Nepali Times Asian Paints
Nation
Foster father



KIRAN PANDAY
Didier Benard took a RNAC flight from Paris for his first visit to Nepal in 1985. "As soon as I got on board, there were beautiful Nepali ladies serving Nepali food, the interior was decorated with exotic photos of Nepal," he recalls. "I just felt I was already in Nepal."

Benard has been a regular visitor to Nepal ever since, visiting the country every two years since he was appointed honorary consul of Nepal for France in 1999. But it's not because of his honorary designation that he keeps coming back - it's because he truly loves this country.

His two children, after all, are from Nepal. During his first visit to Nepal, he adopted his first child - a three-month-old boy. Five years later, it was a baby girl. His son Aurelien Ram Prasad Benard (with father Didier, pic) is now an engineer, and daughter Agathe Diksha Chhetri Benard is studying to become a dental surgeon. Benard adopted them through the ODA Marseille, a philanthropic organisation that helps prospective parents with international adoptions.

As a consul in France, he has gone beyond the call of duty to promote Nepali tourism and business. He is particularly drawn to the idea of village tourism: "People think you have to be fit to travel in Nepal. Actually, you can trek at a low altitude, meet villagers and hang around in tea gardens."

In 2007, Benard hosted a video conference from Phidim, Ilam of such tea. Over 90 per cent of orthodox tea finds a market abroad, he says, and Nepali tea is far superior to Indian tea because the tea plants are much younger. His work has inspired a group of French agro-engineering students to study orthodox tea, and 13 students are visiting the tea plantations for a field visit this January.

Benard issues 1,500 tourist visas per year, and he's developed a website (http://www.consulat-nepal.org) for inquiries and information about Nepal. It is listed by the French travel guide Routard as one of the 'most complete' sites on the country.

While he is relentless in promoting Nepali culture and traditions, Benard is also surprisingly open about the changes in Nepal's urban centres. "Kathmandu has changed," he acknowledges. "The concrete buildings are sticking out like matchsticks. Along the streets are telephone billboards blocking the temples, malls where people are shopping and suddenly when I was walking along Darbar Marg KFC and Pizza Hut appeared."

But he is optimistic. "This is a sign of a rising new middle class. Nepal is changing. The situation is getting better for everyone. You don't need to regret the past, but culture and tradition should get special attention for the country to prosper," he says.

Bernard was in Nepal last week to scout out the "next travel destination". He visited the national parks in Chitwan and Bardiya, and plans to promote them in France.

Correction:
An earlier version of this article misstated the number of visas issued by Didier Benard per year. It has now been corrected.



LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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