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You know something is wanting in personal aesthetic standards when you start finding Dhaka beautiful or it may be on account of how far Kathmandu has fallen from the Shangri-La of yore. During my recent visit I noticed that Dhaka is green today and relatively clean, adjectives we can seldom use to describe our own city. The promise of Nepalese tourism is put on hold when the journey is better than arriving, an irony not lost on the travelers convinced that Nepal has three religions, Hinduism, Buddhism and 'Tourism'.

It was not always so. Probably the first traveler to arrive in Kathmandu and leave behind memoirs about his travel was the Chinese scholar of Buddhism, Huen Tsang (603-644 A.D.), who arrived in Kathmandu in the 7th Century. Suitably impressed he describes Kailasa-Kuta Palace of the Licchavi rulers in Deopatan, located somewhere in between Bodhnath and Pashupatinath. The king Amsuvarman had built an imposing seven story structure and ornamented it with gems and pearls. His daughter Bhrikuti had been given in marriage to the Tibetan king Srong Sen Gampo in a political alliance that made Nepal strong. Buddhism was exported to Tibet with this alliance. It speaks volumes for the beautiful valley when a traveler from Tang Dynasty China is enchanted. After all the capital of China was Chang'an, present day Xian, which was at that time reputedly the largest city in the world and Chinese civilization was at its zenith.

By the time of the rule of Yuan Dynasty in China Kathmandu valley's unique architectural style had attracted Chinese builders. Emperor Kublai Khan granted permission for the construction of a Buddhist temple in Beijing. The famous builder and designer Arniko led the team of Nepalese artisans to leave behind his footprints for the ages. Completed in 1279 A.D. the White Dagoba in Beihai Park of Beijing is extant today as testimony to Nepalese ingenuity.

The valley's fame must have spread far enough and wide enough to have the Sultan Shams-Uddin Ilyas of Bengal come on thundering horseback to ransack Kathmandu in the 14th Century. His zeal to convert must have blinded him to the beauty of Hindu temples and Buddhist pagodas, so he pillaged and plundered at will. His destruction of Pashupatinath is well documented in history books. It is a matter of conjecture as to what else he might have destroyed during this foray, perhaps the Licchavi Palace of Kailasa-Kuta fell prey too! We do not know why he left as suddenly as he had chosen to conquer. Perhaps it was a sense of guilt.

The Italian Catholic priests of the Capuchin order were here during the Malla period in the 18th Century. Traveling from their base in Pataliputra (Patna) on their way to Tibet, they were guests at the Malla courts. They must have been amazed by the multitude of Hindu temples and Buddhist stupas jostling for pride of place in the urban townships of Kantipur, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur and Kirtipur. They must have realized that proselytizing Christianity to peoples of the olden faiths would be a daunting task. What might have happened had the regiment from the East India Company under Captain Kinloch arrived successfully to save King Jaya Prakash Malla of Kantipur is open to conjecture. Would Christianity have taken firmer roots? Waiting Gorkhali troops trapped Kinloch in Sindhuli Gadhi and forced him to retreat after inflicting heavy loss. King Prithivi Narayan Shah conquered the valley and packed the Capuchins off to India. The valleyscape would never see spires of churches or domes of mosques until recently.

Nepal was for decades synonymous with the mythical Shangri-La made famous in James Hilton's novel Lost Horizon. Unfortunately the myth has been replaced by the stark reality of a dysfunctional valley. Newsweek already bade Shangri-La goodbye in its famous coverage of Kathmandu over a decade back. Nepal has recently announced "Nepal Tourism Year 2011" to lure back visitors. Will we succeed?


  1. I hadn't thought of tourism as another religion, but the word does ring well in juxtapose with Hinduism and Buddhism. Except, Nepal has more than the latter two religions. Almost 5% of the population is already Muslim. Christianity is on a proselytizing rampage. There is no Prithivi Narayan Shah around to evict the modern day crusaders who fly the flag of the cross or the crescent. Rather, we are now a "secular" country where Christianity and Islam are receptive to as many converts as possible while Hinduism rejects even those who want to convert. What folly!

  2. No need to be so despondent,Subodh.National Geographic has recently voted Nepal besides Brazil as the top destination for adventure tourism.
    In Nepal the fact is "man made things are bad and nature made things are good!"So as long as the mountains exist and the rivers keep flowing let us keep our hope alive!

  3. Only a person with an eye for aestetics could have put these observation the way you did. Unfortunately,the majority of people does not know or does not care about aestetics.
    Perhaps, you could have tittled your story, "Gone with the Wind ". Was Scarlet Ohara Nepali, by any chance ? Her famous saying, " I will think about it later on" seems familiar. So let's continue creating a waste land here and think about it later on.


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