Nepali Times
Taking Nepal out of Nepal Valley



I've lived most of my life at the northern end of the Kathmandu Valley, in the shadow of the Shivapuri massif. My views of the Himalaya were thus limited to seasonal glimpses from Patan or further afield. As a youth, however, I was not particularly enamoured of the mountains in any case. With the passage of time, I came to appreciate the Himalaya for their singular beauty and embarked on treks whenever I was back in Nepal. But my assumption was that as the valley choked, the mountains, save for an ever-narrowing window in spring and autumn, had really disappeared into the smog.

This season has been a real eye-opener. From where I live in Mangal Bajar, and cycling down to Hattiban, I've been treated to fantastic panoramas from Ganesh to Gaurishankar for days on end. They're just rock, ice and snow, of course, but the Himalaya never cease to charm. Imagine my delight when they reappeared in the new year, albeit with their nether regions obscured by a grimy layer of smog.

I'm grateful these views are still available?- their capacity to elevate remains undiminished in my eyes, even if their relative distance through the prism of pollution makes photos a couple of decades old look like bad photoshop experiments. Despite everything, the Kathmandu Valley is one of the more beautiful parts of the world. It's just too bad we've done so little to keep it that way.

No wonder then that some in the Newar community feel that enough is enough, and that as indigenous inhabitants they must reclaim the valley that through their endeavours alone is a world heritage site. As a representative of the Newa Rastriya Party put it the other day, "What have we got from 240 years of external rule?" While he insisted this did not imply non-Newars had no place in the capital, his lament that the valley was overburdened in every respect does suggest some Newars feel this way, if we are to view the nose-chopping incident of last Sunday's bandh in a certain light.

But while the world owes a debt to Newari culture, the Newars don't have more right over the Kathmandu Valley than any other community in Nepal, given the patterns of settlement here (reflected in the rest of the country) and the layers of interdependence that allowed the capital to prosper in the first place. Imagining we can re-establish demographic equilibrium under the guise of an ethnic Newar state is pure tomfoolery.

How then to save the valley from itself? If millennarian fantasies involving the wholesale inundation of the valley seem far-fetched, then the Great Earthquake that will devastate Kathmandu is only a matter of time. But that is hardly a premise on which to plan a new Kathmandu.

Shall we then wait for federalism to relieve the valley of its status as the hub of all Nepali endeavours? It's hard to imagine designating provincial capitals will achieve much beyond creating more levels of administration, and buildings in which to house them across the nation. Kathmandu will still remain the federal capital.

Is this the problem, then? From 1950 to 1990, 13 countries in Latin America, Africa and the former Soviet Union moved their capitals. Even the Indian capital moved from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911. Why not Nepal?

The rationales for such expensive and risky strategies, as assistant professor of political science at Southern Illinois University Edward Schatz explains, usually stem from nation-building efforts (particularly in post-colonial situations), economic and administrative justifications, or the whims of dictators. Taking Nepal out of the Nepal Valley doesn't quite fit that bill, but that in itself doesn't preclude taking the leap. Has anyone seriously considered moving the capital of the federal republic of New Nepal?

Rome wasn't built in a day. A new capital for Nepal won't materialise overnight, either. But if we don't even begin to talk about it, we may be missing out on a double whammy: the chance to throw the Kathmandu Valley a lifeline, and the chance to give another city a shot at the future. Any takers?

1. Dilip
Shifting the capital to another place has been talked about several times, but no one has considered it seriously. The leaders are totally engrossed in bickering to grab power and fleece the coffers of the nation. Let us make Kathmandu, a tourist capital, where only visitors enjoy the heritage sites mushrooming with hotels to cater to the tourists. The resources of Kathmandu valley can no more be stretched since it has reached the limit. There is no water, no electricity, no security and basic amenties; so it is high time we shift the capital to places like Pokhara, Narayan Ghat, Biratnagar, Nepalgunj or any other place which ease the pressure on the valley. But the million dollar question is who will take the initiative or bell the cat. The simple answer is no one.

2. Bcreative
Nice, So to save KTM, lets ruin another city... WOW.. Why dont we decentralise.. Why dont we promote a city for artists, writers - Samuli which was a birthplace of three great writers, Why not a Uni town - Bandipur, Panauti Why not an economic hub - Dang, Mahendranagar close proximity to Delhi Why not trendsetters like you start the migration and get others to follow...

3. former KTM resident, now in Paris
actually, this was proposed in the 70's by the late Harka Gurung who was considering that, already then, the prospects were bleak for developing the infrastructure needed for a modern capital without destroying the Valley If I remember well, Kathmandu was to keep a sort of ceremonial role in the monarchic set-up. The idea resurfaced here and then under panchayat system (with few takers) That was again mentionned in the late 80's/ early 90' when the idea of having Kathmandu Intl Apt moved to the Terai - I think that was at the time of the King of Spain's visit, money was even granted, but a few millions bucks in "feasability studies" disapearred somehow in between Kathmandu and the plains ... The cost would have been probably manageable in the 1970's, but impossible by now (not to mention the political and social implications - think about the cost of freeing the land for such project), but as the Nepali political class (extreme-right to extreme-left) has always shown a great sense of taking care of the country's future, this will may be happen soon ... At least, this could be a good gimmick for begging money in large quantities near the two great neighbours and the international community at large (hello, is this the World Bank?, this is MKN speaking, we Nepalese need a new capital...) Some people can even start to dream about the astronomic proportions of the commissions involved ... That WAS a good idea 30 years back, because manageable then, but now Nepal needs first a functional state, a cleaner bureaucracy and decent politicians ... Meanwhile, up to the citizens to behave themselves also, they bear the responsibilty in building unsafe concrete monsters and of encroaching public land, digging up sand madly etc ... - not the state. Certainly citizens have a role in limiting the devastation (not on ethnic lines, some Newars are involved in that devastation, and non-Newars involved in preservation ...) Take an example, to reduce traffic and pollution, try to start a project for a full-scale trolley network in the valley, bus operators will be against you, parties will claim that you impoverish tempo drivers and so that it is anti-people ... anyway, with 9 hours a day power cut, how do you run the trolley ?... By the way, where? (Terai obviously, or Kalapani, to finally reclaim tghe place, or Kalapattar? highest capital in the world ...), it will take 36 years, 235698 local bandhs and 2357 national bandhs to reach the the ground-braking creation of a multi-party commission to deal with the case (they agree on the fact they can meet in posh hotels) after phoren donors got upset that zillion dollars, IC, yuan and else diapearred in "preliminary and feasability studies". Ke garne ? will be as usual the answer. Start with dedicated local initiatives is probably the real answer ... but what happens with bijuli, khanepani and waste disposal doesn't make for blind optimism, just to make KTM more liveable is by itself hard work - as for moving the capital ... First, anyway, improve Kathmandu, for that create citizen's awareness (this is the role of the media), apply existing laws etc ... Of course, educate the youth - explain to non-Newars (and to many Newars possibly) the greatness of the Newar cities and culture (Kathmadu was a remarquable place of exchang between the Indian world and Central Asia) , and create love for that extraordinary place and shame for destroying it

4. jange
"What have we got from 240 years of external rule?" It was the Newars who invited and collaborated with Prithbi Narayan to make him their ruler. Prithbi Narayan moved from Gorkha to Kathmandu. Hardly external rule.

5. buzz
How is this feasible? Why not first build the infrastructures?

6. Sargam
I'm not far off to think like 'le nouveau parisien'. As French say: "Plus

7. Sargam
If Nepali times censors my OP-Eds you are no better than a fascist country like China. If you are not for freedom of writing and press as you have shown atleast 4 or 5 times by censoring my Op-Eds because I don't belong in Bahun club of sophomoric pedants it will be my lifetime war to take revenge against you and yours. Take it for granted.

8. Nepali Times
Sargam, occasionally we get comments that seem to be missing chunks of text. We are guessing this is a technical glitch. Your comment was not edited by a moderator. It appeared to us as it does on the site now. While we look into this problem, we suggest you use Firefox or Internet Explorer to browse our site and post comments. We also recommend all readers to review our Terms of Use for site usage policies.

9. Johann
Sargam is the reason Nepal will never develop and will probably descend into multi-ethnic civil wars. He enters a French text with characters that have an accent that is rejected by the comment software and he immediately goes off into a tangent about "Bahun club of sophomoric pendants" and accuses Nepali Times of censorship. As long as there are idiots like him your country has no future. And since when did feedback in the comments section become "op-eds".

10. buzz
Okay, I am not here to defend anybody; But Nepalitimes use to notoriously censor. Case in point, they even took out comment section from the website. Nepalitimes have published racially insensitive columns in the past.

11. SN
Agree that NT is not above censorship in the name of 'moderation', from past experience. However, if it helps, Sargam (and NT), using double-dashes (long hyphens) and ellipsis have given me trouble some times. As johann says, special characters prolly overwhelm this system too. But man, johann u make no less an extremist stm than the one u respond to! peace.

12. right to buzz
Buzz, while you're right about Nepalitimes removing the comment section previously, the point to remember is that it is a private paper and there is no stipulation anywhere that I am aware of that says newspapers must have commentary boxes. The fact that you're able to enter your criticism today is in and of itself proof that they are no longer censoring. And, by the same token, they also have a right to say what they want in their editorials- it's called 'freedom of speech'- the same thing you and I are both using right now. Peace out.

13. not understanding
Why don't you ask the Maoists that question. I don't get the point of this article. Our constitution is due in May, and is in limbo. You talk about creating a city? Let's first get our constitution done.

14. capital
given the current nature of nepali politics and its affect on the people..shifting the nation's capital is not a solution to any of the problems we are facing right now...It is an economical burden, and no matter where the capital shifts the capital will have an indigenous population with their specials rights, an indigenous population, without whose support the local administration and functioning become useless... let kathmandu be...

15. Dirgha Raj Prasai
I extend thanks that Nepali Times has released the good article about Newar Culture. You know-Nepal is the pious country in the lapse of the Himalayas, which is beautiful, quiet, the birth place of Buddha and origin of Hinduism. Besides being the country of Everest it is equally popular with its diverse cultural values. This is the land where civilization began and is also known as the country of 'SANGRILA.' Nepal is as holy place to Hindus & Buddhists, as Mecca for Muslims and Jerusalem to Jews and Christians. The religious structure of Nepalese society is formally Hindu; but here and only here the interplay of peoples and their religious traditions has produced a rich fusion of Hindu and Buddhist faiths. It is common for both Hindus and Buddhists to worship at the same shrine, for many gods and saints are cross-over, often known by a different name but holding the same attributes. The original inhabitants of the valley were animists, a tradition which survives in the multitude of spirits, demons, local deities, and stones which receive dutiful worship to this day. Hindu and Buddhist traditions adapted from the pre-existing animist practices and from each other. Indeed, in the medieval period, when both religions' practice adopted mystical, Tantric traditions, they were almost indistinguishable from each other. Nepal's History and Religions Nepal is a rich and complex mix of different cultures and traditions, melded over thousands of years into a unique whole. For the western traveler there is much that is familiar, and many surprises. Family and religion are of paramount importance, and are constantly reflected throughout the culture. Nepal moves to a different rhythm than the West. The notes here are meant only to tantalize you into visiting this amazing place. Dr. Fareed Zakaria's (Harvard University USA) has written a book- 'The Post American World-2008' and he has offered the confusion that Buddha was born in India. Dr. Zakaria's intention is to create fissures between Hindus and Buddhists and between the people of Nepal and India. Lord Buddha was born in Lumbini, the western part of Nepal. He definitely went to Gaya, now in India, for enlightenment but never received any citizenship from any part of the present day India. Buddha was born to a Hindu ruler. Buddhism was his creation. Buddhism became a religion because human beings thrive for peace rather than violence. We hope, Dr. Zakaria never try to exercise in futility by creating confusion on Lord Buddha. Similarly, some are active to minimize Hinduism and dismiss the existence of Buddha. One of the communist old-leader Mohan Bikram Sing has written that Buddha was burn in Orissa (India) but not in Nepal. (See: Kantipur B.S.2059 Bhadra 19) What is that means? Such antagonistic so-called politicians, some against of Christian are habituated to exploit our national culture, religions and identities. This is the matter of grief for all the nationalists. Hinduism is the most liberal and tolerant of religions. How can the oldest and most liberal of religions be thrown away just like that? No religion (and certainly not Hinduism & Buddhism) should be made a political issue. Because of this unique heritage and culture, Nepal has been contributing an ingenuity of resolving its conflicts and differences. Why the culprit leaders of (Congress,UML & Maoists) party didn't try to understand the sentiments of the people? It is the main duty for all the leaders to care the basic norms and values of the nation. But, by declaring Nepal a secular state & republic, the visionless party leaders have done just that: tried to put together the unmixable, which could be dangerous for the stabilized Nepali society. No one has right to trample believe and conviction of the people rights. A prominent editor of Peoples Review Pushpa Raj Pradhan writes- 'During the Indra Jatra festival ,the Newar community was agitated when they were faced with the budget cut for marking the festival. The Maoist leaders are seen reluctant in preserving our own identity.' The Hindus have the freedom to pursue their own way of observing the religion. If Nepal is to be declared a secular country, all countries, which call themselves as Christian or Muslim countries should also be declared secular countries. If they want Nepal to become a secular country, then they should also be willing to shun their 'Cross' of the Christians, 'sign of David of the Jews and 'Kava' of Muslims. However, it needs to be pondered that even if Nepal was a Hindu Kingdom, its nature was like a secular country as Hindus have never done anything that would harass or trouble other religions. The Hindus and the Buddhists are more than three billions. It is a scared land for more than a billion Hindus and Buddhists. So, it is our request not to exercise in ineffectiveness. In the name of transforming the country into 'New Nepal' this is not the way to destroy our culture and traditions. We should have to think independently and have to come to our own conclusion. Nepalese nationalism has evolved and been consolidated more through social and cultural exchanges than conflicts. Nepalese monarchy has been offering balance role among the miscellaneous communities, castes and religions. So, to keep intact our sovereignty, indigenous cultural assets there should have to reinstate our monarchy. That is all. All the best. Dirgha Raj Prasai Political and Cultural Analyst.

16. Battisputali
"Dr. Zakaria's intention is to create fissures between Hindus and Buddhists and between the people of Nepal and India" What! The guy's book is meant for American policymakers to enlighten them about the changing dynamics of power in the world. It is not about creating fissures between Hindus and Buddhists. Read the book! Also, let's get back on topic. I like the idea of changing the capital. It will be a grand exercise--a lot of money and interests will be involved. Therefore, it should not be done until some of the political mess we are in (constitution writing wise) is resolved. :)

17. Sarath
Just make a six lane highway starting from Chitwan, stretching out to Dhangadhi, maybe. And while you are at it, build 10 hospitals, 10 grand schools and 10 new universities along that corridor. And then sit back and watch. Our capital will have 'shifted' within a decade then.

18. katketi
And your point, Dirga Raj Prasai, is? Got eye strain reading that one! Back to the comments on the op-ed piece. thanks to "former KTM resident, now in Paris", for all your wonderful insight. Sadly, there will never be a new capital of Nepal. The old Kathmandu will either be destroyed by its politicians who don't give a flying __, or by the Big One. My guess is the first choice will be the most likely and on a richter scale far higher than anything our earthly tectonic plates colliding can conjure up.

19. Newa
Thanks for this comment Mr. Dirgha Raj Prasai. Its sometimes good to hear comment on the article. I hope one day all nepalese will have "ah ha" moment to think about how these political parties are raping the Nepali public. If as Nepalese we don't build self sustaining economy then the very existence of all the cutures would be in Jeopardy! Since the article talks about Capital outside Kathmandu valley- I believe that it would a positive / progressive move. Sometimes change like that is a must but with that we need The General Pinochet and his Chicago Boys. Thanks

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)