Nepal`s growing middle class takes to the malls

Last Updated: Sunday, February 20, 2011 - 22:09

Kathmandu: When the first indoor
shopping complex opened in Nepal`s ancient capital Kathmandu
in the 1980s, it was such a novelty that visitors had to be
shown how to use the escalator.

Few residents of the city, celebrated for its rich
cultural heritage and historic palaces, had ever shopped
anywhere except the centuries-old bazaars that still do a
brisk trade in everything from spices to saris.

Three decades on, a huge rise in land prices in and
around the capital and growing remittances from Nepalese
migrant workers are fuelling a retail boom that has seen
Adidas, Nike and Levi`s open their first stores in the
country.

Rukeen Maharjan, 21, works in his family business
selling handicrafts to tourists. But in his spare time, he
goes to one of Kathmandu`s dozen or so malls to shop for
clothes and catch up with friends.

"It is so much easier to shop when you have all
these branded goods under one roof," he tells AFP in the
Kathmandu Mall.

"It`s often cheaper than shopping on the street,
it`s convenient because you don`t have to worry about finding
a parking space and it`s where young people like to hang out."
Nepal remains one of the world`s poorest countries.

The World Bank puts the average annual income at just USD 440
a head and economic growth has slowed in recent years,
constrained by political uncertainty and chronic fuel
shortages.

But the World Bank says growing remittance income
from India, Malaysia and the Gulf has pushed up spending power
among the urban middle classes, with almost a third of Nepal`s
male working population now estimated to be abroad.

Analyst Chandan Sapkota says the spending rise can
also be attributed to a major property boom in Kathmandu as
people migrated to the capital from less secure areas during
the decade-long Maoist insurgency, which ended in 2006.

"Remittances and urban jobs that pay relatively
well are increasing the number of middle class families in
urban centres," says Sapkota, who works for Kathmandu research
group South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment.

"Another factor is the real estate boom. Anyone
with a small patch of land around Kathmandu became a
millionaire virtually overnight because of property
inflation."

Remittances now account for almost a quarter of
Nepal`s gross domestic product, which last year reached USD
15.5 billion, and the World Bank says consumption is thriving
and imports have more than doubled in the past decade.

"Consumers, especially middle class ones, are
becoming increasingly brand-conscious due to globalisation and
increased Western influence," says sociologist Dilliram Dahal.

PTI



First Published: Sunday, February 20, 2011 - 22:09

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