catch some fish. " he said. "But I am a vegetarian" I told him. "If you want to be a real trekker then learn to survive in any condition!" he said.

This way I broke the oath of not eating meat some three years ago. Catching fish in the running water was a tough job indeed. However, we managed to catch some, which were enough to keep our spirit up. Next morning we walked deep in the forest and enjoyed the beauty of nature. For the first time I realized, we can be happier in the closeness of nature. We spent two days on the bank of the river. Next morning we followed our ways. He continued his trekking to Annapurna circuit while I returned to Pokhara. After about 12 days, he arrived in Pokhara. A day before he left Pokhara, I offered him dinner at my home.

After dinner, he bid good bye to us and got into the taxi for Lakeside hotel. Meanwhile, I saw he had left something in the room. I wanted to call him, but the taxi had already moved off. I saw a small piece of paper also attached with the bag. When I opened, it read "To Mr. Tapa, Macanzee. And you know it is the same tent that I still carry in my rucksack on every trek.
(This article was published in People's Review Weekly, Kathmandu)

Fear, Anger, Anxiety

LB Thapa

It is no exaggeration that anarchy and lawlessness are ruling the roost in Nepal. Criminals are roaming freely and committing crime at their will. The country has become less secure to live in today than ever before. The daily graph of crime has soared across the country, leaving every sane citizen shocked and terrified. To our dismay, different gangs have become active in various cities and are gradually spreading their tentacles far and wide. The truth is that these gangs fear no one given the patronage of the political parties. In reality, these youths are being used by the different political parties to serve their purposes.

It can’t be ruled out that in recent times, several small gangs have developed links with the major groups of the political parties so that they can carry out criminal activities without any fear of being caught. Their organised crime has stunned the country. Extortion, kidnapping for ransom, robbery and murder have become a daily occurrence. If this is the New Nepal that our politicians are talking about, then we would be much happier with the

Reality bites! But the truth is that the police have been proved far less effective in tackling criminals. Realising the ineffectiveness of the police, many criminals are executing serious crimes even under broad daylight. Banks and jewellery shops are not safe. They are doing their business under constant fear of being robbed.

In recent times, kidnapping members of affluent families has risen noticeably. Top class businessmen, bureaucrats, doctors, engineers and so on feel vulnerable. Their children are easy targets of these kidnappers. In the past few months, a kidnapping spree has left everyone shocked and frightened. According to police records in the Kathmandu Valley, about a dozen kidnapping cases are registered every month. In fact, many kidnapping cases never get registered as they are settled outside with the kidnappers after paying the ransom.

If the government really wants to curb the increasing number of criminal activities in the country, it should start with the political parties. They must agree to disband their sister organisations that indulge in criminal activities. In a democratic nation, such organisations have no place. Let the police act without any external pressure. If the political leaders were not to protect these goons, the police could easily bring them to book. And strict punishment can teach them a lifetime lesson.

It seems that the law makers have shun themselves from fulfilling their responsibilities. No political leader seems to have the time to think of the miseries the people are living with. This is the time to act swiftly and nab the criminals from their hideouts. If the guilty were to be punished by the law the people can heave a sigh of relief.

Let’s not forget that only hollow slogans are not going to bring any positive change in the country. For that every branch of the system must act responsibly. And without peace and security, nothing is possible. And last but not the least, without the political parties’ true commitment, this is not going to happen.
(This article was published in The Rising Nepal)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Terror of Fatwa

BY LB THAPA

Writing is not everybody’s cup of tea. It is difficult. It becomes even more difficult when someone tries to write about the truth. So, truth is always bitter.
It is so bitter that many people can’t digest it. Those who are incapable of digesting the truth, they always stand against it under the pretext of false alibis.

How difficult is writing about the truth is evident by the ever increasing incidents of abduction, torture, intimidation and sometimes even brutal murders of writers and journalists across the world. A good book may give immense satisfaction and pleasure to readers, but it is also possible that the same book can make the author(s) run for all his/her life! If this is not true then why today well known writers like Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasrin live like fugitives. The lives of these two writers turned hell as soon as high ranking Muslim religious leaders issued ‘Fatwa’ (death sentence) upon them.

Salman Rushdie, born into a middle class Muslim family in Bombay, India, began writing from 1964. In his early struggling years, he wrote extensively in various Pakistani print media including radio and televisions. In later years, he lived in Iran where he wrote “Satanic Verses”. The book was published in 1989 and it was hailed all over the world. The book also won ‘Whitbread Award’ in 1988. But, then Iranian religious leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came upon heavily and condemned the book. He said the book expressed disapproval of the teachings of Koran, the holy book of Muslims. In a fit of pique, he issued Fatwa against Salman Rushdie. The price of his head was declared one million US dollars, which was doubled in 1997. This was really an unreasonably a harsh and ridiculous punishment for an honest and dedicated writer like Rushdie. As a result of Fatwa, his life came under immense jeopardy. Muslim religious fanatics turned mad for his blood. Much frightened Rushdie had no other option left for him but to leave Iran. He left Iran to settle down in England, under intense police protection.

Similarly, Taslima Nasrin, a female writer from Bangladesh has got a similar story to tell about. She was born into a small village called Maimansing, Bangladesh.

She was a very bright student right from her early school days. She had completed her MBBS degree at the age of just 22. Along with her medical practice, she had immensely nurtured her interest in literature. She began writing for several Bangladeshi newspapers, journals and magazines. Barely reaching at her 30s, she had already carved a niche for herself as a well-known female poet and writer in her country. She wrote her famous book Lajja (Shame). The book was published in 1993. In this book, she had presented a detailed account of cruelty meted out to Hindus by the Bangla-Muslims in riots. The riots were sparked off when Hindu extremists demolished a controversial structure of ‘Babri Masjid’ in Ayodhya, India. But, Muslim Mujahidddins declared the book dishonored the teachings of Islam. Consequently, the book was banned and several copies of the book were torched across the country. As it was inevitable, high ranking Muslim religious leaders declared a ‘Fatwa’ against her in 1994. Her passport and other documents were ceased. Thereafter all possible tactics were applied so that she could not leave the country. But international human rights organizations, Amnesty International and European Union played an important role for her safe escape to Sweden. Ever since 1994, she has been living in Europe.
In 1998 her mother died of cancer in Bangladesh, but due to security reason, she could not visit Bangladesh to see her mother. For this she always regrets. A few years later, she secretly came to meet her family members in Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, she changed her mind and decided to face all charges against her in the law courts, but a powerful faction of an Islamic organization, Jamat-Ul-Mujahiddin, demanded Nasrin to be prosecuted under the Islamic law. This means a sure death penalty to her. Thus, she once again fled to Sweden as her life came under imminent threat.
Muslim religious leaders accuse her of blasphemy and not obeying the Koran. On top, she wrote all against the Koran, they blame. Some critics say that the book Lajja has freely eulogized Hindus and condemned Muslims.

But, Nasrin has refused this allegation of critics. She had defended it and said that the book was the result of the true account of her experience.

Muslim organizations, especially Jamat-Ul-Mujahiddin, put extreme pressure on the Bangladesh government for her extradition and punish her. Anyway she is a very bold lady so is Salman Rushdie. Defying the fatwa, frequently these authors go for tours, give lectures and share their experiences with the people of all walks of life. A few years ago, Taslima Nasrin had visited India, but she did not visit Bangladesh, her motherland.

We can easily feel Taslima’s concern for women and of course for her country.
She has warned Bangladesh for not coming under the influence of stubborn, religious fanatics, which will lead the country nowhere. She accuses that today, under the influence of increasing degree of religious sentiments; Bangladesh has become a safe haven for religious extremists, which help only producing Mujahiddins in the country. In a nutshell, these people just want to establish a Taleban type of rule in the country.

Well, after the publication of Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie has not written anything that could raise the eyebrows of Muslim religious leaders; whereas Taslima has not stopped unleashing the salvo of her frustrations and anger through various forms of creative writings. She writes what she feels good as a woman and as a writer.
At last but not the least let’s not forget to note that change is an inevitable course of nature. Anything that does not change with the pace of time is dead like a rock. Hence, sooner we learn to live ourselves with the pace of time, the better it is. And, as far as writers like Taslima Nasrin and Salman Rushdie are concerned, they will never acquiesce in and Fatwa can’t bare them from writing.

(This article was published on 4th May 2006 in People's Review Weekly. The author wrote this article from Beirut, Lebanon)