Losing the Summit is not just the loss of a hotel
All around is green and lush, with beautiful jacaranda and laburnum trees, bushes of gardenia and jasmine, petals of rose and marigold, seats in the shade, the blue of a pool, the sounds of birds and the wings of butterflies, a mongoose in the undergrowth.
Where am I? Take a deep breath. Relax.
In a city of crowds and houses, green spaces are shrinking fast. Temple roofs re lost amidst concrete high rises of apartments and hotels. The air is becoming difficult to breathe, and the remaining trees are crying out for help as yet another is taken down to be replaced by a pillar of steel.
I am in Kathmandu, but for a moment I am transported into the old magic: the most wonderful hotel in the Valley. The Summit Hotel in Sanepa has always been a haven of beauty and tradition, a place representing all that is magical about this land, a combination of old and new, of history and culture, of beautiful bedrooms overlooking gardens tended with loving care that soften the hearts of all who spend restful nights there.
I lived at the Summit in the 1980’s as a Scottish VSO volunteer and then again a decade later when my family was young, and we would come to Kathmandu from the mountains and stay in the annexe of what used to be Holland House. We enjoyed spending time in the gardens and restaurant. I also brought tours to Nepal from the UK, and their time at the Summit Hotel was cherished, remembered, and never forgotten.
Since my 20s, I have loved this country, lived mainly in eastern Nepal, and later in Pokhara and Kathmandu. Things change continually, and they should of course, but hearing about the Summit Hotel being replaced by a new high-rise ‘boutique five-star hotel’ broke my heart.
It will have three 11-storey (perhaps 15, if approved) apartment buildings on what used to be its beautiful gardens. The jacaranda will be dust, and Kathmandu will be deprived of yet another serene oasis, another green space erased.
Why is this happening? Where is the thought for the environment at this critically sensitive time for the planet and for Nepal? Are the city’s planners and the hotel promoters in total denial of the most urgent issue of our times: the preservation of as much of the natural environment as possible within an over-built urban setting so as to make it liveable.
There are many other high-rise hotels in Kathmandu. They are all empty. Do we need another? CG Hospitality has hotels in Dubai, Maldives, India and other properties in Nepal, including another one up the road in Jhamsikhel. Why cannot the Summit be similar to Meghauli Serai, its other hotel in the Tarai that accents nature and cultural preservation?
Can the Summit not be upgraded and the ambience made even more tranquil, preserving the traditional style and craftsmanship, and the gardens left to grow even more beautiful each year? A high-end property like that can attract a premium market.
What of the generations of dedicated staff who have cared for and loved the hotel over the past decades? What is the motivation behind this? Who will come to visit and stay here? Why buy a hotel with such history and beauty only to destroy it?
It is indeed sad to see what is left of the beauty and greenery of Kathmandu being replaced by an ersatz culture that makes it indistinguishable from any other place in the world. This is not just a ‘colonial’ or ‘bideshi’ speaking, I am now in my 60s and have lived most of my adult life in Kathmandu. I had my first child here in Patan Hospital in 1986.
I have witnessed many of the changes and troubles this amazing country has faced, and the way in which each crisis has brought out the best in the Nepali people. It has always humbled me, and my attachment is strong.
Despite all that has happened here, I have always felt optimistic about Nepal’s future, and this is because of my admiration and trust for the Nepali people, especially the youth: their enthusiasm, creativity, and intelligence. The skilful rebuilding of some of Kathmandu Valley’s iconic landmarks has taken my breath away.
Still, many of the old buildings have been torn down, the remaining open spaces are being built over, but the planned destruction of the Summit Hotel has spurred me to speak out.
It is a place of memories for me for sure, and it is where the footsteps of many like me have fallen. Nepal has always welcomed its tourists, and over the decades the Summit Hotel has had many repeat visitors. Guests just kept coming back. What a huge loss for Lalitpur, and the Valley’s communities.
It may not be too late for the promoters to rethink their ‘development’, stop the bulldozers and preserve the quiet beauty of the Summit Hotel for posterity.
Anne Goldie has lived in Nepal since the 1980s. She has started a petition to save Summit. Sign it here at change.org.