Nepali Times
Economic Sense
Road to nowhere


POKHARA? One always is tempted to take the scenic drive to Pokhara, now that the notorious Krishna Bhir landslide has been tamed through ingenious Nepali bio-engineering.

Today, it isn't the landslides that block the road, but obstructions by locals along the way. A national highway artery can be blocked for hours or days by anyone for any reason.

Or it can be just two vehicles that decide to change tyres right in the middle of the road, creating a monstrous traffic jam that make cars in the queue burn away precious fuel. A similar psyche works at the national level: a few people block Nepal's progress. Out of ignorance or selfishness, they stop the flow of prosperity. A few people keep millions back.

Pokhara itself is bursting at the seams like Kathmandu Valley. There is construction everywhere, and everywhere the new houses flout zoning and seismic standards. The contemporary architectural style of 'uncovered steel rods on the top floor and black plastic water tanks' dot the landscape. Water scarcity is becoming an issue just as it is in Kathmandu, although it is much easier to solve here. Garbage has yet to become a big problem, but the littered Lakeside is an indication of a crisis to come. Pokhara has replicated Kathmandu Valley's self-destructive urbanisation model, but hopefully Pokhara still has a chance to learn from the capital's mistakes.

Pokhara is endowed with scenery that makes it one of the world's natural wonders. The combination of mountain and lake is stupendous. However, our tourism marketing and 'shutteronomics' has turned this town into an ugly concrete jungle devoid of any sense of aesthetics.

One argument you hear here is that since the quality of tourists has deteriorated over the past two decades, houses and hotels haven't been able to pay attention to repairs. The time is ripe for a serious re-think of our tourism strategy and products to ensure that there are more tourists both foreign and domestic coming and spending more time in the
city. There have to be more things to do, and opportunities of optimum utilisation of the lake and water can be exploited to create amusement centers and 'eco-friendly' water sports.

A Federal Nepal should not be a conglomeration of small Kathmandu Valleys that resemble the capital's soulless urban slum. Kathmandu made mistakes that cannot be rectified as the cost of the restoration would be more than building a couple of new cities. However, other cities should be able to use the powers entrusted to them to stop the rot before it gets irreversible.

Pokhara could easily be more organised, have proper roads, water, sanitation and waste disposal facilities. Zoning of areas as agricultural, commercial and residential would probably bring a sense of organisation. Pokhara can be a green city with areas set aside as urban lungs, like the hill of the Peace Stupa.

But when all our activists and politicians are only thinking about where to block the highway next, there is no one to plan. A few people will continue to set the next impediment on our path to progress. The first challenge for the new government would be to ensure clear passage through the highways. If they can't do that, there would be little else they can do.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)