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Cross Check Info Before Making Big Decisions

State is the official employee magazine of the US State Department. It is also available to the public. One regular feature is “Post of the Month.” For the May 2013 issue (PDF), this was the US Embassy in Nepal, based in Katmandu. The article describes Nepal and Katmandu in fairly glowing terms. My suspicions about this article were raised because I had just read the June 2013 National Geographic article Everest Maxed Out. The two sources described Nepal’s current political climate quite differently.

State (May 2013):

After centuries of rule by monarchs and oligarchs, Nepal is now a burgeoning democracy. A decade-long civil war ended through a negotiated peace brokered in 2006 between Maoist insurgents and an array of political parties. These forces united the following year in a “people’s movement” that overthrew Nepal’s monarchy and established a republican democracy, with national elections held in 2008. The nation appears resolved to meet the challenges ahead, including holding new elections, writing a new constitution and establishing a transitional justice mechanism to address conflict-era human rights violations. The path to stability and prosperity remains steep, but the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu is helping Nepal reach these goals.

National Geographic (June 2013):

In Nepal, a country of nearly 30 million, one in four citizens lives in poverty. The country itself is in limbo. A ten-year civil war between Maoists and government loyalists ended in 2006. The monarchy was later dissolved and a coalition government created, but the past seven years have been deeply troubled, with belligerent political parties operating under an interim constitution. The political system is “so corrupt and so feckless,” Kunda Dixit, editor of the Nepali Times, has said, “that not having a government is actually beneficial, because there is no one to make all those mistakes.”

The National Geographic article also calls Nepal “close to a failed state.”

Now, I didn’t stop here, because at this point, it is one source’s word against another’s.  So I checked another source, the State Department’s Travel Page on Nepal. The people who post travel information have an incentive to be accurate, less an American’s bad experience be blamed on inaccurate information from the State Department. The country page’s description of Nepal’s government appears to fall between the optimism of State and the pessimism of National Geographic:

Nepal is a developing country with extensive tourist facilities, which vary widely in quality and price. The capital is Kathmandu. Nepal ended a ten-year Maoist insurgency in November 2006 and established an interim government in January 2007. Since that time, the major political parties have been unable to come to an agreement on a new constitution. This stalemate has created an environment of political uncertainty, however a caretaker government is in place and the major political parties continue to negotiate to resolve this constitutional crisis.

The State Department Travel page and the State article seem to be wider apart on crime and safety. From the article in State:

Kathmandu is relatively safe for a city of its size, thanks in large part to the open-hearted friendliness of its people. Attitudes toward the United States are favorable, and many Nepalis are eager to share their culture with visitors.

AND

When it is time to recharge the batteries, Kathmandu and the surrounding countryside offer embassy staff an array of experiences and grand adventures. The city is chock full of hidden-gem restaurants and walled manicured gardens that provide tranquil oases from the busy streets. Those seeking greater peace and spiritual reflection might take a meditation retreat at a Buddhist monastery, join pilgrims in circumambulating the enchanting Boudhanath stupa or simply wander the narrow red-brick alleyways of nearby Bhaktapur, the ancient Hindu “City of Devotees.”

Now, some remarks on safety and crime from the travel page for Nepal (emphasis mine):

Nighttime road travel should be avoided outside the Kathmandu Valley and minimized within Kathmandu.

Fueled by an unstable political environment, there are periodic small-scale improvised explosive device (IED) incidents throughout the country and youth wings of political parties continue to engage in violent extortion efforts.

AND

Bandhs (General Strikes): “Bandhs” (forced closure of businesses and schools and halting of vehicular traffic) occur in Nepal frequently and are commonly used as a form of political agitation. Bandhs tend to be unpredictable, may include violent incidents, and may take place without any prior notice. In past years, bandhs have lasted for periods as short as a few hours to as long as several days or even weeks, causing acute shortages of daily food supplies and bringing vehicular traffic to a complete halt. Individuals who do not comply with a bandh may be harassed by bandh organizers. In the past year, bandhs have been most frequent in the Terai, with fewersignificant bandhs in the Kathmandu Valley. Bandhs in the principal trekking areas are infrequent but do occur from time to time. Although bandh activity generally is not directed at foreign travelers, tourists attempting to defy bandhs may be subject to intimidation and/or violence.

AND

CRIME: Although still relatively low, crime in Kathmandu and throughout the country has risen in some categories and declined in others. In a number of recent cases, criminals were found to have used sophisticated scams to commit crimes, particularly in Kathmandu. In addition, there continue to be reports of robberies, burglaries, and sexual assaults involving foreigners, including in the popular tourist district of Thamel in Kathmandu. Police also report an increase in the number of foreigners who have had sedative drugs placed in their food or drink by individuals who seek to rob or otherwise take advantage of them. Visitors should avoid walking alone after dark, especially in areas experiencing power cuts, and should avoid carrying large sums of cash or wearing expensive jewelry.

The extracts above seem to be at odds with the walk at will in relative safety tone of the State article, though the Travel page does agree that crime is relatively low.

The moral of the story? Never rely on a single source to tell you a complete story, especially when the writers have an incentive to put a spin on a situation, such as the writers of State Magazine who want to recruit for the posts they write about.

While in this case you might have decided to relocate to Katmandu anywhere, the use of multiple sources before committing yourself might minimize feelings of disappointment.

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