The Tragedy of Nepal 2011

A deep depression hit me about an hour into my visit to Nepal and lasted for the first two weeks. Nepal, as a travel destination, is nothing short of raved about. “The Himalayan Mountains are majestic and the people are the nicest in the world!” was a common travel tidbit I heard. What I found was a developing nation with deep problems becoming worse by the month with tourism hastening the poisoning of the well. The pollution is the worst I have ever seen. Air, land, sound and water, nothing is spared the careless trash. The people are wonderful and also skillful about exploiting the tourist scene. Everyone you meet has a friend that is in the business of what you want to do, and they have a vested commission in getting you to open up.

Kathmandu, Thamel

So much of this place is changing, generally for the worse. You can see the mountains from Pokhara, but the smog makes the view, well, depressing. Kathmandu is thriving from tourism, but at the expense of the country workers leaving to find easier work (and often times they can’t get it, resorting to black market and corrupt jobs).

The horns on the motorbikes are non-stop. The taxis will take you for a ride and to your destination. They view cheating tourists as a right, a recent newspaper article boasts.

“Merry Christmas, sir!” a 10-year-old boy told me. “Would you like some weed?”

I wanted to leave within a week of getting here. Let me rephrase that: I wanted to leave and start a campaign to stop tourism in Nepal. There was no redeeming value. It was soulless, corrupt and destroying everyone that touched it. Not something I want to be supporting, in reality or my dreams.

“Merry Christmas, sir!” a older man told me later in the frigid night.

“Need a cute girl? Bang bang.”

Vendor outside the bus

City is city. I get this. This happens. Pollution happens. Black markets happen. My dream of this place happened, and it was far, far off from what actually is here. The political democracy is on a thread, and a saving grace is the blancas that come here to spend their money. Nepal is developing, there is no doubt of that.

The bus ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara is a very direct reminder of how developing the country is. More than 10 police checkpoints stop every car, bike and bus to check permits and tolls. A six-hour ride passed (formerly) amazing views of valleys, rivers and mountains. There is also a police paddy wagon arresting vendors, drunks and teens (by random it seems). The motorbikes don’t obey the road closure rules and honk at the mob walking down the street. “Get out of my way!” their imported ultra-loud horns say.

Nepal Roadside

Everything seems to be just this: an urgent cry. The rural areas of Nepal, I shall learn, are extreme in their land and experience. I met a mother that had 12 children living, and had buried eight. The eyes of people around town are full of salesmanship or despair. An old lady sells me some beads, which are made by hand and support her family trapped in Tibet.

“That is full of shit!” my guide tells me, yelling at the widow. She scatters, and I am told that the beads are from China, and she just does what sells to the tourists.

Everything isn’t as it seems. Isn’t how I fell in love with Nepal. The lore just doesn’t match up.

Time to get out of the city. Annapurna Circuit is on my life list. 220 miles circumventing some of the tallest mountains in the world. Every town along the way has tea houses to welcome the trekkers (60,000 strong per year as of 2009). Wilderness, I hoped.

As with most of my hopes in Nepal, it was quickly smashed. There isn’t much sense of wilderness here. Can we make money off it?

Develop it. Rice fields can fit on most hillsides, put them in. Trash was everywhere (and not tourist trash, local trash was the stuff on the ground). You can see why: A young girl asks every trekker for chocolate as they walk by. She unwraps it, eats a bit and drops the wrapper on the trails. This joins the 10-50 pieces of trash per 10 yards of the trail. The full Annapurna Circuit is 220 miles, and at that estimate, we are looking at 352,000 to 1,760,000 pieces of trash on the trail.

Wilderness. Nepal’s tourism is built on the trekking. You pay a visa fee on entry to the county, and a “conservation fee” for the assumed conservation. Nowhere to be found.

The dark secret of wilderness around the world is that the land is usually not developed because it is too hard to profit off of. The Himalayas are off limits, but the wooded areas around it are not protected.

The tea houses in towns welcoming you? They are just hotels, built for the trekkers. There isn’t much past the towns, other than the hotels. In most we visited, there wasn’t anything besides that.

River Crossing In Nepal

Trekking on the most hated road in the world. The road.

  • Day 1 The road!
  • Day 2 The road.
  • Day 3 The fucking road.
  • Day 4 The fucking road destroying this place.
  • Day 5 The fucking road built by children destroying this place.
  • Day 6 The fucking road build by children destroying this place and eating the soul of all around.
  • Day 7 The inevitable road.

The Fucking Road

The road is going in at the strong urging or citizens of Manang. There are 3000 full-time residents, and with stories of hundreds of children being saved with a modern road in and out, convinced the government to put in a road. The road conveniently goes exactly on top of the trekking trail. Where the road is built, the trail is gone.


Now, if you are a person that can do third grade math, you can figure out that the road will carry, at capacity, the same amount of tourists that currently hike on the trail (averaged out).  One car per three minutes with eight passengers on a road that is unstable at best.

The guiding services expect trekking to go up when the road is completed. On day six, right past Tal, we saw the road being jackhammered into the hillside. “Awful young,” I thought. “It is a good job” my guide said (as the last official thing said as my guide). We passed a group of 20 youth, aged 6-10, high up on a hillside clearing the blasted land from the army. The tourist funded army. Yes, come to the mountains, and see the whites of the eyes of the child labor you are supporting.  I’ve never seen eyes so cold.  So hurt.  So helpless.  They are doing a very hard job, unsupervised, with almost no pay as a replacement of their childhood.

My guide learned a valuable lesson about unfair and dangerous jobs: If you support it, you can lose yours.

If you hike the Annapurna, you support, directly, child labor. They might hide it during the high-season, but the ugly and shameful beast is there. The knock-off brand-name jacket you bought in Kathmandu are made by a different tragic set of small hands.


We are in the last years of the Annapurna being a place where people trek. The inevitable road is set to be finished in 2014, with buses and jeeps honking and smoking up the valley. They are aiming to have 150 vehicles per section, per day. To my surprise, they don’t expect trekking to go down.

The powerlines cover the entire valley until Manang. A 42″ flatscreen TV is displayed in the kitchen/bedroom/bathroom of a teahouse. The fire rages on, but with no chimney smoke hangs at waist level. The 10 people in the room don’t seem to mind, but their daily environment is killing them. We pay our conservation fund-approved menu meals and hike on. The road is the only way to get up the valley, conveniently, to the next town. Let me Photoshop the power line out of that pristine Himalayan view.

I sit down in Manang for a veggie curry. I’m excited to meet the residents of the town that resulted in one of the classic hikes in the world becoming a jeep trail. I was quickly joined, at 11am no less, by a group of five drunk and high business owners. The all too familiar get-to-know-the-tourist-before-selling-them-shit game is played. It is around zero outside. No insulation to be found. This week, eight Nepali die due to the cold.

“You want good weed, you come to Karma.”

The inevitable road is being built and supporting this, and this alone. There is a small town that used to be here. It has been swallowed up by the tourist trash, forever gone. The army is blasting an amazing amount of rock into the river below.

I’m learning the hard lesson of how tourism can destroy.

It is January. It is the coldest week of the year. It is 14,000 feet above sea level, and there is no snow. We walk over the 17,769-foot pass without stepping in a spot of snow. The glaciers have receded back as far as they can without disappearing. We make it over the pass. It is one of the slowest days for traffic on the pass, an officer tells us days later. Six people, guides included. “In October you can see 1,000.”

The majestic Nepal is dead to me, to a lot of people, many of which live here.

Throng La Pass Nepal Summit

After the trek, the papers read of the risk of a political uprising. It is “tourism year,” so the Maoists are pretending to agree to not do anything for 2011, but not many believe that. Opportunities for visas for workers wanting to slave away in foreign lands are crowded in the paper. Only 320 died last year in Quatar. A paraglider died yesterday less than a mile from where I type.

The opportunities are depressing. The government is depressing. The people have lived through hell and are seeing their country being built into a three-star hotel for assholes like me to come and experience their Himalayan dream. With more than 30% of the children not attending school, the government focuses on tourism in 2011.  I don’t how this will help the core problems, major problems, at all.  It will only hurt more.

I’ve never felt dirtier as a traveler.

I found many things in this country to be urgent cries. Perhaps this is mine.

More photos from this trip can be found here. I also wrote a separate piece with my positive stories from Nepal.  I decided on the trail that these two had no business being published in the same post.

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  • Ajit Sharma

    Santosh has suggested that tourists escape the big, dirty towns for the ‘pristine’ natural locations. Take the routes that energise your sensibilities; avoid places that hurt them. Etc. Etc. How considerate but how pathetically escapist. If the touristic responsibility of an ‘exotic’ location like Nepal revolves around pandering to the consumerist propensities of a capitalist work force that seeks holiday experiences in places mirroring the structure of their own societies — ordered and proper; sanitised; a fairy-tale place that exists as a counterpoise to the planned world of their own — we are probably better off without the tourists. In this respect, Andrew, your article is a step in the right direction.

    You and many, many others will rightfully avoid a big town like Kath like a plague because you don’t need to understand how we live day in and day out in such a place surviving the ever-increasing deluge of migrants, the mounting chaos in the streets, the continuing poor governance, the ever-rapid destruction of the heritage by an incompetent elite, and all the other wretched conditions here that keep getting worse.

    Kath is certainly a hollow shell of a city, but for us it is also a town in which every corner preserves its magical myths. Every street has it’s centuries-old tales. For us, there is historical, mythological or symbolic meaning in every wood, stone and tree. You come to a place like Nepal for a vision of that unblemished shangri-la. Your candid reflection is on a country that did not live up to your imagination. We survive here with the memories of a beautiful world it truly was even a few decades ago. With every passing day, I curse myself for not migrating elsewhere but my sheer love for this place and its history keep me here. My ancestors have lived here for more than two thousand years. Every day brings in more desperation at the deterioration of the only place we have ever called our home.

    Like all host populations in historical third-world primate cities, we live here suffering silently. If you learn to tolerate the smog and the litter and the horrible traffic and what not and succeed in peering into our world, you will see a Kathmandu that has been ravaged and shrouded by the dismal failure of the modern state.

  • Noire

    Yep! You do not expect to see a clearer picture through foggy glasses! Maybe comeback when you are not so depressed with your life…

  • r limbu

    Also can you post that Nepal food may not be the most cleanest and could contain parasites? I know parts of areas are rough but if you want to see Nepal then you might want to go to a more developed or cleaner areas. Like looking at a temple. But as it is not a developed secure country you could meet random sorts of people but on a normal day should be okay.

  • r limbu

    I’m not sure about temple as well. some of them are just very ordinary, some hindu practices which is not all that great-animals being slaughtered, some random things happening and can be just as depressing. I don’t know much. Thinking about it, I think the trek and some activities they do is the best like rafting.

  • r limbu

    Nepal is not developed at the moment and cannot produce such things. It might have been crap journey without much things to see but at the same time, you should point out the real problems.

  • Nepali

    Excuse me? Firstly go learn some English and then come and talk and watch your mouth you asshole! Fucking hoe keep my country’s name out of your mouth, its not a dick or a pussy.

  • Himalayan Leisure, Inc.

    I am really sorry to hear your experiences and unfortunately what you are posting is true. The government is only focusing in infrastructure developments without any thoughts giving to conserve the nature. Many trekking routes are spoiled by the physical constructions and some are in the process of getting destructed.
    If anyone is interested to visit Nepal, then please contact us for memorable adventures in Nepal. There are some routes which are not spoiled yet. We guarantee the most fair prices and services to travelers from all around the world.

  • Kayci

    Hi Andrew. I’m writing a piece on my experiences in Nepal, some the same and some different. I really found your opinion honest even if it felt a bit angry. Have you been back since? I just left two weeks ago. So some time has passed. Do you feel any differently today?

  • Andrew Garrison

    I am surprised that you went to Nepal without knowing the background there which shows that even if you went 42 countries you weren’t prepared for the trip. Its not uncommon to see all that you described in a developing country. Road being built might be bad for tourism but it is good for the people leaving there and we don’t give a damn about an american guy who comes to visit us once in his lifetime. I have seen people in there own country complain because they had to walk 10 minutes to go to MacDonald but in a foreign country you want to walk for 2 days in a hiking trip. The fact that there are hotels everywhere just shows that we are a tourism based country and sincerely speaking we are. Most of our revenue comes from tourism after all. And drunk business owners, come on I have seen people who literally own nothing get drunk at 9 in the morning in US. And I am amazed that you think kids of age 6-10 are youths. They are pushed towards child labor due to our countries situation but still they are not dying and for people who grew up in Nepal surviving is bigger than getting the luxurious of life. Now I know you didn’t find Nepal as what you had pictured but that’s not Nepal’s fault that is your fault because you were to distracted noticing the flaws of the country that you didn’t notice the good things there. You didn’t see the happiness that lies in the hardship, the beauty that hides behind the wilderness. The mountains are still there, the rivers, the waterfalls, the forests are there, the problem was you couldn’t get that materialistic view out of your head. You didn’t see the people taking gigantic strides towards a better future, the hope and optimism that surrounds Nepalese people. And that partly because those Nepalese were the ones who are busy earning his livelihood and saving for his future endeavors and his future generations, not selling everything and visiting 42 countries while his children one day has to get student loans to attend college. For you wilderness might mean rural places but for us wilderness means where you can connect with the nature and there are places in Nepal where you can still do that.You were not there to judge our economic conditions you were there to hike, to see some mountains and to get lost in one of the few countries that is still natural. But we can’t remain the countries inside the forest for whole eternity. So, to conclude I can say that Mr Hyde pretty much traveled these countries just for the sake of travelling because he never learned to see the excitement hiding behind mundane things and the beauty hiding behind the most ratchet conditions. And you are right Mr. Hyde you are an asshole(as you said it).

    (P.s I am not a Nepalese by birth , I am an American but I have lived there for 10 years and I assure you you will find beauty in Nepal if you learn to see it but if you are there on a mission to judge it you will just be missing on an once in a life opportunity)

  • BettyGee

    This confirms the pointlessness of travel in such countries. Do we really want to pay money to be so affronted, confronted, ripped off, sent on numerous guilt trips saying it’s their fault, their bloody corrupt government? Is this voyeurism of the worst kind? Just returned from parts of India that I can only call squalid – humanity including! As one indigene said, “Life is cheap here” including for tourists – and I was lucky to get out alive due to infectious diseases, pollution, crime. Yet I still want to go. Do I need to be reminded of reality in my cotton wool comfort zone of plenty and indulgence? Is it a call to a higher consciousness or rank idealism? Yet I saw amongst the poverty there – more mansions than in my whole developed city and those who can, have servants for everything, including the spoilt neurotic dog. I don’t get it. Is it that sex is the last joy for those who have nothing and so it is the most needy who keep reproducing, adding to the faceless masses, the mess, the tragic neediness. Yet they too want disposable nappies and beg to get them. Yes, I saw a poor woman with a babe in arms and several in tow on a cheap bus throw a soiled disposable nappy out the window into a tea plantation in a “resort” mountain village. The police throw their lunch wraps as they direct traffic- pointlessly – in a choking smog. I hate it, I love it. I must be mad!

  • monnie

    England had an intelligentia that promoted civilisation and for better or worse, generated a welfare system, mass education, democracy. What is being produced in these countries? Jihad? Populate for Allah.

  • xXXx

    It really saddens me to hear this…it was the country i grew up in. My life was…cant really find the word but it was never boring. And i do admit its a very poor country, people try to rip/steal off others, but can u really blame them for doing that….I have been to U.S.A and there was no way a child would ask his family for iPhone 6 for his birthday…who the f*ck am i kidding they don’t even know when’s their bithday….df they dont even have parents…i visted nepal back in 2013-2014. All the people living in poverty. One person, a mother with 5-6 children and poor…soon after a kid begging for food….they try to make money the only way they can, i mean tourists visit nepal and yes, most of the people are discriminating … the tourists view it all in….the negative perspective.They dont really try to see the point, why they are doing that, why they suffer, they live through hell and some people jut judge the book by its cover. But you cant really blame either side, After all these problems in the country. And if that wasn’t enough theres stil things about how retarded the country(in the comment section) is and should just suck balls…but i do have to thank you that you for this blog that you wrote it in the nicest way possible.. Now soon as people hear nepal they are like “oh you mean small country in asia…isn’t that like the place where its all crap and Sh*t “. But be honest tourists you did discriminate too. My experience when i visited U.S …. People say they are nice…LOL i dont mean it to all the Americans but i will never forget not having the “white skin” and didnt fit in at all, way back when i first visited U.S. But to all the people saying F*ck this country i apologize for not having p.o.r.n.o Movies, texting…or should i say sexting as the new trend in the “entertainment” but in the end you cant really blame either sides..if you read all that kudos to you.

  • Hate disgusting foreigners

    Fucking foreigners think that their country are fucking heavens.

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  • okokwritethistosell

    Ok. compare this guys article of Nepal where 2 out of 10 newly born babies don’t even make it to their first birthday! Are you writing about Nepal to help those poor families or just making a living ? That’s your shit!

  • Prizma Ghimire

    If you cannot embrace what you saw while travelling, I say you’re are not a traveller. The basic characteristic of a traveller is to adapt. Also, I don’t see a point where you didn’t even mention about the diversity Nepal had to offer, not even a single line. I think you should have enjoyed your mansion if you think travelling backlashed you (especially with Nepal).

    And just think, wouldn’t world be a heaven if we had all the perfections. You are soo against taking weed and you are soo against embracing the beauty of this country. You contradict a lot man !


    if you believe so,
    Please never visit Nepal. we do have problems, that doesn’t mean Nepal is not worth of travelling. America and other countries from Europe suits you, not Nepal.
    complaining about road, we do have airline services which is comfortable ride.

  • si

    If you want to see a place where everything really is turned up side Down. Then go to Nepal. I was in India a year ago, there I saw some nepally men. And I thought. I am never gonna go there.
    But I did. I am in Nepal right now. And I just hafe to say this: I regret going.
    What makes people judgemental, apathic, and blindly religious. I think the more you suffer, the more stupid you get. Ore maybe it is the other way around.
    Not spot on, and you might find my statement offensive. I am sorry for that.

  • si

    Thanks for removing my comment. I guess you hafe to say something with out saying something…

  • Emily Pletsch

    I had a majestic time in Nepal and just because some people did not have the experience they expected does not mean this is the case for everyone. I only have positive feedback about my stay in Nepal , the people I met and the way I was treated exceeded my expectations. All you put out you shall receive, every new day is unknown and you can only know how a journey will go if you decide to take it. Sending love to all the travellers out there. People all over the world long for the same thing, love. I have found that if you are kind and take care they will do the same for you. You must be cautious always because things can happen but have faith in the people you meet, as they are also just people and the vast majority of them do not have dishonest intentions.

  • Danial wilson

    You like your girlfriend doesn’t means everyone does…….
    you faced problems all the time doesn’t means everyone does
    but the way you have written,that was amazing and could be appreciated in case of India
    but Nepal is beautiful as the people there and i think most of the people like living in rural parts of Nepal rather than the capital city kthmandu

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