Nepali Times

Winter emergency for quake survivors

Thursday, November 26th, 2015

The double impact of the earthquake and blockade pushes already deprived region into deeper crisis this winter


Beneath a deep blue Himalayan sky and hemmed in by mountains on all sides, winter has come early to the villages of Upper Gorkha. The pastel green Budi Gandaki tumbles past the settlement of Ghap, which used to be a busy stop for trekkers on the Manaslu trail before the April earthquake.

The earthquake destroyed the Nubri Primary School in Ghap. But delays in approving standard designs for schools and budget allocation for rebuilding  means that seven months after the earthquake, students are taking lessons in 30,000 tented classrooms like these across the mountains of central Nepal.

Down the Valley in Phillim, it is the same story. Eighty students at the residential Buddha Secondary School spend nights in tents because dormitories were damaged by the earthquake. The girls are crammed into a small room in one of few buildings still intact.

For Principal Mukti Adhikari an even more pressing problem is finding enough rice to feed the children. Landslides triggered by the earthquake blocked the trail so supplies haven’t got through. Even the helicopter lifeline is disrupted now because of the blockade.

“The first blockade was the caused by the earthquake, this is our second blockade,” says Adhikari ruefully. “If we can’t find rice we have to close the school and send the children home.”

The blockade hasn’t just hit transportation of supplies to these villages cut off by landslides. A shortage of raw materials in Kathmandu means relief agencies haven’t been able to source enough sleeping bags, blankets and tent material. Even supplies that are available cost up to three times more now.

It is not just the blockade that has deepened the misery of the estimated 2 million people in 14 districts who are facing winter in makeshift shelters. Political disarray in Kathmandu has meant that the Reconstruction Authority is not functioning, and much of the money pledged by international donors lies unspent.

Relief agencies and private groups who were filling the gap have now been hit by the fuel crisis and haven’t been able to get urgent supplies out before winter. The UN, which was operating five MI-8 helicopters had to ground them because of a funding crunch and lack of fuel, and there is a backlog of 1,000 tons of supplies to airlift before it terminates operations by end-December.

“We are concerned that delays caused by the lack of fuel will lead to a second humanitarian crisis this winter,” says the head of DFID in Nepal, Gail Marzetti, “the situation is serious especially for children and the vulnerable.”

DFID has been supporting the airlifts to remote areas, and also works with partners to distribute supplies and manage shelters in hard-to-reach places like Prok, Keraunja and Tsum.

“Our immediate priority is get thicker tents, blankets, sleeping bags, gloves, foam mattresses and smokeless stoves in the next week to as many shelters as possible,” says Sudip Joshi of the Czech relief agency, People In Need, which mobilises local communities to design distribution to the most vulnerable groups first.

Despite the challenges and setbacks, Gorkha is cited as the district which has managed earthquake relief best, coordinating the activities of nearly 100 relief agencies since April. CDO Udhhav Timilsina is a no-nonsense bureaucrat who is impatient to see results, and he is angry about the delay in getting rice to the school in Philim.

This week he set up a task force to ensure that the trail damaged by landslides and floods in Yaru Bagar is immediately repaired so mule trains can take supplies up the Budi Gandaki even if helicopters aren’t available.

Timilsina wants to have a technical assessment before a conference in Pokhara next week that will showcase Gorkha’s experience in earthquake response to see if it can be replicated in some of the other affected districts.

He instructs his team: “We need to get things moving right away. I will not tolerate any more delay in opening the trail.”

The town that fell through the cracks

Winter in Gorkha after earthquake

“For the first two weeks after the earthquake in April we couldn’t find a place to land in Barpak,” recalls Yogendra Mukhiya helicopter pilot with Fishtail Air, “they were flying in everything — even forks and spoons.”

Indeed, being close to the epicenter, Barpak and nearby Laprak were nearly completely destroyed on 25 April. Relief workers and reporters got there first and images of destroyed homes in the two towns went global.

Yet, just across the Budi Gandaki in the villages of Uiya and Keraunja survivors watched rescue and relief helicopters fly up and down the valley with few bothering to land. Nearly all the 402 houses in Keraunja were flattened by the quake and the ones that survived were crushed when a mountainside came down.

Even though the number of people affected and the extent of the damage is much higher, Keraunja has got very little help. The VDC secretary left after the earthquake and hasn’t come back. The homeless have been living in makeshift shelters on terraced farms on nearby slopes now for seven months. Unlike Barpak, the town isn’t as well off and there are fewer Gurkha ex-servicemen sending money home for rebuilding.

Luckily this year’s monsoon was below normal, so the landslide did not cause more destruction. But here at 2,600m the nights are getting bitterly cold and there are nearly 2,000 people living in tents and in tin shacks. Families have firewood stoves inside tents, and this week three homes were destroyed when a fire that swept through the shelter.

Fearing epidemics, Oxfam has now built latrines and the People In Need (PIN) is helping with tents, blankets and smokeless stoves.

“It is a race against time,” says PIN’s Sudip Joshi, “we need to get the supplies in before the snow comes, but we are facing transportation bottlenecks because of the fuel crisis.”

In the longer term, the village needs to be relocated because of the threat posed by the landslide above it. The District Administration in Gorkha is ready to resettle, but local politics has delayed plans.

But most families here would like to stay near their homes, and have no time to think that far ahead. After having survived the earthquake, the landslide, the monsoon and coping with the blockade, the most immediate priority is to muddle through this winter.

Listen to Kunda Dixit’s interview on the BBC on the effects of a ‘blockade’ that’s stopping medicine getting into Nepal.

Listen to Kunda Dixit’s interview on Radio New Zealand

Read also:

Epicentre of reconstruction Tsering Dolker Gurung

“We do not exist” Sahina Shrestha

A race against winter Om Astha Rai

Reconstruction in ruins Om Astha Rai and Sahina Shrestha

In Dependence

Friday, November 13th, 2015

This is not an Indian blockade, it is an Indian siege

India-Nepal relations by Subhas Rai

Cartoon by Subhas Rai

Nepalis are proud to proclaim that we are South Asia’s oldest nation state, and that we were never colonised. We fought off the East India Company, but when the British laid a siege to Kathmandu Valley in 1816 we sued for peace. The Sugauli Treaty amputated half of Nepal’s territory so the rest could remain independent.

Sovereignty is a relative concept. Independence is seldom an absolute, and is even less so in an interdependent, globalised economy. Small countries throughout history have devised pragmatic ways to accommodate belligerent larger neighbours. Throughout the Cold War, Finland came up with a clever plan to coexist with the Soviet Union, winning its trust and profiting vastly from being the conduit for most of Moscow’s trade with the west.  That symbiotic relationship across the Iron Curtain came to be known somewhat derogatorily as ‘Finlandisation’, but it allowed Helsinki the elbowroom to exercise national sovereignty despite the Russian Bear breathing down its neck.

Other countries in Eastern Europe like Hungary and Czechoslovakia strained at the leash, and paid a heavy price for standing up to Moscow: they suffered full-scale military invasions. Even after the Soviet Union broke up into little pieces Putin’s Russia is still using the iron fist approach in Georgia and Ukraine. The United States, too, has intervened covertly and overtly all over the Americas (and the world) to stop left-leaning governments from coming to power.

Closer to home, smaller countries on India’s periphery are all pulled by its gravity to varying degrees. Even leaving aside Pakistan, New Delhi’s relations with its neighbours have been characterised by chronic friction. Being too strategic for its own good, Sikkim got swallowed up in 1975. India midwifed the birth of Bangladesh, but bilateral relations have always been rocky. Sri Lanka’s Tamil separatist war became an extension of Tamil Nadu state politics, sucked India into a military quagmire, and lead to the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by a suicide bomber in 1991. Bhutan’s rulers have decided that India’s presence is a given, and have leveraged partial sovereignty for economic bonanza from hydropower exports.  Even so, the rulers of Druk Yul sometimes run afoul of Delhi as they did in 2013 when India flexed its muscles by blockading gas supplies.

Nepal’s Anglophile Rana rulers since Jang Bahadur decided that Britain was too powerful to go to war with to regain territory lost in 1816. Independent India inherited some of the divide and rule tactics of the British in Kathmandu, but it must be said that they did it a lot more crudely. During the Nehru years, the 30-years of Panchayat, through the post-democracy period of the 1990s and the decade of conflict, India has behaved like an overbearing, arm-twisting, neighbourhood toughie. There have been only a few years during which bilateral relations could be termed healthy and harmonious. Most Indian politicians, bureaucrats and diplomats have come across as petulant and mean, while many Nepali leaders have been either utterly servile or thoughtlessly confrontational.

That there have been two Indian blockades before this, the last one in 1988-89 when the Indo-Nepal border was sealed for 13 months, should have given a succession of Nepal’s rulers sufficient time to implement a long-term strategy for self-reliance and import-diversification. We did neither, and the most glaring impact of those failures are here for all to see during these past two months: an economy hopelessly hooked to petroleum, electricity rationing in a country that should be producing a surplus for export, a highway artery linking Kathmandu to India that takes an absurd 200 km detour, maintaining only one tenuous highway link to the northern border, actively discouraging electric public transport, etc.

All we have heard from elected politicians over the last 25 years are wild promises to turn Nepal into Switzerland or Singapore, platitudes about hydropower, hollow pledges about developing agriculture. No action, no preparation, no alternatives. A country can only be politically independent if its domestic affairs are in order and its economy is on a healthy growth trajectory. Which is why Nepal today is not independent, but in dependence.

India’s rulers may be behaving like the boors they are, but our nationalistic bravado is not backed up by an ability to stand on our own feet. A state may be weak, but it must compensate for its smallness with smarts. We must fix our domestic issues ourselves, and understand Indian sensibilities to negotiate for the concessions we need.

For its part, India should pick someone its size. This is not an Indian blockade, it is an Indian siege. Nepal’s hospitals are running out of emergency medicines, earthquake survivors haven’t got relief and an entire country of 30 million is being held hostage. The Buddha is not smiling.

Read also:

Flag waving Editorial

Lose-lose Editorial

Proxy war Editorial


Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

India expects us to wave the white flag. Our leaders are waving the national flag. Neither is a way out.

Flag-waving Nepal and India

Sooner or later (the sooner the better) this blockade will come to an end. It must. It is unnatural, illegal, destabilising and detrimental to the long-term national interests of both countries.

Once the border is open again, we will have to start counting the cost. Nepal will have lost hugely in monetary terms – already the economic damage to the country of the two-month long blockade far exceeds the impact of the earthquake that affected 12 districts in April. Nepal’s already-shaky economy will take years, to recover from the cumulative destruction of the earthquake and the blockade. Nepal’s growth forecasts for the coming years will have to be revised downwards. Development has been pushed back.

Of more immediate humanitarian concern is the effect that the blockade is having on the delivery of relief and construction material to nearly 2 million survivors of the earthquake so they can rebuild before a harsh Himalayan winter. This is an unfolding and ongoing disaster, and unlike the earthquake is completely manmade.

Yet, parachutist journalists from the international media who were so quick to descend on Kathmandu in April are nowhere to be seen. This time, there aren’t any visuals of pancaked temples, of bodies crushed under concrete beams, of babies rescued alive after 24 hours being buried under the rubble. A blockade, what lead to it, and what it is doing to us, is too complicated to explain to the outside world. Food scarcity, the shortage of medicines and the lack of fuel is now hurting Nepalis all over Nepal but it does not fit the definition of ‘news’. So the stories take the predictable on-the-one-hand-this-and-the-other-hand-that approach.

By now, only the propagandists and the most gullible believe that the obstructions at the India-Nepal border are a result of the Madhesi agitation. India’s border SSB and officials at the Indian Oil Corporation have repeatedly let the cat out of the bag: “orders from above” not to let trucks and petroleum tankers to pass through. What is surprising is that the Indians expect us to believe it. Or maybe they don’t really care what we believe which, if true, is even more baffling. This will have an impact on Nepal’s stability long into the future by irreversibly polarising hills-plains relations, which in turn will have a bearing on Nepali-speaking India. It will make it doubly difficult to sell any joint river basin project to the Nepali public, and further alienate the Madhesis within Nepal.

The international community is watching aghast. Doesn’t New Delhi realise what this is doing, they ask.  Even Nepalis who have always been sympathetic towards India are bewildered. A long-term Indian resident of Kathmandu said to us the other day: “I have never been as ashamed to be an Indian.”

People here have long stopped buying the argument that this is about the constitution or the Madhesi cause, it is about India out to teach Nepal a lesson that we will not forget any time soon. It may work, or it may not. Either way, it will destroy what trust there was between the two countries. We can just look back at Sri Lanka and hope there is some memory of the price India and its leader paid for playing dirty there. If it is true that this is all about Bihar state elections, then it is even more bizarre.

We will not even try to enumerate the various international treaties that India has violated with the blockade. Enough just to say that it breaches just one code: the one of decency and good neighbourliness. Nepal passed a new constitution adhering to principles of democracy, trying to balance the demands of all interest groups while trying to protect national unity. Despite serious flaws, it is a document that for the first time takes a significant break from our feudal past. The points of disagreement (over demarcation of provinces, etc) can easily be rectified through amendments and the main parties in Kathmandu have publicly pledged to do so.

Nepal’s curse is that we rarely had the pragmatic statesmen we deserved, we never had leaders who lead by example. We either had populist chieftains, greedy demagogues or foolish adventurists. The current crop of leaders in the coalition is to blame for mishandling the constitution process and misreading Delhi. They broke it, so they must fix it.

India expects us to wave the white flag. Our leaders are waving the national flag. Neither is a way out.

Read also:

Lose-lose Editorial 

Fixing what’s broke Editorial

Proxy war Editorial 

Restraint, resolve and resilience Rubeena Mahato  

A race against winter Om Astha Rai

Prepared for takeoff

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

Nepal Airlines needs a complete management overhaul before further fleet expansion


Nepal Airlines needs complete management overhaul

Pics: Kunda Dixit

The Indian blockade has exposed the failure of successive Nepal governments in ensuring self-reliance in energy and import diversification, but one of the most glaring shortcomings has been the inability to maintain a robust national airline.

With or without a blockade, heavy lift air cargo capability would have allowed landlocked Nepal to be less dependent on access to the sea through Indian ports, and a flag carrier with a larger fleet would have given 4 million Nepalis abroad the option to fly their own national airline. Although Nepal Airlines is beginning to spread its wings again, chronic political interference and mismanagement have left the company a shell of what it was during its ‘royal’ days.

Optimum fleet utilisation for a new plane should be 18 hours a day, but the newly-acquired Airbus 320s barely fly 10 hours because of the lack of pilots. Chronic mismanagement has hobbled the airline’s ability to reinvent itself, proving once more that internal efficiency is more important than fleet expansion.

Half the pilots who went for conversion training from 757s to 320s in Toulouse this year failed simulator tests. The airline needs a minimum of 28 pilots for its two 320s, but has only 20. Five international pilots have been hired, but there is tension because of their salary differential. Senior captains in Nepal Airlines are paid only $1,500 per month plus allowances, whereas the international pilots earn $12,000 a month. Nine Nepali 757 captains have defected in the last eight years to the cargo airline Blue Dart in India.

With the blockade Nepal Airlines is overstretched, the Airbuses are busy on trunk routes and are flying full capacity. The two 30-year-old 757s make two flights a day ferrying on each inbound flight from Kolkata up to 30 tons of aviation turbine fuel which are then defueled to keep Nepal’s domestic flights running.

The fuel efficiency of the Airbus 320s means that they can fly non-stop to Hong Kong while the 757s have to make refuelling stops on the Kuala Lumpur sector. However, the 320s are not suitable for flight times of more than four hours on most existing routes and the high volume of Nepali passengers.

The company is planning to add at least two wide body Airbus 330s for which it would need nine sets of 36 new pilots. Conversion training has to start much before unlike the ad hoc last-minute simulator exercise in Toulouse this year with the 320s. Fortunately, cross crew qualification is possible since 320 and 330 cockpits and systems are compatible.

Nepal Airlines needs complete management overhaul

“The time to go for wide bodies is now, we are ready,” said Capt Srawan Rijal who liaised closely with Airbus on the 320s. “But planning must start right away.”

Having wide bodies would also allow Nepal Airlines to compete with carriers that use 777s and 330s on its main routes to Bangkok, Hong Kong and Doha. Passenger load for the 330s would be assured because of the huge numbers of Nepalis in the Gulf and Malaysia, and Nepal Airlines could ink code sharing deals with international airlines for traffic from Europe, North America and East Asian traffic.

In the final analysis, however, Nepal Airlines needs a complete makeover in its administration and management to handle the new equipment. It is currently over staffed, there is overt political interference, and the technical backup is not up to mark. The airline has asked for bids from international airlines to handle operations, engineering, marketing and finance with 25 firms submitting letters of intent.

Says 25-year veteran at the company, Capt Vijay Lama: “Nepal Airlines is Nepal in a microcosm with the same management and systems. And like our country, the airline is also trying to reform it so it works better.”

Land-locked, but not sky-locked

The Indian blockade has proved that Nepal needs to expand its air links to the outside world. If Nepal Airlines had more cargo capacity, it would have made the country less dependent on Indian sea ports. And with 18 per cent of Nepalis living outside Nepal, a wide body fleet would give Nepalis the option of flying their own national airline. One of the airlines’ ageing 757s is the only Combi with a forward hatch that Boeing ever made and is ideally suited for cargo operations. In fact, learning a lesson from the blockade, experts have suggested that the fully depreciated planes which have low resale value be used for air freight to and from Kathmandu. Even in normal times, the cargo business is worth Rs 100 billion a year, and Nepal Airlines has only 6 per cent of it at present.

Read also:

Saving Nepal Airlines

New planes, new hope, Vijay Lama

Cashless cow Binod Bhattarai

Royal Nepal Airlines battles battered image Pragya Shrestha


Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

The blockade will turn out to be a costly blunder for the governments of both India and Nepal.

Pic: Gopen Rai

Pic: Gopen Rai

A lot of words have appeared in the press about the India-Nepal impasse that has led to a near-total border blockade for more than a month. The entire drama is also being played out on social media platforms.

The situation has degenerated into abusive name-calling with not only a false sense of bravado but hurt victim hood and ultra nationalism among Nepalis. And India is behaving like an overbearing bully with a crude and cruel attempt to throttle a petulant neighbour with disproportionate muscle-flexing.

For Nepalis the most glaring aspect of this entire sordid chapter in our nation’s history is a lack of preventive proactiveness and a sense of urgency that were needed to stop the situation from getting so out of hand for this long. The mishandling of the domestic political fallout of the ‘fast-tracked’ constitution, the inability to contain the violence from spiraling out of control in the plains, the excessive use of force in quelling the riots, and misconstruing Delhi’s signals were what led to this crisis.

In their haste to make up for mismanaging earthquake relief, politicians of the NC, UML and the UCPN(M) decided to push through a constitution, any constitution, that would pave the way for a national unity government. This strategy was driven by the political ambitions of two individuals: the UML’s K P Oli and the UCPN(M)’s Pushpa Kamal Dahal. The NC did a volte face on its commitment to the power swap deal and bungled so badly on so many fronts in the past month that it would take too long to list them all here. None of the protagonists are capable of multi-tasking, and they are so distracted by the election of the new  president and vice-president that negotiations with Madhesi groups about constitutional amendments have been unnecessarily delayed.

Because the crisis has been allowed to ferment for so long and by not understanding the political dynamics in Delhi that drove the intervention, the whole thing is now so knotted up that it will be difficult to untangle. There are layers upon layers of issues: bruised egos of politicians and bureaucrats in Kathmandu, New Delhi, Birganj and Janakpur; genuine Madhesi demands for autonomy; the need for Madhesi leaders to launder their image; cross-border sensitivities heightened by state elections in Bihar; the ultra-nationalism of the Kathmandu ruling class; Delhi’s historical geopolitical interest in ensuring a pliant Nepali state through swing votes in a Madhes buffer; paranoia in India about Chinese inroads into Nepal.

Garbage piles up in Kathmandu

Creating a stink: Petrol queue snakes past garbage piling up in Kathmandu a month since the Indian blockade. Pic: Kunda Dixit

Instead of trying to assuage an insecure Big Brother, our rulers are in the habit of constantly enraging it by flashing the China card. As India’s largest trading partner, China is unlikely to risk antagonising India over Nepal. But sections of the Indian establishment, egged on by hysterical media coverage, have latched on to China’s symbolic donation of 1,000 tons of petroleum as if it represents a declaration of war against India.  Beijing obviously enjoys seeing India squirm in a quagmire of its own making, but that is not to say that it will upset its Himalayan spheres-of-influence arrangement with New Delhi.

It doesn’t make sense for Nepalis to get all worked up about India’s stranglehold. It is our own doing. For the past 60 years we have only talked about our hydropower potential, and haven’t even harnessed 0.2 per cent of it. We have gone from being a nett exporter of food grains to importing everything from garlic to gladioli from India. What have we done to proactively entice investors to create jobs at home? Far from being self-reliant in energy and exporting power to India, Nepal now spends more than 60 per cent of its annual budget importing petroleum, and its volume has grown threefold in the last five years. We have done precious little to diversify our import dependence.

This crisis is a result of the incompetence of rulers of Nepal over the years, and the shortsightedness of a bunch of mean and arrogant Babus in New Delhi. We got a tantalising glimpse of a generous and friendly India last year during the visit here by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, one that rebooted relations for mutually-beneficial cooperation. But all that goodwill has now been squandered by decision makers in New Delhi who have callously turned an entire generation of Nepalis against India. This is a lose-lose for both countries.

For now, there are three steps Nepal’s new rulers should take:

Short term: Do whatever it takes to end the blockade. We can’t eat nationalism.

Medium term: Jump start the economy. There is just too much politics.

Long term: Diversify imports, move to a renewable energy economy.

Read also:

Proxy war Editorial

Insult and injury Santa Gaha Magar

Fixing what’s broke Editorial

Onus on Oli Om Astha Rai

India-locked Bihari K Shrestha

Fixing what’s broke

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015

Prime Minister Oli needs to realise that we may be able to choose our friends, but we can’t chose our neighbours

KP Sharma Oli appointed new Prime Minister

Newly-elected Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli. Photo: Bikram Rai

Just as we had foretold in this space in the past two months, it was only after K P Oli became prime minister that the deadlock over the constitution, the violence in the Tarai and the blockade started being resolved.

Oli hardly hid the fact that he was a man in a hurry, as a double kidney-transplant patient he was impatient to move into the PMO. He may have been coy when asked point-blank if he wanted to be prime minister, but there was no doubt that ambition burned fiercely in his eyes. Which is why he was deliberately confrontational while fast-tracking the constitution: because he wanted to be that strong and visionary leader who would then be the knight in shining armour to resolve all issues.

Events have confirmed that Oli wanted to take credit for getting the blockade lifted and bringing the Tarai back to normalcy. Soon after Oli’s swearing in, trucks and tankers started moving in across the border, the Madhesi parties ending their boycott and took part in the parliamentary vote on Sunday. Oli gave India a face-saver.

Here on, the new prime minister has his work cut out to fix what he broke. He needlessly antagonised the Tharus and then the Madhesi parties, played brinkmanship with India and gambled with the parliamentary vote.  Now he has to solve problems that he himself helped create. One cannot expect the person who inflicted the wounds to also heal them, but as Nepal’s 38th prime minister, Oli is out to prove us wrong.

The prime minister’s first order of business is to bring the country back from the edge that he has pushed us to. He needs to visit the Tarai and try to reunite the deep fissures that have opened up between the hills and plains. It will not be easy, the anger among Madhesis this time runs deep – fueled by the perception of an uncaring Kathmandu that sent police out to kill men, women and children.

There is also deep economic frustration: the plains have been shut down for more than two months. Schools are closed, hospitals have run out of medicine, hundreds of thousands of people are stuck, and Nepal’s industrial corridors have all ground to a halt. Oli needs to act quickly to fix that, and not go into hibernation over the holidays.

Prime Minister Oli also needs to address some of the grievances of the plains-dwellers to what they perceive as injustices in the constitution. Some of these amendments have already been tabled, and should go some way in assuaging the Madhesi and Tharu groups.

Then, he needs to make an effort to mend ties with India. Relations have soured to such an extent that it has destroyed whatever goodwill Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi left during his visit to Kathmandu last year. Oli needs to reboot Nepal-India relations by going out of his way to massage New Delhi’s hurt ego.

We may be the aggrieved party, India may have come across looking like a bullying big brother, but we must realise that we need them more than they need us. We may be able to chose our friends, but we can’t chose our neighbours. We are stuck with India, and have to be much smarter in our dealings with them.  For its part, it is in New Delhi’s own interest to reach out and redress the deep anti-Indian feelings by being genuinely more magnanimous, and less overbearing.

Oli reaped the political dividend by stoking nationalism, but we have seen in the past that such advantage is short-lived. Unless he delivers on the economy in the next few months, the people’s support for any government will be fickle. He needs to move quickly to generate jobs by putting earthquake reconstruction into high gear to make up for lost time. He needs to get industries and businesses back on their feet. The damage from the agitation and blockade to business actually dwarfs the economic cost of the April earthquake.

Prime Minister Oli has several things going for him: he is decisive, plain-speaking and wants to leave a political legacy so that history will judge him as a statesman. The leader of a revolutionary group once inspired by the Naxalites across the border to behead landlords, Oli is a consummate politician.

Proof of this was his dramatic alliance with Pushpa Kamal Dahal in June to finish the  constitution and form a national unity government. It showed that there are no permanent enemies in politics. And by backing out of a deal to hand over the prime ministership, Sushil Koirala proved that there are no permanent friends, either.

So far, the formation of the cabinet shows that Oli understands the need to reach out and be more inclusive. It’s a good sign, but his future actions will show whether he has statesmanship as well.

Read also:

Oli new PM Om Astha Rai

The original Maoist Om Astha Rai

Long-term optimist Kunda Dixit 

Vicious cycle Editorial

Proxy war Editorial

Showing who’s boss Editorial

Reconstruction in ruins Om Astha Rai and Sahina Shrestha

Rebranding tourism with remodelled plane

Monday, October 12th, 2015

Tara Air upgrades fleet with factory new Twin Otters 

For 50 years the Twin Otter has been the Land Rover of the air in Nepal, operating out of rugged dirt runways in the Himalaya flying boldly forth where no other plane dared to go.

But as the road network spread and airfields went out of operation, many predicted that the Twin Otter’s days were numbered. Indeed, Nepal Airlines, which once had 12 Twin Otters in its fleet now has only two airworthy ones left.

Despite this, airlines are still serving remote airfields with Twin Otters some of which are 35 years old, and the workhorses are still going strong.

Tara Air twin otter

Photos: Kunda Dixit

Just as the the newest Land Rover SUV is a completely different machine from the vintage British Army Land Rovers plying as public transport from Dharan to Dhankuta, the Twin Otter has also got a makeover with a new model.

De Havilland Canada manufactured nearly 900 Twin Otters since 1964, but stopped making them in 1988. In 2007, the Canadian aviation maintenance company Viking bought the type certificate for the Twin Otter and restarted the production line with an upgraded version of the plane.

The airframe remains the same, it also carries 19 passengers. But while the older Twin Otters have analog dials, the DHC-6 400 Series has a full glass cockpit with modern avionics, a state-of-the-art Flight Management System, and an Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System. In fact, if it wasn’t for its distinctive overhead throttle control, the new Twin Otter cockpit could well be on an Airbus 320. The Series 400 also has more powerful PT6A-34 engines and 800 modifications to improve on the previous models.

Tara Air twin otter cockpit

One morning last week at Kathmandu airport, Capt Santosh Shah was preparing his Tara Air DHC-6 400 ‘Kilo Yankee’ for a flight to Lukla. Unlike older Twin Otters, here he was punching coordinates into a keyboard and selecting the route to Lukla from a preprogrammed list of flight plans. One of the four monitors came to life, showing what looked like a Google Earth image of Central Nepal showing waypoints Jiri and Lamjura en route to Lukla. The screen had everything: TCAS traffic warning, terrain warning, weather radar, wind speed.

Capt Santosh Shah

Capt Santosh Shah pilots a brand new DH6-400 Twin Otter of Tara Airlines into Lukla’s Tenzing Hillary Airport on Friday morning with some of the season’s first trekkers in the Everest region.

“It is the same plane, but the instruments are much more advanced, and that makes flying it easier,” says Shah, who used to fly Yeti’s BAe Jetstreams on trunk routes but is even more excited about piloting the Series 400.

Tara Air in Lukla

Tara has also given its Viking Twin Otters an attractive new livery in its green and gold colours. It has added the Great Himalaya Trails logo on the side as part of the co-branding exercise to promote quality trekking tourism in Nepal. Tara is adding another 400 Series aircraft soon and plans to overhaul its entire fleet of older Twin Otters with the new model.

Viking has sold DHC-6 400s in 25 countries since 2007, including a latest deal for 50 planes worth $7 million each to China this year.

Fly to trek 

Great Himalaya Trails and Tara Air launch new promotional partnership

In a unique co-branding exercise, the Great Himalaya Trails (GHT) and Tara Air have decided to partner to promote quality trekking tourism in the Nepal Himalaya.

The GHT is a east-west network of trails across Nepal’s northern region which offers a cross-section of Nepal’s natural and cultural diversity (see map). It stretches from the base of Mt Kangchenjunga to the Api-Saipal Range and is 1,700km long, taking up to 120 days to traverse 10 high passes in the Himalaya.

Great Himalaya Trail map

Tara Air is a subsidiary of Yeti Airlines and operates short takeoff and landing (STOL) flights to most gateways along the Great Himalaya Trails including Taplejung, Lukla, Phaplu, Manang, Jomsom, Dolpo, Rara, Jumla and Simikot.

“The partnership between the GHT and Yeti Airlines/ Tara Air is a reflection of the private sector’s support to the GHT and its objectives,” said Wouter Schalken of Samarth-Nepal Market Development Program (NMDP) which coordinates the project with support from UKAid for trail development, training and promotion.

air hostess Tara Air

The GHT registers trails and lodges that adhere to quality guidelines on Safe Trekking, environmental impact standards as well as social objectives to ensure fair working conditions and wages and respect for all indigenous cultures.

“The GHT is a reflection of improved quality and diversity of Nepal’s tourism products,” added Schalken.

Tara Air, for its part, will be the official airline of the Great Himalaya Trails and will carry the GHT logo on all its new DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft.

Tara Air aircraft

“We are proud to be associated with GHT and hope to launch further support promotion efforts, restore visitor confidence and attract tourists from new markets to trek in Nepal,” says Umesh Rai of Tara Air.

Rai said Tara’s new plane provides improved passenger standards and increased safety specifications that form a real example of the quality of Nepal’s new tourism products.

Ght and tara air

Following the Annapurna blizzard last year and the earthquake, the GHT adheres to a Safe Trekking System and combines it with better quality accommodation and facilities. The GHT will also promote mountain biking, wilderness tourism, meditation, as well as a chance to explore Nepal’s ethnic and natural diversity.

Samarth-NMDP is also working on a program to reduce poverty by injecting trekking income directly into the village economy.


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