Back in 1970 when Cambodians were settling in with gusto to what would devolve
into two-plus decades of bloody civil war and international isolation, sleepy Nepal
was just being discovered by Western hippies, backpackers and the like.
Kathmandu subsequently mushroomed as a tourist mecca: dollars and up-market jet setters
poured in-as did foreign aid, the hashish shops were closed, infrastructure was developed,
five-star hotels cropped up, and garbage management became a key issue on the trails
leading to Mt. Everest.
Today in Nepal you can go white water rafting, check in for three days of colon cleansing
at a trendy spa in the capital, enjoy hot air ballooning over the Himalayan foothills,
or ride an elephant in search of tigers in the Terai with gin and tonics waiting
for the weary traveler back at the jungle lodge. Downtown Kathmandu has a tourist
hub that includes around 3,000 shops all of which rely on the expat dollar for survival.
Jobs have been created, incomes have risen and many Nepalis have prospered.
But three decades of robust tourism promotion has also seen other developments in
Nepal. Off the beaten track all is not well. Income disparities are glaring and peasants
are ticked off. Government corruption is endemic. The country is now the unfortunate
witness to a grim "Maoist" rebellion (which, interestingly, Bejing says
has usurped "the name of the leader of the Chinese people" and diplomats
describe as "the likes of Pol Pot").
In 2002 more than 4,300 people were killed in fighting between the rebels and government
forces, and Nepal-once the darling of the overseas travel agent community-is now
one of the bloodiest spots in Asia. Tourist arrivals are plummeting and the economy
With peace in Cambodia and, one assumes, a bit of time to reflect, the Kingdom's
development planners may want to take a look at the case of Nepal and figure out
where a strategy of relying on tourism dollars as the engine of economic development
all went south.
Now to more weighty matters. For many months Brits were grumbling about their
flag along the waterfront, saying it was all cocked up. A proper Union Jack was hoisted
last month, but now it has disappeared and has been replaced by the old, helter-skelter
one. Throaty murmurs of "Insult to the Queen" have now re-surfaced at several
watering holes followed by "Aaargh. I'll drink to that!"