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New Year New Places

The Old Inn, Bandipur

Most people driving from Kathmandu to Pokhara do not realise that 30 minutes off the highway and up a mountain side is the jewel of Central Nepal: Bandipur. The old Newa trading town with its pedestrianised cobblestone main street is a model of how heritage tourism should be done in Nepal. 

At the centre of Bandipur bazar is The Old Inn: a restored four-storey Newa townhouse of timber and warm red bricks. The carved beams and staircases add to the charm of this centuries-old structure true to Kathmandu Valley’s traditional architecture.

The rooms have low ceilings and doors, and the ambience more than makes up for the absence of the usual accoutrements of a modern hotel room. They are comfortable and decorated with Buddhist and Newa art, and locally made furniture. Food is delicious and prepared entirely from locally-sourced organic ingredients. 

Those spending the day here can take a leisurely hike to Ramkot, a Magar village two hours away, and learn first-hand about age-old farming methods. If you like more adventure, you can hike to Siddha Cave (4 hours down and up) and even do a bit of spelunking. 

Situated on a ridge at 1,030m elevation, Bandipur is sunny all winter when the Marsyangdi Valley below and Pokhara to the west are shrouded in fog. As the sky clears up, a vast mountain vista opens up, revealing the stunning Annapurnas, Himalchuli and Ganesh Himal.

A Magar kingdom before Prithvi Narayan Shah took over nearly 300 years ago, Bandipur was settled by Newa traders from Kathmandu Valley in later centuries, bringing with them art, culture and architecture that have been preserved intact – even as they slowly disappear in Kathmandu itself.

Easily accessible from Kathmandu (4 hours), Pokhara (2 hours) and Chitwan (1.5 hours), Bandipur will soon be connected to the highway by a scenic cable car. Visitors can opt for lunch on arrival at The Old Inn and take a guided tour of the town, and then savour authentic Nepali cuisine for dinner.

At the end of the day, The Old Inn provides a soothingly tranquil environment to wind down over sundowners on the terrace, making it a place perfect for families and groups of friends for a festival holiday.

For Nepalis (all prices include service charge and VAT)

Single room with bed and breakfast: Rs5,000

Single room with either lunch or
dinner and breakfast: Rs6,000

Single room with breakfast, lunch, and dinner: Rs7,000

[email protected]

+977 1 4522617, 4522618, 9808882270

Soaltee Westend Premier, Nepalganj

Equipped with infrastructure that is both eco-friendly and luxurious, Soaltee Westend Premier is the ideal hangout in Nepaganj for the eco-conscious traveller. It is the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified Silver Category hotel in Nepal with a ground water recharge system, rainwater harvesting, recycling of toilet effluent and measures to save energy. Visitors can sleep soundly at night, not worrying about their carbon footprint.

The hotel is just 10 minutes away from the airport, making it a good choice for those looking for a comfortable stay after treks. It was designed to cater to an influx of Indian pilgrims headed to Mt Kailash, although the pandemic ruined that idea. Still, travellers can relax at the spa and sauna, enjoy snacks in the in-house café, or head down to the Sunset bar.

For those looking for adventure, Bardia National Park is only a few hours away. Pay a visit to the grasscutter’s lane to taste the tradition and life in rural Nepal. At the city centre, indulge in some local delicacies and barbecue street food. Sweat it all out in the in-house gym at the hotel or take a leisurely swim in the first-floor swimming pool.

Single: Rs6,500++ (breakfast included)

Double: Rs7,500++ (breakfast included)

081 – 551145/48/86/87

Charikot Panorama Resort, Dolakha

Designed in collaboration with a Swiss architect and built in the late 90s, Charikot Panorama Resort provides a comfortable stay with a friendly and homely atmosphere.  

Perched atop a hillock in Dolakha, the resort is a perfect weekend getaway. The resort offers a full package of accommodation, and can organise trips to Rolwaling, Jiri or Kalinchok, now linked with cable car.   

Rolwaling Himal, including majestic Gauri Shankar (7,134m) and Melungtse (7,181m) are directly to the north. The hotel offers traditional Swiss (think fondue) and Nepali cuisine prepared by trained chefs. 

You can also take a stroll down the old trading town of Dolakha Bazar with its old mint house and the Bhimsen Tower. Bring your binoculars to the four-storey high Charikot View Tower to take in the breathtaking view of the surrounding landscape. 

The vegetables served are homegrown organically in the hotel’s garden. Don’t miss out on the homemade bread and plum jam during breakfast and opt for dinner by the bonfire during the chilly evenings.

The resort also features a small library and is pet friendly. Rooms are heated, which is welcome during the chilly nights.

Standard Half board (includes set dinner and breakfast) 

Single: Rs4,400 

Double: Rs7,500 

Triple: Rs9,900 

Room-only starts at: Rs3,800 

All rates inclusive of VAT and Service charge. 

01-5529463, 9802189822

Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge, Pokhara

People don’t come to Tiger Mountain to see tigers, although tigers have started being sighted higher along the Himalaya lately. An occasional leopard does stroll by at night. But most visitors come here for the mountains after seeing tigers in the hotel’s sister properties in Bardia or Chitwan. The surrounding forest is alive with birds, and a 30 minute stroll yields sightings of at least 40 different species. The trees and thick undergrowth of the community forests are a favourite for birds, with 332 of Nepal’s 867 species found here. Two new sightings were recorded last year: White-fronted Goose and Short-eared Owl. There are 350 species of butterflies and dragonflies.

Nestled at 1,200m on a ridge, Tiger Mountain commands an unparalleled vista from Gurja Himal in the west, along a jagged horizon of the Annapurnas, Machapuchre’s skyscraping pyramid, Lamjung Himal, right up to Manaslu and Himalchuli to the east. The place is ideal for those looking for a calm pre- or post-trek stay, for nature lovers, and for exploring local communities in rural setting.

While most will come for the mountain views, Pokhara has a lot more to offer than Machapuchre. The ridge where Tiger Mountain is situated was first located by trekking pioneer Jimmy Roberts while trying to find prominent hilltops to erect radio masts for the 1960 elections. It then became a camping spot for Prince Charles’ trek to Nepal in 1979, and the ‘Royal Trek’ that it popularised: more relaxed scenic day hikes around Pokhara.

Nepalis $140 per night/person (+tax)

Foreigners $195 per night/person (+tax)

Includes accommodation in double or twin sharing basis, all meals, non-bar hot drinks throughout the day, arrival and departure transfers and local guides.

01 472 0580, 98611 17717

Ghale Gaun Homestay, Lamjung

There can be no better way to experience the famed Nepali hospitality from a pre-trekking era than at Ghale Gaun

This historic village in Lamjung is where for more than two decades Gurung families have opened their homes to guests.

Located 4 hour drive northwest of Kathmandu at an altitude of 2,100m, Ghale Gaun was first developed as a model SAARC village in 2008. Today, it draws trekkers and tourists to the Gurung Heritage Trail, which starts at Besisahar and ends in Thumsikot. The route includes several other villages within the Annapurna Conservation Area, including Ghanpokhara, Bhujung and Pasgaun, which also offer homestay services.

 “Out of 120 households in Ghale Gaun, 40 homes currently provide homestay services,” says Dirgha Ghale of the Ghale Gaun Tourism Management Committee.   “Homestay operators reopened their doors to tourists in mid-August following a crippling months-long Covid-induced shutdown.”

Visitors can either ride up to Besisahar and make a 6-hour trek to the village, or drive straight up for a relaxed family trip. 

Ghale Gaun offers an authentic experience of the Gurung culture and way of life. Stay in Gurung ‘ghumaune’ round-houses, savour local cuisine and beverages, and enjoy the breathtaking view of Manaslu in the east, Lamjung  and Annapurna II to the north. Visitors can meander through the bazar, visit the famed Uttarkanya Temple, bird-watch at the Talangyo Lake, or walk through the expansive tea garden. You can also sit in the sun overlooking terraced farmlands and listen to former Gorkhas recount stories of battles in far away lands in days gone by.

Ghale Gaun Tourism Management Committee 

Price: Rs1,100-1,200 per day (3 meals included)

On nature and human nature

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche was born in Nubri of Gorkha district in 1975, and is the guru of the Karma Kagyu and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. Author of four books, including the New York Times bestseller The Joy of Living, he believes in the blending of traditional practices and philosophy with modern psychology. 

Last month, surgeon Saroj Dhital, himself a practitioner of Buddhism and student of Mingyur Rinpoche, sat with the guru at his Kathmandu Tergar Osel Ling Monastery, and talked about traditional and modern interpretations of Buddhist practices and philosophy. 

Excerpt of the conversation:

Saroj Dhital: In our very first interaction you told me that taking refuge in the Buddha means taking refuge in the Buddha inside you. Could you elaborate?

Mingyur Rinpoche: Shakyamuni Buddha tells you that you are the master of yourself. We all have this wonderful nature – our true nature – which we call the Buddha nature, and from the Buddhist point of view, no matter who you are, the essence is always the same. The essence of all the Buddhas, of all beings – humans, animals – what we call six realms, are the same.

The Buddha recognised this, but we have not. You may have a diamond but as long as it is hidden and you do not recognise that, it does not matter. But, once you do, your life completely changes. The truth is, we are already rich from the beginning, many of us are yet to realise that.

So it is really important to know that we all can become just like the Buddha, not just his follower, servant or retinue, through the practice of the dharma. “I can show you the path,” the Buddha said, “whether or not you fully become a Buddha is in your hands.” We have to make an effort, follow the dharma, then we can become like the Buddha.

Surgeon Saroj Dhital in conversation with Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche.

Many people interested in Buddhist philosophy and practice look for faults in the Vajrayana. They say there is so much hierarchy in Vajrayana and that it is the path of the elite. 

While Vajrayana Buddhism developed in India and Nepal, it flourished in Tibet. In Tibet the guru is not like a God or a parent. It is a projection of your true nature, your Buddha nature, and its appreciation. To do this, you first project on the teacher the quality of the Buddha nature. 

But over time, this teaching from Tibet mixed with different cultures. Hierarchy is present in almost every culture. Starting with one’s family, there is either the father or the mother who is the head. The same is true for organisations and companies, even religions, as is evident in Buddhism. But in teaching, this is different. 

Let’s return to the previous example of a diamond that is hidden under layers upon layers. In the same way, we can also imagine our essence to be obscured by layers based on ignorance of our true nature.

But then, what is our true nature, our Buddha nature? 

Buddha nature has three qualities: of emptiness, of being beyond concern, and being beyond subject and object. There is clarity, awareness, love and compassion. This is our true nature. But not recognising this is what hides our true nature from ourselves, in the form of our ego. 

Even scientists and philosophers have said, if we have ten qualities, nine are positive and one negative. This one negative quality is often what we see first and exaggerate. But we ignore the other nine good qualities. There is a lot of good that we manifest everyday, but we think the world is only getting worse every year.

Can we also think of guruyoga and other traditional Vajrayani practices as the highest form of tools to understand the truth? 

Certainly. In Vajrayana there are two paths: wisdom and skillfulness. Wisdom is the emptiness, which is the Buddha nature, while guruyoga falls under skillfulness with compassion, bodhichitta and awareness. 

Indeed, rituals, worshipping and recalling the deities are part of an art of expressing and connecting with our fundamental nature through imagination. There are plenty of rituals but we must understand their meanings. For example, when we imagine a deity, we require concentration. Connecting our true nature to different aspects of practice is the Vajrayana method. 

Is it possible to invite compassion and wisdom through the practice of samatha, or the awareness of the things around and within us?

Only samatha cannot bring compassion and wisdom, we need samatha with skillful means. This can lead to vipassana, to insight. For example, one of the practices of samatha meditation in our tradition is watching our breath and being one with it. We need to learn how to be in our reality as it is. 

This is very important because our minds are restless and we tend to over exaggerate things to the point of worry. A scientist once said, 99% of our worries will be taken care of if we stop exaggerating and accept reality.

But if we want to learn to see our reality, we have to start at a point, like with our breath. The emphasis here is to try and see our breath as it is. Does not matter if it is shallow or deep, irregular or peaceful. By listening to our breath, we must then let go of our aberrations. 

We all have great qualities. We all have Buddha nature. There is awareness, love and compassion, wisdom, skills and potential within all of us, and we should try our best to use them. We should also try to use our own mistakes, our own incapacities. Letting go doesn’t mean giving up. The best power is within ourselves. 

There is a teaching in our Karma Kagyu and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism that wisdom, love, compassion and awareness are the best powers. There is a story popular in Tibet: Once there was a king who was very generous and wanted to help everyone. He gave barley to his people from his own store, but once that ran out, there was nothing to eat. One of the ministers suggested that the people could be taught how to plant barley themselves so the wisdom stays with them. When they did that, the entire nation was saved.

Accepting reality as it is, is the beginning of wisdom. The path is not smooth, of course, as there are lots of ups and downs, and our reality itself is impermanent and constantly changing. On top of this, our mind is like a restless monkey. We think of work, we worry about family, about life – many thoughts come and go. We often act on impulse, our past habits and what other people say. That creates a lot of misunderstanding and miscommunication.

When we fight with these thoughts, we end up thinking about it more. But when we really want to think about it, the thought will disappear. That is what I mean by the monkey mind. 

This is not to say that thoughts are bad. It is important to let them come. But we have to also remember to breathe. If we don’t, we are not lost. We have to let go of craving, of attachment to develop wisdom, as wisdom is knowing reality as it is. Then slowly we return to ourselves, our bodies, our feelings, our minds. Thus, wisdom comes together through the samatha, and vipassana and samatha become one in the end.

Is there an issue of balance or moderation when it comes to developing compassion within us?

Yes. One day in the Buddha’s past life, he saw a mother tiger with her cubs looking for food. Thinking that if the mother died, the cubs would too, he offered his body to them. But Buddha later said, “Yes, I did so in my past life but new practitioners of bodhichitta should never do the same. The desire itself may become an obstacle.” 

It is important to develop love, compassion and bodhichitta, but in practice we need to find our own balance. We have to check our ability, our resources and the strength of our mind. We cannot help beyond our limit. Love and compassion alone won’t save the world, we need to combine it with wisdom. Wisdom is the main practice and compassion is the method. 

Wisdom is completely free like emptiness, beyond subject and object. And suffering is an illusion, while everything is emptiness. The view is totally open but your action has to be there. Generosity, discipline, effort, patience – all are important. But there are many dos and don’ts when it comes to action, as there are societal and cultural aspects. When you think about them, you cannot be free, which then leads you to tie yourself, which is another extreme. 

So, try your best to help others. But know your limits and find balance between the extremes.

Read also: Buddha’s birthday in his birthplace, Nepali Times

Being able to identify evil within us is one thing, but what can we do when we see evil outside of ourselves?

Normally we should support the victims, which is really important. But how do we do that? 

Sometimes we just follow our inner mara, and we become the same as the perpetrator, without understanding the condition, the situation in which the act was committed. While trying to save the victim, we choose violence. This is not real wisdom or compassion, and in the end it will create more problems and distractions. 

People do not want to change themselves – they only want to change the world, and then the world becomes chaotic. But Buddha’s way is that you need to change your inner world, your inner mara first. Only then does the genuine influence come. 

When you transform yourself, you want to help others, you want to radiate whatever peace you have within you to help others. Otherwise, you miss out on a lot of social work. Based on your inner mara, your social work becomes a weapon to develop your own mara, and it results in more conflict and more fighting. Social justice is important, and Buddha did that through love and compassion – not through hatred, violence.

We have become very human-centric, not caring about the other sentient beings in the world. How should we use Buddha’s teachings, also for other beings?

I think it is really important to connect with the balance. The world is based on the individual, and as we are the individual, we need to transform our actions according to our limit, our capacity. Then the world will change. The problem is when we want to change the world and that doesn’t happen, we give up. We think, “I am just one person, whatever I do, doesn’t affect the world.” And then we quit. If we are too tied and follow violence, we will then destroy the world. 

So, as the Buddha said, you help in your own way, with whatever you can contribute, whatever you can do to help the environment and the world – even the small things.

I have met many social workers who were exhausted, stressed and depressed because nothing changed. If they practice the teachings of the Buddha – love and compassion, awareness and wisdom – and get more imagination and power, they can help the society and the environment more. Balance like this is very important.

If you don’t believe in the soul, but you believe in rebirth, what is it that passes from one body to another? What is this continuity? Is it also a part of the soul?

The Buddha nature is obscured by two layers. The outer layer is when we talk about self, which itself has three more layers: the unhealthy sense of self, the healthy sense of self, and the self beyond self. 

The unhealthy self is what we call clinging on to the ‘permanent, single, independent’. We perceive ourselves as permanent. At the same time, we don’t like to have unexpected surprises. But if the surprise is expected, we are happy. There is a kind of consistent belief that everything should be a certain way. For example, if you are waiting in a line to use the toilet and someone cuts in, the unhealthy self explodes. 

Maybe that person did not see you, had an emergency or just doesn’t respect you – there can be many causes and conditions, but we do not see them. We just want everything to be as we expected. 

Then there is ‘singularity’, meaning my way is the best way. During a science experiment, more than 70% of taxi drivers interviewed said that their driving skill was above average. But that is impossible. For example, if you and your friend are in a car, and the road is a little bumpy, then automatically we think that it would be safer if we were driving it. 

Then comes ‘independent’, meaning we want to control everything. We think, “if it is not controlled by me, it is wrong”. These three combined together [permanent, single, independent] is the mara actually. It is very touchy and egoistic. It doesn’t care about others. And that single, independent, permanent self actually does not exist even at the relative level. It is just at the conceptual level. 

Next is the healthy sense of self. It is the self that is changing. So maybe at home you are parents, husband or wife, and at work maybe a boss or a staff. With your friend circle, you are friends. Your Self is always changing. And this self has changed from your childhood till now. Sometimes the self is happy in the morning but unhappy in the evening. Sometimes good Self, sometimes not so good Self. Self is always changing. 

There is multiplicity – you become you because of your education, your family background, the way your friend looks at you, your body, your mind. There are so many pieces there. Understand that this is healthy. And they are all interconnected, interdependent, not independent. Not everything is in your hand. From there comes compassion, awareness and wisdom. 

And lastly, there is emptiness that does not mean nothing, but that everything can manifest. So the true nature of self is beyond time and matter, beyond subject and object.

So then, what is continued? The healthy self is changed and that stream of consciousness, matter and particles is continued. The body is the particle and the mind is consciousness, and they will continue like a river even though they are changing. 

But the real self is emptiness at the ultimate level – empty, but not nothing. There is clarity and potential. These two are one and therefore we are not nothing – yet, we are not existing.

Read also: Kinship, karma, and kung fu, Shristi Karki

“All vaccines prevent severe Covid”

Photo: AMIT MACHAMASI

Following initial lab reports that AstraZeneca and VeroCell boosters afford lower or no protection against the new Omicron strain, Nepal Times reached out to Andrew Pollard, who helped develop the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines. 

Majority of the vaccinated Nepalis have been administered either with the Chinese VeroCell or the AstraZeneca Covishield manufactured in India. At least 12.2 million Nepalis (42% of the population) have got at least one dose of vaccine, and 9.7 million have got both jabs (33% of population).

Of these 28.5% got the Covishield and 62.1% got the VeroCell which are vector vaccines made from disabled viruses, as per the government figures last updated 18 November. Another 9.2% got J&J. Less than 4,000 have received Pfizer or Moderna which are genetically engineered mRNA vaccines. 

Nepal currently has nearly 14 million vaccines in stock and wants to fully vaccinate 40% of the population before offering booster shots by the end of the month.

Excerpts of the conversation with Andrew Pollard:

Read also: “Nepal has all the conditions for an Omicron surge”, Nepali Times

Nepali Times: Is it true that AstraZeneca boosters are not as effective against Omicron?

Andrew Pollard: The new coronavirus is here to stay and it will remain with us for decades to come. To do this is will find ways to continue to infect people in communities even if they are vaccinated. The important role of the vaccines is to prevent severe disease and the evidence so far, even with Omicron, does appear to indicate that vaccines are still holding up in preventing most of the severe outcomes.

New variants are able to cause asymptomatic or mild disease in vaccinated people with any of the vaccines that are being used around the world, and Omicron is the champion so far in doing this. But vaccines remain highly effective in preventing severe disease from all variants and make us a lot safer than if we are unvaccinated.

Is the negative publicity likely to increase vaccine hesitancy in Nepal, and fuel the pandemic even more?

I think the interpretation of the data is wrong. The evidence is clear, vaccines have already saved millions of lives. A recent analysis showed that AstraZeneca jabs have saved more lives than any other vaccines worldwide.

Viral evolution means that Omicron and its children will evade immune responses and allow infections with any of the vaccines. At this moment, Omicron can cause infection whether you have had AstraZeneca or Pfizer with very low protection from both of them. However, the vaccines still prevent severe disease.

Read also: Living with Covid in 2022, Sonia Awale

What options Nepal and India can pursue to stop the spread of Omicron?

The impact of first/second doses is huge and these should be prioritised over boosters where there is a short supply of doses. Omicron spreads very easily and so it is more likely that the virus will find the unvaccinated and put them at risk, so we do need to get vaccine coverage high everywhere but especially in older adults and those with health conditions who have not yet been vaccinated as they are at greatest risk.

Is it time to administer booster doses, and if so, who should get it first?

Boosters do seem to increase antibodies and some early evidence from the UK shows that boosters increase protection against these mild infections. Boosters may be important for some of the frailest in our communities to keep them safe if their protection has waned. Some countries have started booster programs focusing on these risk groups first.

Read also: Nepal needs to prepare for new Covid wave, Cilo Bazakas

“Nepal has all the conditions for an Omicron surge”

The rapid spread of the new coronavirus variant Omicron across the globe has cast serious doubts about the efficacy of different Covid-19 vaccines in use worldwide. In particular, non-mRNA vaccines have been put on the spotlight, with initial lab reports suggesting their decreased protection against the new strain. 

Nepali Times spoke with regional health expert Sushil Koirala based in Bangkok this week about Omicron setting off a new surge in the Subcontinent, the danger of falling vaccine efficacy, and the best strategy for Nepal moving into 2022. 

Nepali Times: Initial lab reports suggest that non m-RNA vaccines are largely ineffective against Omicron. Would this be accurate? 

Sushil Koirala: I am not aware of any specific evidence that says viral vector vaccines are ineffective against the Omicron variant. I have also not seen any evidence of it being effective. The problem is the lack of transparency from manufacturers. That unknown, compared to some evidence we have with the mRNA vaccines, is the problem. Since little is known on the effectiveness of viral vector vaccines particularly VeroCell, the natural tendency is to think that the mRNA vaccines are a better choice as a booster against delta reinfection and Omicron variant. 

Read also: “All vaccines prevent severe Covid”, Nepali Times

In that case, how should our vaccination drive move ahead now?

Nepal should swiftly provide booster doses to the vulnerable population, many of whom were vaccinated almost a year ago. Early evidence based on lab studies shows that a recent (booster) jab provides ‘increased’ protection against Omicron. 

Most importantly, The Imperial College London Covid-19 response team has recently estimated that the risk of reinfection with the Omicron variant is 5.4 times greater than that of the Delta variant. This implies that the protection against reinfection by Omicron afforded by past infection may be as low as 19%. 

Sushil Koirala

In short, there is some evidence that natural immunity from past infection and or vaccine-induced immunity from prior vaccination may not be sufficient to prevent Omicron infection. However, it’s good to point out that it is too early in the day, and there is insufficient knowledge on how those infections will translate to increased severity and or death at a population level.

Good thing is, Nepal has now received sufficient Moderna vaccines to provide booster doses to elderly and vulnerable groups and will have additional 2 million doses to continue vaccinating those of 12-18 years of age. 

Read also: Living with Covid in 2022, Sonia Awale

Is there now a clearer picture of Omicron? What can we say about a possible new surge, increased transmissibility and severe diseases?

Though it is still quite early to conclude anything, there is a broader general consensus on the following evidence: 

1) Due to mutations in the spike protein, Omicron is highly transmissible. Early studies suggest that it is four-fold more infectious than the original coronavirus and two-fold more infectious than Delta.  Lab studies suggest that Omicron was able to replicate 70 times faster in human respiratory tissue than Delta, which may help the variant spread more rapidly between people. There were also higher levels of the Omicron variant in respiratory tissue 48 hours after infection than the Delta variant. 

2) There is some evidence that natural immunity from past infection and or vaccine-induced immunity from prior vaccination may not be sufficient to prevent Omicron infection as discussed earlier.

3) There is mixed evidence based on small lab-based studies that suggest that vaccine still provides some level of protection against Omicron and while other studies suggest that there are vaccine escapes. The magnitude of either one is unknown. 

4) Early data suggests that Omicron may be milder than previous variants, but most of this anecdotal data comes from young and fully vaccinated patients. It is also important to note that many of these initially confirmed Omicron cases were already fully vaccinated or previously infected, revealing the occurrence of breakthrough reinfection and the immune escape of the Omicron variant.

5) There are not many studies/data that look at the severity of Omicron infections among unvaccinated and elderly/vulnerable people. Some experts believe that Omicron’s increased transmissibility could still result in high rates of severe disease and death particularly among vulnerable and unvaccinated people. 

Read also: Masks and vaccines to stop Nepal’s 2nd wave, Sushil Koirala

At this point in the pandemic, what should be Nepal’s best strategy moving forward?

We have three confirmed imported cases of Omicron. Since the first case arrived in Nepal in mid-November, it is safe to assume that there must be small cluster transmission happening in Nepal, particularly in Kathmandu. Recent superspreader political events have exacerbated the risks of the transmissions to other parts of Nepal. All three confirmed cases were detected when they were clinically sick and among vaccinated people. It shows that our active surveillance is not working well. 

Despite having multiple cases from fly-in travelers, our real risk of a large-scale outbreak is likely to come from across the southern border. So, yet again, what will happen in Nepal will largely depend on how the Omicron outbreak unfolds in India. Nepal should keep its focus on surveilling border cases and up its vaccination drive, which has flattened in recent months.  

As natural immunity seems to be unable to prevent Omicrom infections, it is of outmost importance that Nepal prepare critical care for a large-scale Omicron outbreak. 

We have a relatively lower vaccinated coverage, we have not provided booster doses,  the efficacy of the Chinese vaccine against the new variant is unknown, and public health measures at population levels are sketchy and insufficient. 

This presents all necessary conditions for a highly contagious variant to spread in Nepal. It is still too early to tell how this increased transmissibility translates to the severity and deaths. We will eventually know that, but we cannot afford to wait.

Read also: Delta variant’s wake-up call for Nepal, Sushil Koirala and Ben Ayers

Santi, the female Santa

Me as Santi, the female Santa, during a staff association 2008 Christmas get together in UNICEF. Photos: COURTESY OF RUPA JOSHI

It is that time of the year again. Malls in Kathmandu have decorated themselves with tinsel, baubles, artificial trees, LED lights and Christmas themed gizmos on shelves, painting the town red (and green).

The other day I was almost tempted to buy a little snow globe in one of the stores before I balked at the price. Nonetheless, I did turn a couple of them upside down to watch the snow fall.  Snowfall, jingling bells, presents. Christmas is here!

This fascination with Christmas goes back to childhood, studying in a Catholic missionary school. The nuns taught us carols, and shared with the ‘good girls’ cards that had been sent to them from across the world. It was an era when Christmas greetings were still in hardcopy — letters, cards and postcards.

Vintage Christmas card of Santa Claus. Source: FINEARTAMERICA.COM

The cards were precious, and we cherished the ones with glitter on them, or with pop-ups and layers. One year, I even made a scrapbook out of these cards as part of my ‘hobbies’ exhibit. 

The Christmas tree with presents piled up underneath, the plump laughing guy with rosy cheeks in a red suit, twinkling eyes and snowy white beard riding his reindeer-driven sleigh laden with presents. And of course, white snowy scenes with boughs of holly and red berries.

So enamoured was I to have a piece of Christmas myself, I scoured the nooks and crannies of our compound, in the undergrowth, searching for any plant that had chevron spikes that looked like holly.

Drawing a Christmas tree also became an interesting pastime during the last days of school in December. A three tiered pointy pagoda-like tree with zigzag lines for tinsel, circles here and there for baubles, and not to forget a big star on top and a trapezoid pot at the bottom.

I loved our singing classes, and as December got closer we performed the feisty “Jingle Bells” and “Good King Wenceslas” or the solemn “Silent Night” with all our might.

I hankered for Christmas so much my parents took pity on me and decided to let me have a Christmas experience. I must have been eight, and had hung a sock on my bed on Christmas Eve, hoping the cherubic guy from the North Pole would come sleighing down to Kathmandu.

A more buxom Santi from the year earlier.

Next morning I found a yellow cloth doll with a pixie head and a plastic face peeping from the top of the sock. I was thrilled that Father Christmas had come all the way to my room. I had a doll named Bella that my father had given as a gift, so I named its companion, the yellow doll, Yella.

I played with Bella and Yella, and the next Christmas I hung up the sock again. And the next morning there was a Johnson & Johnson pink and blue striped tiffin-like tin box with soap, cream, and talcum powder set inside it. I still get the soft soapy aroma of that box in my nose today.

I was probably 10 when the Christmas bubble burst. I had put up my sock again but my mother probably did not have time to shop for a present. What I found inside the sock on Christmas morning was the glass bottle of ointment (with a chipped glass cap) that used to be in the showcase in my parent’s room. Dreams were shattered along with the broken glass cap. Christmas fizzled out after that.

It sparked again years later when I was in the US for my masters, and my three children had come over for a visit during the holidays. At their request we put up a Christmas tree, tinsels, twinkling lights, presents, enjoying the whole process along with them, and probably finally living up to my childhood dreams too.

But the feather in my Christmas cap came when I was with UNICEF Nepal and arranging a Christmas party for colleagues and their children. My dream of Santa Claus visiting me was exchanged for dressing up twice, not as Santa, but the female version Santi – with white curly locks, carrying a jute sack full of gifts and draped in a red sari with white edging of surgical cotton that I had hurriedly stitched the night before. 

Merry Christmas. हो! हो! हो! 

Read also: Ghosts of Christmas past, Lisa Choegyal

Enterprize India

Chargés d’Affaires of the Embassy of India Namgya C Khampa inaugurated the Enterprize India Exhibition in Bhrikuti Mandap this week. Organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) with the support of Indian Ministry of Commerce & Industry to promote Brand India, the show hopes to enhance bilateral trade and investment between India and Nepal. More than 50 Indian companies are participating.

ICT Awards

The sixth edition of ICT Awards honored winners in 12 categories during an event held in Kathmandu on Friday. Kalika Secondary School, Butwal won the Digital Education ICT Award (government) and the Digital Education ICT Award (private) went to Rato Bangla School, Lalitpur.

The Digital Services government and private went to the Department of Land Management and Records, and Nepal Clearing House Limited respectively. Dipesh Pradhan was honored with the Entrepreneur ICT Award, Manohar Kumar Bhattarai won the Pioneer ICT Award, and the NCell Woman Icon ICT Award went to Guna Keshari Pradhan.

Nabil SmartPOS

Nabil Bank has signed a tripartite agreement with Daraz and imark to introduce Nabil SmartPOS, an Android portable payment solution. Customers shopping at Daraz will now be able to make payments through the features available within the SmartPOS.