Diplomats Day Out

Spread over 16 square kilometers, Rara Lake, the biggest lake in Nepal, is one of the most beautiful spots in the Himalayan nation.

But because of its remoteness—it’s located within the Rara National Park in Mugu district of western Nepal at an altitude of over 3000 metres above sea level—not many tourists coming to the country venture to the area.

So one would presume a sponsored trip to this location is something no one would want to miss. But while that’s true for most, the same can’t be said for diplomats based in Kathmandu.

Only 13 diplomats including five heads of missions turned up when the Nepal government sponsored a three-day outing for ambassadors based in Kathmandu to Rara Lake and Bardiya National Park in Bardiya district of far-western Nepal in the Terai belt.

Organized jointly by the foreign ministry, tourism and aviation ministry and the Nepal Tourism Board to promote tourism, the trip was the first such outing in 11 years after the practice of taking ambassadors on junkets was stopped in 2000 during the peak of Maoist insurgency.

But despite trip planned weeks in advance, ambassadors of only six nations—China, Russia, Germany, Myanmar and Egypt were able to take the flight from Kathmandu. The charge d’ affaires of Israel and diplomats from Finland and Canada were also in the group.

Absence of US, French, British and Indian ambassadors—all of whom are viewed as having influential roles in Nepali politics–from the trip that cost the organizers around NRs 10 million (Rs 62.5 lakh) was something that didn’t do down well with the foreign ministry officials.

Indian ambassador Rakesh Sood and US envoy Scott H DeLisi informed that they would be unable to join the trip as they had already been to these tourist locations. Instead of another Rara trip, Sood, who’s leaving Nepal next month, was maybe more busy packing bags.

British ambassador John Tucknott and some others cited prior engagements as reasons for their inability to join others. Hence, the possibility of these envoys ‘cooking some political recipe’ along with sightseeing evaporated even before the trip started on Friday.

Envoys of major countries like India, US, UK and France who contribute a lot for developmental projects in Nepal have a lot of say in political affairs of the country which is still going through the trial and error process of recovering from the 10-year-old Maoist insurgency.

Non-attendance by their ‘friends’, didn’t dampen the spirits of new Chinese envoy Yang Houlan, his wife and the rest who donned life vests and took part in a ride on inflatable rafts while enjoying the scenic views around Rara Lake.

From there the group flew to Bardiya where they stayed at the Tiger Tops Karnali Lodge located close to the national park. Here they encountered one-horned rhinos while riding elephants. They managed to see footprints of tigers, but the Royal Bengal stayed out of their eyesight.

Rafting on the Karnali and a traditional Tharu culture and cuisine were also enjoyed before the group returned to the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu and back to their diplomatic duties on Sunday.

A rejuvenated Houlan met Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara the very next day and urged him to beef security measures to control any demonstration that Tibetan refugees in Nepal could undertake during Communist Party of China’s 90th anniversary celebrations on July 1.

Meanwhile foreign ministry officials are still upset with the absence of other important envoys in the trip who they feel are interested more in political dialogues in Kathmandu than a pleasure trip.

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