The perception that Nepal, despite its socio-economic problems, is still a land of immense potential and beauty is re-enforced by these reflections of expatriates and tourists visiting Nepal. The nation that was once known for its magnanimous silence, huge bells and the idyllic landscape has had a rough decade due to political upheavals and the news that went out was not very rosy. Now, the infinitely transient image of Shangri-La is once again reviving. In spite of large-scale skepticism within and outside the nation, a majority of the residents and tourists find Nepal safer than the rest of the world. ‘My daughter goes out to Thamel. She never complains about any problems,’ says Francis Wiseman, owner of Fire and Ice Pizzeria, Thamel. ‘In London, I would not send her out even for a loaf for bread. There is no other city in the world as peaceful and safe as here’. The Scores of other expatriates and long-time travelers in Nepal hold similar views:
His Excellency Graeme Waters Ambassador to Nepal, New Zealand: Following are the brief excerpts of the interviews: Nepal is indeed a beautiful lush country with an enviable climate. It is also, of course, home to Mt Everest, which continues to hold a special fascination for many New Zealanders – not least because of New Zealand’s Sir Edmund Hillary having been the first to have reached its summit.
Dr. Anthony Willett (Canadian) Community Development Advisor: Everything manifests earthily and transparently. Even corruption and inefficiency are transparent here. Equally, there are pockets, vistas, and scattered lights and candles of Shangri-La to be seen, discovered, and experienced. Shangri-La is in the mind, and reflects from the mind. What you look for, you will find. Even in the midst of conflict and hatred you can find their opposites. You can find the lotus above the swamp.
Gopal Baglay Counselor (Press, Information and Culture), Indian Embassy: Nepal at present is passing through a transitional phase. There are obvious challenges it has to meet in terms of institutionalizing democracy, and providing an enduring foundation for peace, stability and economic development. My stay in Nepal is not long enough to enable me to compare the life now with the previous times. However, I can say with certainty that the cultural commonalities between India and Nepal and the genuine and warm Nepali hospitality, makes Indians privileged to be in Nepal feel comfortable here.
Michelle Annand, Artist, New Zealand: The Nepali countryside still has a great deal of natural beauty and charm, which should always continue to attract foreigners, who appreciate the timeless landscape and its inhabitants. There are still obviously many issues that need to be addressed in Nepal, and people could draw upon their vast cultural and religious wealth to seek a means to rediscover themselves in a changing world, where such a vast body of knowledge offers all the riches of wisdom, and has such deep roots in an ancient tradition.
Suzy Conway, Academic, United States: Walking through the main gate at Bouddhanath for the first time was pure heaven. The energy, power, and magnitude of the stupa brought me to tears. Trekking through a snowstorm for about eight hours and finally reaching our guest house in Langtang, and getting just a small taste of how endurance, and doggedness, in the face of the elements, gets us in touch with something within ourselves we didn’t know we had was overwhelming. Go deep into the psyche of Nepal when you come, and take a closer look at what you’re seeing here. Try to find out what is really transpiring behind what is appearing.
Beata Wiggen, Art Curator, Chautara Gallery, Netherlands: The images of beautiful mountains, lovely valleys, lush rivers and friendly people in quaint villages are well known to the world, but they are being covered over by the pictures of fighting, burning, and victims on all sides. It’s a small country with a lot of problems (and a lot of charm!), in need of development from the inside and some help from the outside. It needs to grow up and face its problems and the elites have to step back and let a real growth happen in democratic involvement of all citizens.
Willow Lama, Dance Instructor, USA: My husband’s family is in Langtang National park. Visiting them and walking through the old forest, learning about the wayside medicinal herbs they use, hearing their local tales of ghosts, shamans and village life, coming across Goths (yak herders’ sheds) in the high meadows and tasting the most delicious yoghurt ever and roasted corn porridge, their dances, songs and festivals and the views of Tibetan snow peaks in the crystal clear air…this is Shangri-La.
Thekla Eick, Aamaa, Germany: “Visit Nepal 98”, that was my first trip to my dreamland. I was diving into a new world and discovered a different culture. Trekking at the “Roof of the World”, those moments are anchored in my heart. The friendliness of the warm hearted people here has touched my heart. I can see the heart in their faces, when they smile at me and respectfully listen to my words. All that makes them trustful, lovable and you feel their gratefulness with every contact. I will always come back. Nepal has liberated me.
Andreas Stimm, Photographer, Germany: I travel to Nepal because of the mountains and the landscape. But I discovered during my trekking in Helambu and Annapurna the real treasure of Nepal are the people. I was fascinated and overwhelmed with their friendliness and hospitality. I met a lot of people who in Western view are really “poor”, but despite their poverty part these people have a satisfied life through their beliefs. They are content in their lives, and lucky. That is one aspect we can learn.
Dr. Manfred Treu, Professor, Germany: Nepal is an exotic tourist destination. Many people want to come to Nepal at least once in their lives. There’s no doubt about that.
Gerard Meeuwse, Director, T Bartje, The Dutch School: It is nice to see religious syncretism here. There’s openness and mixture of cultures and values, which is unique. Nepal is an ideal tourist destination, in spite of all the trouble. It’s very popular among the young people. You don’t need a guide for culture tourism in the Kathmandu Valley or Pokhara. Only if you have direct flights from your home countries, you can be on your own and enjoy your holidays uninterrupted.
Francis Wiseman & Annamaria Forgione Wiseman, Fire and Ice Pizzeria, Kathmandu: It was a glorious day, the day we visited Nepal. We have lived here for 18 years now and feel very lucky. It is peaceful and this is our home now. We love it. It’s a wonderful place to be. Problems are everywhere but Nepal is much safer then the rest of the world. We are very happy here. It’s been a very good country for us. We don’t feel threatened here. We never have. One of the problems is how it’s reported by international media.
Sam Voolstra, Marketing Director, The Last Resort: The country impresses me. It’s peaceful, friendly, helpful and beautiful. I am in love with this country. People who come to Nepal for holidays come from big western cities where there is a lot of pressure and stress. But here, if you’re outside your trekking lodge or campsite, you just see nature, and people passing by, villagers laughing, beautiful women in saris working in the rice fields and singing a song, water buffaloes bathing, magnificent mountain peaks, sunrise, sunsets, clear open skies, wildlife in Chitwan and so much more. Comparatively, Western life is stressful.
Robert Groeli, Technical Advisor, LILI (Local Infrastructure for Livelihood Improvement): I have crisscrossed all over Nepal, several times in all of its 75 districts. Everything here seems endless. You can keep watching and at every other turn, you’ll discover something more interesting and something you’d never imagined before. The experience is overwhelming. Nepal is also a paradise for trout hunters. You can start trout breeding here. Trouts require cold water and Himalayan Rivers fulfils that criteria. People would pay thousand of dollars to fetch their trout.
Thomas Schneide, Physiotherapist and Poet, Germany: Tourists have never been targets of the insurgency in Nepal. If a traveler has good experience, he will tell others. He will be your messenger from this Shangri-La of Silence.
Flemming Yzen, Journalist, Denmark: I was reading the BBC World’s news website and what I read there was very promising. People are realizing that the country is normalizing. 30 yrs ago, Nepal was a kind of dream world. Today, it is a country in transition. What I would suggest is forget the Middle East and Africa and look towards Asia led by two giants India and China and then have part of your attention to Nepal.
Note: Interviews taken by Yuyutsu R.D.Sharma and Arpan Shrestha
(Excerpts from Shangri-La, the in-flight magazine of Nepal Airlines, OCT-Dec 2006/ Rajendra B. Shrestha is the Managing Editor of Nepal Airlines)