-No, don't worry, I'm not there! I'm still in...
Rishikesh, Uttaranchal, India
Visa renewal time looms once again on the horizon (really! Has it been six months already? Time flies when you're having anger issues). Which of these friendly neighbors will it be: Pakistan? Sri Lanka? Bangladesh? Don't even need a link for that one because Americans aren't allowed to travel there directly from India without a prior visa from home (and the visa alone costs a spiffy $100USD).
The low-budget choice of least resistance, Nepal, looks increasingly untenable (and that is really saying something because the situation was unstable already). The King is holed up in one of his palaces, flying yes-men in and out via chopper (that says a lot, when even All the King's Men aren't safe to travel by road) .
Or does it?
It does, if you listen to the news alone. However, the situation from the ground always reads differently. People don't seem to be taking the curfews seriously (in the city, at least) and don't seem to be suffering terribly for it. The European owner of my favourite Thai restaurant is a long-termer in Thamel, Kathmandu, the tourist hub. It's the middle of the "second high season" for Nepal (first high season being October and November). Just stay away from the demos (which are always planned, never spontaneous), it seems, and you won't catch a brick in the head. He writes:
Today is Tuesday, the sixth day of troubles and ugly mass demonstrations in Nepal. On Tuesday the government imposed again a daytime curfew from 12 noon to 5 pm. Despite the curfew we opened the restaurant even during the curfew hours. Other restaurants in Thamel were also open as usual. The curfew is not that strict in Thamel as tourists are walking around without any problems.
On Monday the daytime curfew was from 11 am to 6 pm and at night one hour earlier from 10 am to 4 pm. Between 5 and 6 pm a heavy storm swept over the valley followed by heavy rain. At 6 pm I walked to Thamel. Lots of people in the streets walking around and buying food stuff. On Monday night the restaurant was packed with tour groups. Inside we had a group of 27 people. At 9pm a Spanish mountaineering group came for dinner despite the curfew's starting at 10 pm. The staff told the Spanish about the curfew times but they insisted to have dinner and they stayed on until after 11 pm. I left the restaurant at 9.45 pm and walked home where I arrived at 10.30 pm. No problems to walk home; nobody in the streets even no army and police. There are just no taxis available in the evening. The staff stayed in the restaurant during the night curfew. The only problem was that we didn't had enough vegetables and beef fillet as it is difficult to get enough fresh vegetables in the mornings.
By imposing daytime (and nighttime) curfews the highly paranoid government is not gaining popularity. The authority of the unpopular government is waning fast. The Home Minister and the Minister of Propaganda are making fools of themselves by issuing banal and trivial statements. It seems to me that the despotic king with his feeble-minded ministers are on a self-destructing mode.
From the KTM Post: "Now there is a slippery road ahead for the monarchy. As this war drags on, more and more people will think that the war is being fought just because person or one family. Then finally one day, the people will ready themselves to trade that person and that family, for peace. In royal madness, surrounded by sycophants, yes-man and security men, it is easy to miss what is happening. But when it happens, it will be the end of a dynasty."
Kirtipur (an historic town one hour or so outside Kathmandu) seems to be a hotbed for demonstrations. On Monday the people from Kirtipur staged a succesful and peaceful sit-in preventing army trucks from driving into the town. Yesterday and today Charles Havilland, the BBC correspondent, was wearing a blue helmet while reporting live on BBC News from trouble spots in the Ring Road area. (so Blue is in this demonstration season in Kathmandu?)
Meanwhile the economy is going down the drain. As most shops and businesses remain closed since last Friday I wonder for how longer the state's coffers can afford an economy in standstill. The cash-strapped government needs lots of money and most of its budget is spent for defense purposes. The day will come when the government will be bankrupt and cannot pay salaries anymore.
A pitiable 2.5 percent growth rate of the GDP speaks volumes about the way the people are being treated by those in power. The growth rate of 2,5 percent is meaningless in a country where the inflation rate is 8,5 percent and the population growth is over 2 percent. Nepal's economy is already in a state of stagflation.
As long as there in no peace in Nepal there is no hope for a better future. Peace is also the prime requisite for development.
According to BBC, the police opened fire on demonstrators in Pokhara today. The situation seems to be very tense there. For the last few weeks the King has been staying in his lakeside palace in Pokhara. Before the demonstrations started he was on state-orchestrated road shows in western Nepal. Now he is frequently holding court with his court jesters from the royal regime who are flown in by helicopter.
Also according to BBC, the royal regime is sailing in a rudderless ship in stormy water (how many metaphors or similes or whatchacalls can you find in that sentence?) and the views among the cabinet regarding the reconciliation with the political parties are divided. The aging and senile hardliners from the Panchyat era within the cabinet are not ready for any compromises or dialogue. These idiots and a superstitious king rather prefer to push back Nepal to the dark Middle Ages. (The preceding sentence, by the way, is illegal under current Nepali rule thanks to HM Gyaendra.)
It seems that the situation in Nepal is going to deteriorate further in the days ahead.
And, that's the view from Thamel.
Another expat resident friend who's been there fifteen years writes:
Just heard on BBC news (3 pm) that the security personnel opened fire on demonstrators in Pokhara (Pokhara is the rural tourist hub and the base for all Annapurna region trekking). Pokhara seems to be very tense today. The king is staying in his lakeside palace in Pokhara for the last few weeks. His puppets and yes-man are always flying from KTM to Pokhara for consultations. They must spend a lot of money for helicopters.
In an encouraging (sort of) note, the foreign visitors are getting in on suporting the pro-democracy demos. Interestingly, this report doesn't go into the bit about the Japanese tourist getting beaten. Hey, you're wearing a peasant blouse, now you know what it really feels like to be a peasant! At least the police don't discriminate.
I can not find the original Nepali News story to link, so I am reprinting it here:
Tourists protest curfew, general strike
Tourists have organised a candle rally in Pokhara on Monday evening to protest the police beating of a Japanese visitor on the same day, report said.
Kantipur (name of a newspaper in this case) stated the tourists came to the streets also to protest against the atrocities of police upon the tourists in the last few days. The rally started soon after curfew hours were over.
At around 7:30 p.m. the tourists took out rally chanting slogans against the police atrocities. The rally started from Lakeside, passed through different parts of the city and ended at the Hallan Chowk. Many others tourists, who did not take part in the rally, applauded from road sides.
The daily quoted a British professor Charles Brown as saying the objective of the rally was for the establishment of peace and complete democracy in Nepal. He called on the palace to initiate dialogue with all political forces for the restoration of peace here.
Dozens of foreigners took part in the rally. The tourism entrepreneurs and local residents also joined the protests.
A student visitor, from the rally, has said she would not return Nepal till peace is restored.
The tourists have said their programmes have been badly affected by the imposition of curfew and general strike. This is the first instance of foreigners' staging protest against general strike and curfew in Nepal.
:Here is the link to the blue-helmeted Havilland BBC story, and
:the BBC news link to some reports from affected locals.
Special Thanks to Wild Willy B for hitting the Forward button!
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