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Patan fee fiasco


SUJATA TULADHAR


Bhaktapur started it, Patan played copycat. Since 1 January 2000, tourists entering Patan have been charged an entry fee.

"Visitors are requested to pay an entry ticket to the historic Patan City against payment of Rs 200, Rs 25 for SAARC nationals. The proceeding collection [sic] of Tourist Entrance Fees go to Tourism Development and Heritage Conservation Funds of Lalitpur Sub-Metropolitan City."

Nice try, but it has not gone down all too well with tourists and shop owners who depend on them. Andy Maharjan of Andy\'s Art Gallery in the heart of the city says, \'\'Earlier tourists would look around the place for a day and come back some other time to buy the things they like but now since they have to pay again the next time they enter, hardly anybody comes back."

Since most of them do not know about the fee, they are ambushed when guards at Patan entry points suddenly accost them with demands to pay up for taking a stroll around.

If the tourist refuses to pay or happens to be someone who doesn\'t understand English, the situation can get nasty. Says Govind Maharjan, owner of a stationery store at Patan Dhoka: "Almost 20 percent of the tourists trying to enter the city from Patan Dhoka return without visiting because of the harassment they face at the ticket counter. Tourists get easily offended by the way the guards pounce on them. I have even seen the guards literally pull tourists by the hand to the counter to show them the board."

No one at the five entry points and the counter at Darbar Square has undergone training of any kind. One guard said he was trained for a week only to "salute and march".

Hatama Kiichiro, a Japanese tourist living in Patan since April 2000, says, "Charging money for entrance is okay, as long as people know about it.
Even in Japan we have places which charge foreigners money but they already know about it from the guidebooks."

Since the entry fee was introduced pretty recently, guidebooks do not mention it, and neither have most of the travel agencies updated their brochures. "It\'s becomes quite a problem for us to explain things when we bring our clients to Patan and we have to ask them to pay additional Rs 200. Some fear that they are being cheated because nothing of that sort had been mentioned in the guidebooks", says G.L. Maharjan, a tourist guide.

Shashi Shekhar Shrestha, the Office Secretary of the Municipality does admit that there has been a lack of publicity. "The Travel Association of Nepal objected to it when we started. But our preparation period (90 days) was too short for us to inform even\' one."

The City\'s entry ticket entitles visitors access to seven major sites. However, as Patan Museum and the Golden Temple are run by separate managements, they charge their own fees. Very often, tourists just turn away, and both Patan Museum and the Golden Temple have seen a drop in visitors.

Officials at the Lalitpur Sub-Metropolitan City office believe that 25 percent of the tourists visiting Patan pass without registering as they enter from the routes without check posts, of which there are many.

There is also some leakage. A local guide, who did not want to be named, said, "When I was taking my clients for a tour around Patan Darbar Square, one of the guards offered me a fifty-fifty deal. I had eight foreigners with me but he asked me to pay for only five of them. So we could have made a profit of three hundred each."

Till 12 July, the City had collected Rs 7.4 million from the 51,710 tourists visiting Patan. The money is to be spent on a German-supported Urban Development through Local Effort (UDLE) project for Patan\'s preservation, maintenance and restoration. UDLE is to provide 40 percent of the financial support, the municipality has to match it and the rest will be raised locally.

"So far we haven\'t spent even a single penny from the collected amount," says Shrestha of the Municipality. In addition to this project, we are also aiming to spend the collected money on a new programme to be launched some rime latter this year."

For the hassles the fees have created, the Municipality better have something to show for it, and fast.


LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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