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Indian travel writer under fire in Nepal

Nepal has slammed Pico Iyer for an article where he compares the country unflatteringly with another Kingdom Bhutan.

india Updated: Mar 28, 2006 14:37 IST

Acclaimed travel writer Pico Iyer is under fire in Nepal for an essay in Time magazine where he compares the country unflatteringly with another Himalayan kingdom, Bhutan.

"Pico makes an ass of himself: In a reversal of roles... goes from hero travel writer to zero commentator," wrote Kunal Lama, an irate reader in the Nepali Times weekly, commenting on Iyer's essay, "A Tale of Two Kingdoms".

Lama said Iyer's article had "little respect for history or reality" and was "cliched" and "specious".

"Bhutan's Gross National Happiness sags with sadness when 100,000 of its ethnically cleansed population languishing in the eastern plains of Nepal for the last 15 years are taken into account," Lama wrote.

Iyer, 59, is one of the world's most respected travel writers. He was born in England to parents of Indian origin, raised in California, and educated at Eton, Oxford and Harvard.

His essays, reviews and other writings have appeared in Time, Conde Nast Traveller, Harper's, the New Yorker and Sports Illustrated.

His books, including such acclaimed titles as "Video Night in Kathmandu", have been translated into several languages.

Iyer says that while Bhutan is opening up to the world, Nepal has been closing up.

In a tacit criticism of Nepal King Gyanendra's royal coup last year, he lauds the announcement by Bhutan's King Jigme Singye Wangchuk that he would abdicate power by 2008, handing over the throne to his son.

"The citizens of Bhutan are mourning their own monarch's announcement two months ago that he plans to depose himself in 2008," Iyer writes.

"...Perhaps the king in Nepal should listen to his counterpart in Bhutan and acknowledge that real power should lie with the people."

According to California-based Iyer, Nepal is like a woman who "opens her doors to everyone" while Bhutan "lives like a nun inside a convent" with shocked Bhutanese officials describing the "low class foreigners streaming in from Nepal as 'women who will have sex with anyone'."

He also lauds the Bhutan king's propagation of "Gross National Happiness", according to which peace is as important as plenty and immaterial needs are as important as material ones.

More readers wrote in at www.blog.com.np to take Iyer to task. One wrote: "King Gyanendra may be authoritative but to compare him with King Jigme is like comparing apples and oranges...

"King Jigme argues that Bhutan is his and not for the people of Nepalese origin who have been there for centuries, well before the Dragon throne was even established."

Another blogger wrote: "Pico (Iyer's) opinion on Bhutan is totally wrong.

"The Bhutanese king is not giving up his power to its people. He is abdicating his throne to his son. Pico thinks this is democratic. With the help of India, the Bhutanese king was able to kick out majority of Nepalese to Nepal. ... Maybe next time he will check the facts."

Time magazine also came in for criticism.

At least two readers wrote in this week's issue of Nepali Times that when they sent letters to Time protesting against Iyer's article, the letters were not published.

One of them, Ina Patterson, wrote in saying Iyer had become the "latest victim of the king of Bhutan's public relations stunt of promoting Gross National Happiness and abdicating".

Added another: "There is no need to denigrate Nepal."

First Published: Mar 28, 2006 14:35 IST