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 Travel date: May 2010

 Camera: Nikon D90, lens 18-200


Nepal was once considered an evolving country with its Silk and Salt Road, however it remained isolated for centuries from the rest of the world and is now considered among the ten poorest countries.

The majority of its twenty-nine million people are Hindu - of whom one third live below the poverty line. The country is still waiting for a stable democracy after centuries of monarchies that have prevented its development (e.g. debt slavery was only abolished in 2000) and a over ten years of guerrilla warfare between the Maoist movement - who wanted to eradicate the monarchy – and the regular army.

Since 2008 Nepal has been a democratic federal republic but the Constituent Assembly, which includes the Maoists, has not been able to approve the new Constitution. Tensions persist but a return to armed conflict seems to be ruled out.
Nepal is famous for its mountains: eight of the world's ten peaks above eight thousand meters are found in this tiny buffer between China and India. It is one of the favourite tourist destinations for mountaineers fascinated by the Himalayas; actually, tourism is among the top financial resources of the country. The main crops are rice and wheat, but because of the dependence on agriculture the annual monsoon rains - or lack of them - strongly influence the country's economic growth. International financial aid constitutes an important share of the national budget, but because of widespread corruption at all levels only a fraction of this reaches the intended recipients.

Population pressure on natural resources in Nepal is increasing more and more. Especially in the Kathmandu Valley (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the forests are heavily exploited for crops, fodder and timber, thus exacerbating the risk of flooding. The levels of pollution (air, water, soil) are very high. The water supplied to the Nepalese is not drinkable and epidemics are common. Not surprisingly, the life expectancy of the Nepalese is just 67 years.

The capital Kathmandu is the gateway to the country, the first stop for climbers and trekkers. This city, which during the sixties was a very popular destination for Westerners weary of their opulent society, nowadays houses over a million inhabitants (twice that if you take the entire district into consideration), is besieged by all sorts of pollution, including noise, and is congested by traffic, especially two wheelers, which coexists with difficulty with the old Nepalese practice of getting around on foot. There are no rules of the road or traffic lights and the few traffic policemen who should regulate the traffic watch powerlessly, with anti-smog masks over their mouths, the spectacle of cars and bikes locked in huge traffic jams.

Accidents are very common in Kathmandu and to come out of the traffic unscathed, especially for pedestrians, is a daily lottery. According to a study in 2011 to 40% of all deaths from traffic were pedestrians.

Nevertheless, in the country where Buddha was born, people smile, are welcoming and tolerant. They get through difficulties and misfortunes with patience and confidence, accepting social injustice, poverty and differences of social class with a serene spirit and this is perhaps the most important lesson learnt from spending three weeks in Kathmandu.