What We Must Do: Part I
Back in the saddle again... blogdai has received quite a few requests for an actual plan of action to save Nepal. "Let's do something before it's too late" is the cry. Well, what exactly can we do here on a blog? Do we have any power to change events? The answer is not only a resounding "yes" but blogdai argues that, in the absence of a credible "main stream" media presence in Nepal, blogs are actually at the forefront of political innovation and ideas. How many times have our comments here at blogdai and other blogs resurfaced as political rhetoric in the world areana? Quite a few.
Now, we are not necessarily the forum chosen to muster armed forces nor are we pretending to advise either King or government; but we CAN make a difference here. So, now, while we're still in the monsoon season, let's get a jump on the upcoming turmoil in Nepal and move proactively. The next few columns will give out practical suggestions that each of us can use to make a difference in Nepal, right now. These will be suggestions; some obvious, some nasty. Take or leave as many or as few as you like, but GET INVOLVED.
So, without further commentary, the first thing we can all do is to spread the word that....
NEPAL IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS
That's right shoppers, each of you tell ten of your friends that one of the best ways to defeat oppressive Maoism and breathtakingly remedial governance is good old fashioned capitalism.
And what is one of the best and most effective means of helping the Nepal economy get back on its feet? Tourism. Funny, while our rabid Western consulates are telling all of us to "avoid any unnecessary travel" to Nepal, Indian tourism has increased by upwards of 15% in the last year. What do they know that we don't?
blogdai was in the thick of the big Maoist protest, as you all know. Hundreds and hundreds of Maoists walked right through the streets of backpacker central: Thamel, without so much as a flinch of a threat to business and property. Why? Because they weren't Maoists, that's why. They were part of that now famous edict laid down by our boys in Red that every household in rural Nepal had to supply at least one participant in the Kathmandu rallies or face the consequences. The point is, the Maoists STILL can't muster enough forces to take Kathmandu or to even make much of a battle--and yes, I stand by my opinions about this, once again, knowing full well that many of you are still starry-eyed by accounts of Maoist power in the field. I say, BUNK! The Maoists know that they haven't the capacity to overrun the RNA and take over the country on their own. That's why they're playing these idiotic bullying games with SPA. Without SPA, the Maoists are isolated, politically and logistically.
So where does this leave a Westerner's favorite pastime, trekking? Everest is now and has always been open and safe for trekking. Maoists routinely get the shit kicked out of them by wealthy Sherpa shop-owners everytime they seek to make inroads into the upper Khumbu region. Go there, hop a plane to Lukla and trek away. Looks like Annapurna is opening up also. We have heard that maoists have stopped extorting rupees from trekkers and things are quieting down, but this still may change. Kathmandu? Even when Maoists were crawling out of the woodwork last May, all the major historical sites were open and harrassment-free. blogdai had no trouble walking down any street in Kathmandu at night. You are more likely to get a smile and some literature from a 15-year old "Maoist" than you are getting useful information from your own consulate.
So what's the simple logic behing all of this? Supporting the economy with your tourist rupees supports and increases wealth and education among Nepal's citizens. An educated populace is an informed populace; not as vulnerable to either Maoists intimidation or inept government promises. Plus, a closed-up and fearful Nepal is an isolated Nepal. Tourists, especially Western tourists help spread an accurate accounting of events in Nepal and provide, to a certain extent, a different and perhaps hopeful perspective to locals. A blogdai favorite is that Western tourists can balance and refute a lot of bad journalism that currently surrounds events in Nepal.
We cannot turn our backs on the Nepalis in this regard. I'm asking each of you to view any warning about travel to Nepal skeptically and with an eye towards secondary verification. Don't take at face value what diplomats say. Do your own research. Why? Because, aside from the protestations of some overzealous Xenophobes, Nepal needs foreigners. Nepal must not be left alone during this time.
Isolation leaves citizens to trust either politicians or Maoists. It creates despair and increases neediness. Those in physical or economic need tend to rally around those who can provide the most tangible and immediate relief. Add a dose of intimidation and that leaves most Nepalis with nothing more than a Maoist choice. Put another way, rural Nepal is poor, isolated and undereducated. Maoists thrive in rural Nepal; 'nuff said.
Not convinced? The best thing you can do is ask someone who has recently returned from Nepal for their recommendation. Specifically, ask them if it was as frighteningly bad as Western diplomats and media painted it to be. You may be surprised at the answer.
The important thing is to GO! Go to Nepal. Bring the weight of your currency and opinions and distribute both freely.
At the very least, spread the word.
Flash! Update August, 2, 2006: Travel and Leisure Magazine has voted our little Kathmandu 3rd best city in Asia. http://www.travelandleisure.com/worldsbest/2006/results.cfm?cat=citiesasia See you all there! -=BD