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Kang Rimpoche Trashed and Commercialised
The holiest spot in Asia used to be the unfrequented
destination of hardy pilgrims. It is fast
becoming a dirty Disneyland.
by John V. Bellezza
ell Kailash!" This is the battle cry of the Luyu Chu, Tibet's government-owned and controlled tourism organisation. The Luyu Chu has issued a directive to Tibet Kailash Travel, its branch agency in Ngari Prefecture, orderingit tobringin more tourists to Mount Kailash. The target set for 1995 is 1500 overseas tourists, a 50 percent increase over 1994.,The quotas set by the Luyu Chu are mandatory, yet the burdenof meeting them falls on the branch department. Tibet Kailash Travel has had to scramble to fulfil its mission. It has endeavoured to establish better contacts in Nepal. During the last year, its sales representatives met repeatedly with Nepal's Minister of Tourism and various tour operators. A concerted effort is being made to market Kailash as a overseas tourist destination.
It all began in 1984, when a handful of hardy Western travelers made it to the holy mountain. In 1985, a Japanese expedition and a
smattering of foreign individual tour-ists had the privilege. In 1986, the first tour groups began arriving at Kailash. Approximately 100 people of non-Himalayan countries came that year. The number of tourists visiting has increased steadily since.
By 1989,300-400 travellers from non-Himalayan countries were visiting a year, and 1000 made the journey in the 1994 season. If the Chinese have their way, 2000 such tourists will be tramping around Asia's holiest place by 1997.
The majority of tourists arrive in organised tour groups, each member paying on an average U$ 150 a day. Income from Kailash tourism therefore represents a substantial source of revenue for the government.
The Southern Yatrl
The situation foT Indian tourists and pilgrims is quite different from that of overseas tourists. Indians were first permitted to travel to Kailash by the Chinese government in 1981. From 1981-1992, the number of Indians allowed to visit was doubled to 400 as per a renewed- bilateral agreement between India and China. In 1995, 1000 yatris will be permitted to travel to the sacred mountain.
In 1986, it cost an Indian IRs 11,000 to make the journey from Dharchuia in Kumaon to Kailash and back. In 1992, the cost was up to IRs
25,000. Next year, it is expected that the cost of the pilgrimage will rise to IRs 40,000 with much of the increase due to fees levied by the Chinese.
Froml981 through 1994, Indians could only enter Tibet from the Lipu Lekh pass in Kumaon. This year, three new routes—Niti La in Garhwal, Shipki La in Himachal Pradesh, and the Demchok border point in Ladakh—are slated toopen. Of these, the Demchok border is the most promising as it is the only one with a motorable road link. Using this route, an Indian could reach Kailash from Delhi in three days. The only obstacle to developing this route, which follows the Indus River, is that the Indo-Tibetan frontier was mined during the period of bad relations between China and India. The land mines will have to be cleared in order to make Demchok a viable pilgrim route to Kailash.
Nepalis have had the easiest time making it to Kailash. They are allowed to make their own travel arrangements, which for the poor means walking or travelling in the back of trucks. It is rumoured that even Nepalis will have to form expensive tourgroups, but there is no evidence of this as yet. In 1994, the Simikot-to-Khojernath transborder route from Nepal was opened to foreign tourists. This route to Kailash could become popular with those on
HIMAL January/February 1995
=*~ « ^ b. i= it •=
lavish budgets. A helicopter service has been opened from Nepalganj to Simikot, the headquarters of Humla District. Helicopter operators are lobbying the Nepal government to permit flights right up to the frontier, a move that is being resisted by the Central District Officer (CDO) at Simikot, who wants to protect portering and other service jobs for Hum la's population. It is unclear which side will win, but what is clear is that Kailash is becoming more and more accessible.
The Chi ne se G overnmen t' s grand i ose plans to transform erstwhile inaccessible Kailash into a popular tourist resort area include the construction of a five-star hotel and restaurant at Darchen, at the foot of the holy mountain. There will be two airports, one at Burang and the other at Ali, the prefectural capital. There is talk of improving the three link roads to Kailash, which are presently in a terrible condition.
These ambitious projects remain on the drawing board as there is no commitment on the part of the Chinese government to free up funds to realise them. The objective evidently is to maximise profits without making significant investment. Infrastructure at Kailash remains quite primitive. In 1989, a 14-room lodge was built to handle tour groups, and work will begin next year on a better appointed ten-room facility. Most tourists, however, will continue to camp.
Vendors have lost no time capitalising on increased traffic to the region. In 1985, there were no vendors; now there are as many as 40 operating out of tents. These itinerant hawkers sell sundry foods and household items. The trend unquestionably is for more and more vendors to set up shop. In 1989, the Peoples Liberation Army set up a restaurant to cater to tourist s. Also in 1989, to better monitor and control the growing tourist and commercial traffic, a permanent police checkpost was set up in Darchen. Since that time, it has been increasingly difficult for low budget tourists and
pilgrims to visit because these kinds of visitors are officially discouraged.
With increased commerce, environmental problems have burgeoned. Darchen (4800 m), the staging point for visits to Kailash, has an inherently fragile ecology. Just a little more than a decade ago, the only rubbish around was the organic castaways of Tibetans. Since that time, garbage has been accumulating at an alarming rate. The Darchen Chu, a sacred stream representing the central channel or nadi of Kailash, is now choaked with plastic, glass, metaland other trash.
The refuse around Kailash is not only an eyesore, some of it is also hazardous. One comes across hundreds of discarded batteries containing heavy metals, and there is significant pollution of petroleum products from vehicles. Toilet paper is strewn around the Kailash circuit, an aesthetic distraction and irritant to the local people. There are no cleanup or waste management plans in place, consequently the problem worsens year by year. With maximisation of profits the priority, environmental protection has fallen by the wayside.
To the native Drokpa, Kailash or Kang Rimpoche is the crown of the world and in it the oceans have their source. Kailash is the fount of all life, they believe, feeding the continents with both precious water and pure consciousness. The Tibetans maintain that to pollute the water at its spurce
poses a grave danger to the entire world. For this reason, they are unhappy with tourist s who leave their refuse behind.
It is true that, contrary to their own beliefs, the Tibetan people tend to be just as sloppy as tourists and travellers. Nevertheless, the Western tourists are the champions when it comes to the volume of waste generated. The holy mountain is becoming a garbage dump.
Unfortunately, some tourists have squandered their welcome in other ways as well. The open sexuality that Westerners are prone to demonstrate shocks the sensibility of the natives. The worst was when back in 1992 a group of Americans tried to make a pornographic film at Kailash. They wereprevented from completing the filming, but not without a fight.
Visitors demonstrably lack even basic respect for the sanctity of Kailash. For instance, there is the obnoxious tendency to point the barrel of one's camera at people and holy spots as if it were an assault weapon. A proper cultural orientation should be part of the tour agenda, but neither the government nor tour operators seem concerned. Kailash is sold and marketed, but the local people are being estranged.
Dealing with Scum
Sadly, even darkerdepths of depravity have been reached, in conjunction with tourism. The last ten years has seen a rash of robberies in the Kailash region, some of it with Western
January/February 1995 HIMAL
complicity, which has impoverished local monasteries, Nepali and Tibetan criminal rings have stolen priceless statues from the gombas, sometimes at the behest of Western criminals posing as tourists.
Recently, some notorious European art thieves visited Kailash in theguiseof tourists. Wherever they go in Tibet, the priceless heritage of the country disappears. In 1993, five bronzes were stolen from the Zuthulphuk Gomba on the Kailash parikrama. The thieves were apprehended along with photographs taken by the Westerner who commissioned the theft.
Nothing has so damaged relations between the natives and tourists as the robbing of the monasteries. As a result, Gomba caretakers are now hesitant to open chapels to visitors and an air of suspicion and mistrust exists where earlier there was a warm and easygoing relationship. Major thefts
in the last few years include Chako Gomba (18 statues in 1992), Tashigang (three large Lokeshwaras in 1989), and Yin Gomba (15 bronzes in 1991). In 1990, a gang of robbers relieved pilgrims of their money and jewellery in the middle of the night. Kailash has attracted scum along with bonafide visitors and pilgrims.
The goodwill, the coming together of people at Kailash in peace and mutual respect, is disintegrating. Cynicism is surfacing with the increased exploitation. While some might accept this as a normal part of change and modernisation, it is that much more tragic when it happens at the location considered the most sacrosanct on the planet. What are the long-term impacts of mental and physical forms of pollution at Kailash?
With money as the prime motivating force that spurs tourism, there is little regard for cultural or ecological values. Kailash becomes another commodity to be marketed
and exploited, diminishing its religious aura. Visitors could be educated so that they develop a healthy attitude and awareness, but where will the resources for this come from?
The native people and the true pilgrims suffer the most from the commercialisation of Kailash. They have little choice but to watch the debasement of their holiest sites. Dissent is not encouraged by the Chinese. The native people are the losers in every way, for they do not even benefit significantly from the money generated by their holy mountain. How far will this onslaught on Kailash go? How long will the visions and needs of the Drokpa and pilgrims be drowned out by the mushrooming commercial interests? For now, at least, the most strident voice that drowns out all others is "Sell Mt. Kailash!"
J. BellGzza f'Jungli John'} Is a traveller of the Western Himalaya and Tibet.
HIMAL Januaiy/Febnaty 1995
THE INDIA OF NEHRU, thatpoetand romancer, would have been different from the intolerant nation-state that it has become today, writes O.V, Vijayan in tlte Times of India of14 January.
Imagine India still a colony and Jawaharlal Nehru editing the National Herald, We might have had a different Discovery, for the poet and romancer in him would have certainly glamorised the Naga and the Mizo and the Bodo. He would have disapproved of the Hindu hegemony in the Kashmir Valley, and discovered India'sethnicities in their joyful becoming. He kept his tryst with destiny, but it was a lesser destiny, and around him lay the countless unborn embryos of the Indian ethnos, Panditji was denied this discovery, as he was by then swamped by the regalia of the nation-state.
Yet, where it concerned the tribals he let himself be guided by liberal anthropologists; he went into Kashmir withan eclectic agenda of internal coexistence. We who were a generation transiting into freedom would like to recall not the midnight toll of bells, but the graphic picture of another freedom, another assertion:Jawahararm inarm with his comradeSheikh Abdullah. Jawahar wounded by the ragtag guards of Kashmir's Hindu maharajah.
These were pictures of heroic dimension, the stuff of epics and sagas. And yet they were also cameos of innocence, and their hero a poet and romancer. It is only the joy of this romance and poetry that can sustain so varied a polity of ours. But we have instead a sordid mass of imagined subversions and enmities which are met with hysteric reprisals. It has all escalated into something worse than war, and therefore something our war-makers cannot understand. This non-understanding has been written into the statutes, and its application made into something horrendous that demolishes our clumsy accumulation of democracy.
A little reflection, a little humility, is all that is needed to understand that this is a crisis of unknown dimensions, that it is not the work of militants and sabotuers, that a few crumbs of power would not pacify this unrest. This is a crisis of the nation-state. Once the state rested on the nation, now it does not, and as new identities emerge, as the identities proliferate, the state paralyses itself with the very power it unleashes.
True, this is happening the world over, in some form or other. But that is no consolation. What is of concern is the consequences to our federal entity, to the Indian psyche. Decades of suspicion have conditioned our reflexes to the extent of condoning the deployment of the Armed Forces to run parts of the country. We must be regretting that there is no sea in Kashmir, or we would have deployed the Navy as well.
Armed presences are the surest way of ensuring the permanence of bitter memory, and that is preceisely what we havedone. We have militarised ourselves. These words are written not from pacifist fundamentalism, but from a sense
of waste; we have drained the joy of becoming, the joy in which many a dormant nationality wakes to the awareness of itself...
A MULTIGENIUS PERSONALITY is how
"Namrata" in an Indian Express "space marketing supplement" on Nepal of 9 November profiles the Managing Director of Royal Nepal Airlines, perhaps by virtue of the half-page ad from the airline in the. previous page,
Nepal the mountain Island in the Indian subcontinent harbouring natural beauty and property is equally rich in MULTIGENIUS personalities. Classical literatures like "Padma Purana, Nepal Mahatma" etc. A richness in culture as well, the entire island is dotted with temples and sculptures of various Divinity, the saying, that a count ry possessing such natural glamour naturally commands special dimensions in the field of architecture and cultural wealth very well empties to this country.
Naturally in such an environment personalities of multiments crop up and enhance the prestige of the country by their various meritorious contributions. Mr Pradeep Raj Pandey is one of them born in the well cultured, educated and high familyof Nepal received his education in Cambridge University, Tribhuvan University and Delhi University.
Reaching the prime age of 42 he has shown his exceptional brilliance in the field of art and administration. A creative mind adorned with polite and charming personality has placed him on such a high dimension which is rarely found at this age.
Thecredit of organising and managing the Royal Nepal Airlines goes to Mr Pandey despite of this he has represented Nepal in several countries like Japan, Germany, Britain, Hongkong, former USSR, France and India etc. in different capacities very successfully and thereby he is responsible for raising the prestige of Nepal in the world. Not only this, he has shown his versatile knowledge in marketing, planning, capital budgeting decisions and budgeting verses corporate planning etc.
He was not satisfied with the management of RNAC He initiated starting of different flights to various countries in the world for effective utilization of tourist potentialities, natural beauties and cultural wealth of this mountain island, which shows his creative and scholarly mind. His capabilities are not limited only to the above contributions, he is equally efficient in the field of sports also. At present, he is a member of National squash team and an accepted sportsman in the field of culture. He is very particular with Indian music and musical instruments. It is no exaggeration in saying that Indian music/Classical music has become part of his life.
Shri Pandey is a rare personality which Nepal has been endowed by nature. We hope Nepal will ever receive perennial impetus and able guidance in the development of Nepal as a whole.
January/February 1995 HIMAL
LORD GURU RIMPOCHE will evidently be none too happy with the editors ofHimalfor not sending out this chain ktter, which arrived in the mail in late December. Perhaps the fate of Mr, Robertson (before he redeemed himself) awaits us all,
Oma A Hum Bingra Guru Padma Sedhe Hum,
Trust the Lord Guru Rimpoche with most Devotion
The Rimpoche will acknowledge and enlighten your ways.
CLIMBING VOCABULARY from a serialised spoof of mountaineering terms by Steve Ashton in the magazine High. These selections are from the magazine's September and October 1994issues.
Talus: Exotic scree. Sounds vaguely Greek, anatomical and
rude, doesn't it?
Tenzing Norgay: Went up Everest with Edmund Hillary to keep
Terminal moraine; An incurable and fatal aversion to glacial
Thermal underwear: Under garments which, having been worn
for an extended period by a perspiring mountaineer, have
exceeded their capacity for odour retention and, somewhat like
vegetable matter in a compost heap, begin a process of
spontaneous internal combustion. Underwear having reached
this state is said to have 'gone thermal'.
UIAA: Union of Indecisive Alpine Associations. In addition to
talking about having talks about talking about safety
recommendations and grading matters, the UIAA is also
pondering the possibility of promoting harmony among the
global climbing community by introducing political correctness
into route names.
Vegetation: Plant growth which encroaches upon the climbing
line. A climber who has a penchant for exploring overgrown
cliffs is known as a vegetarian.
Waterproof: Convincing evidence for the presence of water,
such as that provided by the rain which pisses through the seams
of your two-hundred-quid mountain jacket.
White-out: Does this mean what I think it means? I'm trying to
imagine a conversation between two winter climbers waking up
in their mountain hut. One says to the other, "What's the
weather like today, Jim?" To which theother—Jim presumably—
replies, after rubbing the frost from the window and peering out
on to a landscape of glistening snowfields, "It's white out."
Hmmm. Yes, I'll go for that: white-out means that... er, that's it
Wind-chill: Not another one. I mean, it's not as if there's such a
thingas'wind-warm'. Winds are chilly,forgod'ssake.Do Ihave
to spell it out?
ME NEPALI, ME WORK could be the motto of the Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies (NAFEA), going by its slick colour brochure. Comprising of 27 manpower agencies, NAFEA seeks "to legally provide employment opportunities to various categories of labour force and professional personnel to overseas countries."
Categories Personnel: Engineers, draftsman, overseers,
mechanics, fitters, mason, electrician, foreman, heavy vehicle
drivers, carpenters, crane/forklift drivers, helper and unskilled
Hotel Restaurant Personnel: Trained and experienced managers,
executive chefs, cooks, captains, waiters and utility workers,
housekeepers, roommates, house boys, cleaners, accountants
and clerks, telephone opera tors, secretaries, drivers, laundry man,
Supermarket Personnel; Managers, accountants, storekeepers,
salesman, salesgirls, helpers, butchers.
Hospital Personnel: Doctors, nurses, staff assistants, health
Security Guards: Personal bodyguards, presidential security
guards, embassy security guards, banks and industrial security
Marine: Security workers, shipyard guards, dock workers.
This letteT has come to you for good luck from the original
course of Lord Guru Rimpoche. You will receive good luck after
four days of receiving this letter. Good future awaitsyou if upon
you to receive.
Please make 27 copies of this letter and send them out to 27
people who you needs luck. You must not delay in sending the
This letter has been received from U.S.A.
Since the chain around you, you must make 27 copies identical
to this letter and send them to your friends after four days you
get a response, this is true,
Mr. Ben got this letter in 1958. He asked his secretary to type
out 27 copies and send them out. After four days he won
Mr, Robertson, an officer's, got this letter and forget it to send.
He lost his job. He found the chain and send 100 copies. Four
days letter he got a better job.
Please make sure that this chain must not broken to avoid bad
luck. You must send them out 27 copies and send them out
within four days. Your problems will banish.
Lord Guru Rimpoche hear your prayer.
HIMAL January/February 1995
The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) with its headquarters in Kathmandu, Nepal, was established in 1983 to address problems of economic and environmental development in the Hindu-Kush Himalayas (HKH) covering pans of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan. ICIMOD is an independent organisation governed by a Board of Governors and funded by some 15 countries and donor organisations. Its mandatory activities are are implemented in close collaboration with partner institutions in the regional member countries. The present annual budget is $ 3 million. The Centre has 3 thematic divisions and 3 support services :
Mountain Farming Systems Division (MFS)
Mountain Natural Resources Division (MNR)
Area Planning, Infrastructure and
Enterprise Development Division (AIE)
Mountain Environment and Natural Resources
Information Systems Services (MENRIS)
Documentation, Information and Training Services (DITS)
Administration, Finance and Logistics Services (AFLS)
Of the 26 internationally recruited positions, 14 have been filled at present. During the first half of 1995 the Centre intends to fill in six additional positions for its regular programme and two coordinators for separately funded projects, for which applications are now invited. The common requirements for all of the posts are :
A. Post Graduate degree in the related field from an internationally recognised university
B. Good writing, presentation and communication skills in English including knowledge of word processing
C. Proven capabilities through publications and experience to take up the respective responsibilities.
D. Willingness to travel frequently in the region and work harmoniously with persons of different nations and cultures.
E. A major part of the work experience should have been obtained in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan Region.
Vac.95/1. Head, Area Planning, Infrastructure and Enterprise Development Division/ Enterprise Development and Marketing Specialist - 15 years' experience in economic development work, focussing Ion income generating enterprises and activities. Demonstrated managerial competence and capacity for intellectual leadership.
Vac .95/2. Head, Documentation, Information and Training Service/Information and Communication Specialist - 15 years' experience in information management and use of modern communication technology. Demonstrated managerial competence and capacity for intellectual leadership.
Vac.95/3. Agricultural Extension and Training Specialist, MFS Division - 10 years' experience in agricultural extension and/or training, including preparation of extension and training material
Vac.95/4. Pasture Specialist, MNR Division - 10
years' experience in analysis and management activities related with pasture and range development
Vac.9S/S. Energy Specialist, AIE Division - 10 years' experience in energy planning and management, in particular non-conventional energy resources for rural development.
Vac.95/6. Remote Sensing Specialist, MENRIS- 10
years' experience in the field of remote sensing, preferably with several years in relation to mountain resources of the HKH.
Vac.95/7. Project Coordinator ,"Promotion and Development of Beekeeping through conservation of native Apis Cerana Bees", MFS Division - 10 years' research and/or extension experience in apiculture, preferably with Apis Cerana. Management experience desirable.
Vac.95/8. Project Coordinator, "Mountain Risk Engineering", AIE Division (Pending final approval of project) - 10 years' experience in road construction or other infrastructure development in fragile mountain areas, including some exposure with risk and hazard management related with infra-structure development. Management experience is desirable.
Female candidates are strongly encouraged to apply.
Remuneration : Salaries and benefits are based on a modified UN system.
Duration : Three years, of which one year is probational, and subject to continuation of present funding levels of
ICIMOD. Starting date : 1st June 1995.
Applications : Applications should be received before 20th March 1995
M.R. Tuladhar, Head, Administration and Finance
ICIMOD, G.P.O. Box 3226, Kathmandu, Nepal
Fax : (977-1) 524509/524317
Detailed Terms of Reference for each position are available on request.
In mid-December, Himal magazine organised a photo exhibition, Kathmandu, Mailo Kathmandu
('mailo' = dirty, soiled) which travelled through the public spaces of Pa tan, Kathmandu and Bhaktapur towns.
We hoped that disturbing 'freeze frame' images reflecting the weakening spirit of Kathmandu Valley would provide shock therapy to the public as well as the political, business and non-governmental bosses. If the Valley is not to choke in its own refuse, our leaders have to dirty their hands. They must understand the here-and-now dangers that a dirty Kathmandu poses to public health, aesthetic and touristic sustainability.
In this photo-essay, we present some of the 42 pictures that were part of Kathmandu, Mailo Kathmandu. The chaitya-and-garbage photograph below, by Chandrasekhar Karki, was Editors' Choice for the image that said the most, Himal also held a poll in each of the locations, and the Public's Choice was the picture on page 33 of the tourist memorialising pigs and garbage at Thamel.
The shame of all Kathmandu in the neglect ol one chaitya.
HIMAL Januafy/Februaiy 1995
What happens to the economy when tourists begin to aim cameras at pigs amidst garbage rather than the tempiescape?
The ragpicker underclass of Teku provide some breathing space
for a valley that would otherwise already have choaked in plastic,
rubber and metal discards of over-affluence.
An open drain in Patan
carries a thick and fetid brew,
a khichadiof raw sewage,
motor oil from a nearby
garage, and urine. Beer
bottles mark the passage.
In the beginning, there was organic waste. Then
came plastic. The trusty Kathmandu sungur
takes it all in stride.