In early 1980s when tourism was booming in Nepal, some European and Latin American embassies in New Delhi started receiving an overwhelming number of inquires from citizens stranded or having problems in Nepal.
Since they had no missions on the ground in Kathmandu, it became difficult to help them. They thought it was time to share their responsibility by setting up honorary consulates in Nepal. It was a win-win for everyone: the embassies got an inexpensive way to have a presence in Kathmandu and prominent Nepalis got to wave the flag of exotic countries like Mexico, Brazil, and even Iceland.
Today there are 27 honorary consul generals, most of them Nepalis representing various countries around the world in Kathmandu. Pradeep Kumar Shrestha was the president of FNCCI three years ago when he hosted a team of South African officials visiting Nepal. An increasing number of South African mountaineers and pilgrims were coming to Nepal, so they asked Shrestha to be honorary consul and he readily agreed thinking there was great potential for trade and investment as well.
"But today, it goes beyond trade, Nepal can learn so much about peace and reconciliation from South Africa's success," says Pradeep Kumar Shrestha, who is also managing director of the Panchakanya Group.
Nepal used to have an Italian embassy in Kathmandu until mid 1990s. When it moved, the Italian government decided to appoint an honorary consul in Kathmandu in 1997 and they chose another businessman, Ravi Bhakta Shrestha.
About 8,000 Italians come to Nepal annually, and Shrestha has to help them when they get into trouble or fall sick while trekking. "The work as an honorary consul involves business, social and diplomatic work , all the areas I am passionate about," says Ravi Bhakta Shrestha, "but I am really hoping we can encourage more Italian businesses to invest here."
Ambica Shrestha of Dwarika's Hotel has been the honorary consul here of Spain since 1992. Like others, she is kept busy in the tourist season helping Spanish trekkers and mountaineers when they get into trouble. Her work has been made more difficult by the political instability.
"When there are riots and bandas we have to advise Spanish nationals and it is hard when the situation is unpredictable," explains Ambica Shrestha. One would think that Brazil wouldn't have much to do with Nepal, but over 25 Brazilians visited Nepal last year and the number is expected to grow. Brazilian companies are also interested in hydropower and that is how Binay Man Shrestha got appointed the consul general for Brazil since he was involved in the hydro power sector in 1985 when he was appointed.
It's probably just a coincidence but many of the honorary consul generals here are Shresthas. The consuls have now set up their own association, the Honorary Consular Corps, and will soon be affiliated to the World Federation of Consuls.
"HCC is a goodwill organisation and a place for honorary consulates to come together, exchange ideas, and information," says Dean of HCC- Nepal Gajendra Bahadur Shrestha who is the honorary consul general of Sweden.
The government has recently allowed honorary consulates to carry blue plated cars besides the flags of the countries that they already fly when they are on official duty. Aside from that, there is no real salary or benefits from being an honorary consuls, although all expenses incurred in helping nationals is reimbursed.
Even tiny Luxembourg has an honorary consulate. Tourism entrepreneur Shree Ram Lamichhane was appointed in 1998. The tourism entrepreneur says there are limited exchanges between Luxembourg and Nepal, but the number of tourists is increasing. "Exports of Nepali paper and handicrafts are increasing and have great potential," says Lamichhane, who is now head of Nepal Scouts which has a Luxembourg-funded centre in Kakani.