Note from the author: The border blockade

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In mid-September, the Republic of Nepal, which shed its monarchy in 2006, ratified a new constitution. This should have been cause for celebration. Unfortunately, the division of power in the long-contested document provoked bitter disappointment among the Madeshis, an ethnic group that dominates southern Nepal and enjoys close geographical and historical ties to India.

Tensions soon escalated into violence, and in late September, India closed crucial entry points to landlocked Nepal, which imports many essentials (including petrol, cooking gas, pharmaceuticals and many foods) from its southern neighbor.

So far the Madeshi protests, which can be resolved only by complex negotiations, have taken some 50 lives. Many more may die as the Himalayan winter sets in, and people made homeless by the earthquakes cannot rebuild.

For travelers, the blockade is a mere inconvenience. Some restaurants have closed, while others offer limited menus. Transportation by taxi has become expensive. Domestic flights may be canceled with little notice, though not often to popular destinations like Lukla and Pokhara.

For the Nepali people, though, the border crisis has been devastating, causing inflated prices, shortages of essentials and endless lines for fuel and cooking gas. Kathmandu's Bir hospital, with 350 patients, has been cooking with firewood for months. Community forests are being denuded. Antibiotics and other medicines are scarce. Nepal's leadership, meanwhile, is locked in a cycle of bickering and self-interest.

As of this writing, there is no end in sight to the blockade. I urge readers of Travel Weekly to inform themselves and their clients about this crisis and to increase pressure on both India and Nepal to end this threat to Nepal's most vulnerable citizens.

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