From my Perspective
by Dinesh Rai
What are we Missing?
Sit back and think about what we are missing in this fascinating city of ours! I can put it in one word: entertainment. One thing that springs to mind when I think of entertainment is the last magic show I was lucky enough to see when P.C. Sarkar Jr. arrived here with his mesmerizing skills. Indeed the magic was amazing even though it was old school; no new tricks revealed, yet we were thoroughly entertained. Since then I say with a heavy heart, the only magic I have seen are on television. So why don’t we get to see magic shows in Kathmandu? The answer is simple; it seems Nepalis are not interested in becoming magicians. The problem apparently is that nobody teaches magic here and the subject rarely comes up in our conversation. In the west they’ve taken magic to a whole new incredible level and some Nepalis would do well to take up magic as a profession as competition would be negligible if any. However, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if after one person becomes a successful magician, a thousand others will follow in his footsteps. Lack of good entertainment forces many people, especially tourists to fall back on looking for a new eatery and some new cuisine to try or go dancing.
We do get a chance to see recent releases of some international films but our choices are limited and we rely completely on the choice of our theaters. As for music, we do have some very good musicians, but hotels and restaurants prefer to hire the cheaper musicians while the better artistes are relegated to occasional gigs. It reminds me of what Sting wrote in his GQ article when recalling his experience in Thamel. He went up to a restaurant with a friend who was familiar with the local scene. When the band started playing, his friend paid the band to stop playing, much to the embarrassment of Sting who is a musician himself. So before he walked into the next eatery featuring a band, he stood outside to listen before entering. Luckily for him, this time it was Jazz Upstairs and the band performing was Cadenza. So they went in and he eventually even sang with the band, enthralling the customers. Sadly, most members of this great band are either in Europe or the US most of the time as is the case with many other popular bands. Upstairs always enjoyed a full house when they played and was the talk of the town.
Tourists need entertainment and it would serve them well if the leading hotels and eateries featured top class bands and other forms of entertainment on a regular basis. There was a time when the Soaltee would hire Filipino bands during the tourist season and they could draw quite a crowd. Casino Everest on the other hand brought Russian dancers who were excellent entertainers. When one looks back, everything seems to have been rosier decades ago. While we were hired to play music six days a week during the 80s by Hotel Soaltee Oberoi, there were additional entertainers like Freddie Ferrer from the Philippines whose balancing acts were extraordinary, while a belly dancer from the west had the patrons at Gorkha Grill transfixed. It was a time when Spanish and Italian groups would dance till we eventually stopped the music when guests sleeping upstairs complained. Today Soaltee offers little in the form of entertainment, nor does Yak & Yeti. The only reason I see behind this decline is the fact that the general managers in those good old days were all Europeans and they maintained a certain standard. The managers who took over from them saw these entertainers as nothing more than added expense. They couldn’t see that entertainment added value to their establishments and the bean counters started calling the shots.
While in Thailand we went to a theater where they put up an extravagant drama with elephants walking onto the stage and a small stream flowing across where an actor actually took a bath which was followed by heavy artificial rain. The play told a historical tale and the whole production was absolutely engaging. On the upper floor was laid out a fabulous buffet for us and all this was put up just for the tourists. No wonder Thailand gets more than 30,000,000 tourists a year (it has doubled in 16 years). They take great pains to keep visitors happy while we only work on how to get the most dollars out of them. Take one look at the viewing tower in Nagarkot and you will know where we are at.
I miss the greenery we once enjoyed around the city. Compared to cities around the world, Kathmandu is the least green. This is all too clear from the air as you fly around from country to country. Even Kolkata and New Delhi look greener from the air, and so does Bangkok.; there’s no point comparing with European and American cities. KTM looks brick red from the sky with patches of greenery here and there while free space is all but gone. We have a long way to go in this aspect, as we have an acute shortage of parks. Most of the trees along Ring Road are gone and countless large trees in the city have given way to massive buildings; City Center is a case in point. Living in a city, one misses greenery and one way to compensate for its absence is to have more parks. Golphutar has a small park but it’s wonderful to sit there and read a book; they add quality to your life. Similarly, although not officially open as of now, the Bhandarkhal Park in Gaushala enables people to enjoy a morning walk surrounded by greenery while just outside its walls, the air is saturated with dust and smoke.
Kathmandu also needs a proper zoo and of big dimensions that allows ample space for the animals to roam freely and not be confined to a tiny cell. A zoo is one place where everyone likes to spend time. It is not only about watching animals, but also about escaping the noise and traffic and it makes for an ideal family excursion where everyone is relaxed; a great place to take the children. There should be good food available along with coffee, ice cream and other delights to keep the whole family well fed and happy. A large enclosure for the birds to fly around would not only allow the birds to live a natural life but people could also watch them without a mesh getting in the way like in Kuala Lumpur.
Kathmandu could have its own mountain museum where visitors can learn all about the mountains and the expeditions that attempted climbing them successfully or otherwise. Liz Hawley’s meticulously collected data could be made public. She has published a book on it and a CD is also available. A library full of books on mountaineering would be a great addition to its attraction and occasional screening of films on mountaineering as well. I once went to the Ministry of Tourism to ask for details on mountaineering expeditions in Nepal and an official with a very serious face told me to contact Liz Hawley in Dilli Bazaar. We could have all the details on mountaineering in the museum and artifacts related to climbing; visiting mountaineers could make an appearance. I have no doubt the museum would draw plenty of visitors.
Improvements can be made on existing establishments like the Botanical Gardens in Godavari where 70% of the land is going to waste and toilet facilities are deplorable. It should be choking with exotic flowers, plants and trees from around the world. Kamal Pokhari could become a center of entertainment with a hall and a number of eateries, boating and perhaps a light show over the pokhari. There should be food festivals, wine fests, beer fests and a carnival catering to tourists; there are endless possibilities. Pokhara is beating us when it comes to entertaining tourists. We make so much money from tourism yet so little of it is spent on giving them better facilities, entertainment and information. In Dubai the Burj Khalifa by itself is a massive attraction, yet they put up a fascinating light show for free several times a day. At the train stations both in Dubai and Bangkok, attendants in uniform stand around the platform just to assist commuters with information. We need to see tourism as a service and not just as a cash cow!
- Tourists need entertainment and it would serve them well if the leading hotels and eateries featured top class bands and other forms of entertainment on a regular basis.
- We make so much money from tourism yet so little of it is spent on giving them better facilities, entertainment and information.