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Nepal: We shall rise again :: By Jeff Greenwald

Outside the ancient temples and in the bazaars of the Kathmandu Valley, garlands of brilliant marigolds overflow street stalls and hang from the doorways of shops. Images of Laxmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, are stacked on overloaded tables, along with incense sticks and packets of red tika powder.

It’s early November, and Nepal is preparing for Diwali: Laxmi’s Festival of Lights.

In her pictures, Laxmi is portrayed with gold coins pouring from her hands. The popular goddess is often seen seated beside the elephant-headed god Ganesh, remover of obstacles. This Diwali, there’s a keen irony to the pairing. Prosperity and good fortune have been in short supply here since April and May, when two devastating earthquakes rattled the country two weeks apart, killing more than 8,000 and forcing half a million others to seek temporary shelter.

Nor was that the end of their troubles. In late September, unhappy with Nepal’s new constitution, India slapped a blockade on the two countries’ shared border, cutting off the flow of fuel, medical supplies and cooking gas. During my visit, the population was trying desperately to cope, while the Nepalese government postured and wrung its hands.

But Nepalis are among the most resilient people on the planet. Despite their hardships, they’re as open and welcoming as I’d seen them during my 36 years of reporting from the country. And, against all odds, the spirit of celebration is alive. Balancing its mythic traditions with grass-roots projects to rebuild, the country is as captivating as ever.

Note from the author: The border blockade

In mid-September, the Republic of Nepal, which shed its monarchy in 2006, ratified a new constitution. This should have been cause for celebration. Unfortunately, the division of power in the long-contested document provoked bitter disappointment among the Madeshis, an ethnic group that dominates southern Nepal and enjoys close geographical and historical ties to India.

Tensions soon escalated into violence, and in September, India closed crucial entry points to landlocked Nepal, which imports many essentials (including petrol, cooking gas, pharmaceuticals and many foods) from its southern neighbor.

So far the Madeshi protests, which can be resolved only by complex negotiations, have taken some 50 lives. Many more may die as the Himalayan winter sets in, and people made homeless by the earthquakes cannot rebuild.

For travelers, the blockade is a mere inconvenience. Some restaurants have closed, while others offer limited menus. Transportation by taxi has become expensive. Domestic flights may be canceled with little notice, though not often to popular destinations like Lukla and Pokhara.

For the Nepali people, though, the border crisis has been devastating, causing inflated prices, shortages of essentials and endless lines for fuel and cooking gas. Kathmandu’s Bir hospital, with 350 patients, has been cooking with firewood for months. Community forests are being denuded. Antibiotics and other medicines are scarce. Nepal’s leadership, meanwhile, is locked in a cycle of bickering and self-interest.

As of this writing, there is no end in sight to the blockade. I urge readers of Travel Weekly to inform themselves and their clients about this crisis and to increase pressure on both India and Nepal to end this threat to Nepal’s most vulnerable citizens. (Source: Travel Weekly)

Published Date: Wednesday, January 6th, 2016 | 11:19 PM

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