DHULIKHEL?Plus ?a change, plus c'est la m?me chose. Despite all the changes this district capital has endured over the past three decades, it remains almost the same. Life still revolves around the Bhagbati temple, where a new building has been added for devotees to sing bhajans in the morning. And come evening, most working men head for the cheap eateries and bars which have always been here, seeking to fill their bellies and relax their minds.
It's true that the buildings are bigger, the streets wider, and alleyways cleaner. And Dhulikhel looks smarter than it used to in the early seventies when it was just a sleepy Newar town where Tamang traders came to sell ghiu and buy salt, kerosene, clothes and trinkets.
It became the district headquarters of Kabrepalanchok, which resulted in some new buildings and jobs. But despite the magnificent mountain views to be had on a clear day, few tourists came here in the 1970s. A private language school teaching Nepali to foreigners in Dilli Bajar used to bring its customers?mainly American students?to the town for an immersion course in Nepali culture. It was only later, with the establishment of the Dhulikhel Mountain Resort and a host of other hotels, that the focus of the town's economy changed.
After 2001, as the Maoist insurgency intensified and the number of tourists visiting Nepal slumped, the hotels on the slopes around Dhulikhel took whatever business they could get?often a slow but regular income from hosting conferences, seminars and workshops for NGOs and international donors who wanted a change of scene from the valley.
Could it be that some of those meetings helped bring an end to the war? Today, with Pushpa Kamal Dahal ensconced in Baluwatar, the foreign tourists are back, and talk at Dhulikhel's seminars is all about security sector reform, federalism and social inclusion.
While the hotel sector has bounced back, there have been failures in Dhulikhel?among them the information technology park which lies abandoned by all except wildlife. The brainchild of Sharad Chandra Shah, who perhaps had hopes of seeing the town emerge as the heart of IT in Nepal, the site was too far from Kathmandu to succeed.
Kathmandu University is here, but most students and staff come from the capital. Dhulikhel Hospital is a beacon of hope, but relatives of a patient who died at childbirth trashed the place this week?another sign of the state's statelessness.
Like individuals, towns too have distinctive identities. Lalitpur was conceived as city of the arts and has retained some of those elements to this day. Kirtipur continues to be the city of glory and Bhaktapur the town of devotees. Kantipur transformed itself into Kathmandu, but it still glitters when there is no load-shedding. What about Dhulikhel?
A town develops only when its residents own it, take pride in it and wouldn't think of living anywhere else. That sort of feeling can be sensed among residents in old Dhulikhel.
But new Dhulikhel is turning into Kathmandu's suburbia, inhabited by a transient population of tourists, day students and Kathmandu's city slicker weekenders.