There’s been a paradigm shift in Sino-Nepal ties, thanks to increasing people-to-people contact between the two neighbours. And the change has been discernibly evident over the past year or so. The Chinese have gradually acquired several budget hotels in Thamel, Kathmandu’s central tourist district city. At least two dozen hotels — largely aimed at pilgrim tourists and business travellers — have sprung up in Kathmandu.
Beijing Hotel and Gangzhong have now become an indelible part of the city’s landscape. New-age communication, too, has pronounced Chinese links. China is the preferred gateway for both international telephony and internet in Nepal. Which probably explains why call rates from Nepal to China are at an all-time low (it costs less than INR 2 to call China, compared to INR 10 for a 60-second call to India).
Beijing clearly sees economic potential in Nepal. Chinese language teachers are making a beeline for Kathmandu Valley to teach Mandarin — for Nepali students, mastering the language opens up job opportunities in mainland China. “I’m learning Mandarin at the Chinese Information Centre in Kamaladi, Kathmandu. I want to work in China,” says Bhavesh Sapkota, a computer hardware professional (China is a global hub for assembly and manufacture of computer components).
Following China’s language into Kathmandu is its food. Gourmet restaurants China Palace and Beijing Duck have imported chefs, recipes and ingredients from mainland China. “Once you acquire a taste for authentic Chinese, it’s irresistible,” says Binita Shakya, a student.
The days of New Dish — a watered-down, local variant of Chinese cuisine — look numbered.
Beijing has also lent a hand to Nepal’s Maoist-led government, which is largely seen as anti-India. Recent high profile visits by the Chinese Foreign Minister and the Deputy Chief of Army Staff reinforce that belief. The goodwill visits were reportedly in exchange for Kathmandu’s help in crushing the pro-Tibet movement in the run-up to last year’s Beijing Summer Olympics.
The shared political ideology can be attributed to the funds flowing from across the border for infrastructure development in Nepal. Chinese investments in the BP Koirala Cancer Institute at Narayangarh, Chitwan district, is an example. China has also pledged assistance for construction of the Outer Ring Road on the periphery of the Kathmandu Valley, to ease traffic congestion. Beijing also plans to tap Nepal’s hydropower potential. And talks are on to extend the Beijing-Lhasa rail network to Kathmandu.
All this augurs well for members of Arniko Society, a Nepal-China friendship body, which had been largely irrelevant all these years. The lofty Himalayas cannot keep the two new friends apart any longer.