Nepal in Intl. Media: Annapurna Circuit and Kathmandu in New York Times and Time

sunrise on poon hill
Sunrise on Poon Hill, with a view of 26,795-foot Dhaulagiri. Pic: Ethan-Todras Whitehill for NYT

The New York Times and Time magazine are working closely, so to speak, to cover Nepal in the past couple of weeks. First came Jim Yardley, former Beijing bureau chief of the Times now posted in New Delhi, with an analysis titled “China Intensifies Tug of War With India on Nepal.” That was in mid-February. Two weeks later Jyoti Thottam, Time‘s woman in New Delhi, saw, from Delhi, Nepal “Caught Between China and India.” [Prithvi Narayan Shah, the king who unified Nepal some 250 years ago, had realized that long time back when he said, “नेपाल दुई ढुङ्गाबीचको तरुल हो । [Nepal is a yam between two boulders.]”

Both stories are worth reading but they are not something that we can cheer about. This week NYT and Time came out with two travel reports that are certainly helpful to promote Nepali travel and tourism industry. The Times publishes an excellent travelogue from Annapurna Circuit while Time highlights Kathmandu Valley as a weekend destination. I was particularly interested in the Times story, by Ethan Todras-Whitehill, because I have done parts of the Circuit- Ghandruk Ghorepani (which counts as separate route that passes via Poon Hill) and Nar Phu trek (that touches many parts of the Circuit including Dharapani and crosses via Kang-la Pass that is only a few meters shorter than Thorang-la). The main photo- brilliant- published alongside the story- people enjoying the view of Dhaulagiri range and the sunrise- reminded me of my own moment at Poon Hill three years ago.

The Time story, by Jenara Nerenberg, presents Kathmandu as a weekend destination and could encourage Delhi expatriates, tourists in some Asian cities like Hong Kong and Bangkok and affluent Indians to go to Kathmandu. Those of us who have lived in Kathmandu know that a mere three days are not enough to explore Kathmandu and surrounding hills. Who wants to come back from Nagarkot without spending a night there and witnessing the majestic sunrise? But the report nicely points out many places of interests and ‘indulgence’ in the Valley. For a country preparing to celebrate Tourism Year in 2011, these two reports definitely come as a great PR tool. So, thank you!

Note of Dissent

While reading the Times travelogue, however, I couldn’t agree with the writer on one issue:

He writes: It is a shame, then, that by 2012 a road will have been built on this path, destroying this experience and, according to many, placing the last nail in the coffin of what was once the greatest trek on earth.

He’s talking about the road that is being constructed in the Annapurna region.

As he descends from Muktinath the writers says: The towns were more developed and less charming.

What do Westerners want us to be? Yogis living in shacks and begging for their half eaten doughnuts? Sorry but we would like our society to be ‘more developed’ even if that might turn out to be ‘less charming’ to foreigners. To oppose road is like saying no to computers because they steal jobs from people by doing things in minutes that would otherwise take hours or days for a human. Roads don’t eat up trekking trails. There are hundreds of trekking trails in Nepal that are virgin and far from any signs of modern development. Even if road reaches to popular trekking areas, that will not kill the trekking business and activity. One can spend a week or two just walking around Thorang-la and Nar-Phu. Even at places where the road has reached/will reach who stops trekkers from walking? Have people stopped walking on the sideways of Manhattan just because there are too many cars running all over the streets next to them? [Ask Bharat Bahadur Shahi, a shop owner in Manma VDC of Kalikot to find how important a road is for poor people in Nepal: “Once the vehicles started running in front of our houses, the window of opportunities was opened for us.”]

PS: Somewhere in the article the writer says: Annapurna III is too everything — tall, close, imposing, beautiful — to be true. So true. Equally true is the fact that there are too many Annapurnas in Nepal and Nepalis need more roads.