Category Archives: Life in Nepal

That Car Is More Expensive Than You Think…

There was an article on the BBC today about 24 Nepali government vehicles that were returned following a Supreme Court order last month. The cars were used by the former King Gyanendra and former prime ministers and ministers, and now the cars are gathering dust in a government garage. The stash included SUVs, Land Cruisers, and the Mercedes Benz used by the King. The article was just the kick I needed to write a post on a topic I’ve been meaning to touch on…

Day to day life in Nepal is generally much cheaper than living in the United States. Prices are on the rise, but if one was earning an American wage and living in Nepal, you would be living a fairly comfortable life.

However there is one luxury good that still might be difficult to attain even with such a comparably comfortable income—a car.

Cars are expensive everywhere. I don’t really know anyone who can just walk into a car dealership in the US, and pay for a new or newer used car in cash, and walk away without any type of loan or payment plan. I bought my first car after I graduated from college so I could commute back and forth to work and it took five years for me to pay it off in full (a car I still happily drive).

Yet cars in Nepal are different. Not only are you paying the price of the car, you are paying a 200% tax on top of the sticker price (actually on further research, it looks like the tax is more like 238%).

So that means if you bought a car for $10k, you would be paying $33,800 total!

From what I understand, part of the reason for such a huge tax rate is to discourage people from owning cars. The Kathmandu Valley is essentially a bowl, a round depression encircled by mountains. There is only so much the city can expand (thus road expansion projects are not overly feasible), and likewise, air pollution sits heavy in the valley and has trouble expanding out/upward. The more people, the more cars and congestion, the more air pollution.

Visual of the KTM valley-- dark gray "bowl" shape is the encircling mountain range

Meanwhile roads in Nepal still aren’t great. Your car could take a beating on a daily basis, and probably would not last as long as a car on the smoother roads of the US (although I must say, I traveled on a few roads where the beat up old taxi I was in held up shockingly well… I was certain the tires on my car back home would have flattened if not burst on  some of the rocky beat up paths we took on a side trip to a monastery one day). Sadly the exorbitant car taxes aren’t being put to good use on road construction and maintenance. Many Nepali roadways are pocked with potholes, and outside the valley some of the mountain and high hill roads can be downright treacherous in the monsoon/landslide season.

When P and I were in Kathmandu in September/October we met up with a high school friend of P’s who is now a doctor in the city. He had a car—not a super fancy one, there wasn’t even a radio, and our KIA back in the US certainly looked fancier on the inside—and he was telling us about buying cars in Nepal. P and I were thinking that if we ever moved to Nepal for a period of time it would be far easier to travel by car (versus public transport/taxi), but after hearing his friend’s stories, and calculating out all the taxes, I don’t think it would be possible.

Even if you bought a Tata Nano in India—“the world’s cheapest car”—for about $2,100 (US) at its cheapest, and drove it across the border, it would still cost more than $7K total… and I’m not overly sure I’d want to be in a Nano on a rough road. It’s a light car, with no air bags.

Perhaps I should learn to drive a scooter instead? Or steal one of those fancy government vehicles just sitting in that KTM garage. Can you imagine what that Mercedes Benz must have cost?

And speaking of crazy roads in Nepal, P came upon this link on facebook a while ago (I tweeted the link some time ago). It’s an hour long BBC program about driving on “the World’s Most Dangerous Road’s.” The two British hosts are a bit on the weird side sometimes, but it gives you a flavor of driving across the country (south to north):

Also Nepali Jiwan has several posts about her experience with cars in Nepal: Their Car, Seeing a Nano

The State of Nepal

I was chatting with P tonight on Skype. I feel like I’ve rarely had the chance to talk to him since he has been home because the electricity has been so sporadic. On Monday and Tuesday combined they only had 5 total hours of electricity and they only get water once every seven days.

He posted to facebook a cartoon from one of the Kathmandu newspapers. He says it pretty much sums up the current state of Nepal:

It says: "No petrol, no electricity, no jobs, no water, no security, no ministers... only a prime minister."

His grandfather kept holding the newspaper up to the webcam to explain the pictures repeating, “no anything, just prime minister!”

Its tough to be in Nepal. P said that during this visit his father has made it clear that he doesn’t want P to move back to Nepal, that the situation in the country has gotten so bad that he wants his son to stay in America and have the “American dream.” I understand he wants the best for his son– but if all the best and brightest leave, who will pick up the pieces of the broken country? It’s maddening and frustrating.

Yeti Adventures

In honor of P’s mountaineering trip to Langtang this week (a place whose Wikipedia page mentions it is also known for Yeti sightings), I thought I was overdue for a post of this popular mythical Nepali creature.

Mike and Yeti from Disney/Pixars Monsters Inc. Popular portrayals of the Yeti (versus Big Foot) are white to blend with snow, although a darker Big Foot-like ape would probably have an easier time hiding on the green mountain slopes of Nepal

If you strip Nepal down to its bare bones tourist advertisement stereotypes you would get a few things—Mt. Everest, yaks and yetis (and perhaps temples, prayer flags, Buddha, and Sherpas, maybe momos too). Take a quick stroll through the Kathmandu tourist district of Thamel and you could walk out with an arm load of t-shirts with thread embroidered Yeti on them, particularly yaks and Yetis– these seem to be a favorite combination. There is even a tasty Nepali restaurant near Boston called the “Yak and Yeti” (actually when I googled “Yak and Yeti” I found at least five—one in Boston, two near Denver Colorado, one in Anchorage Alaska, and one at Disney World!)

Anyway, I digress, back to Yeti. These creatures supposedly live in the high Himalayas, and are the Nepali version of what Americans call “Big Foot” (or “Sasquatch”). It is a large ape-like creature that the scientific community generally regards as a legend given the lack of conclusive evidence of its existence—although one night RH, D, P and I decided to watch a silly “documentary” on Netflix about the hunt for a Yeti called “Destination Truth” which might lead you to believe there IS scientific evidence, but the show was too overly dramatic to take seriously.

Khumjung monasterys famed "Yeti scalp"... draped in a Buddhist prayer scarf

The show mentioned a sacred “Yeti scalp” in the Solukhumbu town of Khumjung, kept under lock and key in the local monastery. P, RH and I were there during our trek in 2009—and had I known I could have checked out an alleged “Yeti scalp” I would have insisted on going into the monastery (and tried to take a picture standing next to it, because that’s how big of a nerd I am), however, we only saw the monastery from the outside. Although the existence of the scalp in town, did made the “Magic Yeti” painting on the local school’s library door a little more understandable. Skeptics claim that the “scalp” is actually part of a dried shoulder of a yak or serow (a goat-like Himalayan antelope). Perhaps this is part of the origin of the yak/yeti dichotomy in tourist shops?

Taken during our trip in 2009. The "Magic Yeti Library" is part of the Khumjung School established and funded by Edmund Hillary and his charities. Wouldnt that be a great 70s rock song title or group name? "The Magic Yeti Library" ;)

I don’t purport to be a Yeti expert, but some of the info online is a bit interesting (the following is gleamed from the Yeti Wikipedia page):

-It is also known as the “abominable snow man,” a term coined in 1921 by Alpinist Charles Howard-Bury who was working with the Royal Geographic Society’s “Everest Reconnaissance Expedition.” Howard-Bury insisted he saw tracks at 21,000ft “probably [caused] by a large grey wolf” but looked like those of a “bare-footed man.” The Sherpas on his trip volunteered that “the tracks must be that of ‘The Wild Man of the Snows.’”

– Supposedly a Yeti-like creature was part of the pre-Buddhist beliefs of several Himalayan people: the Lepcha worshipped a “Glacial Being” as a God of the Hunt, and followers of the Tibetan Bon religion also believed in a mythical “wild man” whose blood was believed to be magical.

-There are many stories of supposed “sightings” including a 1953 report by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay who claimed to have seen large footprints while scaling Mt. Everest. Tenzing said he had never seen a Yeti, but his father had seen one twice, although later in life he became more skeptical. Hillary remained skeptical throughout his life, but mounted a 1960 expedition to collect and analyze physical evidence, including the sacred Yeti scalp from Khumjung—it was his research team that concluded the scalp was not from an ape-like creature, but not all anthropologists agree with him.

-American actor Jimmy Stewart smuggled the remains of a supposed Yeti hand called the “Pangboche Hand” out of South Asia by concealing it in his luggage from India to London.

-In 1966 the legend of the Yeti was so popular that the country of Bhutan created postage stamps with the creature’s likeness. You can buy them on Ebay, I kindda want to.

Skeptics often put forward misidentification of known animals as an explanation of sightings and “evidence” – large langur monkeys, Tibetan Blue Bear, Himalayan Brown Bear, Asiatic Black Bear. Could something be misidentified up there? Sure—particularly sightings made by mountaineers climbing high altitude mountain peaks with lack of oxygen, fatigue, and other factors affecting them. Meanwhile, scientist discredited the existence of gorillas in East Africa until specimens could be brought back, and now only a fool would deny their existence.

I err towards the skeptic side, if only to make myself less worried about bumping into something scary while taking a walk in the woods (Big Foot, Yeti, little green men, or otherwise), but it’s interesting to hear stories about such sightings.

While P, RH and I were hiking in Solukhumbu we asked our guide if he had ever seen a Yeti. He said yes, at a distance. Whether it was true or not, it made for interesting post-dinner conversation along the trail.

Anyone else have a Yeti story? Or a Big Foot story while on the subject? ;)

Nepal TV Station Presents News By Kerosene Lamp

I’ve discussed the problem of load shedding and power shortages in Nepal before. It’s a huge challenge, especially in Kathmandu, and one that really effects daily life. Imagine regularly not having electricity 12 hours or more a day! I’m not even talking about the practicality of using a computer, or charging a cell phone– but the basics, like having a refrigerator to keep your food from spoiling, or having a light to study for your exams and do your homework by in the evening. Perhaps one could imagine this as a problem in a village, but in the capital city? It’s truly remarkable, and sad.

The BBC’s Joanna Jolly had an article today which highlights Nepal’s electricity problem– apparently the nightly news broadcast on Kantipur Television has started to present their show lighted only by a kerosene lantern.

Reading the news by kerosene lamp-- is it 1911 or 2011? (photo credit: BBC)

“We want the government to produce more electricity as soon as possible,” Kantipur News head Tirtha Koirala told the BBC.

“So far we’ve been getting a very positive response from our audience, but nothing yet from the government.”

Mr Koirala said his television news bulletin would continue to be broadcast in darkness until the government responded.

I say “bravo!” to the news for taking a stand.

If you want to read the full article click HERE.