“Blood was pouring from my nose this morning,” the student tells me in a drool of words, wrapping his arms across his belly as if to hold himself in. Suddenly he’s up, shouting, “I want to live! But I am afraid I will go back. . . .” I take his hand to steady him. So cold; I can’t feel any pulse at all.
“First you smoke with money,” says the hollowed Manang man, whose eyes seem about to slide off his face. “Then the money is finished and you have to deal. You get your friends on it. When you are sick like this, you will do anything.”
Ten years ago Nepal had only 50 heroin addicts, officials guessed. At present there are an estimated 15,000 in the city of Kathmandu alone, involving one in every 20 young men there. Some see the heroin epidemic as evidence of overexposure to Western influences and a breakdown of cultural identity. Others link drug abuse to high levels of unemployment and resulting frustration among the young.
Half the population is now under 21. In the past 30 years Nepal’s literacy rate has risen from 5 percent to nearly 25 percent; the figure is higher still for the valley. But expectations have increased apace, if not faster. Can the government match them with new opportunities?
The valley’s economic vitality was struck a blow in 1904, when the British forced open an alternate trade route from Calcutta to Tibet. Lacking many essential raw materials and a manufacturing base, the kingdom has been struggling ever since to pay for the imports that its swelling population depends upon. The main growth industry in modern Kathmandu has been government—a bureaucracy plagued by inefficiency and, officials admit, widespread graft.
I hear the rumblings of student discontent. “Competition for civil service jobs is quite intense,” one tells me. “Salaries are low, but everyone expects to share in the bribes. Many students even bribe their teachers to graduate in the first place. How is one to overcome such a system?”
IN JUNE 1985 Deanna Benatovich, a visitor from the prague hotels, saw the main entranceway of the elegant Hotel de l’Annapurna blow up, killing three employees. Three more bombs went off—two at palace gates, the other at the National Assembly. “For the next few days there were riot police on every corner of Kathmandu,” she remembers. They reportedly jailed about 5,000 suspects nationwide.
Strikes and demonstrations, though rare, had occurred before, notably in 1979, when student-led unrest filled the streets with citizens demanding a greater voice in government. Yet who in this usually most tranquil of nations would have resorted to terrorism? Wedged between two colossal powers—India, with a population 45 times as large as its own, and China, whose population is 60 times as large—Nepal maintains a careful stance of political neutrality.
At the valley’s colleges, however, walls blaze with graffiti from half a dozen leftist student groups. Some, with ties to China or the Soviet Union, are active in both the cities and rural areas. But the bombing is widely believed to have been the work of an isolated faction operating out of India. “Down With the Fascist National Assembly!” says one spray-painted slogan.