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Rebuilding Nepal

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I was back in Kathmandu for the first time since the devastating earthquake of 2015, which had claimed 9,000 lives. As a destination, Kathmandu has always enticed me. I am not crazy about the cuisine, but I love the people. This trip was special as I knew I would make a new BFF. My instinct was bang on—Samridhi Gyawali is my kind of woman. At 28, she certainly represents the attractive, contemporary face of Nepal.

The daughter of media mogul Binod Raj Gyawali, she is a compact, bright and dynamic young woman, who has seamlessly taken charge of her father’s media empire, which consists of ‘My Republica’ and ‘Nagarik’—two highly influential dailies. “Sam’’ (Samridhi) oversees digital content, marketing and business development. Armed with degrees from London School of Economics and University of Sydney, Sam, who did her schooling in India, is a true global citizen—well-travelled, sophisticated and progressive. When she invited me to address a conference titled ‘Growth ways: Media and Entrepreneurship’, which focused on branding as a tool to grow business, I accepted immediately.

Kathmandu has put itself back together swiftly and efficiently after last year’s calamity. Apart from large sections of the palace wall that are yet to be repaired, the rest of the city looks whole and the mood is optimistic. Though, it is hard to fathom what makes people smile as broadly, given the very visible poverty and killer taxes. A car sold in India, for say Rs 4-5 lakh, costs between Rs 14-16 lakh in Nepal, because of the 238 per cent duty!

Most citizens are concerned about the future of the country, given the frequent changes at the top level. “In Nepal, politicians take turns to become prime minister. Nobody lasts for more than 9-10 months in the hot seat,” a senior journalist told me. “They work out arrangements with one another… policies keep changing. The Maoists and Communists do deals with opposition parties. Everybody is busy making money.” It sounded so familiar, I burst out laughing!

Despite daunting odds, young, well-educated entrepreneurs are busy setting up ambitious projects. Hem Raj Dhakal (Ramu) and his brother have created a world-class tourist destination at Chandragiri, just an hour’s drive from Kathmandu. A state-of-the-art cable car smoothly carried us up to 8,000 feet, from where we got a spectacular, panoramic view of the majestic Himalayas (on a clear day, you can see Mt Everest).

Being a small, landlocked nation, Nepal has always fascinated the world. It is no longer referred to as a ‘Hindu country’, but has transformed itself into a federal democratic republic. Even though monarchy is dead, I was surprised to catch a motor cycle rally of youngsters loyal to the erstwhile King and demanding a return to monarchy. “Not so long ago, most of our current ministers were hiding in the jungles and were dubbed terrorists. Today, the same people are busy doing deals and making money hand over fist,” said the senior journalist. The comprehensive peace accord with the then rebels, Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists), is celebrating ten years.

Though tourism was badly hit after the earthquake, trekkers from across the world are now trickling in. However, the mood is pretty despondent as business is down. I looked at the faces of street vendors at the generally busy Swayambhu Temple—most of them appeared woebegone, even desperate. They were willing to sell those incredible ‘singing bowls’ and fancy trinkets for a pittance!

Since Sam had steered me to the right places and made sure I met the best and brightest during my short stay, I can only say “dhanyabad”. Till we meet again… preferably in Kathmandu.

By Shovaa De

www.shobhaade.blogspot.com