Robert R. Fenichel


I've been to Nepal 11 times, first in 1978 and most recently in 2007; here's an overview map:

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Most of my visits are documented in these pages. 

I have acquaintances in Nepal whose weddings or funerals I would attend, if I were aware of them, but with those exceptions I am unlikely to visit Nepal again.  I say this with some sorrow, because Nepal had grown in many ways familiar to me.  It is sad to have skills that one knows will not be practiced again.  But Nepal has changed in the last few decades, and I have changed more. 

I have aged, of course.  Twenty and more years ago, I could acclimatize to being reasonably comfortable at 5000 meters, and not quite immobilized above that.  But when I visited Nepal in 2007, we never climbed above 4400 meters, and yet I dragged myself around at that altitude like, well, a 65-year-old man.  Still, altitude and fitness are not the only issue: in earlier years, I enjoyed treks in Nepal that never got above 3500 meters or so (Jumla to Surkhet, Bachitti to Beni). 

Some of what once charmed me about Nepal lay in its underdevelopment.  There were no grids: not of roads, not of electrical power, not of communication.  It was exciting to meet people who had never seen a person with blond hair, or a wheeled vehicle, or photographs of themselves.  Now there are roads to many villages that were isolated when I first visited them, and there are enough local hydroelectric facilities that few villages are without radios.  But more:  over the years, I came to respond differently to the situation of remote villages.  To grow up isolated from civilization is to grow up ignorant and insular.  If teenagers in rural Nepal are no longer exotic, that is good for them, notwithstanding the fact that they are no longer attractive to tourists like me.

Insular ignorance is not necessary for religious zeal, but it certainly helps.  I once was fascinated by the endless pantheon of religion in Nepal (Hinduism, Buddhism, Bon), but over the years I came to see it as no different from wacko Christianism in Appalachia, or the picturesque inanities of the Amish.  It is colorful and strange, but remember: to the extent that it has identifiable content, that content is false.  There's no charm in that.

It's one thing to read about people whose income is one or two dollars a day, but it's another thing to employ them.  On my first few visits to Nepal, I felt uncomfortable about the porters who worked for us.  Paying someone $2 a day is, to me, not much different from paying him $0 a day.  That's called having a slave, which we are expected to regard as dishonorable.  On the other hand, those were the going rates of pay, and perhaps we were kinder employers than others might be.  Over the course of a few visits, I came to accept the idea of having porters paid in pocket change.  

Somehow my thinking has returned to what it had been at first.  On my most recent trips, I could not become comfortable with the thought that on my person, counting my photographic equipment, I was carrying a substantial multiple of the locals' (and my porters') annual incomes.

Similarly, I at one time had become inured to the corruption of Nepali officials, and I pointedly did not notice the bribes and lubricational payments that were being made on my behalf.  I have trouble doing that now.


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Page revised: 02/13/2017 12:50