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Apr 28, 2012

Libertarian Wallpapers - I

A couple of months back, I was searching for some libertarian wallpapers to decorate my desktop with. I Googled to see if I could find any. To my disappointment, there were very few and most of them with low resolutions only. Next thing that bothered me was that most of them had quotes based on American context which made little or no sense to people from other parts of the world. So, I have compiled a handful of libertarian wallpapers with quotes about liberty and freedom in general. Since, I have already gone through pains of translating dozens of libertarian quotes into Nepali, I have used the Nepali version of the quotes. Please feel free to download, use and distribute them. Let me know if you have any feedback or comments or ideas about them.

Available Resolutions:

Available Resolutions:

Available Resolutions:

Available Resolutions:

Available Resolutions:

Available Resolutions:

Lastly, I would like to thank Govinda Siwakoti for providing me the photographs and Lokesh Karna for helping me design the wallpapers.

Apr 22, 2012

China's Capitalist Revolution

While in Hong Kong for a summer course at the University of Hong kong in July 2010, a Chinese student asked me, "It really surprises me. How come you guys have Maoism so popular in Nepal when even we Chinese have largely abandoned his philosophy?"

I struggled for an answer. Jokingly, I said , "Come to Nepal. You would know for yourself." But on a serious note, I added "There is a widespread myth that China developed because of Maoism. Everyone knows Mao but very few know about Deng Xiao Peng and his reforms. The so called critical mass and public intellectuals never really bother to learn the truth or go beyond the popular rhetoric and propaganda."

And I believe it's really true. I have learned from my interactions with people that very few out the many who eulogize China's communism tend to know about Deng Xiao Peng and his reforms. Had it not been for Deng's reforms, China would still be languishing in poverty and millions of more Chinese farmers would have perished. I recently discovered an interesting documentary depicting Deng Xiao Peng's role in the economic transformation of China. I hope watching this documentary will help viewers enhance their understanding of China's economic transformation from a poverty ridden Third world country into an economic powerhouse.

The question that bothers me now is: We have more than enough Maos in Nepal. Mohan Baidhya, alone would be more than enough for that purpose. But do we have or can we expect to have any Deng in Nepal?

Apr 21, 2012

Trekking the Gurung Heritage Trail (Ghale Gaun to Pokhara): My Travelogue

I just returned from a 4-days long trek (12-15 April 2012) from Kapur Gaun to Pokhara on the occasion of New Year 2069. Here is my travelogue.

Before we begin:

When I shared my plan of trekking the Gurung Heritage Trail (Ghale Gaun to Pokhara) with friends one day, Koshish had remarked, “Yo trek chai travelogue nai lekhne gariko ta hudaina hola hai?”. I had thought so too. Fortunately, it turned out to be just the opposite. The trek was very eventful and memorable. 

Although, I had spread the message around that I was going on a trek on the New Years Day and a few of my friends has shown interest to join me, I was sure that in the end it was very likely that me and Govinda would be the only people going. As I have shared in my earlier travelogues, people love to say they want to travel but very few actually really mean it and do it. So, whenever someone says he/she wants to join the trek, I don't take it seriously until and unless the person arrives at the bus park and boards the bus.

So, as expected team numbers kept rising and falling until it was confirmed a day before the trek that we two were the only ones going. So we prepared accordingly. We were supposed to catch a micro-bus to Beshisahar at 7 am from Gongabu Buspark. Around midnight, Tenshi texted me saying she and her cousins were confirmed for the trek. I was not still sure.

Day 1: Kathmandu to Kapur Gaun

I was pleasantly surprised to see Tenshi and her two cousins at the bus park. Arriving before us,they were waiting for us. She help me locate the bus counter through phone. As we sat there waiting for Govinda to arrive, she introduced her cousins to me. Govinda, who had mistakenly reached Old Bus Park, took another 20 minutes to arrive. After introducing each other and a couple of witty remarks to tease each other, we had the breakfast. At around 7:20, the five of us departed on a micro-bus to Besisahar.

Compared to my past experiences, the ride was much more comfortable. The micro had no people standing and the road was in well-condition even up-to Besisahar. Throughout the ride, we were either teasing Tenshi and her cousins or singing along with the song played in the micro. The journey was so fun-filled that we forgot the accounts of time.

At around 1 pm, we reached Beshisahar. Tenshi, who had been clamoring for ice-cream since the morning, finally got her wish fulfilled at an ice-cream shop at Beshisahar. Everyone joined her for ice-cream, savoring the ice-cream and teasing her for her childishness.

Then, we look around for buses going to Ghale Gaun or any place near to it. We found a bus about to depart, so we boarded it. Tenshi and her cousins managed to get some seats in the already packed bus, whereas Govinda and me boarded the roof. As mentioned in my earlier travelogues, we enjoy riding on the roof, whenever possible because the view from the roof is really amazing, although it's bit uncomfortable at times.

The road from there onwards was in really poor condition and so narrow that it was impossible for even a bike to pass when the bus was passing through. The bus slowly maneuvered along the narrow road and we slowly gained height. We could see the crowed houses of Beshisahar grow smaller and huge hills grow bigger. There were fields of maize, wheat and mustard all along the way. After traveling for about an hour, the bus abruptly stopped. 

Damn! Due to overload, a plate adjoining the front tires of the bus, had broken down. It took almost an hour for the driver and his assistants to fix the thing by tying the plate with a wooden plank. Meanwhile, Tenshi went on a photo shooting spree in the nearby fields whereas Govinda roamed around. I was feeling a bit sleepy. So, I took a short nap on the roof and it was comfortable as someone was transporting a mattress to Ghale Gaun.

The bus resumed its journey after the plate was fixed. Soon, the road got tougher as the elevation increased. On seeing a funny looking scarecrow in one of the fields, I asked Govinda to take a close up picture of it. From my childhood I am always fascinated by the scarecrows and plan to write a poem or a story or make a movie on the theme someday. But sadly, the due to poor light and lack of ability of the camera, the picture came poor. Never mind! The sky was overcast and it looked like it was about to rain and the mountain ridges were looking exotic and beautiful. 

It was already two hours since we had resumed our journey. Tapp! Suddenly, a large raindrop landed on my face! Oh my my, it's raining I thought to myself. The raindrop was followed by countless other large raindrops. Within minutes it was raining cats and dogs. We asked the conductor to stop the bus so that we could get down and go inside. But on a road like this and moreover during rain it was not possible to stop the bus wherever one wanted. It was only after fifteen minutes and being thoroughly soaked by rain, we got a chance to get inside. Lucky us, later we realized, to have gotten inside in time. The rain grew fiercer and fiercer.

Dham! A loud thud on the bus made us wonder , "what the hell was that?". Hailstones!!

The rain had turned into a hailstorm! With delight I peeked out of the door to see the hailstones. Lordy lord! I had never seen such large hailstones ever before in my life. They were larger than ping pong balls and there were hundreds of thousands of them. The hailstorm got so fierce that we felt like someone was throwing rocks at our bus. It terrified some of the passengers to implore the driver to stop the bus which he refused and kept driving albeit with extra care and slowly.

We passed through two bikers who had left their bike on the lurch and sought shelter on a small cave. Had it not been for the cave, I wonder if they would have remained uninjured. They bike surely got damaged by those large hailstones. As we got further, another two bikers who had not been lucky enough as their friends, stopped the bus frantically. Although, there was hardly any place in the bus for another person, it was an emergency. So, we managed to squeeze them in. They were soaked and shaken.

Trying to ignore the discomfort and enjoying listening to the hailstorm, we traveled for another half hour or so when suddenly a woman got out of her seat and stood at the aisle pressing herself to the seat. And in a while, began fidgeting around. Everyone looked at her with surprise. Then, her husband informed she needs to take a leak and it's urgent!

Hurriedly, the driver was asked to stop the bus. It was only after driving for another five minutes or so, the driver was able to find a suitable spot to stop the bus. The woman shot past me out of the door. Taking advantage of the stopped bus, me and Govinda too got out of the bus and hurriedly took some photos of me carrying a handful of hailstones.

The bus next stopped at a place called Baglung Pani. The rain had stopped and mist had covered all the hills and the road. The sight was amazingly beautiful. I rushed out of the bus and ran to get inside the mist asking Govinda to take a photo of mine. The photo came out awesome much to the envy of Tenshi  who kept pestering me till later on, for not informing her about the scene.

It began to rain once again with fierce winds blowing. On reaching Kapur Gaun, we were informed that bus couldn't go any further and we were on our own from now on.I got out of the bus to see where we had reached. The wind was very fierce and the heavy rain was being swayed by the wind. The moment I opened Govinda's umbrella to shelter myself from rain, Bang! it broke down and became unusable. So, all five of us took shelter in a small passenger stand. We were in dilemma on whether we should continue our journey on foot or spend the night at Kapur Gaun. Other passengers who were headed for Ghale Gaun were also in dilemma. It was already 6 pm and getting dark.

"Let's get some tea and snacks first", Govinda suggested.

While sipping our teas we discussed about what to do next. Some of the other passengers who heard our conversation suggested us not to continue further as it was already dark and we could get lost easily. I decided to ignore them because I really wanted to reach Ghale Gaun the same day and traveling in the dark is usually fun and adventurous. But then, the rain which had subsided for a while began to pour once again and those guys sensing our hesitation insisted saying that we stay here and go to Ghale Gaun next morning. So, we decided to stay at Kapur Gaun but alas our troubles were far from being over.

The hotel we had sat down for tea had only tea to offer us. The place was already packed so no beds were available for the night. Even the Dal-Bhat was not available as those staying there had already made orders enough to keep the owner-couple busy cooking until mid-night. It was already 8 pm by the time and it was pitch dark already. I frantically, began seeking shelter in the nearby houses. None was available. One of the locals who had suggested us to stay in Kapur Gaun accompanied me to another hotel to see if there was any space available. None!

By the time, I was worried that we were stranded in the middle of nowhere. Govinda and I could manage anyhow but what to do with Tenshi and her cousins. As we stayed there wondering what to do now, the guy suggested we go little further than before and see if we could find a place to stay at least. He said he had some distant relatives living in the village but they lived towards the end of the village. We had no any other options, so I went with him to find out.

In the house, a woman and her two sons (?) were sitting talking in the candle light. After about 10 minutes of incomprehensible chitchat in their local language the guy finally convinced the woman to make place for us to stay and prepare food for us. Then I brought along the rest of us to the house. Relieved that now we had a shelter the mood lightened. We ordered some local alcohol, asked the woman for sadheko wai wai noodles. For another hour or so, while we waited for food, we finished one and a half liters of alcohol, got tipsy had dozens of fun moments such as when Tenshi couldn't find the door and couldn't open it when found. Govinda and me after a few drinks came out of the house for some fresh air.

My goodness, the view was just awesome. It was raining lightly and I could see the outlines of mountain ranges until far away. One of the hills had a human settlement and the lights from that village were making the village look like silhouettes in the evening. Except the light from that village, everything was pitch dark. Once in a while lightning would strike giving us a glimpse of the valley down the mountain. Cold wind was blowing giving us goosebumps and the sound made by the light rain falling on the tin roofs of the houses was melodious to say the least. I was really enjoying the view when we were informed that food was ready. Hungry, tired and tipsy, we devoured the food. The woman and her sons had prepared a local chicken's curry for us. I really don't remember if the food was very delicious but it was at the time.

As we prepared to go to bed, Tenshi had her share of fits. She demonstrated some of her dancing skills as we played some songs on my cellphone. Finally at about 11 pm, we went to sleep. I was delighted on having such a memorable day.

Day 2: Kapur Gaun - Ghale Gaun - Bhujung - Kama Gaun - Pas Gaun

Early next morning I was woken up by the alarm in my cellphone at around 5:30. Switching it off, I slept once again. Then a while later, Govinda nudged me saying "Qazi, wake up. The view of the mountain range is awesome. You gonna miss it!.

Unwillingly, I woke up and followed him. Lordy lord, he was right. The view was astounding. Even after having watched mountain ranges, I am still fascinated by them. Maybe someday, I will climb them too. After satisfying our eyes and senses, we returned to do our daily chores. Tenshi's toothpaste (it was some fruit flavored and for children) provided a hearty laughter for us.

At 7:30, we paid our bills (surprisingly cheap) and started out trek. Last night's rain had cleared the sky so we could see distant hills and mountains basking in the morning sun. We walked uphill clicking pictures here and there and resting once in a while to catch up our breaths. I was really exhausted once when we reached a padhero (water tap) and rested there for a while. A rest house was built nearby the tap for travelers to rest. The stone inscription at the tap informed us that it was built by a colonel in memory of his wife and his sons. It was quite refreshing to see an act of voluntary charity in this distant  village as opposed to hearing people clamoring demands from government to do this and that daily while in Kathmandu.

After walking for almost two hours, we were finally greeted by the spectacular sight of Ghale Gaun. I found Ghale Gaun as beautiful and as exotic as described in the websites promoting it. When Tenshi and her cousins arrived, we took lots and lots of pictures and they came out beautiful too. The only regret I had at the moment was for not having a DSLR camera.

After dozens of photographs, we walked for a while and found a home that would serve us dal-bhat. It would take a while for the food to be prepared so we bought some snacks and cold drinks and went to a small hill that looked like a view point for the Himalayas. From the hill, the mountain range looked even more spectacular. We took another dozen or so of photographs. I really liked Govinda's idea that we jump looking towards the mountain and he would take a photo of the four of us. The photo turned out to be amazing!

After spending about half an hour at the hill, we roamed around the village a little before finally going for our food. The food was not that great though. But we were quite hungry and didn't mind. At this time, Tenshi informed that they wouldn't be accompanying us for the rest of the trek as one of her cousin couldn't really walk. Tenshi and I had discussed beforehand that they would accompany us until Ghale Gaun but would go further only if they could walk or else they would return from there. I welcomed the move because I was not aware how difficult the trek would from now on and Durga was really exhausted. So, me and Govinda bid adjeu  to them and continued our trek. Tenshi and her cousins would return from there. They said they would probable come to Pokhara by bus and meet us there.

The trek until Bhujung was very easy as the road was plain. Ghan Pokhara which we reached on our way to Bhujung provided a better view of Himalayan Range than Ghale Gaun. After walking for almost two hours and taking photographs until the camera's battery died, we reached Bhujung. Bhujung and Pas Gaun which we were to reach later, are among the best villages I have ever reached during my trek. Perched on the crest of a hill, Bhujung is a very well maintained and extremely beautiful village. The two-storey traditional houses are packed closely together around narrow alleys and there is a small canal of water flowing beside almost every house. Bhujung has its own micro hydro-power project, bee-keeping farm, tea farm, rope ways and a day care center. Similar looking houses joined by the narrow alleys paved by stones gave the feel of the village version of a housing project of Kathmandu.

People were engaged in their daily activities, (a woman was making clothes, another one was laying some grains in front of her house to bask them in sun)  when we reached there but noticed us and looked at us with curiosity. We asked them for the direction to Pas Gaun. We were informed it was quite far away and would take us hours to reach. So we continued without resting.

The walk was quite easy until Kama Gaun as we had to walk downhill. From there on though, it got quite tough as we had to walk steep uphill walk and the trail never seemed to end. Having walked for hours by now, taking another step on the stone staircases on the trail was getting very tiresome but we managed to keep going. Every 15 minutes or so, we would take rest and chat about one thing or the other. Govinda's tendency to talk less and be lost in taking photographs and my penchant for being silent and contemplating the nature and view while trekking compliments each other and makes Govinda and me a very good trekking partners.

It was almost 4 pm and we were utterly exhausted when we reached the house at the top most part of the village. There we were told, was a shop that had noodles and biscuits for sale. We went to the shop to buy some. A small girl (around 5-6 years of age) was washing a bowl and another very cute girl who was even younger was looking at her. This younger girl had a hint of worry over her face which made her look even cuter. How I wished I had a camera at the time! Damn those dead batteries I thought to myself.

We gulped the noodles and biscuits hungrily, drank some water given by that cute little girl and resumed our trek once again. Now, we had passed the Kama Gaun and the trail ran through a dense forest. With the shelter from the scorching sun, the trek became interesting now onward. The excitement was heightened when we realized that the forest was super-rich in bird species and would be a paradise for any birdwatcher. We saw so many types of birds, one with a unusually large tail, one that had a colorful tail, one that looked like hen and so on. The experience of seeing so many birds but failing to recognize them has made me think of learning some more about birds and bird-watching.

As we reached the top of the hill, we saw the sun about to set. Pas Gaun which we could see a bit far away down the hill was looking glorious in the evening light. We were delighted to be at that point at that time savoring that view. From now onward, we had to trek downhill.

After walking for an hour or so, we reached the football ground of Pas Gaun where two teams were playing from the same village were playing against each other. The game was aggressive and exciting.We watched it for a while before finally heading towards the village. At Ghale Gaun we were informed that a football tournament among footballs team from as many as 22 districts was taking place from 14th April. This must be their preparation I thought.

Pas Gaun was similar looking to Bhujung. Inhabited by the Gurungs, the village looked well-managed. The tradition and culture was well preserved. Though they were yet to see any electricity, they had a health post, day care center, school and other basic facilities which we hardly find in a typical rural village of Nepal.

A woman, on seeing us, inquired if we were looking for a place to stay and if we had brought 'Goraa' with us. We said we were jut looking a place for ourselves. On that, she took to her brother's house who promptly welcomed us and showed us our rooms. The rooms were good enough. A woman, who had difficultly of hearing, served us tea. She had to be shouted at to be heard by her which I found a bit uncomfortable. So, using sign language we ordered some fried eggs and beaten rice. After the snacks, we went to lie on our beds as were extremely exhausted and tired. My calves were aching like hell. Before long we fell asleep. After an hour or so, I was woken up by a fierce rain. The rain combined with the wind was making lots of noise at out tin roof. I peeked out to see the rain properly. Oh my my, there were hailstones all over the courtyard of the house. Looks like, the hailstorm is following us, I smiled to myself and went to sleep again. It was only after another hour of sleep that we were informed that our food was ready. As we were feeling so sleep, we hurriedly ate our food which was better than at Ghale Gaun and went to sleep hoping to wake early next day.

Day 3: Pas Gaun – Bagaicha Beshi – Rabde Danda – Mijure Danda – Gahate Gaun – Thumsikot – Pokhara

Third day of the trek, I was woken up by the alarm of my cellphone once again. This time, I really woke up and woke Govinda up too. Finishing our daily chores and having a cup of tea each, we resumed our trek. As per the information given by Padam Bahadur Ghale, in whose home, we had stayed, we had two options now. We could either go to Baluwa Beshi and get a bus that leaves at noon only from there or we could hike upto Mijure Danda and get a bus from there anytime from morning until 4 in the afternoon. Baluwa Beshi was way nearer than Mijure Danda, so we decided to go there and catch a bus to Pokhara. As we descended from Pas Gaun to Bagaicha Beshi, the morning weather was awesome. It was cool and walking was fun. On our way, we found some "Aishelu". Oh my my, weren't they delicious. We two devoured more than 3 aishelu plants before finally moving on.

Walking downhill for almost one a half hour, we reached Bagaicha Beshi, who is so called for the colorful trees it has that looks like a garden. There we rested for a while and looked around to see if we could find tea and some snacks. A young man directed us to a house down the alley and said something to the old man and woman sitting in the courtyard. The old man got up from his seat and offered us to seat instead and asked his wife to prepare some tea. Feeling uncomfortable for having him stand up, we hesitated to seat but he insisted forcing us to seat.

While sipping the sweet tea, we noticed a "Theki" at our side. Curious, we asked if they had any curd. the old man answered they had yoghurt only. We asked is we could have some and were offered a glass each. When it time to move, I asked how much did we owe them. They looked unsure on how much to charge. After long hesitation, the old man said, "Twenty rupees".

"And what about the yoghurt?", I asked. To my utter surprise, he seemed annoyed. "You came from so far away cities to our villages. You expect us to charge you for just two glasses of youghurt? It's gift. If you want some more for the journey, take a bottle", he replied.

We were clearly puzzled. Guessing our predicament, he replied, "For the tea, we also have to buy sugar and tea ourselves. So, I asked for 20 rupees to cover the cost. Or I wouldn't have taken money from you."

We were so delighted and felt so proud. Nepalese hospitality is just awesome, I thought. No wonder tourists constantly rank hospitality as one of the major attractions of Nepal.

The old man also informed us that due to heavy rain past night, no bus had come to Baluwa Beshi, so we better hike to Mijure Danda to get the bus. Thanking him, we resumed our trek. We hadn't even walked for fifteen minutes we came across a swinging bridge. From there I saw a band of kids playing in the river. They were trying to catch fish with a little net. A small kid with shaved head and wearing red t-shirt was instructing another kid wearing a stylish cap and a jersey on where and how to throw the net. The view was just so captivating. I truly missed a camera at the moment. Never ever am I gonna forget to get two cameras during a trek again!

After passing the kids and walking for another ten minutes, we reached another bridge. Crossing the bridge, we found a small beach. Govinda suggested we should swim in the river. How could I say no for such a wonderful offer? We threw our bags and clothes and jumped into the river. Little did we know that the water was icy cold. Chilled I quickly came out of the water and sat on a huge rock basking the sun whereas Govinda acclimatized after a while kept swimming in the river. In a while I too swam. Ah! Blissful moments like this really make trekking so memorable.

After spending about an hour at the river, we resumed the trek. The trail from there onward wasn't as exciting though. We climb a steep uphill to Rabde Danda for almost 3 hours. By the time we reached the top we were so hungry that we could eat an elephant. But looking around we couldn't find any shops or place to eat. School students from a nearby school were having a picnic. Maybe we should crash the picnic I suggested. Govinda was too hungry to say no. We were seriously thinking of joining the picnic but then a woman who had been informed that two guys were looking for a shop came running and opened her shop. We bought some noodles, biscuits and a coke and gulped them. From that we point we had to walk downhill until we descended up to the river at the foot of the hill. Two guys who were carrying a bed each said they too were going to Pokhara and suggested we go together. We agreed but oh my my those guys were literally running both uphill and downhill and were soon out of sight while we struggling to keep pace. Quite embarrassing it was! :)

After climbing next hill, we reached Mijure Danda where we were supposed to find the bus. Unfortunately, due to the heavy rain for past two days, Mardi River had grown larger making it impossible for the bus to pass (there is no bridge for the bus there). So, we had to walk up to Thumsikot to find the bus. The journey from Mijure Danda to Thumsikot was really tiring and boring as we had to walk the same road the bus was supposed to take and the scorching sun burnt us making us darker in complexion.

After around three hours of walk we finally reached Thumsikot in time to catch the last bus to Pokhara at 4 pm. Luckily, we reached there at 3:30 pm. The bus was packed by 3:30 and was about to move before it's scheduled time. Had we been 10 minutes late, we would have missed the bus. Lucky us!


We stayed a night at Pokhara and had food at our favorite 'Marpha Thakali Kitchen". Next day, as some self-righteous idiots belonging to a political party had called  a banda so we had to wait until 1 pm before finally we got a bus to Kathmandu. Even then we had to pay double the normal price. On a positive side, we met an interesting guy named 'Kalbahadur Lalchan'. Aged 50 or so, he hailed from Marpha village in Mustang and had interesting stories to tell. Throughout the journey he entertained us with his stories such as how he used to sell 500 liter oil for 9 paisa when he was young, how 25 years ago, King's aide de camp was known all over Pokhara for having 9 pair of shoes, how government's tendency to over tax anything that sells is hampering apple brandy production in Mustang. He sounded like a wikipedia in his own right. Knowing that we were just returning from a trekking, he invited us to come to his village someday.

Our response? Obviously, the next thing I was going to do after reaching Kathmandu was check out when I will have a continuous holidays of three days in my office! :)

Thank you for reading!

Apr 20, 2012

Top 10 quotes from Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom

I recently finished listening to the audio book of Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom.Friedman was indeed a great economist whose articulation skills and influence indeed provided a major contribution in reviving classical liberalism in the Western world and introducing it to the Eastern world. Although, I have found many libertarians quite critical of Friedman's for his support for government actions in some context such as education and monetary policies, I think, had it not been for him, free market economics would not have received as much recognition as it did since 1980s. In this book also he has made compelling arguments in favor of liberty and free markets. He has with enough arguments and reason (for the logical minds that is) made a very compelling case for free markets, limited government and capitalism. In my view, the most appreciable aspect of the book is the way he has simplified economic arguments and made them understandable and interesting for a layman.

As Friedman was very well-known as one of the smartest and quickest debater, I have presented here the top 10 quotes (in my view and not in any particular order) from his book Capitalism and Freedom:

  • "To the free man, the country is the collection of individuals who compose it, not something over and above them. He is proud of a common heritage and loyal to common traditions. But he regards government as a means, an instrumentality, neither a grantor of favors and gifts, nor a master or god to be blindly worshipped and served."
  • "Indeed, a major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it does this task so well. It gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself."
  • "Humility is the distinguishing virtue of the believer in freedom; arrogance, of the paternalist."
  • "Political freedom means the absence of coercion of a man by his fellow men. The fundamental threat to freedom is power to coerce, be it in the hands of a monarch, a dictator, an oligarchy, or a momentary majority. The preservation of freedom requires the elimination of such concentration of power to the fullest possible extent and the dispersal and distribution of whatever power cannot be eliminated — a system of checks and balances."
  • "Concentrated power is not rendered harmless by the good intentions of those who create it."
  • "The existence of a free market does not of course eliminate the need for government. On the contrary, government is essential both as a forum for determining the "rule of the game" and as an umpire to interpret and enforce the rules decided on."
  • "Our minds tell us, and history confirms, that the great threat to freedom is the concentration of power. Government is necessary to preserve our freedom, it is an instrument through which we can exercise our freedom; yet by concentrating power in political hands, it is also a threat to freedom. Even though the men who wield this power initially be of good will and even though they be not corrupted by the power they exercise, the power will both attract and form men of a different stamp."
  • “There is still a tendency to regard any existing government intervention as desirable, to attribute all evils to the market, and to evaluate new proposals for government control in their ideal form, as they might work if run by able, disinterested men free from the pressure of special interest groups.” 
  • "The greatest advances of civilization, whether in architecture or painting, in science and literature, in industry or agriculture, have never come from centralized government."
  • "Freedom is a rare and delicate plant. Our minds tell us, and history confirms, that the great threat to freedom is the concentration of power."

Apr 10, 2012

The greatest economic debate of the last century: Keynes Vs Hayek

I recently finished listening to the audio version of Nicholas Wapshott's book 'Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics”. I very much enjoyed this book — which is detailed and entertaining and conceptual all at once. The book basically outlines, the lives, works, influences and inter-relationship of two great economists of the twentieth century- F.A. Hayek and J.M. Keynes whose opposing and conflicting view points competed to dominate the political economic discourses of the world for the past century and continue to do so. Keynes,a proponent of government intervention and direction of the economy was able to dominate the discourse until 1970s whereas Hayek, a proponent of free markets dominated the scene from 1970s to 2008 as per the author.

In 1930s, when the world was thrown into a turmoil by the Great Depression, these two economists emerged with competing claims on how to restore the world into balance and revive growth. Keynes, who was an internationally well-known figure for his role in the negotiations of allied forces with defeated Germany at the end of World War I and his popular works such as The Economic Consequences of Peace, came up with the idea that governments should play a greater role in the economy by manipulating with the aggregate demand of the economy and cure unemployment and enhance economic growth. He believed unemployment to be the most severe problem of any economy and government could solve the problem by increasing government expenditures and undertaking extensive public works, however unnecessary or wasteful they be. He thought the government actions were necessary to correct the 'failures of markets' and save 'capitalism' from itself. His ideas took time to be popular but really took off with the Second World War engulfing most of the economies of the non-communist world.

F.A. Hayek
F.A. Hayek, on the other hand, was a little known Austrian economist who believed that any intervention by the government in the economy would do more harm than good. He believed inflation caused by government's wasteful expenditure to be more evil than the unemployment itself. As per Hayek, markets are too complicated and consist of too many individuals with too diverse beliefs to be understood or properly managed by a central authority. In his highly popular book, he outlined how small interventions in the economy can lead countries into totalitarianism. He contested that totalitarian regimes like fascism were not a reaction to capitalism but socialism in disguise. He put forward the ideas that free markets when undeterred or misled by government actions correct themselves and were the only source of prosperity.

Unlike Hayek's ideas which seemed fatalistic and pessimistic, Keynes ideas were pro-initiative and optimistic and hence got really popular with leaders and governments around the world as they started using his ideas to expand the role of governments in the economy. At it's height in 1970s, Keynesian-ism was all over the world with almost every non-communist country following it's tenets. The government's role, expenditures and debts shot up with time. In the euphoria, Hayek's pessimistic sounding ideas and warnings were forgotten and Hayek remained an outcast in the mainstream economics, which continues to be the trend today as well.

J.M. Keynes
Keynes with his ideas formed the basis for new aspects of economical studies – macroeconomics. Before him, there was no division between microeconomics and macroeconomics. There was only economics--it was called "classical liberalism". Keynes legacy is immortalized by this new discipline within economics. Hayek, on the other hand, frustrated by the ignorance of mainstream economists and politicians, formed Mont Perelion Society- a small community of the then beleaguered minority of free market economists. That small initiation today has evolved into a worldwide movement of libertarians. Hayek's legacy too lives on with the ever-growing libertarian movement.

The book would be an interesting read to anyone who follows history of economical thoughts and is interested in economics. It is also enlightening for anyone wishing to engage in the one of the most popular economic debates: Can governments fix the broken economy? Can governments bring economic growth or prosperity or is it the markets?

Following are the titles of the chapters of the book, which help shed light on what the book is really about and how it is organized.

1. The Glamorous Hero: How Keynes Became Hayek's Idol, 1919 - 27.
2. End of Empire: Hayek Experiences Hyperinflation Firsthand, 1919 - 24.
3. The Battle Lines Are Drawn: Keynes Denies the "Natural" Order of Economics, 1923 - 29.
4. Stanley and Livingston: Keynes and Hayek Meet for the First Time, 1928 - 30.
5. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: Hayek Arrives from Vienna, 1931.
6. Pistols at Dawn: Hayek Harshly Reviews Keynes' Treatise, 1931.
7. Return Fire: Keynes and Hayek Lock Horns, 1931.
8. The Italian Job: Keynes Asks Piero Sraffa to Continue the Debate, 1932.
9. Toward The General Theory: The Cost-Free Cure for Unemployment, 1932 - 33.
10. Hayek Blinks: The General Theory Invites a Response, 1932 - 36.
11. Keynes Takes America: Roosevelt and the Young New Deal Economists, 1936.
12. Hopelessly Stuck in Chapter 6: Hayek Writes His Own "General Theory," 1936 - 41.
13. The Road to Nowhere: Hayek Links Keynes' Remedies to Tyranny, 1937 - 46.
14. The Wilderness Years: Mont-Pelerin and Hayek's Move to Chicago, 1944 - 69.
15. The Age of Keynes: Three Decades of Unrivaled American Prosperity, 1946 - 80.
16. Hayek's Counterrevolution: Friedman, Goldwater, Thatcher, and Reagan, 1963 - 88.
17. The Battle Resumed: Freshwater and Saltwater Economists, 1989 - 2008.
18. And the Winner Is ...: Avoiding the Great Recession, 2008 Onward

Happy Reading!

Apr 9, 2012

Trek to Panch Pokhari: My Travelogue

Me and five friends of mine trekked to Panch Pokhari (4100 m), the five sacred lakes situated within the laps of Jugal Himal from 12th to 17th October of 2010. I had thought of writing a travelogue at that time but was unable to. However, as I found some readers really liked the two travelogues I have written in this blog so far and was asked to write about other treks as well, here is my travelogue of my Trek to Panch Pokhari with all the details as far as my memory serves me.

Before we begin:

Trek to Gosainkunda previous year had been one of the most amazing moments in my life. It was my first long trek and the experiences I had in the trek were instrumental in making an ardent trekker out of me. I had shared about the trek during much more conversations than I care to remember. So, I was excited about this upcoming Dashain for another trekking opportunity. The only question was: what shall be the next destination?

Click! Panch Pokhari. That's the place I was going to this year I thought. Why?

Many years back, a school friend of mine had been taken to Panch Pokhari by his uncles during Janai Purnima. On returning he had told me about his trip with pride. I still vividly recounted the images of an adventure and exotic landscape that had formed in my mind, when he had shared his story. From the day I heard his story, I always had the desire to reach that “magnificent place fully of risky trails on high mountain and five majestic lakes”. His description of the place and the trails had left me amused and thinking 'that place must be heaven'. 

Now I was going to see the place for myself. My joy knew no bounds.

Through the storytelling of Gosainkunda trek, I had inspired a couple of friends of mine to venture into a trek with me this year. Bibhu and Govinda who hadn't been on a trek before were excited but apprehensive. So was Puru. Ganesh Dai, my travel companion in the Gosainkunda trek also joined the team later making it five membered. Finally, Manish another friend of mine also decided to join us. So that made six trekkers in quest for five ponds. 

Manish took care of the bus tickets. We were supposed to take a bus up to a place called Mane Kharka. Unlike previous year, amidst the excitement and apprehension, I decided to be a little extravagant and bought along with them, a trekking stick, a pair of trekking shoes, a jacket, a cap with the shades. The walking stick and the jacket are the only things in shape by now and I utterly butterly love that walking stick. 

So along with the fancy trekking gears and with our bags filled with foods, sleeping bags and tent and our pockets filled with cash, we were ready for the trek.

Day 1: Kathmandu to Bhotang

As per our information the bus was supposed to leave at 9:30 in the morning, but it turned out it was leaving at 7:30 am. We rushed with the intensity and urgency of soldiers in a war. Me, Ganesh Dai, Puru and Manish were at the bus park by 7 am where we did our shopping for some ready to eat food items. In the meanwhile, I also kept calling Bibhu and Govinda to the point of annoyance urging them to hurry. Govinda came earlier. Bibhu also managed to come in time to catch the bus, although he did so grudgingly. The bus departed in time and as is the usual case with Nepalese buses, it was jam-packed with passengers. Me and Govinda got to seat beside the driver but it was so crowded. We couldn't even move our legs. It was as if they were fixed to the bus with bolts. 

Unlike the Kathmandu-Dhulikhel-Zero Kilo-Melamchi route, this route which passed through Sankhu was shorter but riskier. The muddy road was like quicksand and the bus was swaying from one corner of the road to another every once in a while. The road slowly winded up the hill giving us a majestic view of the range of hills in the horizon. The ride was eventful as every once in a while passengers had to get out of the bus and clear the road or put stones in the huge potholes to make the road passable. Sometimes the bus titled sharply almost touching the roadside rocks sending a chill up our spines. 

After three hours of ride, we reached Melamchi, a beautiful place by all means. Melamchi remains a household name for the Kathmanduites, although the government's promise of supplying drinking water to the valley residents from the Melamchi remains has turned into a mere fantasy. At the Melamchi bridge, the bus stopped for a while as the driver and conductor mulled over whether to have lunch at that place or at Tipini. Finally, Tipini was decided as the venue for lunch and we moved on.

Not more than fifteen minutes from Melamchi, we had to stop once again. The bus that was going before us, had stopped due to some technical problems. The road was narrow enough not to let any other bus pass through. So we were stuck until the another bus was mended. Damn!

But on the bright side, we could get out of the bus and get some fresh air after all. Manish, whose knack of being friends with strangers in extremely short span of time constantly amazes us (me at least), was already among the crowd gathered around that bus and in a while was already giving his opinions on what should be done about the bus. Rest of us, availing ourselves of the opportunity started clicking photographs at the nearby stream. Needless to say, jokes and ragging each other during the wait was quite fun.

After almost an hour, the bus was finally fixed and we moved on once again. The road traveled so far was much better when compared to what came next. Lordy lord! More than a dozen times, prayers blurted out of our mouth when the bus tilted almost touching the ground. At one point, I was almost convinced that it was my final day on Earth when bus tilted almost falling down and even the driver had to take support of his door to keep himself steady and upright.

Another one a half hour of the scary ride, brought us to Tipini, small settlement full of shops and hotels. It the usual final point for the buses but since it was Dashain and there passengers galore, our bus was going even further up to Mane Kharka. This is one of the things that makes me want to travel during Dashain. Buses go to even the remote villages saving us a day or so for our trek.

As Tipini is the last stop of bus for other times, I had hoped the bus would get less crowded from onwards. I was in for a surprise. Even more people boarded the bus and everyone was almost gasping for breath. But from now onwards the scenery started getting more and more beautiful making for forget the difficulties.

Seeing Mane Kharka really took my breath away. I have never seen a more beautiful place. Yellow mustard fields all over the place with huge black stones within the fields. Waterfalls that looked like frozen from the distance. Just amazing! And there was a tree towards the edge of the hill which reminds me of pictures on the cover of English and Nepali books during my childhood days. During my childhood I used to look at the covers of those books (especially the 'Headway English' and 'Saral Nepali Srinkhala') and wonder if such places really existed. Seeing Mane Kharka was like a dream coming true. I was extremely jubilant. 

To our pleasant surprise, we were informed that the bus would go even further than Mane Kharka upto Bhotang. Oh my my! We rode for another hour or so to reach Bhotang. By the time we reached Bhotang it was already dark. Ganesh dai informed us to our pleasant surprise that the driver was an old acquaintance of his. Ashok, the driver, suggested us to stay at the only guest house available so we headed towards it. After ordering food and leaving our bags upstairs, Ashok joined us for drinks. The owner suggested us that we should have Harin ko Sukuti with our drinks. We happily agreed. We were quite excited about the prospect of having the sukuti until we really tasted it. Damn him! I can swear that sukuti was by no means of a harin. It tasted bad enough to be noticed by tipsy and tired drinkers. It must have been the meat of an ox. 

Day 2: Bhotang to Tangu

We woke up early next morning, freshened ourselves, had a cup of tea each and started making preparations for the trek. But then Ashok came to see us and invited us to have Dhindo at his Fupu's house. Wow! Dhindo? Really? We happily agreed once again. This time the Dhindo turned out to be extremely delicious one. Me, who generally doesn't like Dhindo that much, also asked for more-TWICE. By the time, we had our food and got ready to walk, it was already 10 am. I was little bit worried that we were behind our schedule. So urging everyone to walk fast, I started the trek.

After walking for half an hour we came across an extremely beautiful stream which called for lots of photographs and we answered the call by takings dozens of photos in the stream and the adjacent stairs which had another waterfall falling from above. The stairs turned out to be long and steep. Everyone had a hard time keeping up with their breaths. Bibhu, especially was in a bad condition. But we kept moving on until we finally reached a plain ground where we threw our bags and slumped. 

As we continued along, the trail began passing through a denser vegetation and got steeper making us think our bags must be weighing more than half a quintal and a quintal for Bibhu. The trail would have been full of sheds, cattle and shepherds in the summer but not with the advent of winter, it was bare and lonely. Our target for the day was to reach Nosempati by the evening but we could barely half the distance. By the time we reached a place called Tangu, we were utterly exhausted. 

So, we decided to camp there for the night. One primary reason for our decision was Tangu seemed to be the only place so far which was inhabited by a shepherd. All the other sheds have been dismantled and shepherds have moved to their villages to escape winter and to celebrate Dashain. Well, not everyone would be crazy like us, I thought- instead of celebrating Dashain in the usual way of eating, drinking and playing cards, we were up in a mountain in quest of five ponds.

We set up our tents in one of the dismantles sheds nearby the inhabited shed. It really took utter willpower to set up the tent, make firewood, make a fire and cook the food after such a tiring journey and aching body. Grudgingly, everyone did their part. We drank a cup of tea each as the night grew darker and colder. Then we prepared something (I really don't know what it should be called) -a mixture of satu, muesli and other stuffs we had. We were too hungry to notice if the food was salty enough or tasty enough. Then, once again, we gathered some will power and went to wash the dishes. Lordy lord! The water was freeeeezzzing!
Finally we were ready to sleep. But wait! How could we sleep just yet when those bloodsuckers were crawling in our tents? Grudgingly, once again, we removed the leeches from our tents and lied down- 3 people each in the two tents. Panch Pokhari better be good for all this trouble I thought before I fell asleep.

Day 3: Tangu to Panch Pokhari

Early next morning, we woke up and hurriedly finished our daily chores and had tea and some muesli before resuming the trek. We were already behind our schedule so we increased our walking pace but couldn't keep up as the trail got even more steeper and our bags felt heavier and heavier. The scenery, though, was astoundingly beautiful as Jugal came into view giving us an inkling of where Pach Pokhari could be. Meanwhile, Govinda took lots of pictures with the normal digicam we had. How we wished we had a DSLR camera, the pictures would have come even more awesome. 

After walking for three hours or so, Bibhu got exhausted and said he could walk no more. We had to reach Panch Pokhari today no matter what. So, we were worried. But, luckily, the savior came-in the form of a child. A local boy, aged around 13 or 14, offered to help. He carried Bibhu's bag and walked along. Boy, was he strong and fast. Within minutes, he was far ahead out of our sight. Little bit embarrassed, we tried to increase our pace but in vain. We were happy nonetheless, for finding yet another reason, to tease Bibhu later on.

An hour or so later, the boy returned Bibhu's bag. Bibhu offered him some biscuits and noodles which he at first declined but accepted as we insisted. After walking another two hours or so, we finally reached Nosempati, we were rested and had some satu and remaining biscuits. The view from Nosempati was amazing. We could see clouds below us and see the outlines of hills and mountains as far as our eyes could see. A cool breeze was blowing and it was humid and cold. Nosempati also had a small rest-house for travelers. At first, we mulled over camping here but we had still couple of hours before it got dark and we had to reach Panch Pokhari anyhow. And besides, the trail towards Panch Pokhari was covered with fog and looked like a trail described in fairy tales. So, we resumed the trek. 

From now onwards, we had to walk along the ridges of mountains making the trek more difficult but so exciting. And added to the excitement, it began to drizzle. Slowly a dense fog covered us and the trail became slippery. I could feel the raindrops on my face and the drops falling from my hair. As I was walking behind others and they were far ahead of me, there was no single creature on sight. It felt like a dream where I walking through the ridges of some mystic lands. Without even seeing Panch Pokhari, I felt it was worth all the troubles.

We had walked for almost another two hours when I saw a hoarding board that welcomed visitors to Panch Pokhari. I walked briskly to catch up with other guys. When I met an exhausted Bibhu, I told him about the board and that we were near our destination. He blurted out a reply that we still remember today and laugh. “Damn! Really?? Then why the F*ck are we walking. We've already reached Panch Pokhari. Let's stay here please!

Laughing heartily, we kept moving on. Slowly the fog cleared and the rain stopped. At one large rock that protuded out of the mountain, I walked to the edge and gave my classic 'freedom pose' and Govinda took a great picture. Other also took turns to get their pictures clicked. 

Slowly it began to get dark and we were yet to reach Panch Pokhari. No one except, except Ganesh Dai had any clue where exactly or how far the destination was. Ganesh dai pointed to a distant mountain and said “There is Panch Pokhari. Let's get there before it gets really dark.” Worried we gathered last of our remaining energies and moved on. The destination turned out to be nearer than what he had told us. Ganesh dai had intentionally pointed us to that mountain to keep us energized and moving. 

By the time, we reached Panch Pokhari, it was already about 7 pm in the evening and it was dark already. The ponds don't seem that exciting, I thought with a little bitterness. I was so mistaken!

At Panch Pokhari, there is a temple and a couple of rest-houses for travelers but no one lives there. But to our pleasant surprise and relief, we found a several guides and porters preparing food in one of the rest houses. A foreigner and her two daughters had come on the trek with 17 guides. They had even carried a cylinder full of gas, a stove and lots of food items. The porters were very amiable and offered us some Syakpas-a thick soup with vegetables and meat. It tasted amazingly delicious thanks to our exhaustion and hunger. We stayed near the fire warming our hands and feet for a while before finally getting to our rest house and setting up our tent. It was better than at Tangu. We set up the fire more easily this time and had our usual dinner-mixture of satu, muesli and whatever food we had.

I fell asleep as soon as I lied down hoping the ponds would look better the next day.

Day 4: Panch Pokhari and Back to Nosempati

OMG, in the early morning, Panch Pokharis looked so awesome! So beautiful and serene. Clear blue five ponds surrounded by green hills. Boy, that definitely took my breath away. It was one of those moments that I look forward in any trek. You see a view so amazing that you would forget all the troubles undertaken to see it. The moment that makes you feel proud of yourself and peaceful. We hiked around the ponds, claiming a pond each and boasting how one's pond was better than others. Needless to say, we also took dozens of pictures. Even by now, Bibhu hadn't woken up. We had tried and failed to wake him up before we left for the hike around the ponds.

So, me, Govinda, Puru and Manish decided to climb the hill without Bibhu and Ganesh Dai who was not feeling well and resting inside the tent. On reaching the top of the hill, we were awestruck yet again. Jugal Himal looked so close that it seemed we could almost touched it. The cool breeze that was blowing at our face must surely come from Jugal we thought. Here too, we took dozens of pictures while discussing the beauty of the place and the memorable incidents of the trek so far. 

After spending almost an hour at the top, we decided to take the short cut on our way back. As we were about to descend, we saw an image of a person slowly stumbling up the hill carrying a bottle of water. It was Bibhu, of course. We shouted at him jokingly, he waved his hand along with a shy smile. While returning we jumped from one rock to another, one bush to another to get to our tents sooner. Suddenly Manish noticed something that made him cry with happiness. “Snow!”, he shouted. Others ran toward him to get their hands on the snow. Even though, I have trekked to so many places by now, I am always fascinated by the snow as I rarely find it. There was some snow under the stones and holes covered by rocks. We started hitting each other with handful of snows and Govinda, with his usual habit, started clicking pictures of us. 

After playing with snow for almost an hour, we returned to our tents to find Ganesh Dai bathing in a pond. Puru joined him. I was too hungry and feeling to cold to join them. So, rest of us had some food and wandered around. We also roamed around the temple enjoying the scenery and peaceful environment.

It was already late afternoon when we started for our journey back. So unwilling we bid adieu to this heaven-like place and resumed our trek. It was drizzling today as well and the view looked as wonderful as ever. As we had already accomplished our objective, we were more relaxed -a bit too relaxed maybe. Because by the time we climbed down the ridges it was already pitch dark. It would be possible for us to reach Nosempati only. It was pitch dark and the batteries our torch lights were already exhausted. I was worried we may stumble upon some rocks and fall down the mountain but thankfully, moon rose filling the trail with its soft light. With the moonlight, the walk became utterly interesting. I still vividly remember the moment I walked down the ridges to Nosempati.

On reaching Nosempati, we once again set up our tents and had our barely edible dinner and went to sleep with feelings of pride and peace in our minds. 

Day 5: Nosempati to Bhotang

Next we started early morning towards Bhotang. The downhill walk was not any less difficult but it was faster. After walking for hours, we reached a beautiful stream that we had noticed on our way up but hadn't had time savor properly. So, we rested at the stream for a while. Then, someone suggested that since we missed a bath at Panch Pokhari, we should take a bath here. Well, not a bad idea. Everyone except Puru and Ganesh Dai, started taking off their clothes and starting bathing. But the water was icy cold forcing us to get out of it the moment we stepped in. But we were somehow managing to bath although our bodies were turning red and full of goosebumps. As we were engrossed in bathing, suddenly, huge black clouds covered the sky, darkness fell and it started raining! Damn! We ran for clothes as the big raindrops started soaking our clothes and we started freezing! Donning our clothes as fast as we could, we walked briskly. But the rain grew heavier and heavier. We had forgotten to bring any umbrella or raincoats. So, we were soaking like mouse in the rain in the middle of nowhere. 

After walking in the rain for about fifteen minutes, we (Me, Bibhu and Govinda) took shelter under a huge rock at the side of the trail. Shivering in the cold we stayed there for a while waiting for the rain to calm down and thinking how stupid it was of us to forget to bring any umbrella or raincoat. Suddenly, we noticed something that sent a chill up our spines. A yak was staring at us! Since the rock was at the side of the trail and we were sitting under it, there was no way for the yak to pass. And boy did it have sharp, pointed horns. Damn! I muttered. “It's gonna hit us”, Bibhu shouted. Not caring about the rain, we ran uphill aside from the trail. As the yaks passed, we breathed a sigh of relief. We were completely soaked by now but we had no option. So we resumed our walk. After walking for another few minutes, we realized it was almost impossible to walk that way. So, we thought of an idea. We took out our tent's cover, formed a line and covered ourselves with the cover and started walking. Only the person in the front would have the idea of which way we were going and which step to take. The other two would be totally covered and without any clue.

Taking turns, the person at the first guided the other two. “Left, right, there is a small stone-be careful, there is a puddle-jump” were the usual commands used to guide the walk. The walk was excruciatingly slow and it felt like as we were playing some leadership game. We walked that way for more than an hour when finally it stopped raining. 

At about 7 pm in the evening, we reached Bhotang and devoid of any choice, we had to stay at the same guest house we had stayed earlier but this time we avoided any sukutis. We had dinner, played cards for a while and fell asleep as soon as we laid down in our one common bed. I hung my clothes to dry them before I went to sleep.

Day 6: Bhotang to Kathmandu

It was Bijaya Dashami- the most important day of the Dashain festival that day and we wanted to be home. But alas, there were no buses running on the day. Everyone was putting tikas from their elders so there was slim, if any chance of getting a ride. So, without further delay, we started walking after having our breakfast. Luck was not so kind to us this time. We had to walk from Bhotang to Melamchi, more than 4 hours until finally we found a bus that was going to Kathmandu. It was raining and the bus was jam-packed with passengers. We had no other option than sitting on the roof of the bus. We were lucky enough to find a place to squeeze ourselves in at the roof. To prevent getting more soaked, we covered ourselves with the tent cover once again. One amazing thing about traveling in public vehicles is you get to see too many kinds of people. There was one very flirtatious girl who was siting on the roof the roof with a guy who seemed to be her lover and was making too much noise. Later we came to know that her husband was inside the bus without any idea that his wife was flirting with her boyfriend at the roof. What a weird world it is!


We finally reached home at about 11 pm in the evening. My mom, who was very used to me not being home in Dashain, cooly put tika on my forehead without any complain. I showed mom and sisters the amazing photos I had taken and went to sleep from which I was not to wake up until noon next day. Panch Pokhari remains to date, one of the most difficult, eventful and beautiful treks I have ever taken. Govinda went to Panch Pokhari once again in July of 2011, but I don't think I will go there in near future. But it was one hell of an amazing trek for sure. Only complain is that – I forgot the tent cover in that bus. Damn! The tent is unusable now. But on the bright side, the cover-less tent will always remind me of that glorious trek!

Apr 8, 2012

How governments spend our money

The decision of the Dr Bhattarai-led government to grant Rs 20 million to Prakash Dahal, son of the president of Maoist Party, to climb Mount Everest raised a storm of derision from every nook and corner of the country. It was impossible to understand the logic behind the government’s move. 

After persistent and universal criticism, Dahal stated that he would not want to use the money and instead asked the government to use it to provide relief to conflict-victims. Despite this, the government is yet to recant its decision. Deeper contemplation about this event teaches us some vital lessons on understanding politics and the nature of government’s action.

Other people’s money

Why did the government find it okay to endow Prakash Dahal with Rs 20 million without reservations? The answer lies in the basic principle of economics: Incentives matter. The money being spent neither belonged to Dr Bhattarai nor any of the government officials involved. When it comes to other people’s money, even the thriftiest of people get extravagant. Expecting thriftiness from government whose primary job is to extract money from one person to pay for the benefits of another is mere foolishness. 

Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman has elucidated this tendency of governments to plunder wealth in his work describing the four ways of spending money. When a person spends his own money on himself, he tries to economise as well as get the highest value out of his spending but if his money is being spent on others, he tries to economise but does not necessarily care about the highest value. Similarly, when we are spending other people’s money for ourselves, we tend to get the highest value out of our spending but rarely try to economise. The worst case scenario is when a person gets to spend someone else’s money for another person, where the person who spends the money has neither the incentive to economize nor get the highest value. Spending done through the governments are prime examples of this.

It is the mindless mechanism of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ which makes government plundering so voluminous and efficient. Otherwise how could a company such as the Janakpur Cigarette Factory, which hardly produces anything useful and has been incurring losses for a whopping 20 years, be endowed with millions of pocket money? No entrepreneur or individual would have kept pumping money into a loss making business for even three to four years, let alone 20.

Had it not been for other people’s money, it would have been hard to have less than 15 per cent of the development budget spent even after eight months of initiation. Similarly, it is for this very reason, projects undertaken by the government tend to get delayed for an amazing stretch of time and exponential increase in overall expenditure without any remorse of the spender. In fact, it pays to delay and overspend. Hence, increased role of the government would therefore naturally mean an increase in the wastage. 

Government decisions are hard to retract

The epic protest required to revert the government’s decision to endow Dahal with Rs 20 million gives an inkling of how much effort it takes to rectify even a small decision from the government. Unlike in a marketplace where people vote with their choices and see instant results, the political mechanism of doing things is so distorted that the service provider(government) and the consumers are miles apart. 

The only effective way citizens can give their feedback to their political service provider is through regular elections which unfortunately is quite rare (almost extinct) in Nepal’s context. No wonder same people get to power even when people are clearly dissatisfied with them.

Even with good people and good intentions, rectification of errors is not easy to implement. Efforts get entangled with the mess of bureaucratic procedures, political bargaining and pleasing of every party involved. It has been years we have been facing petrol-eum crisis and a huge amount of money has already been spent but we are yet to see any effective solutions to the problem. Other people’s money effect tends to remove the urgency for reforms whereas initiations from some well-meaning individuals also get lost in the bureaucratic and political maze.

Government mistakes are costly and affect millions

Unlike failure by private entrepreneurs, which affect the involved parties only, failure by government actions affect everyone. The government spending a whooping amount for the Everest expedition could easily mean some people from some parts of the country must have forgone their development budget. The loss incurred by Nepal Oil Corporation is equally borne by people from some remote areas of the country like Jumla who might never use vehicles at all. The relief packages received by the Kathmanduites recently could have meant some people from Solukhumbu were denied some basic infrastructure. Although the impact of such government actions are not visible directly and are facilitated by the other people’s money effect, the costs are there nonetheless. 

The question every Nepali should ask: If I am receiving some benefit from the government actions, who is paying for it? Is it, in the end, my money alone that is coming to me (in a reduced amount) through an indirect route? And can we expect government spending to be effective and economical when ‘other people’s money effect’ is a primary characteristic of government spending?

-Surath Giri