26 April-2 May 2013 #653

Tour de Nepal

Honorary Consul for Nepal in France, Didier Benard, has been encouraging the French people to visit the country he dearly loves

For the past 14 years, Honorary Consul for Nepal in France, Didier Benard, has been promoting Nepal and encouraging the French people to visit the country he dearly loves. Nepali Times caught up with Benard in Kathmandu shortly after he returned from a trek to Rara.

Nepali Times: You have been a regular visitor to Nepal for the past three decades, what keeps you coming back ?

Didier Benard: I first came to Nepal in 1985. It was my maiden trip to Asia so I was fascinated by the people who are always so open and accommodating, the rich culture, and the mountains surrounding Kathmandu. There is so much to see and experience here. During my first visit I adopted a son and then five years later adopted a daughter. We made it a point to visit Nepal every few years because we wanted our children to learn about the country where they were born.

How has Nepal changed in all these years?

The country has made immense progress in the last 30 years despite the insurgency. I was in Mugu a few weeks ago and it was heartening to see so many girls in school. More than the high-rises in Kathmandu, it’s indicators like increased awareness about education, health, and sanitation that show how far Nepal has forged ahead. Nepalis are embracing modern lifestyles, but are still keeping their diverse culture alive and this is great.

How well do the French people know Nepal and what do they think of us?

The internet has opened up Nepal to a lot more French people. They can now get information not only from their countrymen (and women) but from travellers around the world who have visited Nepal. Most are lured by the snow capped peaks, but it is the people and diverse culture they fall in love with and that keeps them coming back again and again. Even during the conflict the number of French tourists was pretty high and they keep increasing.

Tell us about your work as a consul in France.

Although I am a doctor by profession, I have been working as an honorary consul of Nepal since 1999. We don’t just promote popular trekking routes and sightseeing destinations like Pokhara and Lumbini, but also lesser known places like the tea gardens of Ilam and the national park in Bardiya. We are always on the lookout for new travel locations. This year I travelled around Mugu and was spell bound by the rich culture and raw beauty of Rara Lake. I want to introduce this region to the French people.

The consul developed a website in French to reach out to a larger audience and I also travel a lot around France promoting the culture and traditions of Nepal.

How do you assess the efforts of the Nepali government and private entrepreneurs in promoting Nepal in France?

The private sector has been quite impressive. It has bought in many French tourists despite the messy politics. The government, however, has been largely disappointing. The Nepali embassy’s website in France is in English which obviously puts off many people. Nepali authorities have to be more dynamic in promoting their country. Even simple steps like developing websites in local languages instead of English would help.

So many French people want to visit Nepal, but they are deterred by long and complicated flights. The Nepali government needs to work with its counterparts in Europe to make the country more accessible by introducing direct flights to cities like Paris, London, Brussels. Tourism in Nepal also has to move beyond the Kathmandu-Pokhara-Chitwan circuit.

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