Banned American author returns to promote Nepal

Updated: Dec 06, 2010, 14:09 PM IST

Kathmandu: Nearly three decades ago, when Jeff Greenwald fell in love with a doctor in Greece, he had no inkling his karma would lead him to Nepal and make him an acclaimed author who would also suffer a ban for his outspoken criticism of Nepal`s then all-powerful royal family.

The 56-year-old American author and intrepid traveller is now returning to Nepal with a new book - his sixth - and on an ethical tour that will promote the country as a destination for people with an interest in the arts as well as democracy.

"My first visit to Nepal happened very much by accident," Greenwald told reporters.

"I`d met a lovely doctor in Greece, and we`d fallen in love. She was on her way to Kathmandu to study ayurvedic medicine. I stayed in Greece and worked odd jobs until I made enough money to join her...Once I arrived in the (Kathmandu) valley (in 1979), Nepal itself became my true love."

His new book, "Snake Lake", published last month, weaves its way through Nepal`s tumultuous pro-democracy movement in 1990 that ended the absolute power wielded by the Shah kings and lifted the ban on political parties.

Greenwald is also bringing "Dreams of Kathmandu - An Intimate Visit to the Sacred Valley", a guided tour, in February when Nepal celebrates Tourism Year 2011 with the target of drawing a million tourists.

It will also mark the first Nepal fundraising tour by the Ethical Traveler travel guide, of which Greenwald is the executive director.

"Ethical Traveler was started in 2003, initially as a response to Aung San Suu Kyi`s call for a tourist boycott of travel to Burma," Greenwald explains.

"Why should travellers spend money supporting governments that oppress their own people and destroy their natural resources?"

Ironically, Nepal fell foul of the Ethical Traveler in 2003 and the latter announced a tourism boycott of Nepal.

"What was happening in 2003 was truly abhorrent," Greenwald says. "The Nepali authorities were literally selling captured Tibetan refugees back to the Chinese government. It was a shocking violation of basic human rights and the UNHCR charter and heaped shame on Nepal."

"That practice was discontinued. But we`re watching the situation. We are still concerned by the way China is bullying Nepal - but for now, at least, Nepal`s Tibetan community enjoys a fair amount of autonomy and freedom of worship," Greenwald says.

His second one, "Shopping for Buddhas", won the Lowell Thomas Gold Award for the Best Travel Book of 1996. It was also temporarily banned in Nepal for writing about the growing drug, gold and art smuggling under the alleged patronage of King Birendra`s two brothers - Prince Gyanendra, who became king after Birendra`s assassination in 2001, and Prince Dhirendra.

It also talks frankly about the attack on a Nepali journalist, who was shot in the eye, said to be on Dhirendra`s orders.

Greenwald says he had no trouble with the authorities though the book was banned.

"I`d expected to have my visa refused - at least when Birendra was in power," he says. "But either the palace was too disorganised, or no one in Narayanhiti (palace) read the book! The book itself was actually banned for a few years, but the ban was ultimately lifted."

"Snake Lake" too is a travel memoir revolving around themes that unfolded during spring 1990.

"It`s difficult to remember now how much anger was directed at King Birendra and his family during the Jana Andolan," Greenwald writes. "While I was trekking near Junbesi, I saw a young boy, maybe about eight years old, proudly wearing a shiny silver button on his chest.

"I asked him what it was. `There was a picture of the Queen`, he said. `But I rubbed it in the dirt until it came off`."

With even more radical changes overtaking Nepal since 1990 and the Hindu kingdom now turned into a secular republic, will Greenwald write another book on Nepal?

"It`s hard to say!" he exclaims. "These days I visit Nepal less frequently; so my contact is more superficial. Still, the country is endlessly fascinating to me and whenever I come I find myself motivated to write something new."