The date is still fresh in my memory. A hard day’s work during my summer internship was followed by an e-mail, from the PGP office, inviting applications for the Youth Exchange Programme, organised by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Government of India. This was a golden opportunity to represent India and also visit a foreign nation. The next stage involved shortlisting of applications by the parent institute. These names were then forwarded to the Ministry, where the final screening was conducted.
9 students from IIM Ranchi were selected by the Ministry to be part of a 46-strong delegation to the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. The visit was scheduled from 10th – 17th March 2017. Apart from IIM Ranchi, the delegation comprised of students from premier educational institutions such as AIIMS – New Delhi, IIT Bombay, IIT Delhi, IIT Kanpur, IIT Roorkee, various NITs and volunteers from the National Service Scheme. We were excited to be a part of the first ever Indian youth delegation to visit this mountainous country.
The 1st Day of the Indo-Nepal Youth Delegation began with us catching an early morning flight from New Delhi to Kathmandu. We landed in Kathmandu at 10:45 AM. There were officials from the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Government of Nepal, to welcome us at the Tribhuvan International Airport.
The delegation began with the visit of the Swayambhunath Stupa, commonly known as the Monkey Temple among tourists. The Stupa had a 2500-year-old legacy. It resembles the Pagoda style architecture of the Chinese civilization. According to legend, a monk planted a Lotus in the middle of a lake in the Kathmandu Valley. The flower magically started emitting light, which was considered sacred among the village-folk. The Stupa is believed to be protecting this lotus. The surroundings of the Stupa brought about a sense of wonder and peace. The sight of the Buddhist prayer wheels fondly reminded me of my visit to the Namdroling Monastery, in Coorg, a few years back.
The next stop was the Indian Embassy in Nepal. Mr. Vinay Kumar, IFS, Ambassador-in-Charge of the Indian Embassy welcomed the delegation. We were briefed about the behaviour expected out of the delegation, while in Nepal, along with precautions for our safety. It was a surreal experience to be inside an embassy building – the first time in my life, one which made me feel proud to be representing my country. An interesting fact about the Indian embassy in Nepal is that it is the largest in terms of the number of employees and the second-largest (after the Indian embassy in Bhutan) in terms of area.
The end of our first day was marked by an informal dinner hosted by Shri. Mahesh Chandra Dahal, Secretary of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Government of Nepal. The secretary commenced the event by touching upon the current scenario of Youth Affairs in Nepal. I was simply mesmerized with the rich Nepali cuisine and the exhilarating dance performances by the local artists.
It was a positive start to what would become a life-changing experience.
Day 2 began with an early morning darshan of Lord Pashupatinath. The iconic temple is situated on the banks of the Bagmathi River. Hindu devotees throng in huge numbers during the auspicious Shivarathri.
The iconic Pashupatinath Temple
After breakfast, we had a stimulating programme scheduled at the Nepal Chamber of Commerce (NCC) office. The meeting was organised by the Youth Council in collaboration with the NCC.
The members of the Chamber of Commerce were from varied backgrounds such as banking, business, law and the social sector. The meeting was quite thought-provoking and informative. We had bilateral discussions on issues where India and Nepal could cooperate for mutual socio-economic development. Some of the key topics discussed included the start-up ecosystem in Nepal, state of micro-finance and cottage industries, agriculture, trade, power generation, and disaster management.
After the meeting, we had our lunch and left for Nagarkot. Upon arrival, we witnessed the sunset with the Langtang mountain range, perfectly nestled, in the background.
Day 3 would begin with a visit to the famed Bhaktapur Durbar Square. Till the 15th Century, Bhaktapur was a huge kingdom ruled by the Malla dynasty. An eventual dispute between the 3 sons of the incumbent king led to the division of Bhaktapur into 3 parts namely – Bhaktapur, Kathmandu and Patan. One of the striking features of the Square was a 5 Storey temple, which was built in a record time of 7 months.
Temple in Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Post lunch, we boarded a plane to Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautama Buddha. We travelled by Buddha Air and it was my first experience flying on a foreign airline. After a long and hectic day, we checked-in at a hotel and decided to take the rest of the evening off. We made merry with cultural performances, which were highly appreciated by the Nepalese dignitaries accompanying us. It was yet another memorable day.
Day 4 encompassed one of the most spiritual experiences of the tour. We had the privilege of meeting and being briefed about the historical significance of Lumbini by Mr. Basanta Bidari, an ex-staffs man of Lumbini Development Trust. Mr. Bidari had personally briefed former UN Secretary-General Mr. Kofi Annan during the latter’s visit to Nepal. Lumbini was given the status of a World Heritage Site in 1997. The entire site consists of three parts – The Sacred Garden, the Monastic Enclave and the New Lumbini Village. The Sacred Garden marks the birthplace of Gautama Buddha. A marker stone has been placed to identify the exact spot of the Lord’s birth. The monastic enclave consisted of monasteries set up by several countries.
Building housing the marker stone – identifier of the exact spot of Gautama Buddha’s birth
There was a spiritual aura around the Garden; something which I have rarely felt in my life. It was a dream come true to have visited the birthplace of the Enlightened One.
The Sacred Garden
The Eternal Flame
A stupa in Lumbini
Post lunch, we left for Chitwan National Park. After a tiring bus journey, we were treated to the exquisite local Tharu dances, performed by the Terai people in the hotel.
Day 5 started out with an Elephant Safari in Chitwan National Park. This was my second Elephant safari after a gap of 15 years. I have not been to many sanctuaries but the amalgamation of flora and fauna in Chitwan was truly breath-taking!
Elephant Safari in Chitwan National Park
We could spot Nilgais, wild boars, alligators and peacocks in the reserve. After an adventurous safari, we departed for Pokhara, the largest city of Nepal in terms of area.
Day 6 would mark a second interaction with the budding youth entrepreneurs of Nepal. But first, we visited Davis Falls and Fewa Lake, Pokhara’s largest and Nepal’s second largest lake.
We went for a boat ride and visited the Barahi temple, situated in the middle of the lake.
Post lunch, we proceeded for a meeting with the Youth Entrepreneurs, organised jointly by the Pokhra Chamber of Commerce and the Nepalese Young Entrepreneurs’ Forum (NYEF). Similar to our previous interaction, this meeting was very constructive. The main topics of discussion pertained to youth development. We realised that Nepal was suffering from the banes of brain drain and dearth in entrepreneurial opportunities. But, it was really great to hear that the NYEF are taking concrete measures in addressing these issues. One such step is the School Mentorship Program. Under this program, the students of Std. IX and X are introduced to the idea of entrepreneurship and are guided by mentors (members of the NYEF); in case they wished to pursue their business ideas. The meeting concluded with a Q&A session between the Indian delegates and members of the NYEF.
I was particularly interested in the e-commerce industry in Pokhara (and Nepal in general) and also had the good fortune of meeting an exuberant entrepreneur working in this sector. We spoke for about 30 minutes and discussed different ways of improving internet penetration in Nepal and in spreading awareness about e-commerce among the common man.
This was a truly memorable day – a day when I had made some Nepali friends.
Day 7 had one of the packed schedules of the delegation. We woke up at 4:30 AM to depart to Sarangkot for witnessing the heavenly sunrise.
The famed Sarangkot Sunrise
We had a flight to Kathmandu in the afternoon. But before that, we decided to visit the famous Mountain museum of Pokhara. The museum had very well documented the history of the different tribes of Nepal, the first conquests (along with the equipment used by the mountaineers) of the eight-thousanders and also had an educational pop quiz at the end of the tour!
International Mountain Museum
We reached Kathmandu at 4 PM. At 6 PM, we attended a farewell dinner hosted by Mr. Daljit Shreepali, Honourable Minister of Youth and Sports, Government of Nepal. After keynote addresses by the leader of our delegation and other dignitaries, famous Indian art and dance forms were presented. The banquet was over by 9 PM. Since it was our penultimate day on the exchange programme, we set-up a campfire in the hotel courtyard and made merry.
Day 8 marked the final day of our Youth delegation. We were eagerly looking forward to a once-in-a-lifetime experience – A glimpse of the Majestic Mount Everest and the famed Himalayan Ranges.
We got up early to catch a mountain flight from Kathmandu airport. Buddha Air was coordinating the flights for us. The mountain flight is also unique in another aspect – it is the only flight in the world where passengers are allowed to enter the cockpit. The view of Mount Everest was truly remarkable and definitely a one to remember!
View of Mt. Everest from the cockpit
Before our departure to India, we were given a very warm and heartfelt farewell by the officials of Ministry of Youth and Sports, Government of Nepal. We reached the airport by 1:30 PM and boarded our flight to Delhi at 5:30 PM. We reached Delhi at around 7 PM and bade our final goodbyes.
In the end, this opportunity to represent the Indian youth overwhelmed me with a sense of pride and happiness.
About the Author:
Deepak V. is from the recently graduated PGDM 2015-17 batch of IIM Ranchi.