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Aug 1, 2021

Reframing Our Youth Employment Problem


Photo by Phil DuFrene on Unsplash

As the nation grapples with the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, its ramifications go beyond its immediate public health impact. Health restrictions inevitable to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 have been detrimental to the economy, and are likely to have exacerbated Nepal’s seemingly perennial youth employment problem.

Youth account for about 40 percent of the 20.7 million working age population, and have an unemployment rate higher than the national average of 11.4 percent. Unpacking segments within youth  shows us that the 15-24 segment faces specific problems, with the highest rate of unemployment, and informal employment compared to other groups. Perhaps more worryingly, 35.3 percent of 15–24-year-olds were at the risk of social exclusion. The picture changes slightly as we move out from 15-24 to the 25-39 age bracket, which reports one of the highest underemployment rates across segments. This is not surprising given that majority of jobs created over the last decade (2008-2018) were casual or  short term work. The ongoing youth employment challenges have led to outcomes including, among others things, labour migration out of the country. According to the Department of Foreign Employment, labour approvals in FY 2019/19 stood at 236,208, with the volume to India conservatively expected a few times more than this number. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to make things worse. Around 1.6 million jobs were disrupted in just the first phase of the pandemic, with the young casual and informal workers predominately bearing the brunt of the unemployment impact. The crux of the COVID-19 employment impact lies in underemployment, which globally has contributed more to estimated job losses (in work hours) than unemployment and whose impact is potentially longer term. Given our pre-existing problem of underemployment, especially among youth in the 25-39 age group, this represents an unprecedented employment challenge considering that we are right in the middle of our demographic dividend. The current challenge will unlikely be overcome by our economy in its current state, as we know businesses even in May 2021 were still not operating at pre-COVID-19 levels with important sectors like tourism and hospitality not expected to return to normalcy anytime soon.

Government response to the youth employment challenge has largely been programmatic in the years leading up to and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Youth Self-Employment Fund, for instance, has been able to create around 78,000 self-employed youths in its total 12 years of existence (around 6,500 annually). While commendable, it barely makes a dent when an estimated 400,000 enter the labor force each year. In any case, programs like these, although beneficial, are not an adequate response to a youth employment challenge that has been exacerbated by COVID-19.

With this impending crisis in mind, it is imperative that we start to address structural barriers to improve the enabling environment for decent job creation. Systemic change is a difficult matter with various components that need to be  addressed in parallel, however in our view the following two areas might offer a good starting point.

First of all, there is no comparable alternative to entrepreneurship for job creation and economic growth. Encouraging entrepreneurship has been a government priority with commendable measures even in the recent budget, for example, to promote startups. The gap lies in the approach, which has largely been piecemeal, rather we need a coherent holistic approach for enterprise promotion if we are to achieve systems change for domestic youth employment that we desire.

A holistic approach entails allowing the conceptual space for innovative firms and business models to develop, and grow. A case in point are ride-sharing businesses whose development in Nepal was hampered by regulatory hurdles, and who remain in limbo even after years. However, policy incentives and entrepreneurship support must be delivered in a manner that employment created is ‘decent’. Without this, it seems likely that the predominance of casual employment, and its resultant decent work deficits, will continue onwards into the next decade as well.

Linked to the idea of holistic approach is the need for mindset change. The prevalent narrative seems to equate entrepreneurship largely with youth. However, in a job supply starved economy like ours, we should aim to promote entrepreneurship from every segment of the population. Globally, successful youth entrepreneurs seem to be an exception rather than the norm, with the average age of successful entrepreneurs being 45. That does not mean that we undermine the importance of youth entrepreneurship, especially given their accepted importance in building startups that fuel innovation. What it does entail is promoting entrepreneurship from all ages as an important source of wage employment creation, which can then chip away at our overall youth employment challenge.

Secondly, an issue that almost always comes up with any discussions of the private sector or the policymakers on employment is the mismatch between the available labor and the employment opportunities. Youth often complain about the lack of employment opportunities, while employers often complain that they are unable to find the right employees for vacant jobs. Large scale regularly updated labour market data is the key to better linking labour demand to supply.

Public agencies are an ideal mechanism to collect this data, which has actually been envisioned but not yet put into practice by the Prime Minister’s Employment Programme (PMEP). Once the data starts to flow in, big data analysis can allow for matching demand and supply at the granular level. What this means is that we can go deeper to say look at what specific competencies offered by job seekers are in higher demand among employers across Nepal.  This in turn can help better identify targeted measures for particular segments, for example women and youth from disadvantaged groups that suffer additional barriers to formal employment.

The following regular projections on new employment opportunities and  remuneration levels can then be used to help students and the academia better plan for entry into the labour market. It can be used to also make vocational training more demand oriented, which could in turn ease school to work transition and movement to formal employment  for the 15-24 age group.

These suggested ideas ultimately require a sustained national commitment to establishing a technically competent public employment system. This can further be supported by the coherent integrated policy measures we have talked about above, especially if we are to incentivize our youth to move from their existing concentration on low skilled segments to the demand of medium and higher skilled segments.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given us an opportunity to rethink our perennial problem and make significant strides towards solving it. It would be a precious opportunity wasted if we consider it business as usual.

-Surath Giri & Saurabh Shah

The authors are associated with Global Shapers Kathmandu Hub, a part of Global Shapers Community initiated by the World Economic Forum.

(Originally published on Republica daily on July 15, 2021)

May 30, 2021

Policy Reforms for Startups in Nepal


Photo courtesy: Helena Lopes (Pexels)
 
Startups have not only piqued the interest of the policymakers but have also captured the imagination of the Nepali youth. They are, however, fraught with risks and more often than not, fail. For example, in the USA, studies have found that over 90% of startups eventually fail. Around 21.5% of the startups fail within their first year. By the fifth year, half of all the startups are gone. The numbers are likely to be similar in Nepal.

In Nepal, in addition to the usual risks and uncertainties, startups also face severe regulatory hurdles that make their battle for survival even more precarious. Although creating a favorable environment for startups and entrepreneurship, in general, is a continuous and never-ending process, there are certain steps the government can take immediately to make life easier for novice entrepreneurs.

First, the policymakers need to change their perception that startups are only for well-educated and privileged people. This perception seems to have arisen partly because generally startups are associated with the information technology sector. If startups are to bring about a broader and more equitable economic change, then they must be accessible to the man in the street. What may seem like a very easy regulatory requirement for a person with access may actually be an insurmountable or a very costly obligation.  For instance, spending around two weeks and tens of thousands of rupees for company registration may not mean much to a city resident belonging to the middle class or upper class. The same provision may be highly discouraging to an aspiring entrepreneur without the means and the access.

Therefore, our policymakers must work towards streamlining the regulatory obligations during the registration, operation, and closure of the startups. After having to overcome huge red tapes while registering their business or having to pay thousands of rupees to a lawyer, the entrepreneurs tend to think that they are done with the regulatory obligations and now can focus on their energy on their business. This has led to many startups to default on the various regulatory obligations they are supposed to perform after starting the operation of their venture. They end up paying tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of rupees as fines to the Office of the Company Registrar. One can hardly meet a first-time entrepreneur who has not paid such fines, sometimes even to the detriment of their venture. The initial days of the startups are so full of uncertainty and the entrepreneurs are so occupied with ensuring their venture's survival that it is unreasonable to expect them to be making rounds of government offices rather than focusing on their venture.

The hoops startups are made to jump through while registering their businesses are, however, plain sailing compared to the hoops they have to jump through while shutting down the venture if it fails. If the startups follow the legal provisions to the letter, they can expect to spend years and tens of thousands of rupees just to shut down their company. This not only drains the energy of the entrepreneur, keeping her stuck and preventing her from engaging in a better idea or venture, but it also discourages entrepreneurs from actually starting companies. A difficult exit also means that the assets remain stuck in unproductive sectors rather than swiftly being transferred to more efficient sectors.

The government should streamline the exit process for the startups, more so for the startups that did not commence their commercial operations or whose operations got terminated early. Only about one-third of the total registered companies are estimated to be in operation currently. The need for a more streamlined exit process is currently more than ever as lots of startups and even well-established ventures are shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government was headed in the right direction with the Companies (First Amendment) Act, 2074 (2017)  which had made a provision allowing companies that have been inoperative for years to shut down after paying a fee equivalent to 0.5 percent of their paid-up capital to the government. The provision was, however, made available only for two years since the commencement of the amended Act and made available to only companies that have not commenced business. The provision should be made available for an indefinite period and be extended to all companies.

For startups that succeed to survive and grow, the regulatory hurdle comes in the form of restrictions on foreign direct investment. The minimum floor of half a million dollars set by the government for foreign direct investment (FDI) has proved to be a huge obstacle for growth-oriented startups who are seeking not just the money but also the international networks and technology. Although Nepali startups are well-ready to take international investments and explore the international markets, the minimum floor of half a million dollars has meant that only a very few, if any, startups have been able to exploit the opportunity. All the investments below half a million dollars that could have helped the startups realize their national and international potential are simply denied to them. FDI is not just about money, it is also about the international networks and technologies. Because of this provision, the startups are having to rely on established Nepali investors with whom many of the startups are actually competing against which has the unintended consequence of enabling the same old faces, same old investors to control their would-be competitors and thereby making the economy the hostage of the same old business houses and investors. The often-cited reason for the minimum floor on FDI is to prevent the misuse of business visas by some foreigners who use FDI to get the visa and then engage in unwanted or outright illegal activities. This is, however, more a security issue rather than an issue of FDI. The government could simply remove the provision or come up with other monitoring and security measures to control such activities.

For innovative startups, the sword of "lack of policy/regulation framework" keeps hanging over their head. It is not just in Nepal where the policymakers and the regulations are trying to catch up with the rapid changes in the business models and technologies. However, Nepal is among the few places where such lack of policy framework is being used to kill the startups or at least prevent them from growing and keeping them in limbo. For instance, even after a huge controversy over ride-sharing services, all the government has done is a makeshift arrangement without actually providing the legal framework even after years. This has kept promising startups like Tootle/Pathao in constant uncertainty about their future. It is anyone's guess when the policy framework will be developed or when this issue will be the priority of our lawmakers. The government should develop a separate entity or legal framework governing such innovative startups before it is too late, and we lag too far behind the world which we already are to some extent.

-Surath Giri

May 27, 2021

The Nepali Economist Podcast: Episode 09: The Other Path to Prosperity


Dear listeners,

Sorry about the long, long gap after the eighth episode. I finally welcome you to the ninth episode of The Nepali Economist. In this episode, I bring you the story of Peruvian economist Hernando De Soto who sought an alternative path to prosperity for the poor people in Peru and then the rest of the world. How did De Soto find the alternative path and what impact did his findings have on the developing countries around the world? Listen to find out!

Please do not forget to send me your feedback and comments. You can mail me at nepalieconomist (@) gmail.com to send your messages.

You can listen to the ninth episode here:


May 12, 2021

Annapurna Base Camp Trek After The Pandemic: My Travelogue


Annapurna Base Camp     Photo by: Surath Giri

I cannot tell you how much I missed trekking during the COVID-19 related lockdowns. By the time the New Year rolled around, my desperation to go on a trek had reached new heights. Janak, who too has been bitten by the wanderlust bug, was as desperate to go on a trek as me, if not more. Therefore, we went on a 5-day-long trek to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) from January 19 to 24. Here is how it went for us:

Brief Itinerary

Day 0: Kathmandu to Naya Pul by night bus
Day 1: Naya Pul – Ghandruk (by Jeep) – Jhinu Danda – Chhomrong – Sinuwa – Upper Sinuwa (8 hours)
Day 2: Upper Sinuwa – Bamboo – Dovan – Himalaya – Deurali (8 hours)
Day 3: Deurali – Machhapuchchhre Base Camp – Annapurna Base Camp and back to Himalaya (7 hours)
Day 4: Himalaya – Dovan – Bamboo – Upper Sinuwa – Chhomrong – Hilltop – Kimrong Khola (10 hours)
 Day 5: Kimrong Khola – Komrong Danda – Ghandruk – Naya Pul – Kathmandu (3.5 hours)

 

Before the trek

We were not sure if the trekking routes had opened after the lockdowns. We had heard the news about how travelers were being turned away because they did not have PCR reports for COVID-19 negativity. But Janak and I decided to try anyway. We would at least get out of the valley for once, relief from having to spend the better part of the last year constrained inside the home or the city. We were weighing our options for a short but memorable trek when an idea hit me. How about Annapurna Base Camp? I had been postponing ABC in favor of other trekking routes for years because it was a much-commercialized route while I had been looking for more off-the-beaten-path trekking trails. This would be a wonderful opportunity to experience ABC without the crowds. So we decided on ABC.

Day 0: Kathmandu to Naya Pul by night bus

We boarded a night Sajha bus headed to Baglung so that we could get off at Naya Pul. We were apprehensive about the journey on a night bus, that too on a January night, being very cold and uncomfortable. To our pleasant surprise, the bus was quite comfortable and very warm.

The only problem was that the bus would reach Naya Pul too early in the morning. The bus was supposed to reach Baglung by 7 am which meant that our destination would be reached too early in the morning leaving us in the lurch. That's why I was more than happy when there was a delay in departure. Janak and I also made a futile attempt to add to the delays by taking a long time during dinner but to no avail. By the time we reached Pokhara, it was just 3 am. It would take no more than an hour to reach Naya Pul now. I was wondering what we do now. Then, my prayer was answered, sort of.

Photo by Yatri Design

There was some commotion on the bus. A drunkard was refusing to pay the bus fare and was getting belligerent. The driver stopped the bus and demanded that the guy pay the fare or the bus would not move ahead. Secretly, I was jubilant and was looking at my watch hoping some more time would pass. But the drunkard did not buzz and after a while, the driver resumed the journey again. But he did have a trick up his sleeve.

He stopped the bus at a police checking post and complained to the police. A big policeman with a potbelly boarded the bus. The driver pointed out to the drunkard. The police started asking him questions. When he did not get a proper answer, he began shouting at the drunkard and started dragging him out of the bus. The act seemed to have brought the guy back to his senses. He seemed scared. He paid up the bus fare and was sent to the last seat which he obeyed quietly. The driver thanked the policeman and resumed the journey.

But my problem was not solved still. We were still early. Then, someone suggested that we take a tea break. I voiced my support for the idea. The driver agreed. We stopped for tea where I chatted with the driver for a while. He seemed like a very nice person. We told him we were going on a trek and will probably returning on the Sajha bus itself. He gave us the contact number of his colleague who would be likely to be heading to Kathmandu on our return date.

Despite our numerous efforts to postpone the moment, the bus dropped us at Naya Pul at around 4:15 am. Well, the place that was supposed to be a bazaar didn't seem like it at all in the pitch darkness. It seemed like the middle of nowhere in the dark. We got off the bus, lit up torchlights, and tried to figure out the whereabouts of the place. There were indeed several shops in a row on the side of the road but needless to say all of them were closed. Luckily, there were no stray dogs around. The shops had open tables in their porches. We went to the tables, put down our bags, and just sat there for a few minutes pointing our torchlights in different directions. It was as if we were in the middle of a forest at midnight. I was sleepy and jumpy.

Then Janak asked me if I wanted to have coffee? I asked him what he meant by that. Of course, I would love a cup of coffee but let's not get our hopes too high in the middle of nowhere that too at 4 am. Then Janak took out a small gas burner, a saucepan, and some packets of Nescafé. I was speechless. I love that guy!

So, we boiled some coffee on the roadside and sipped it while waiting for the dawn to break in. After two rounds of coffee, it was 5 am finally. Suddenly, the light above us lit up and there was some bustle inside the house. A woman came out of the house, noticed us, simply ignored us, and started washing dishes in a small tap on the porch. 

It seemed like a stranger turning up at your doorstep at 5 am was a regular thing in this place. We approached the lady and told her we were on our way to ABC and asked her how we should take our journey forward. She told us to either wait for a local bus that would depart at around 8 am or hire a jeep. Or we could walk all the way!

Janak and I were deliberating on the options we had when all a bus stopped in front of us and a bunch of teenagers got out of it. The way they got out of the bus and the way they crossed the road to reach us told us they are inebriated. A girl from the group approached us. She wanted to know how they could reach…well…she forgot where they were heading. I was hoping they would say ABC so that we could hire the jeep together and pay less per person with more people on it. But alas, the girl remembered after a while that they were actually heading towards Ghorepani and Poonhill. I directed the girl towards the lady who was still washing the dishes.

Day 1: Naya Pul – Ghandruk (by Jeep) – Jhinu Danda – Chhomrong – Sinuwa – Upper Sinuwa (8 hours)

Finally, we decided to reserve a Jeep up to Ghandruk which would take 1.5 hours. Waiting for the public bus would be too late. We would go to Ghandruk, spend some time there before starting the trek, maybe have breakfast and roam around. But the driver unbeknownst to us assumed that since we were going to the base camp he better drop us off to the farthest point in the trail the Jeep was capable of going to. The point happened to be Motkyu, further ahead than Ghandruk. We realized this only when we reached there. So we postponed our plans for Ghandruk.

At 7 am, we got off at Madque, paid the driver, and drank a cup of tea. The old lady who served us tea was confused to hear that we were headed to ABC. 

"Did you guys check if the trail has opened yet? I don't think they are allowing people to go beyond Chhomrong. I have not seen any trekkers since the lockdown", she said.

Our hearts sank. Janak and I looked at each other in dismay. But we were there already, so we decided we will go as far as they will let us go and return.

I looked north and saw the mountains peering across the hills in all their glory. What a joy it was to see the mountains after such a long time. As I felt the cool morning breeze across my face, I was satisfied. Being this close to the mountains was enough reward for this trip already for me. What Ruskin Bond says in one of his stories totally applies to me:

"Once you have lived with mountains for any length of time, you belong to them, and must return again and again."
View from Motque    Photo by: Surath Giri

We left Motkyu at around 7:15 am. We walked along a quiet trail that gradually sloped uphill. We walked for almost two hours to reach Jhinu Danda. We had our breakfast there at a hotel that seemed to have been closed and some kind of religious ceremony was going on. The owner served us breakfast anyway. We inquired if the trail had opened. The guy was not sure but said he thought the trail should have opened by now. He seemed quite happy to see us which added to our hope that we will be allowed up to base camp itself.

From Jhinu Danda onward, the trail was quite steep. We walked for another two hours to reach the hilltop. On the way, some community people were repairing the trail together. They asked us if we had brought along Corona with us. Not sure if the question was serious, Janak told them that we left Corona behind in Kathmandu. Luckily, they saw the humorous side of it.

By the time we reached the hilltop, we were famished. We ordered lunch at one of the teahouses. We sat on a straw mat on the courtyard basking in the January sun and looking at the landscape of mountains beyond mountains we had left behind and a beautiful river meandering across them. The warm sun, the cool breeze, the delicious aroma of food wafting in the air, and the exhaustion of walking up a mountain – we both fell asleep on the straw mat. We must have slept for around an hour when the elderly woman woke us up and served a very delicious dal bhat.

After a hearty meal, we rested for a while and prepared to leave. A few other customers (locals) arrived at the shop looking for something to drink. They were curious to see two strangers with huge backpacks. They asked us where we were headed. We told them that we wanted to reach Annapurna Base Camp if we are allowed. A woman volunteered to check if the trail was open all the way. She called someone and said something in the Gurung language. She then turned to us and said, the trail is indeed open but the tea houses are open only up to Deurali. The tea houses beyond that, the ones at Machhapuchhre Base Camp and the Annapurna Base Camp were closed. So now the question was: is it possible to reach Annapurna Base Camp and come back to Deurali in a single day? 

They smiled at our question. "Easily", they replied.

Photo by Maplogs.com

We resumed our journey at around 1 pm. Another 10 minutes' walk led us to Chhomrong, one of the largest settlements along the trail. We descended along the stone steps observing the village lifestyle. Villagers seemed to be either working or partying. From one of the celebrations, a person emerged and asked us where we were headed. He then gestured us to follow him as he descended further along the path. He took us to the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) office and asked us to register our names and contact details in a register. I noticed that according to the register we were the 6th and 7th person to have gone on the trail after the lockdowns were lifted.

Chhomrong Village    Photo by Balaji Srinivasan on Unsplash

After the obligations were done, I inquired the guy where he thought we would reach by nightfall that day and if the teahouses at the base camp were open. He turned out to be quite a loquacious person. He started with how he had convinced the villagers to open up the route just a few days back and ended up sharing his life story. He shared how he joined the service and his work-related foreign trips in which they had been taken to foreign national parks to show how they were being managed and promoted. His story was interesting to listen to but we were getting late. Out of politeness all we could do was nod our heads and steal glances at our watches once in a while.


But he mentioned two things that piqued my interest:

a)    Having been abandoned by the humans for a long time during the lockdown, some teahouses had been raided by a bear. The bear had taken off with rice and other food items from these lodges. He advised us not to walk after dark and be careful even during the day while walking through the jungle.


b)    Since there were no open teahouses beyond Deurali and the road was dangerous with several landslide-prone areas, he advised us to take a local guide with us from Deurali.

Because of the first point, a fear started to take hold of my thoughts. Janak, however, seemed oblivious. He was focused on catching the guy between sentences so that we could change the subject and ask for his leave. We managed to do that after hearing his story for about 30 minutes.

As soon as we were let off the hook, we rushed along our trail lest he comes after us to share more of his stories. We descended to a trail bridge over a river that seemed to be the borders of Chhomrong village. We crossed the bridge and started ascending, gently at first and then steeply after a while.

We walked for about an hour to reach Sinuwa village. It was 3 pm, around two hours until sunset. We kept walking. I was tired by now but not exhausted yet. So I was excited to keep going. Janak, however, to my utter shock, seemed exhausted and was barely trudging. Janak usually is the person who is at least a mile ahead of all the team members during treks because of his strength and his pace. I am usually the laggard. But to my shock, Janak was lagging behind that too on the first day itself. I inquired if he was not well. He said that was not the case.

Our walk slowed down to almost a crawl. I wanted to go ahead but did not want to leave him behind. Besides, the path was passing through a jungle and I did not want to be caught alone by a bear. So we walked together slowly. I walked a few minutes ahead of him and then shouted motivations to Janak – "We are almost there!", "I think 10 more minutes and we can call it a day."

It was around 5:30 pm when we reached Upper Sinuwa. We found accommodation in one of the several teahouses available there. Once the guy showed us our room, I just took off my bag and my shoes and threw myself down on the bed. As I had not slept properly the night before, I was feeling exhausted and sleepy. The moment I hit the bed I fell into a deep slumber. So did Janak.

Day 2: Upper Sinuwa – Bamboo – Dovan – Himalaya – Deurali (8 hours)

I woke up at around 7 am the next day. By the time, I woke up Janak had already woken up, performed his daily ablutions, drank a cup of tea, and was warming himself at a fire. It seemed that Janak was back to his original self. All he seemed to need was a good night's sleep. I performed my daily ablutions and asked him why he was so exhausted so yesterday. He shyly pulled up his t-shirt and showed the potbelly he had acquired since our last trek. "Because I am carrying 10-15 extra kilograms with me", he said with a laugh.

We settled our bills and started the day's journey at 7:40 am. Our destination for the day was Deurali, the farthest human-inhabited point in the trail for the time being. The trail from Upper Sinuwa to Bamboo is either straight or downhill and passes through a dense forest. There was not much to see nearby but we could get a glimpse of the majestic mountains in the north far away. We walked exactly for 2 hours and 20 minutes to reach Bamboo, a small settlement consisting of only a few lodges in the middle of a dense forest. Only one lodge was open when we reached there. The owner seems extremely happy to see us and inquired if we wanted to have dal bhat. We were not hungry enough so we ordered just tea.

"We are used to having guests and chatting with them. These several months have been torture for us. I could not sell a single cup of tea. More than that, it was very lonely out here without a single soul to talk to", Maila dai shared. We could relate to him in a way. I inquired him about the bear attack. He confirmed it adding to my uneasiness.

Then, Janak announced that was going to make Janak Special Sadheko Chauchau. A few onions, lemons, tomatoes, green chilies, and a knife emerged out of his backpack. He was well-prepared for this as well. He made delicious sadheko chauchau which we had with tea.

We resumed our journey at around 10:30 am. As we were about to leave, a foreigner and her guide who were returning from the base camp decided to take a rest at the same lodge. They must be among the 5 people before us in the ACAP register, I thought.

From Bamboo, the trail elevated sharply making the walk strenuous. We walked under trees and then in open space consecutively for about one and a half hours to reach Dovan for lunch. In Dovan too, only one lodge was completely open. We ordered dal bhat and rested. The dal bhat was extremely delicious and we ate heartily. At around 1:00 pm we left Dovan for our next destination – Himalaya.

108 Chhahara     Photo by Surath Giri


On our way to Deurali, we came across a breathtaking sight. The place was called 108 Chhahara. Several small waterfalls falling from what seemed like a humongous rock. It seemed as if a single rock had formed that hill and there were more than a dozen streams of water falling down that huge rock. With so many water streams falling, the sounds they made were rhythmic like music. I loved the view and wished I could spend hours just observing the waterfall. But we had to keep moving cause our destination lied hours away.

The trail got steeper from there. We walked for another 40 minutes to reach Himalaya where we decided to take a tea break. It was 2:30 pm when we reached there but all of a sudden fog had shrouded the whole landscape. It felt like dusk already. We spent around 30 minutes having tea and chatting with the lodge owners there. Upon our inquiry, a young lad showed us where a bear had broken into the lodge during the lockdown and taken away all the food. "The bear took off with a whole tin of ghee", he shared amusedly.

I was scared now. It was getting dark and so far we were the only two people on the trail. We had to make sure that we reach Deurali by nightfall.

After walking for about an hour from Himalaya, at 4 pm, we reached a place called Hinku Cave. A gigantic rock standing on another smaller rock had formed what appeared to be like an awning of a rock. It was a mesmerizing sight to behold. We rested under the rock for a while. To be honest, I didn’t want to rest. I was eager to reach our destination as soon as possible because the fog was getting thicker and the daylight was disappearing. Janak, however, seemed too exhausted to keep going without rest.
From Hinku Cave onward, it seemed like the snowline had started. There were remnants of snow on the trail. It was a lovely sight.

About to reach Deurali    Photo by Surath Giri

We crossed two rivers on a makeshift bridge made of bamboos and walked for almost an hour to reach our destination for the day – Deurali. We later found out that last year, several Korean tourists and Nepali guides had been crossing one of these rivers when a landslide occurred killing all of them. They had been trekking during a heavy rainfall followed by snowfall which had led to the landslide.

Only one out of the several lodges in Deurali was open but that was good enough for us. The owner was very friendly. He offered us hot tea and showed us our rooms. As we waited for our dinner, we sat at the fireplace and warmed ourselves. There was a lady and a guy who seemed to be her guide. We were not sure whether she was a Nepali or a foreigner but we tried to strike up a conversation anyway.

She turned out to be a Nepali. Kesang had studied in India and had been working there until a few years back. She was a passionate trekker and had been hiking across India. She had now returned to Nepal and continuing her passion. I regaled her with my stories of trekking adventure, mostly misadventures and the impossible situations I tend to find myself at times. Janak added to the mix with his colloquialisms and slang. Kessang was doubling up with laughter.

While having dinner, we asked the lodge owner how the trail ahead was and also requested him to prepare us packed lunch for the next day to have at the basecamp. He gave us a sales pitch on why we should take along a guide because the road ahead was difficult and there were landslide-prone areas. We expressed our reluctance. He kept making his pitch.  When he had gone to the kitchen to get more dal bhat, Kessang muttered, "Guide not needed. The trail is quite straightforward."

I thanked her under my breath. We told the guy we will decide by tomorrow morning if we need a guide and asked him to just prepare the lunch pack for us.

Looking forward to an exciting day the next day, we went to sleep. I fell into a deep sleep because of my exhaustion. 

Day 3: Deurali – Machhapuchchhre Base Camp – Annapurna Base Camp and back to Himalaya (7 hours)

On the third day, the day we were supposed to reach the base camp, I woke up at around 5 am. It was too cold outside so I slept for another two hours. By 7 am, there was enough daylight to walk so I woke up. As usual, Janak was already up and ready. He had completed his daily ablutions already and was urging me to hurry up. I obliged. Kessang reiterated that we do not need a guide. So we declined the lodge owner's offer. He did not seem to mind. We decided to leave our stuff behind and carry only the lunch with us. Janak emptied his bag and put the lunch pack and the camera inside it. We bid goodbye to Kessang and started on our way at around 7:30 am.

On the way to Machhapuchchhre Base Camp    Photo by Surath Giri

We climbed a bit from Deurali and then the trail ran almost straight with minor ups and downs. The trail was straightforward and not precarious at all. And there was a sign that indicated where the landslide-prone area was to begin. From that signboard, we walked briskly until we were sure that we had crossed the landslide-prone region. Since we were not carrying our backpacks, our pace had increased significantly. And the view was breathtakingly beautiful. We were already above the treeline altitude so there were no trees at all. The alpine vegetation was very colorful and beautiful though. Additionally, the rays of rising sun reflecting from the Annapurna massif were giving the mountain a golden glow and dazzling our eyes. A cool breeze was blowing across our faces. We were walking through a high-altitude river valley. A small but ferocious river was rushing past us on our side. Such a bliss!

On the way to Machhapuchchhre Base Camp    Photo by Surath Giri

At around 10 am, we reached the Machhapuchchhre Base Camp. There were several lodges there but all seemed to have been deserted. There was not a single soul beside us in the vicinity. We took several pictures trying to fit the Machhapuchchre summit and ourselves in a single frame. We spent around 20 minutes at the place before moving on.

We kept ascending slowly for another 2 hours to finally reach the Annapurna Base Camp at 12:20 pm. Like the Machhapuchchhre Base Camp, Annapurna Base Camp was also deserted, not a single soul in sight. I reached the Annapurna Base Camp ahead of Janak. I took a few selfies and a few pictures of the majestic Annapurna as I waited for him to catch up. Even after several selfies and waiting for more than 20 minutes Janak was nowhere to be seen. So I decided to go further up. I went up the stone steps, past the lodges, and peered at the moraine below. What a sight it was! I was mesmerized. I do not know why but whenever I look at views like this, I get nostalgic and I yearn for something but I do not exactly know what I yearn for. It makes me sad but I do not want that sadness to go away. I lied down on a truncated spur and looked at the glacial erratic below. I fell asleep.

Morraine of Annapurna    Photo by Surath Giri

I woke up after about 30 minutes. Janak was still nowhere to be seen. Maybe he didn't come up to the lodges and decided to stay back at the base camp signboard. So I woke up and rushed past the lodges and down the stone steps to the base camp signboard below. Still, I could not see Janak anywhere. I began to be worried. Did he get hurt? Did he get lost? I ran towards the signboard.
 

Lodges at Annapurna Base Camp    Photo by Surath Giri

I look around wondering where he could have gone. Then, I noticed a heap of something black near the signboard. It was Janak sleeping in a fetal position. He had arrived and just slept beside the signboard. That's how exhausted he was.

I went to him and woke him up and teased him. He reluctantly woke up. It was time for lunch. We were famished by now. I took out the lunch pack – a Tibetan bread with honey and starting eating it. Janak did not want it. Instead, he took out the gas burner and started making coffee. He also cooked some noodles for both of us. Reenergized after filling our stomachs, we started taking pictures. Lots and lots of them. Selfies, landscapes, short videos, TikTok style videos, pictures of both of us using the timer in the camera, video messages for people who had not joined us for the trek, we stopped only after exhausting all the styles that were known to us. We could have spent the whole day there and still not have had enough of the place and its beauty.

Surath at Annapurna Base Camp    Photo by Janak Sapkota

It was 2:15 pm when we finally managed to wean ourselves away from the place. We packed our stuff and started our descent. Our planned destination for the day was either Dovan or Bamboo but we were already late. So the destination for the day was likely to be either Deurali or the Himalaya. The weather which was clear until a few minutes back began to worsen as the fog began to shroud everything around us.

We walked briskly, almost ran up to Deurali. We reached Deurali at around 4:30 pm. The owner asked if we planned to stay there. Since we had another hour or so of daylight we decided to keep moving. We settled our bills, packed our bags, and headed towards Himalaya. The fog was getting denser and the dark was descending upon us. I was hoping that we would reach Himalaya before dark.

We reached Himalaya at around 6 pm. The daylight barely remained. We stayed at the same place that had served us tea the day before. The young lad was very friendly and gave us tea and hot water free of cost. The food was also delicious. Exhausted by the physical exertion of the day, we went to bed immediately after dinner.

Day 4: Himalaya – Dovan – Bamboo – Upper Sinuwa – Chhomrong – Hilltop – Kimrong Khola (10 hours)

The next day I woke up at around 7 am as usual. And as usual, Janak was already up. The day's journey was relatively easier because we would be mostly descending. We started our trek for the day at around 7:40 am. We rushed downhill along the trail. On our way, we were glad to see one Indian guy and then a young couple on their way to the base camp. So more people are on their way, I thought. We reached Sinuwa at around 1 pm where we had our lunch.

Then we walked down to the trail bridge and then up the Chhomrong village for another 2 hours to reach the top of the village. We were retracing our way until this point. From here on, however, we would be embarking on a new trail. We decided to go to Ghandruk through Kimrong Khola. So we took the right turn from there.

The trail to Kimrong Khola was easy and the walk was quite pleasant. We passed through a small village and then through a forest the majority of the time. It was dark before we reached Kimrong Khola. We had about another 30 minutes of walk to reach the lodge in Kimrong Khola. We were following a map on my phone to figure out which way to go. Janak was probably 10 minutes ahead of me. The map showed a fork in the trail and advised to take the left one because it was the shorter one. I was not sure what to do. Besides Janak had taken the longer trail and was quite ahead of me. I shouted to get his attention. No reply. I shouted with all my might. Still no reply!

Annoyed I ran along the longer trail and finally caught up to Janak. But by this time we had already come too far to return so we took the longer trail. We reached a lodge at around 7 pm. The people there seemed overjoyed to finally have visitors after such a long time. They served us delicious dal bhat. I was even more exhausted that day because we had walked the most that day during the whole trek. I was reminiscing the most beautiful views of the trek when I fell asleep.

Day 5: Kimrong Khola – Komrong Danda – Ghandruk – Naya Pul – Kathmandu (3.5 hours)

Maybe because we were too exhausted or maybe because we now did not have the pressure to reach anywhere by a certain time, we woke a bit late the next morning. At around 7:15 am. We completed our daily ablutions, had breakfast, and settled our bills. Then, we started our trek for the day at around 8 am. Kimrongkhola village is situated on a slightly raised base of the hill. So we had to descend a bit to reach the river. We crossed the trail bridge to the other side and then started uphill towards Komrong Danda. This part of the trail was not that memorable except the various moments when monkeys startled us as we were walking lost in our thoughts or intensely focused on political discussions. We reached Komrong Danda at around 10 am. There we stopped for a cup of tea.

Kimrong Khola    Photo by Surath Giri

Then we walked for another one and a half four to reach Ghandruk at around 11:45 am. We ate lunch in one of the lodges there. The lodge owner turned out to be a mata (god woman) whom the villagers visited to hear their astrological predictions. The lady and her sister kept stealing glances at us and laughing but refused to tell us our astrological predictions. The view of the mountain range from the village was magnificent though.

At 2:15 pm, we resumed our trek. We walked for around 15 minutes downhill to reach the Ghandruk bus stop. Reaching there we found out that we had to wait at least an hour for the next bus. Luckily, however, we found a reserved bus that was about to depart for Pokhara. Some women from Pokhara had reserved a bus for a day trip to Ghandruk and they agreed to take us along with them. We thanked them for the help. Several of the women, however, were inebriated with alcohol. They sang and danced loudly throughout the journey. I was amused to see them expressing themselves so unhesitatingly.

After about two hours of bus ride, we got off at Naya Pul at around 5 pm where we drank several cups of coffee and waited for our night bus to Kathmandu. The bus arrived at around 8 pm. We eagerly boarded the bus looking forward to our regular life in Kathmandu after having been re-energized by this amazing trip.

Dec 20, 2020

The Nepali Economist Podcast: Episode 08: The Story of Markets


Dear listeners,

Welcome to the eighth episode of The Nepali Economist. In this episode, I talk about the marvel of the markets - what they are, how they work, and why they are important.

The following are the references I have used:

The Reality of Markets by Russel Roberts

Spontaneous Order by Norman Barry

I, Pencil by Leonard E. Read 

 Please check out the episode and let me know what you think. Also, please let me know what topics would you like to see covered in upcoming episodes. You can mail me at nepalieconomist (@) gmail.com to send your messages.

You can listen to the eighth episode here:


Oct 29, 2020

The Nepali Economist Podcast: Episode 07: The Value of Money


Dear readers,

After a long hiatus of almost four months, I am finally back with another episode of my podcast - the seventh episode. In this episode, I discuss the concepts of inflation and deflation and how they impact our lives. I also discuss the ways to shield ourselves from their adverse impacts. I have presented examples of hyperinflation of Zimbabwe and the deflation of Japan and explained why the prices of bitcoin is likely to keep rising.

Please check out the episode and let me know what you think. Also, please let me know what topics would you like to see covered in upcoming episodes. You can mail me at nepalieconomist (@) gmail.com to send your messages.

You can listen to the seventh episode here:


Oct 18, 2020

Social Media and the "Perfect Lives": Podcast


Dear readers,

Global Shapers Kathmandu Hub of which I am a part of (Currently the curator) has started a new podcast on mental health and well-being. For the first episode, five of us gathered and discussed an unprecedented event in our lives - the pandemic and the lockdown. We discussed how our lockdown experience went and what lessons we learned? We talked about how there is a trend to present your life as perfect in social media and the pressure it is creating on us and what can be done about it. 

Please do check out our first episode and let me know what you think.