Pokhara and its environs are once more terrorised by a Maoist extortion drive. The Maoists had been forcing trekkers to cough up money ever since the start of the autumn tourist season. But lately the extortion has spread to professionals and ordinary citizens.
Even though the Maoists say they have given up violence, most people are still too afraid to lodge a complaint. Even if they did, the police wouldn't do anything. The police know what is going on but haven't done anything.
The main target is the Annapurna Conservation Area where there are 500 trekkers every day. The Maoists have openly set up \'donation' collection centres in Birethanti at the gateway to the Annapurna region, in Ghorepani and at Chame in Lamjung. Although it's all supposed to be voluntary, most trekkers are forced to pay.
When local journalists reached the collection counter, the Maoists said they were collecting "donations for building a new Nepal." Some trekkers paid up readily, but others were reluctant. Each trekker ends up paying about Rs 2,000 at various collection centres in the Annapurna circuit. The Maoists are collecting an estimated Rs 1 million a day along the trekking routes here.
Although trekkers are only supposed to pay once, Norwegian trekker Ina said in Pokhara: "They make you pay in every place." Ina said she paid out a total of Rs 1,400 in various places to the Maoists.