During the early part of the last month, I happened to visit Kathmandu for one of my consulting assignments. Given that Kathmandu has been one of the major tourist destinations and there has been some mystery attached with the Himalayan Kingdom, I was excited about this trip. As it was more than a week long trip, my stay over there did help me experience different facets of Nepal.
These are some of my key observations as far as Nepal is concerned and I must tell you beforehand that these are not pleasant ones. Even though, I did visit Biratnagar as well (the city on the India – Nepal Border), most if not all of my inputs are an outcome of my Kathmandu stay.
- Nepal is currently under the grips of serious inflation: While the executive hotels charged upwards of 5000 INR plus 24.3% tax (not cheap even by Indian standards), taxi fare was upwards of 500 INR per hour. A 2-litre coke bottle would cost you 140 NPR (85 INR) and even the KFC rates were much higher than that in India. The real shocker came when I was enlightened that Tata Nano costs 800,000 NPR (5 lakhs INR) and above. A 150 cc Bajaj Pulsar would command 200,000 NPR (1.25 lakhs INR) from an average buyer. It wasn't a surprise that most people whom I met during my visit had inflation as their major concern.
- Unemployment is one of the biggest problems facing this nation: My project was focused on Human Resource Management (HRM) assessment of one of the donor-funded organization of Nepal. During the study, it became obvious that despite high inflation, employees continued to work for meager salaries as there were hardly any exit options. It’s a common saying in Nepal, “If you are more than 35 years of age, don’t leave your job as you would struggle to get another one”. With young and not-so-young ladies with heavy make-ups, lining up the streets of Kathmandu in the night, it was a sign that the situation is dark and gloomy.
- Nepal is heavily reliant on remittances: One thing that catches your eye, while roaming on the streets of Kathmandu, is the heavy presence of financial institutions esp. banks and ATMs. You can easily come across a 3-storeyed building with three different banks on each floor or a place called ATM lounge where five to six ATMs of different banks would be lining up in the same cabin. After enquiring many people for the reason for such presence of banks, the most convincing answer that I came across was that the Nepalis working abroad need them to send money back to their relatives. According to official estimates, 5% of the total population of Nepal is living and working outside Nepal excluding India. Though some suggest, it could be as high as 25%.
- The country is facing a political turmoil: Some of you must have read about the instability that the country faces after the king was dethroned. Political instability is for everybody to see. All s/he has to do is pick one of the leading dailies where most of the news are related to political accusations, new political alliances etc. News items like the banning of Hindi films, blackened faces of couple in love etc., finding a place on the front page of the newspaper has a story to tell. In fact, many Nepalis seem so disillusioned with democracy that they pray that monarchy be restored.