Not just hot air – Himal Southasian zindabad

This article was published in The News on Sunday (TNS) as Mountain magazine resort’, on the Footloose page, Dec 20, 2009 for a special issue on conference tourism

Not just hot air

Himal Southasian, Feb 1998

There are conferences and there are conferences. Some organisers lure participants with travel and daily allowances and fancy hotels at exotic locales. Others rely on goodwill and commitment. If it’s the latter, it helps to be located in an exotic place anyway — like Kathmandu. It also helps if the organisers are professional colleagues for whom you have the highest regard.

These last two factors contribute to my ‘favourite’ conference being one that took place in Kathmandu in early 1996. The man behind it was Kanak Mani Dixit, whom I had met at an earlier South Asia conference about water resources organised by Panos some years ago. Kanak had decided to turn his ‘mountain magazine’ Himal into a Southasian venture (there is a reason Himalers write ‘Southasian’ as one word – for an explanation see the published magazine or the Himal Southasian website.

So Kanak got together a few journalists from around Southasia to meet and brainstorm on this venture. He put Mitu Varma from New Delhi (who later became Country Representative in India for Panos South Asia) and myself up at the Third World Guest House in Pattan, one of the five ancient kingdoms around Kathmandu that are conserved as World Heritage sites.

Himal Southasian, cover June 1996

Kanak and his brother Kunda Dixit (my former editor at InterPress Service, who now runs the Nepali Times) lived with their families in houses just outside Patan Dhoka (the main Patan entrance or ‘darwaza’) in a large compound. It contained several buildings, all family property. They could have knocked these down and built a high-rise plaza to get rich quick as so many in Kathmandu were doing. But they have different values. Kanak’s father, a respected writer, named Kanak’s son, Elam, as in ‘ilm’, knowledge.

They had a printing press for their Nepali magazines and Himal in the old ‘buggy house’. The magazines shared an office in a building at the entrance of the compound. The printing press was later moved out and the space converted into a watering hole for Kathmandu’s artists, journalists and activists – Dhokaima, a café, gallery and conference centre.

The Third World Guest House where Mitu and I shared a room was sparse, but clean and comfortable. We had a great view of the main Pattan square, overlooking an ancient temple. It was incredibly colourful and photogenic (still is). We would have a light breakfast then walk through Pattan to the Himal office for our meetings. The rooftop terrace was a great place for an evening reception one evening. The icing on the cake: the unforgettable hot air balloon ride over Kathmandu, landing near Bhaktapur, another ancient kingdom.

— Beena Sarwar

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