Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Security Information for U.S. Citizens in Nepal

From: "US Department of State Warden Message"
Date: May 7, 2010 9:21:43 AM CDT
To: "US Department of State Warden Message"
Subject: Embassy Kathmandu Warden Message - May 7, 2010

The Unified CPN-Maoist Party has been carrying out nationwide strikes since Sunday, May 2, 2010. The U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu has been closed since May 3rd and will likely remain closed until the strikes are lifted. Large demonstrations and traffic disruptions continue to occur around Kathmandu and throughout the country. These strikes, or "bandhs" as they are referred to locally, have been successful in completely shutting down vehicular movement and businesses. As of May 7, 2010, the political situation remains deadlocked and we are unable to predict when the strike will conclude.

Supplies are running short in some places and travel has been disrupted throughout the country. Businesses and public transport have been severely affected. Essential supplies are dwindling and the strike has made it difficult or sometimes prevented supplies from being replenished. U.S. citizens are encouraged to stock adequate supplies of water, food, fuel, money and medication. Shops and markets are allowed to open for several hours each morning and evening. Some hotels are concerned about not being able to provide adequate services to tourists in Nepal. While the demonstrations have been largely peaceful, there have been sporadic clashes between the Maoist demonstrators and counter-demonstrators and security forces. U.S. citizens are strongly urged to avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations and to avoid traveling by wheeled transportation, including buses, cars, and bicycles. U.S. citizens are advised to monitor the situation closely on local media outlets and to stay in your homes or hotels and not move throughout the area unless absolutely necessary.

Please remain cognizant and aware of your surroundings and what may transpire. We wish to remind U.S. citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. U.S. citizens are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations.

The Nepal Tourism Board is running tourist buses to and from the international airport, which remains open. It is difficult to travel within Nepal except by air and some domestic flights also have been disrupted.

For additional information, please refer to “A Safe Trip Abroad.” U.S. citizens living or traveling in Nepal are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department's travel registration website. The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu is located at Maharajgunj. The telephone number is 977-1-4007200, 4007201. The number for after-hours emergencies is 977-1-4007266, 4007269. The fax number is 977-1-4007281. The Consulate’s e-mail address is and its Internet web page is U.S. citizens should also consult the Department of State’s latest Country Specific Information for Nepal and the Worldwide Caution, both available at Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Thursday, May 6, 2010

“Unsustainable” is the word that springs to mind when one thinks of the future of Katmandu.

The main wait in Nepal, at present, is for an end to the nationwide general strike that began on Sunday. The Maoists, who led our Constituent Assembly until losing their coalition partners last year, have trucked tens of thousands of party cadres into Katmandu to enforce the strike. They are trying to stage what they call a “people’s movement” to form an all-party government — with the Maoists in control.

Katmandu has come to a halt as bands of Maoists brandishing sticks march through the streets ensuring that government offices and businesses stay shuttered. Schools are closed, households are running out of food, and even money is in short supply, since all the banks are closed. Tempers are flaring. It would not take much for people’s discontent with the strike to tip into civil unrest.

Even before the strike, the country had entered an advanced state of entropy. Unable to meet demand, the Nepal Electricity Authority rations power. Most neighborhoods get only about 12 hours of electricity, mostly after 10 p.m. People must seek out alternative sources of energy, or conduct much of their work outside of normal hours. Electric kettles, ovens, freezers — even lights — are a luxury that most forgo. People carry flashlights at night and read by candlelight.

The other utilities are similarly overstretched. Katmandu’s mains fill with water only once every six days, for about three hours — often at two in the morning. Homeowners must scramble to fill their tanks then, or else truck in water from expensive private companies. The telephone networks are always busy. Calls do not go through or are reduced to gibberish: “I can’t hear you. Can you hear me?” The city’s air is rank with dust and exhaust; its rivers are open sewers that pedestrians scurry by, noses covered.

There are too many vehicles for the few tortuous roads. In the place of public transport, fleets of private vans career from stop to stop with their hapless, nauseated passengers. The existing health care facilities do not meet the needs of the three million residents. There are few jobs. To add to the insecurity, an earthquake — a big one — is long overdue. “Unsustainable” is the word that springs to mind when one thinks of the future of Katmandu.

Bad as this is, it is not the worst of Nepal’s woes. Since long before the strike, we have been waiting to discover what kind of country this is to become. Nepal was promised a new constitution in 2006, when the decade-long Maoist insurgency ended with an agreement between the insurgents and the democratic political parties to make a new Nepal, a federal democratic republic that would replace the autocracies, monarchies and struggling democracies of the past.

This Assembly has, since then, set 11 thematic committees to work drafting legislation. Unfortunately, some of these committees have drafted parallel (and irreconcilable) laws, leaving key issues unresolved. Should the new Nepal be an Indian-style parliamentary democracy or a Chinese-style party dictatorship? Should the Supreme Court be independent, or subject to parliamentary review? What should be the boundaries of the federal states, and how should these states share power with each other and the center? Should executive power reside with the president or the prime minister?

All this — and more — is undecided. A final draft of the constitution is supposed to be submitted by May 28. The deadline will obviously be missed.

And so, instead of waiting for something as constructive and exalted as a constitution, the Nepalese are waiting for more mundane things like for the strike to end, for electricity and water to return.

--Manjushree Thapa is the author, most recently, of the novel “Seasons of Flight.”

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Only In Thailand: Female Cops Drive Red Shirt Monks Back

...the situation at [Bangkok's] Rajprasong intersection [,the heart of the city's major shopping area,] became tense when the protesters blocked anti-riot police, who were preparing to move out from the Royal Thai Police headquarters to the protesting stage. A confrontation took place for five minutes.

The protesters brought Buddhist monks to the front, to counter which the police regrouped by bringing female riot police to the front of their lines. The protesters retreated as Buddhist monks in the Theravada sect cannot have physical contact with females.

--from The Nation

Breaking News: Re yesterday's piece (see below), according to reports the government has taken back the red shirts' TV station, and red shirts in Khon Kaen, close to where I'm headed, are gathering to take over its City Hall.

Friday, April 9, 2010

My Coming Tour Of Asian Protest Sites

The local American embassy here in Nepal sent me an e-mail newsletter today, informing me that the Maoists will be holding a nationwide protest on Monday, and their plan is to block all major roads. I'm scheduled to leave Nepal for Bangkok from the airport in Kathmandu on Monday, and I live in Pharping, 45 minutes away up in the mountains. The locals suggest that if I leave Pharping early in the morning, I'll probably be able to get through before the burning tires and men with clubs are set up. Everything starts late in Nepal.

If I get to Bankok on Monday, the news is that thousands and thousands of angry red shirts, many of which being farmers and others from northeastern Thailand (Issan) who feel under represented by the yellow shirts, the wealthy, educated elite who they say presently run the country from their powerful political positions in Bangkok. At present the red shirts are blockading a number of the major intersections in Bankok, having just regained control of the local TV station that is a major communication source for the protesters.

Last year I was one of the first to leave Bangkok for Kathmandu after a yellow shirt blockade of the airport. This year both the Maoists in Nepal and the red shirts in Thailand are protesting at the same time, making my present activities exciting, but unpredictable. Since I plan to be elsewhere in Thailand until I go to Bangkok on the 27th for my annual checkup at Bumrungrad Hospital, I hope that things have been cooled down by then. After all, it's going to be Songkran in Thailand for the next two weeks, and maybe the buckets of water that are normally poured on one and all will do the trick!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

February In Kathmandu

The two big grocery stores in Kathmandu both have separated liguor departments with all manner of offerings from around the world. Both Bhatbhateni and Bluebird markets have various brands of Pastis from Marcelles, all in big bottles with similar label designs. I bought Fanny brand, the least expensive, 90 proof, for 1195 Nepal rupees, $9.60. The licorice tasting liquid pours a golden green into the glass, but add an ice cube and water, and it turns murky white, like the Kathmandu morning fog.

Some say the Kathkmandu Valley has six seasons. Here, it's late February, and Winter has passed into pre-Spring. As the drought continues, the sun burns off the early morning mist, and by noon you're comfortable in a short sleeved t-shirt if you're out in the sun. The late afternoon winds cool things down and a long-sleeved shirt is often needed. Not long ago, it would be dark by 6pm; now it's light until nearly 7.

Yesterday we attended an elaborate ceremony by Buddhist monks at Ka Nying monastery in Boudha, a suburb of Kathmanda, celebrating the casting out of evil as the Tibetan New Year nears. The 40 minute drive out of the mountains into Kathmandu was not without incident, since it was a holiday in honor of Shiva, and all of the school children were given the day off. While they didn't dress up, an Americanized trick or treat was done in reverse: the treaters came to the tricksters. During the 20 mile journey, we were stopped by children with rope roadblocks on the narrow country roads at least 20 times and asked to pay a toll in order to continue. Most drivers did so with good humor, even paying some tolls to groups of young men who appeared to be very late graduates.

The Buddhist ceremony was not without incident, either. Near its end the seated lead monk in black brocade robes with a large hat decorated in skulls frowned at a triangular haystack 30 feet in front of him, rose up and, like a baseball pitcher with his right foot pointed at the sky, hurled a large dart into the haystack. The fun began in ernest when an assistant monk brought him a lethal looking bow and a quiver of pointed arrows. I was in the crowd directly behind the haystack, and a rather large monk kept pushing us to the side as the black monk became more animated and mock-angry at the haystack. The previous arrow zipped through the haystack and halfway through a sheet of corrugated roofing behind it. Packed tightly in a bunch with nowhere to go, we became concerned for our safety as the frowning, black robed monk aimed his arrow, jerking around in a spastic ritual as he began his final attack on the haystack. Pictures at 10.

By then, Christine, who was in another part of the crowd, was getting nervous, since the sun was about to go down and we had to navigate narrow mountainous roads in the dark, with the threat of a roadblock by real bandits a remote, but real, possibility. Our driver wasted no time on the return trip, swerving around precipitous mountain curves while answering cellphone calls from folks concerned about our whereabouts. Exhausted, we immediately went to bed when we arrived back in Pharping, but couldn't sleep for hours due to a group of youthful, enthusiastic Shiva celebrants singing songs in front of the Hindu shrine below our window. But that's another story.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Setback for Talks in Nepal

by Krishna Pokharel, The Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2010

NEW DELHI—Prospects for a lasting peace in Nepal were dealt a blow
over the weekend by the death of former Prime Minister Girija Prasad
Koirala, the head of a committee that aimed to break an impasse in
peace negotiations before a May deadline.

Mr. Koirala served five terms as Nepal's prime minister and was chief
architect of the peace process under which Maoist rebels came out of
their mountain hideouts in 2006, ending a decade-long insurgency. He
also led the democratic movement that culminated in the fall of the
240-year-old Nepalese Hindu monarchy in 2008.

Mr. Koirala died Saturday at age 86 of multiple organ failure, doctors
treating him said. Despite his achievements, his legacy of peace is
fragile, with a democracy that remains in its infancy.

Nepal held national elections for its first constituent assembly in
2008, giving 601 politicians from various political stripes, castes
and ethnic groups the mandate to rewrite the country's constitution
and restructure the nation.

The two-year deadline ends May 28, and political parties are still
haggling over the details. The constituent assembly, which also acts
as the parliament, can extend the deadline to write the constitution
by six months—but it would first have to declare a national
emergency, which could be destabilizing to the country's democracy.

The proposed integration of some 19,000 former Maoist fighters into
the national army is the most contentious of the issues on which the
success of the peace process hinges. These fighters are kept in United
Nations-supervised camps. Politicians have yet to agree on how to
induct the politically motivated fighters into the tradition-bound
army of about 90,000 that they used to fight.

Mr. Koirala was the chairman of a high-level political committee
formed earlier this year to resolve the differences among parties on
the integration of the Maoist fighters into the national army and on
other issues, such as rewriting the constitution by the May deadline.

The lack of a unifying personality, a role Mr. Koirala had taken, may
leave the parties squabbling on key issues, delaying the constitution.
On Sunday, leaders of political parties across the spectrum said they
will work together as a tribute to Mr. Koirala.

Pushpa Kamal Dahal, head of the Maoist party, the Unified Communist
Party of Nepal (Maoist), said Mr. Koirala's death "will have an effect
on peace and the constitution-making process."

On Sunday, thousands of Nepalis poured into the sports ground at the
center of Katmandu, where Mr. Koirala lay in state. He was cremated
later Sunday on the banks of the Bagmati river near the city's
Pashupatinath temple, and his funeral was carried out with state
honors, which had previously been provided only to the king as head of

Monday, February 8, 2010

NYT Drops The Ball On Nepal Story

In 2008 NYT reporter Jim Yardley moved from the newspaper's Beijing bureau to become Delhi bureau co-chief. At that time he was praised by the previous bureau chief:

"Jim's work in China has helped set a standard in how to conceptualize, report, and write a narrative-based series. And in the last year, as China became an urgent news story as well as a fertile source of grand themes, Jim worked nearly around the clock, collaborating on groundbreaking stories about the Olympics, the Sichuan earthquake, the uproar over Tibet, the burgeoning food and quality scandals, and much more."

Why, then, did Yardley miss a major point in his recent Nepal story, Nepal Waits as 2 Armies, Former Foes, Become One and fail to provide a balanced view of the events?

Yardley reports that "Within the next four months, Nepal must complete the final and most difficult piece of the 2006 peace agreement that ended the brutal Maoist insurrection by integrating these fighters from the People’s Liberation Army of Nepal into the country’s security forces, including the Nepalese Army," and blames both sides for failing to carry out the military terms of the 2006 agreement: Maoist leaders and Nepalese political parties have alternately bickered and dithered, with Maoists stalling the dismantling of their army while negotiations go on about how to revise the Constitution."

Yardley also reports that Maoist soldiers who have been disqualified from participating in the future joint military will have difficulty going back into the civilian population: "Even though the Maoist soldiers have remained in the cantonments for three years, the terms of the peace deal have tightly restricted access to them by United Nations caseworkers, allowing almost no opportunities to interview or counsel them. Instead, the soldiers have been subjected to regular political education sessions on Maoist dogma, something that may make their re-entry into society even harder."

However he fails to mention that this universal Maoist education in dogma is seen by the government as cause to reject the military integration that the 2006 agreement calls for. Since the military is and will remain under the control of the head of government, the only way the military could be integrated is if the government were under the control of Maoist ideology, which it isn't. Thats why the Maoist Prime Minister resigned his office when the politially diverse majority government refused to admit the Maoists into the military. If this were to happen, a significant number of members of the military, the Maoist faction, would not be answerable to the government, and the purpose of the military would be undermined.

Yardley has written a facile story on the subject. Since he failed to provide some of the significant facts of the story, he has done both his readers and the newspaper he works for a disservice.

--Jerry Politex, Napel Calls

Friday, February 5, 2010

Peace In Nepal Depends Upon Merging Armies

With Nepal facing a May 28 deadline to restructure its government and approve a new constitution, nothing is posing a greater threat to the peace process than the unresolved task of merging the two enemy armies. Maoist leaders and Nepalese political parties have alternately bickered and dithered, with Maoists stalling the dismantling of their army while negotiations go on about how to revise the Constitution.

As a result, Nepal is grasping for a lasting peace, trying to overcome the legacy of a war that has left it more militarized than ever. The 19,602 Maoist soldiers continue to train, even as they remain quarantined in the United Nations camps, or cantonments. The Nepalese Army is twice as large today, with 96,000 soldiers, as it was when the guerrilla war began, and the number of police and paramilitary police officers has steadily risen to roughly 80,000.
“How can you have one country with two armies?” asked Kul Chandra Gautam, a former United Nations diplomat and native Nepali who has consulted with different parties in the peace process. “A country like Nepal does not need 200,000 security personnel. That’s more than all the country’s civil servants combined, minus teachers.”

Nepal cannot begin to rebuild its tattered economy until the military standoff is eased, which first means finding a solution on integration.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Richard Gere Visits Pharping

The Penor Rinpoche Center in Pharping was movie star Richard Gere's destination the other day. While in Nepal, he was pleased to be able to have a converswation of over an hour with the head of the Center, Khempo Namdrol. Accompanied to the Center with two guides, Gere happily had his picture taken with numerous members of the community, including a group of students from Europe. Everyone was pleased to see Gere and hope he comes back soon.
X in Nepal

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Weather. On Not.

We're presently on holiday in Thailand, and here's the local weather forcast, courtesy of Roger Crutchley in the Bangkok Post:

Occasional outbreaks of red shirts and yellow shirts followed by flurries of boys in green. Widespread funny business leading to periods of mulling, probing and gale-force denials. Occasional storms in a teacup with sporadic outbreaks of Thaksin. Westerly windbags accompanied by parliamentary hot air, thick bureaucratic fog and strong undercurrents of stuff and nonsense. Relative humbug 90%. Future outlook: pretty bleak....

Snow, or rather the absence of it, prompted an embarrassing exchange on a Michigan TV station a couple of years ago. The day after it was supposed to have snowed heavily, but didn't, a female newscaster asked the weatherman quite innocently: "Bob, what happened to that eight inches you promised me last night?" There followed a brief pause before the words sunk in and the weatherman was so convulsed in laughter he had to leave the set....

Possibly the best weather forecast ever appeared in the Arab News in 1979 following severe flooding in Jeddah. The report read: "We regret we are unable to give you the weather. We rely on weather reports from the airport, which is closed because of the weather. Whether we are able to give you the weather tomorrow depends on the weather."

more Roger Crutchley

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Nepal Makes New York Times Best List At #31

San Francisco, Amsterdam and Provincetown? Been there. Mykonos and Ibiza? Done that. Looking for the next gay destination? How about the Himalayan country of Nepal? Yes, Nepal.

In the roughly two years since the nation’s supreme court ordered that gay, lesbians and transgendered people be afforded equal rights, this conservative, mostly-Hindu country appears to be moving ahead full throttle.

Gay friendly clubs now dot its capital. (Go to for listings.) A “third gender” category is an option on national I.D. cards. Recently, a transgender beauty queen even got a photo op with the prime minister. And now there’s a tourist agency in Katmandu that is promoting gay tourism to Nepal.

Started by Sunil Babu Pant, an openly-gay legislator, Pink Mountain Travels and Tours ( promises to marry adventure travel with gay weddings. With talk that Nepal may legalize same-sex marriage this year as the country hammers out a new constitution (and, perhaps more importantly, deals with recent bouts of civil unrest), Mr. Pant is offering to hold nuptials at the Mount Everest base camp, jungle safari honeymoons and bridal processions on elephant back.
by Aric Chen

Friday, January 1, 2010

Kid Meets Pup, Mom Says "Back Off"

In a NYT story about goat cheese, Vermont cheese maker Laini Fondiller says she loves goats: “They’re very nice little animals,” she said. “Cows don’t give a damn. Sheep can’t stand ya. Pigs? ‘Just feed me!’ And goats really do want to be around you.”
We can attest to that. And the kids are really cute, bouncing around your feet on their thin, pogo-stick legs.

On the narrow, back path to Pharping the other day, we came across a mother goat tied to a staked leash, with three small kids just hanging around. They just would't stray far away from mom, but they were perfectly willing to bounce around us as we quietly walked by. Christine said one of the black and white ones just bounced around behind me as I tried to get by. Mom looked on approvingly.

But when a tan pup showed up (click on the pic for a better view of his nose at the lower right), mom went on red alert. She quickly moved past me and chased the pup away, but was perfectly agreeable as I bent down to pat the kid before we went on our way. --Jerry in Nepal