After spending a month in Nepal as a tourist, I have been accustomed to hearing the statement, “Nepal is nature’s gift to the world”. I was quite puzzled at this statement when considering the smog and population infested Kathmandu, a place quite the opposite of the proposed natural wonderland that Nepal is reputed as being. Kathmandu itself is a complete mess. There is an influx of pollution, a large population and no infrastructure to support it.
Only when stepping outside the Kathmandu Valley does one get a sense of the true beauty of Nepal. I realised this when I took the trip to Pokhara and saw the lush foothills. I was not sure a place like Begnas Lake existed with its exquisite figure lurking behind the Himalayas and containing virtually no excess population or pollution. This was quite shocking: how can there be two such conflicting pictures of nature so adjacent to one another?
Having knowledge of the language, I conversed with all sorts of people about presence of these two contradictory sides of Nepal. It did not take long to realise that the existence of the two different countries occurs not because of the natural geography of Nepal but because of its inhabitants.
There are a large number of people that are chasing the famed obsession that is the Western lifestyle. In doing so, people have created a city, Kathmandu, which is the direct antithesis of the Nepali identity known to us Westerners. This identity is one of the religious folks living off the land in three different geographical regions of the country. I saw at villages around Begnas Lake that this identity does exist and the country excels at sustainability.
For example, I stayed at Dinesh’s House, a wonderful home-stay on the foothills above Begnas Lake, where there was no garbage, locally organic food and bio-gas. Many places like this exist across the Nepalis foothills but the Kathmandu Valley is void of these sustainable antidotes.
While the entire Western world is searching for how to make towns more sustainable, Kathmandu citizens are ignoring their beneficial, antiquated values in pursuit of the Western lifestyle. This is evident by the mass population moving into the Kathmandu, leaving agricultural jobs to enter an arid capitalist market offering jobs requiring no special skill and dumping their excess garbage straight into the Bagmati River.
To observe Nepal’s agriculture at its finest, I travelled to Gyandi. Gyandi represents, in my opinion, the epitome of rural agricultural practices. In Gyandi, nestled at the bottom of thunderous foothills are rows of delicate, arable farmland with an implemented top-notch irrigation system. Gyandi is thriving without the use of clunky machines disrupting the ecosystem just to increase production of vegetables as seen in the limited fields in the Kathmandu Valley. In contrast, business jobs in Kathmandu require little or no effort and are tainted with the crimson red of despicable corruption even visible to a visiting tourist.
I have passed by many people on duty playing ‘marriage’, a common card game and steadily earning a respectable income. With this money, people build houses of magnanimous proportions, adding flats every year. I fear what will occur in Kathmandu if a large earthquake ever strikes: it will become nothing more than a heap of scrunched cement.
Kathmandu is going backwards in terms of development. There are more mental patients, an exponential spike in the number of respiratory illnesses caused by the inevitable smog surrounding the prison that is the Valley. People are living less healthy lives and dying earlier at the expense of a supposed development which is not actually occurring. In contrast, people living in the remote villages are enjoying their sustainable lifestyles, breathing air which does not instantly poison them and staying mentally stable. Where has this lifestyle gone in Kathmandu? It seems as if it has been lost in the thick layer of smog. The smog is not even a result of mass manufacturing like in the outskirts of Beijing, something to be somewhat proud of, but represents the inept skill of the Nepalis at developing.
In an attempt to try and determine the potential of the country, people have ripped apart the once existent landscape of the Kathmandu Valley and are looking to barren cement for answers. The potential of the country lies not in the cement towers but the geographical manifestations which have been there for ages. I am talking about the flurry of natural phenomenon with the potential to generate a respectable income.
The monsoon season creates large winds, rain and scorching heat, generating three sustainable sources of power that Western nations are drooling about. Small age-old practices that have been dumped such as keeping a buffalo in the house augment land use and increase productivity all without harming the environment.
Talking to people about situation of the land, I found that there are two basic types of reactions among the people. Firstly, there are those who want Nepal to turn into New York and Hong Kong, without knowing that those very places are trying to tap into the traditional values which made Nepal what it is. Secondly, there are those who are happy with where they are and live a traditional lifestyle, providing for themselves.
If Nepal wishes to fully commit to economic gain, then there is nothing wrong with developing market based cities such as New York or Hong Kong. While it is true that large scale development has its benefits, there is no industry that is developing in Nepal and in frustration the people are destroying the natural landscapes where the answer to industry lies.
Nepal seems reluctant to devote itself completely to pursuing an industry that can drive the country and to go back to the traditional lifestyle that would make it a sustainable country. It is evident then that Nepal is trapped between the development that its citizens so badly want and a traditional culture still existent in rural areas. The common saying is very much true: Nepal is a gift from the earth, but that gift is misused so often that only some parts of the gift work. Consequently the gift gets split into a paradox between two different sides of the country. A country does not function as individual parts but as a united whole and this should be the pursuit of Nepal.