Tip of the iceberg

Ian Baker, the famous American explorer and writer, has pleaded innocent to charges of

illegal possession of ancient idols, goods of archaeological importance, and skins and bones of endangered animals. Nepal Police found these items in raids of the two flats he rented in Kathmandu. According to the police, most of the archaeological goods, some as old as 100 years, were stolen from local temples. But in an e-mail circulated in Nepali media following the raids, Baker claims to have obtained most of the seized objects either in gifts or bought them from curio shops at Thamel, Bouddha, Patan and Durbar Marg.

Baker stands on shifting sands. First, it is inconceivable that someone who claims to have

devoted “the better part of my life in promotig Nepal and its culture” was unaware that possession of endangered animal parts is illegal in Nepal. Second, Baker cannot redeem himself by shifting the blame on to curio shops. The outlets he mentions have long been under the surveillence of law enforcemnt bodies. This too is common knowledge in Kathmandu and could not have gone under the radar of one of the most informed travel journalists of these parts. Nonetheless, Baker’s reaction should be heeded, not only because he is innocent unless proven guilty, but also because he has laid bare the utter failure of law enforcement authorities to check illegal trade in Nepal’s invaluable treasures.