The Open Nepal
From India to China

November-December 2015
Sergey Sotnikov
United Geo agency
In April 2015 there was a wave of terrible earthquakes in Nepal that destroyed already weak infrastructure. In November I decided to check the status of the border areas before the upcoming big expedition under the name "Open Nepal". According to the plan it should pass through the border of three countries a year after the quake.

Not to be confused further, let's call the current trip as the first part, and the future main one as the second. The second part will be a journey from the Indian city Darjeeling to Kathmandu in Nepal and then to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet Autonomous region of China. And here's what I saw on the borders of Nepal at the end of 2015.

The Territory of Peace

Nepal was the land of peace for Tibet and the Indian principalities and served as a "melting pot" for many people living in the Himalayas for centuries.

Nowadays the only interest for the Chinese and Indian governments has the energy of the Nepalese mountain rivers. When Nepal strengthened its independence as a state, the political and economic pressure from neighbors significantly increased.

When Kathmandu was opened to the rest of the world in the 1950s of the twentieth century by Boris Lisanevich, the resident of Odessa, Nepal became a tourist stronghold for climbers, trackers and hippies. In fact, the whole country's economy depends on tourism, stability and transparency of the government in relation to the world. The Southern land of Nepal is fertile and it nourishes the central valley of Kathmandu and northern territories. The rivers that give energy to India are located there. And exactly there for years the unrest take place and this doesn't let young state strengthen.

During my first visit to Nepal I made several photo reports on the Russian photo portal geometria.ru and recorded a little video about one of the most popular tracks in the world. "The ring of Annapurna" is a 200-kilometre route around the mountain of eight thousand meters which is translates as the Goddess of Fertility. Every day during our trip climatic zones change ranging from tropics to snowy peaks. The track height reaches 5016 meters on the Thorung La pass, our way goes along the ancient pilgrimage routes in Tibet, past the Kingdom of Mustang, in the valley of the river Gandaki, on the bottom of the deepest gorge in the world, its walls form two eight thousanders of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri. Look, it's really beautiful

Boris Lisanevich
October 4, 1905 in Odessa, now Ukraine – October 20, 1985 in Kathmandu, Nepal. А Russian emigre to Nepal, a ballet dancer, and a hotelier and restaurateur. He helped pave the way for tourism in Nepal, when he opened the country's first hotel, the Hotel Royal.
Первый раз мое посещение Непала я запечатлел в нескольких фотоотчетах, выложенных на фотопортале Geometria.ru, и снял небольшое видео об одном из самых популярных треков в мире. "Кольцо Аннапурны" - это 200-километровый маршрут вокруг горы в восемь тысяч метров, имя которой переводится как "Богиня Плодородия".
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After exploring the beautiful scenery of Nepali tracks, let's go back to the political geography. In the South little Nepal is connected with India by five crossing points. The largest one is in the city of Birganj, and the Chinese Tibet is linked only by one mountain pass in the town of Kodari. Actually there might be more potential crossing points with Tibet, if not its special status in China, because 50 years ago Tibet was an independent state.
Numerous revolutions of the twentieth century didn't not circumvent the Kingdom of Nepal, which state religion was Hinduism. During fifty years of open confrontation among different social classes in the country two Communist parties were formed. And although Maoist Communist party and the United Marxist-Leninist party quickly got along with the faith in Shiva, Tara and Buddhist lamas, they couldn't do without a protracted long civil war.

Perhaps in the course of this struggle, the status of the king would remain nominally, but in 2006, the eldest son killed himself and all family members, and the Royal dynasty ceased to exist. The reason of this was a love story like the story of Romeo and Juliet. But we are writing not about that.

So, after decades of searching the form of government, the modern democratic Republic of Nepal has appeared, it is a secular state headed by the President (Bidhya Devi Bhandari), by the powerful Prime Minister (Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli) from the social Democrats and the Constitution adopted in September 2015 after many years of meetings and discussions.

United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
Left radical Maoist political party in Nepal was founded in 1994. The leader is the Chairman comrade Prachanda (Pushpa Kamal Dahal). In the ideology it is guided by the ideas of Mao Zedong. The party considers the major non-socialist powers (including Russia) as the "imperialist forces".
Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist)
The party was established in 1991. The leader is Khang Prasad Oli. The CPN(M) describes Nepal as a semi-feudal and semi-colonial country, in which the key issues are "revolutionary land reform" and the destruction of feudal relations, the party demands in words greater independence in foreign policy from India, adhering to the Pro-Beijing orientation.
The Nepali Congress

It is the social democratic political party of Nepal, which has the second largest faction in the Interim/provisional legislature of Nepal. Today the party heads the coalition that formed the current government. The party is headed by Sher Bahadur Deuba, Sushil Koirala and Ram Chandra Poudel.
Mao said, "Tibet is the palm of China, and Kashmir, Bhutan, Nepal, Sikkim and Ladakh are 5 fingers to grab India". Despite the strong desire of the People's Republic of China to make Nepal a part of its expansion to the South, India, of course, has more cultural and family ties with the Nepalese.

For example, The Madhesi people living in the south of Nepal have the right to be called both the Nepalese and the Indians. And the border between two countries is only a conventional division. Here and there you can find a cosmopolitan cocktail with a common cultural background and common Hindu gods that hardly will help the Nepalese to cope with the main malefactor of the present – the great Economic Crisis.

Mao Zedong
A Chinese Communist revolutionary and the founding father of the People's Republic of China, which he governed as Chairman of the Communist Party of China from its establishment in 1949 until his death in 1976. His Marxist–Leninist theories, military strategies, and political policies are collectively known as Marxism–Leninism–Maoism or Mao Zedong Thought.
On the 20 September 2015 Nepal adopted a new Constitution, which confirmed its status as a secular state. At the same time the unrest broke out on the border and stopped the supply of fuel from India. In Nepal petrol and gas were given to people by coupons and the black market price for a liter of fuel reached $5. Long dead queues of motorcycles so popular in Asia filled the streets of cities. But we didn't know that because the country authorities did not give publicity to the story of the madhesi community for a long time - people who wanted their story to be heard not only by the rest of Nepal but by the whole world.

At this particular uneasy time we arrived in Kathmandu.
City thousands of roofs

Kathmandu in general looks like another planet or an intergalactic station where several eras of space explorers cross. It is particularly noticeable in the tourist district of Thamel with its multilayering and roofs interconnection.
Magic accidents always happen to me in Nepal. This time I was stunned by the news that the Russian Cultural Centre was hosting the exhibition of downy shawls from our hometown Orenburg. Of course we visited it with interest and got acquainted with the strict press attaché of the Russian Ambassador and hospitable staff of the cultural center. From them we learned that Nepal is in the fuel blockade and that now it is better not to approach the border because of the unrest.
Take a look at photos Kathmandu
Before the Nepalese recovered from the earthquake, the blockade of borders brought Nepal to a humanitarian catastrophe. The lack of objective information adds to the vulnerability of the young nation during the political battles between Kathmandu and New Delhi. All these terrible events occur at a time when international agencies are talking only about Syria and Ukraine, forgetting about hundreds of thousands of Nepalese children, who can die during the blockade because of an acute shortage of fuel, food, medicines and vaccines during the harsh winter months. Many of them have already been left without their parents after the earthquake. The decline of tourism activity not only hits the pocket of business, but people's lives now depend on tourists. So if you still think where to go, choose Nepal. This will give not only spiritual and physical benefit to you, but you also make contribution to the humanitarian assistance of the great nation.
The owner of the antique Sudep Lamsal told about the decrease of the tourist flow in Nepal after the earthquake and about the difficulties with delivery due to the borders blockade.
The organizer of trekking and hiking routes in Nepal Catherine Grishina speaks about the fall of the tourist flow after the earthquake and the closure of mountain routes for tourists.
The whole week we spent in this earthly incarnation of Tatooine. Our drone flew over thousands of beautiful roofs, we walked down the streets and recorded interviews. After that we went to the border of the national Park Chitwan.
A night with Rhino

We stayed in bungalows on a river that serves as a natural border between the national Park and the settlement. It isn't a problem for rhinoceros to cross it, for example. In the twilight I mistook its bellow for cow's breath and came closer than I should. At a distance of five meters, it looked like a huge dinosaur. For a few seconds I was moving back not looking away and then I ran.

In the dark rhino went to the town, and for a long time we heard cries "Beware! Rhino! Rhino!" in the darkness. The same night I went to a Nepali wedding and I danced squatting with the bride's father, who assured me that "Kazachok" was a Nepali national dance. In the morning rhino went back to the river and rubbed against the piles of our bungalow, making it difficult to sleep.
The national park Chitwan

The Chitwan national park is the first object of the world heritage UNESCO in Nepal (1984). It is 200 km from the capital Kathmandu. In 1950-ies the area of the Park consisted of more than 2600 square kilometers, but after rampancy of poaching and 70% of the forest destruction in the late 1960s, its area has decreased and now is about 900 km. The number of rhinos was 900 in the 1950s and it decreased to 95. The Park also is inhabited by marsh crocodiles, Bengal tigers, elephants, bears, mongoose, leopards, martens and about 543 species of birds.

The next day we filmed an interview with a guide of the park, the swimming elephants, the floating crocodiles and the huge hives of wild bees on the balconies of houses. Local bees as watchdogs recognize the owner's family members, and keep the strangers out. We were forbidden to shoot a video with drones because you need a special permission for that. We had to move on.
The situation with drones in Nepal
What happened?
On November 6, 2015 the Nepal Army banned BBC film crew to use a drone (Unmanned aerial vehicle) for shooting a charity football match of David Beckham with students in Bhaktapur. The army actions expressed the General concern of the government, associated with wide spread/usage of the UAV, and the need for new laws to regulate the legitimate use of drones on the territory of Nepal.

What will happen now?
Now everyone, who is going to shoot with the help of a drone, would have to apply to the civil aviation authority of Nepal (CAAN). The number of approved and revoked licenses is now approximately equal. CAAN announced that the new licensing rules are related to the fact that other States may use shooting of the earthquake aftermath and can make a negative impact on those wishing to visit Nepal.

Why is the governing law important?

The Ministry of information and communication fears the possibility of collision of drones with low-flying aircraft, particularly in the area of Kathmandu international airport. The military of Nepal concerned about the problem of drones after the Chinese national army was caught shooting the headquarters of the armed forces of Nepal in Kathmandu.

Why are drones important?
However, drones are used for peaceful purposes. They are much cheaper than helicopters for reconnaissance and rescue operations and to protect and control the poaching. Travel/Tourist filming using drones is widespread in Nepal. The UAViators organization engaged in cartographic shooting of the destruction left by the earthquake is concerned that officials are still not able to approve unanimously the document about the drones' usage on the territory of Nepal.
Mudgee, the guide of the national Park "Chitwan", told us about the economy of Nepal, his work and the danger of local animals.
My companions were dissuading me from going to the border with India, where there were clashes with the police, but I decided to go to the biggest checkpoint on the Nepali-Indian border, the industrial center of Birganj to see everything by my own eyes.

The bus didn't reach Birgunj. I was put off at night thirty kilometers from the city in some local settlement. To the border could only be reached by motorcycle or rickshaw. Drivers shouted something about the blockade, the murders and burned buses in broken English. Without thinking, I took a motorbike and went to Birgunj. On both sides of the road there were endless rows of cars and buses with the lights off. Dozens of cyclists and motorcycles raced in fog and smoke on unlit roads.
The facade of the hotel on the central square fell in after the earthquake so that you could see the room sections up to the sixth floor. I was not surprised at the complete absence of vehicles on the main street. The night city was filled with military police. A lot of the walls in the central square and the main street were covered with political appeals under the hashtag #madheshspeaks or #madhesSpeaks. That got my attention because the Internet in Nepal is poorly distributed: only 10% of the population use it. Therefore, hashtags are familiar not to all people. There were many drawings on the walls but I had never seen before the ones that were directly referring to the web.

#MadhesSpeaks and Ravi Kumar
The author of the hashtag #Madhesspeaks I found in America. This is a young Nepalese Ravi Kumar, Digital Strategist with the Governance Global Practice at the World Bank Group in Washington, D.C, the co-founder and the advisor of the project to improve computer literacy of the Nepal inhabitants "Code for Nepal". Together with the newly established public organization "Youth Madhesi" he decided to help in forming a democratic statehood in his native country.

Ravi Kumar
The history of Madhesi
Who are Madhesi?

Madhesi are Indo-Aryan people living in south of Nepal and they make up a half of the total population.

What happened?

In the autumn of 2015 the country was in the "economic blockade". Nepalese officials blamed India as if it closed the borders, the government of India, in turn, blamed the protesting against the new Nepalese constitution Madhesi, who blocked the trucks with food and fuel on the southern borders. 50 people were killed in clashes, the protesters are actively spreading anti-Indian slogans and Nepal found itself without cheap fuel, imported from India, and it is experiencing a shortage of medicines and food.

What do Madhesi protest against?

According to Madhesi leaders a new constitution adopted by the new democratic Government of Nepal in September 2015 violates the right to choose the official language, regional autonomy and the right to self-determination in the region. More precisely, the constitution divides the south of the country into 7 provinces and limits the representation of Madhesi and other ethnic minorities in the federal government.

What is happening now?

At the beginning of January it became known that the aggressive phase in the relations between Nepal and India were over, and now the parties look for a compromise. The Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi called upon the Madhesi community to stop blocking the borders and to start a dialogue with the government of Nepal. In return, India promises to double the delivery of goods to Nepal to smooth the emerged shortage of food and fuel. According to local media, the government of Nepal made concessions to Madhesi and amended the right to maintain the electoral districts in their regions to the Constitution. However, Madhesi continued the strike, saying that the government was disingenuous about the negotiations.
The conflict with Madhesi caused a political impact not only in the young Republic, but also in India. Unfortunately, by the time I was in Birganj, the protests escalated into the clashes with police. The number of victims, according to official data, has reached 50 people. The Madhesi issue began to have the same national significance as the recent earthquake.
At dawn I went on animal-drawn transport to the main gate of the Nepal checkpoint from India to Birgunj. There were cyclists and scooters in the street. At the border a few ambulances swept past me and one UN SUV. Through the huge archway gate from the Nepalese side pigs and children were seen, swarming in the mountains of garbage between two former great kingdoms.
The Madhesi participants of the stay-in strike ask everybody to consider that they are not terrorists, and that they do not constitute a menace to the Nepalese government, and they only want "justice" – the amendments to the Constitution. And if the government does not heed their request, the strike will continue.
The bridge over the river connecting the two countries was now covered with a small tent city of Madhesi. After recording an interview with several of the more or less English-speaking people, I freely crossed the Nepali-Indian border and returned back to the gate. I was approached by a large young man in a tracksuit, seeing him all the military raised their hands to their head, and he politely asked who I was, and what was doing here.

As soon as he learnt that I was a journalist from Russia, he began to smile and said: "Putin is Raja" and then he went to his retinue standing near the black Toyota. The soldier near me told that it was a Federal inspector.
When I got back to the hotel, the young concierge volunteered to show me the city, and after that he introduced me to his friend a Hindu, whose family does business in Nepal. We climbed to the roof of the hotel, and I took a memory picture of my two new friends. An Indian and a Nepalese on the background of the wonderful city view with a clock tower that adorned the central square of Birgunj.

The Russian wings of Nepal

While I was working in Birganj, the guys rested in Pokhara. The overall situation with tourists, the earthquake and the events on the border haven't change the atmosphere of the place. It is as nice as half a century ago. Pokhara was opened by hippies in 60-ies, and since then it serves as a refuge for many musicians, artists and entertainers from around the world.
The city is the starting point for many tracks through the national Park, including the legendary Ring of Annapurna. If you want to go to the Himalayas on vacation with small children, so you should go to Pokhara. This is a real tourist pearl. Pokhara was chosen by the Russian air-club in Nepal twenty-five years ago because of the wonderful conditions for flights. I sent my companions to one of the pilots.
With the paraglider Vitaly Tsipluhin I met in 2013 in the Arab Cartoon. Nobody forbade us to fly on the drone and paraglide, and the crew made several flights over the lake and jungle, where the peaks of Machapuchare towered, known as the Mermaid, and in the distance the sky was pierced by the peaks of Annapurna. In my opinion, a visit to the National Park of Annapurna is necessarily for those who go to Nepal. After a couple of days coming back from Birgunj I joined the group. And you can't stay in Paradise long.
Russian air-club
Chinese Silence

In a day we went to the Chinese border, where, according to the newspaper "Kathmandu Post", 6 additional checkpoints were opened. However, according to the local people, most of them were functioning only on paper.

The Kathmandu Post
It was as difficult to get to Kodari by bus as to Birgunj. The transport went only to Barabise city located on both banks of the river Bhote-Koshi. The Nepalese hospitable couple invited us for overnight stop. One of our new friends' mother and sister made us dal-bhat and we fell asleep after long talks by the fire in the sleeping bags on mattresses laid out in a tin box, which became a temporary home for this Nepalese family after the earthquake for a long time.

Early in the morning we went from the border Barabise in Kodari. If in Kathmandu the consequences of the earthquake more or less eliminated, then passes closer to the huge multi-ton boulders rolled down from the mountains, will forever remain monuments in the streets, destroying on its way residence.
A common thought expressed by two Nepalese is that the number of tourists who came for rope jumping from India, China and other countries in previous years has declined almost to zero.
From Barabise to Kodari led destroyed the road that winds through a huge gorge, which had been extremely popular attraction called the "Last refuge" in the past - the world's highest spot for bungee (his place was taken by a hopping spot in Sochi).

Now the "Last Resort" is an empty bridge with a rubber rope dangling in the middle of it. The hot springs of Tatopani were also empty and without tourists. The city of Kodari became a ghost city. People left the border town after the overland trade flow with China disappeared because of the earthquake. We took a picture of the Sino-Nepal Friendship Bridge connecting Nepal and Tibet Autonomous region of China.
Sino-Nepal Friendship Bridge
We were approached by an officer in plain clothes who warned us: "You can shoot, we have no objection, but do not come to the Chinese soldier and do not take photos. He can break the camera. And we can't help". - Then after a pause he added. - "Do you see there in the distance a huge Tibetan town? It is completely empty, only police lives there "...
Leaving Tatooine.
What conclusions did I do?

As for the political situation in Nepal, I sincerely hope that China and India will go towards the neighboring nation and open borders, not only in words, but in deeds, and stop manipulating the neighbor. It is also worth to look at the political technology of the Madhesi conflict from aside. Take, for example, the children with posters with the hashtag #madhesispeak. Don't you think that if children are used in political games than this means the adults lie? Actually most of the Madhesi don't know what is the reason of meetings and what freedoms they are deprived, but when the innocent blood flew, they were bound by it. We have seen this technology in the world, for example in Ukraine. I wouldn't be surprised if the Indian government after artificial closures wants "to help" more to its neighbor and brings the troops. After all, the government of India is clearly interested in the hydropower plants of Nepal.

And the government should consider the national unity of their country and not to be silent, and to respond to modern ways of disseminating the desired information, for example, the same hashtags.
Our first spontaneous experience of researches of influence of the cross-border relations between the States on the ordinary people will be continued in Russia. The border of the Orenburg region with Kazakhstan is the longest border on the territory of Russia, and the relationship of Russian and Kazakh people are of great importance for overall integration of the Eurasian Nations. Thanks God historically here there are friendly relations between the two countries. And we will do our best to apply the results of our observers positively.

On the last day I woke up a little earlier than my companions and, throwing back the heavy blanket, I turned on the shower. It took about 15 minutes to ensure that the water is warmed up. While the water was pouring, I looked at the next roofs and listened to the music from the nearest temple. I didn't want to leave. Thought drowsily swarmed like wild bees in the cold.

The oil era was coming to an end in the world and in Nepal it seems to me that it has not begun. Nepal, passing it by, was moving to the future. The rockets of Elon Musk were successfully coming back to the Earth, the workers at the construction site of the spaceport went on strike once again in Russia and the sun was rising in Kathmandu, in that little Tatooine, reflecting in the solar panels on thousands roofs.
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