The setting is at ICIMOD in Lalitpur, which stands for the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development. The occasion is primarily a meet for promoting the Kailash Sacred Landscape. Although the area falls in Nepal, India and China, the maximum number of people living in the area are Nepalese. Of the 30,000 sq. km that makes up the culturally, climatically, historically and naturally diverse landscape, 12,000 sq. km falls in Nepali territory.
Officials representing the Government of Nepal are here too. The Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation is present as is a member of his staff, supposedly an expert on scientific issues, who tries to answer all questions directed at his boss. Also present are member participants from several INGOS. Visiting participants from Switzerland are present too, drinking their cups of tea and trying to make sense of the heavy Nepali accented English of some of the speakers. After a while, it is the Nepali participants trying to make sense of their French accents, as they stare at mathematical models on the screen. There are participants from Australia’s RMIT University too, one of whose presentations the Joint Secretary of the Ministry calls the “best-est” presentation of that day, making the rest of the participants feel like they just lost a competition they didn’t even know what going on.
The meet is also on the effects of Climate Change on Tourism. This is what I am here for. A presentation from a participant from CEST Nepal who shows some amazing pictures of the toll that climate change has taken in parts of Nepal’s mountains loses credibility when a participant asks him a question, the answer to which is that the former copied the slides from a ‘good source’. The Swiss twosome Guy – pronounced Gee and Werner – pronounced Vurrnerr, have an amazing job. They travel around their beautiful country, trying to locate heritage sites that are in a sorry state, draft proposals for their upkeep and get the work done too. They also map out older trails that are no longer used in remote-r parts of the country, but which might have historical, cultural and touristic value. I talk to them about a possible story, one that draws parallels between the two countries, maybe discusses their work so that we can replicate these amazing ideas here in Nepal. They agree to get in touch once they’re back from Humla.
I also talk to a person from the Nepal Tourism Board. The magazine I work for is affiliated to them and I assume he knows about this. He does not. When I ask him about Nepal Tourism Year 2011’s planned new destinations which could make for great stories for the magazine and if he has such info; the answer again is no. How can this be? I ask him, who has the list then? Who has the information? I do not think anyone does, he says. Either this person had a few shots to bear with the lengthy presentations or if he is speaking the truth, NTY 2011 is in big trouble. I manage to get a few phone numbers out of him as we exchange contact details.
Apart from the discussions that sounded largely fruitful, the presence of the Joint Secretary of the Ministry and his comments seem to be for little more than comedic relief. I am sitting next to the guy sitting next to him so I hear quite a bit of the chit chat that he engages in before, during and after the presentations. When an Australian research person is presenting her slides, I hear the JS’s staff whisper to his boss – “yo program ta hamro office ko sab jana lai dekhauna parne hai? Kura khulasta parne raichha.” (This is something we should we should show all our officials from the ministry. It makes everything so clear!) Meaning what, the officials at the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation did not prepare before attending this conference on climate change or that they are ignorant of such issues? Very disturbing but not really that much of a surprise, seeing as to how the Joint Secretary in his introductory speech thanked ICIMOD for this initiative and clearly admitted that, “such type of programs are very important and we aware of such effects of climate change but the government does not have a plan of action for it.” How very honest and reassuring. But for the most part of the meet, the guy remains silent, taking down notes and whispering into his staff’s ear who runs out to make calls. Before lunch however, he finally decides to give ONE comment.
The participant from RMIT University had given a 50 million worldwide figure for mountain-based tourism. The Joint Secretary’s comment: “I am very skeptical about how you got that kind of figure. (Exercise?!) We are trying to bring in one million tourists in 2011. (Many of the participants openly laugh at this.) But you mean to say that Australia has 50 million tourists in its mountains alone?” For a second, the Aussie research woman is perplexed. Then she gets it, smiles and replies – Oh, I am sorry, perhaps I was not clear enough. I meant those numbers to be for worldwide mountain based tourism, not just tourism in Australian mountains.” Joint Secretary, blushes in embarrassment and replies –“Thank you.”
So how exactly do these highly placed officials at the Ministerial level communicate when they represent Nepal in international events if they have such a hard time on home court? If they do not have a clear idea of the issues at hand, on what basis do they negotiate on proposals and funds to mitigate these challenges? Do all Nepali officials give the same uneducated, ignorant and dumb impression at international conferences? Certainly explains a lot about why Nepal manages to get little out of these conferences except for perhaps a chance to sightsee and do some shopping.
Just before I sit down to write this, I see a picture of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blabbering on at a UN meeting about one more conspiracy theory regarding how Americans partly engineered 9/11, prompting US and European teams to walk out on his speech. Is this what will happen one day to Nepal if someone like Comrade Prachanda, our own awesome conspiracy theorist, represents Nepal at such events?