About Utpal Parashar

While others have kept rolling, Utpal Parashar, the Nepal Correspondent of Hindustan Times, is gathering moss in the same organization since 1997. Starting as a trainee reporter in New Delhi, he has worked in Guwahati and Dehradun before shifting to Kathmandu in October 2009.

Had everything gone as planned, on Tuesday Prime Minister Narendra Modi would have fulfilled his desire to visit Janaki Temple, a temple dedicated to Sita at Janakpur, a town in Nepal located close to the Indian border and believed to be the birthplace of the Hindu deity.

But that didn’t happen and he will now take part only in the events related to the 18th Saarc summit in Kathmandu and bilateral and multilateral talks with Nepali leaders and heads of other member nations of the regional body.

Citing ‘domestic commitments’ Modi also cancelled his proposed trips to Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, and Muktinath Temple, a popular religious site for Hindus and Buddhists located in Mustang.

During his first trip to Nepal after assuming office Modi had visited Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, the most popular Shiva shrine in the country and had expressed a desire to visit Janakpur, Lumbini and Muktinath when he visits the next time.

Hectic foreign trips to Myanmar, Australia and Fiji this month, the ongoing winter session of parliament and assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand are enough reasons for the Prime Minister to curtail his proposed four-day trip to Nepal to just two days.

Despite the constraints Modi might have gone ahead with the religious tours in Nepal had the situation in the ground in Nepal been conducive.

Differences within the ruling coalition, posturing by opposition parties and inability to ensure safe and smooth visit to Janakpur are grounds that finally resulted in cancellation of the trips beyond Kathmandu.

New Delhi had been reminding Kathmandu that Modi’s trip to Janakpur might not happen if there was differences within the parties about the visit or if security measures were not adequate to prevent possible protests.

Instead of heeding those signals the government went ahead with preparations with the hope the trip would happen as scheduled. It was only after ministry of external affairs issued a statement in New Delhi that the trip would remain focused only on Saarc, realization dawned in Kathmandu.

Modi’s visit to Janakpur, Lumbini and Muktinath could have fueled religious tourism to these places. His trip to Pashupatinath in August has already resulted in a significant increase in number of Indian pilgrims to the temple.

Janakpur already hosts a sizeable number of Indian tourists from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. But the number could have zoomed after Modi’s visit bringing in revenue and boost infrastructure and economy of the region.

But Nepal failed to seize the opportunity. Modi has expressed commitment to visit the three places at the earliest, but it seems unlikely he would return to Nepal anytime soon—and that too only for religious tours.

There is an attempt to put the blame on New Delhi for cancellation of visits to the three religious places. But the powers in Kathmandu need to look within and set their houses in order if they want to make the most of a similar opportunity in future.

Use of Nepal as a transit point on their way to India by Tibetans fleeing their homeland is a big concern for China. Beijing is also worried about the so called anti-China activities of thousands of Tibetans who have made Nepal their home in the past decades. [Read more]

Seven days have passed since snowstorms and avalanches caused by the tail-end of cyclone Hudhud hit Nepal’s Annapurna region. But there is still no accurate data of how many persons, both foreigners and Nepalis, lost their lives battling snow and cold more than 5,000 meters above sea level.

Depending on which source you talk to or which media platform you access the figure could be anywhere between 20 and 50, give or take a few. There is also no accurate data on how many are still missing, how many were injured, the total number of those rescued or the total number of bodies recovered.

The figures could be cold statistics for journalists or for common readers but they mean glimmer of hope or darkness of despair for families in Nepal and abroad who have family members travelling to the Annapurna region and haven’t heard from them for days.

Last week’s disaster comes six months after the tragedy near Everest Base Camp when 16 Nepali guides lost their lives in an avalanche on the Khumbu Ice Fall while trying to fix ropes and lay ladders for climbers attempting to scale Mount Everest during the spring season.

The incident was the biggest accident in climbing history of the world’s tallest peak and brought expeditions to a halt for the season. While such disasters can’t be prevented, it was expected that lessons would be learnt from it to help minimize casualties in future.

The latest tragedy and what followed in the next few days shows that much is still to be learnt and practiced if the human costs of such incidents which have the potential of hurting Nepal’s image as an adventure tourism destination are to be reduced considerably.

One important step would be to have better weather forecasting systems in place and conduct regular drills in vulnerable areas so that people can be alerted on time and evacuated to safer places. There were indications that Hudhud would affect Nepal too but the warnings were not taken seriously.

Inability to get in touch with stranded trekkers and guides due to non availability of mobile networks along certain stretches of the Annapurna trekking circuit was one reason why there was delay in response and lack of clarity on the scale of the disaster.

Initial reports suggest several of the casualties were of trekkers venturing out on their own without any local guides. The government could make it mandatory for trekkers to move in groups supervised by trained guides who are given better equipment to monitor weather.

Lack of resources like enough trained manpower, equipment and helicopters was one reason that hampered rescue efforts. The need to overhaul the system and make it work can’t be overemphasized.

Lastly, setting up of a centralized agency to tackle with such disasters and give correct information to media and families of those affected. During the latest tragedy conflicting and contradictory statements were being dished out by district officials, army, tourism ministry and trekking operators—making it impossible to get correct figures.

This list is not exhaustive and experts would be able to fill in and give better suggestions. But that needs to happen soon before what happened last week in Mustang, Manang, Myagdi and Dolpa is forgotten and everyone goes back to their slumbers till the next disaster occurs.

Nepalis getting back to their routines after a long Dashain break were in for a surprise last Saturday. Apart from regular political updates, front pages of their morning newspapers carried reports of the country’s former prince getting arrested in Thailand for possession of drugs. [Read more]

The server at a buffet breakfast at a premium resort located on the banks of Phewa Lake in Pokhara asks a Chinese guest what her room number is. Unable to explain in English, the lady runs to her room, clicks a photo of her room door and rushes back to show the man.

[Read more]