My first day in Kathmandu meant my first contact with the maoists – they were “requiring” a general strike, apparently because they were not satisfied with the ambassadors recently appointed to a number of European capitals. Groups of teenaged boys marching down the boulevards with red flags with communist symbols, quarrelling with shopkeepers who had not closed the shop already and puncturing tires of the rickshaws they came across. “Better listen than argue them”, a middle aged pedestrian whispered to me while we watched what was happening. At some point, the maoists met a military force blocking the road to the royal palace, and stopped their advance, but continued to shout slogans. A few tires were set on fire, to mark the no-cross area, and both the militaries and the maoists retreated.
In addition to a little adrenaline while watching the events from a rooftop terrace, the strike meant all shops and museums closed for the day, but nothing more.
I’ve heard and seen further meetings and marches during the next 2 weeks I stayed in Nepal, especially in the cities around the Valley, but they were all totally peaceful and consisted mainly of some posters and speakers advocating for their cause. Far from being dangerous, these meetings were an interesting piece of history mingled with local flavour, so many foreigners used to gaze from the sides.
- Be informed of planned activities by the political activists and the Maoists and plan your trip accordingly.
- Be prepared to modify your plans when in Nepal to account for the unplanned events.
- Pad your travel with a few extra days to allow for unforeseen delays due to the country situation. (Not really applicable for travel only into Kathmandu)
- Register yourselves with your embassy upon arrival into Nepal and inform them of your travel plans
- check about the situation with somebody on the ground (in nepal) before you travel
Ten years of internal conflict between the Maoist guerrillas and the establishment has meant that travelers are very concerned about the safety issue when planning their trips to Nepal.
Here are some facts about the conflict that might help travelers make a more informed decision
• The Maoists have only targeted government targets – civilians and specially foreigners are not targets at all
• The Maoists also recognize the importance of tourism – in fact in many Maoist run villages in remote areas, they put welcome gates in the entrance of villages.
• There has not been any tourist casualty resulting out of the conflict in Nepal in these 10 years.
• Maoist charge a travel permit fee in their areas, amounting to about 20 USD and give you a receipt so that you do not get doubly charged.
• The agitating political parties and the Maoist sometimes announce valley wide and nation wide closures and blockades, which results in hassle and delays in surface travel. This does not affect air travel.
• Closures announced in Kathmandu mean that this is the perfect day to cycle around the city without the pollution and the public love it (when it is not for many days)
• The government sometimes imposes curfews (partial and sometimes complete) which means you might have to stay indoors. Its pretty boring and a big hassle. These are rare. This does not affect air travel, and special arrangements are there to shuttle travelers to and from the airports.
• These closures, blockades and curfews do not affect tourism activities in remote villages, where most of the tourism takes place in Nepal.
• These closures, blockades and curfews however, can affect access to these areas, if the timing is wrong.
• There are lesser tourists in Nepal now (scared because of the conflict) which means it is a better time to come. You get better service and can enjoy the attractions and activities more.
This came in from a news source. Pls note that it's apparently based on government intelligence sources, and thus not entirely reliable.
"Maoist plans. Drishti, 21 December
Intelligence services claimed that they have come across the activities and plans of Maoist rebels in Kathmandu. After receiving such information, the police headquarters have already alerted different units under it. According to a fax letter (... )sent to police stations by the headquarters, there are around 300 Maoist guerillas working in Kathmandu Valley. They have been divided into several groups. Each has around a dozen guerillas and they are given the responsibility of covering 25 areas in the Valley.
The same letter has the information that the rebels have plans to attack one Pawan Aggrawal of Satya Sai Kendra because he handed over two Maoist rebels to the army. It also talks about the rebel’s black list that includes the name of the former president of the Raj Sabha standing committee Keshar Jang Raymajhi because he had recently voiced the need for the active rule of the king. Another letter from police headquarters (number 3991) has it that the Maoists are planning for a big centralised attack. For that purpose, the letter says, the rebels have been transporting rations from the tarai to the hills. Special commands and routes have also been fixed for the work.
In the letter it is also mentioned that the rebel had planned to create obstructions in the East-West highway and attack the security forces who come to remove them and capture their weapons. The letter talks about the Maoist plan to destroy industries and factories that have Indian and American investment."
The following info is taken from Nepali Times online version at NepalNews.com 21 November 04.
"From Kathmandu to the eastern hills and down to the tarai, there are increasing indications that all is not well with the Maoists’ legendary control and unity.
Factionalism, desertions and disharmony in the ranks are much more rife than it appears on the surface. The Maoists themselves admit that frequent arrests and killings of their leaders in the past year have affected activities in central and eastern Nepal."
"The most significant recent arrest was of Sadhuram Debkota (alias Comrade Prashant) who took over as head of the Valley Command after Kumar Dahal was arrested in Patna in June.
Prashant had established a strong Maoist presence in the city by terrorising those he was extorting. The Maoist leadership was impressed with how he has been able to revive the rebel presence in the capital despite heavy security crackdowns."
"Prashant had just returned to the capital on 28 October after a three-week visit outside the valley, and was preparing to leave for his new assignment in eastern Solukhumbu-Okhaldhunga. There has been tension between the central leadership and the Valley Command over extortion money collected from businesses in Kathmandu."
"Army sources say it retrieved a computer, mobile phone and other documents with valuable information about senior Maoist leaders and the underground party’s activities in the valley."
End of quote
Politics is extremely sensitive and we were warned not to harp on this topic.
There are armed forces and checkpoints around the capital, so it'll make good sense not to behave suspiciously or act stupid in front of the soldiers. Especially at night.
On my trip, there were demonstrations and our bus was checked by soldiers while travelling at night.
I wore a Che Guevara t-shirt whilst wondering around Kathmandu, and for most of the time, it was fine.
However, what with the Maoist threat, it implied that I was a follower of Communism (not that I am!), and one policeman didn't take very kindly to it, ordering me to take it off then and there.