Updated: Jul 26, 2019
On July 1, 2019, the Nepal national chapter of Rotary International inducted Kiran Lal Shrestha as it’s new governor of district 3209. In this capacity, Kiran Lal Shrestha now presides over more than 90 Rotary Clubs in Nepal and neighboring Bhutan. Almost exactly one year before his induction, Kiran Lal Shrestha arrived 45 minutes late for a meeting with the sitting district governor, a bank CEO named Chintamani Basnet, and Sanjay Giri, the gentleman who preceded Chintamani in this capacity. Before Kiran Lal Shrestha’s arrival, the meeting was positive and all attendees agreed on the importance of the subject being discussed: the need for fire engines in the Kathmandu Valley and in Nepal in general.
Over the past three years, my colleagues and I had worked on bringing fire engines to Nepal. The first four firefighting vehicles, including a command vehicle, two pumper-tankers and one ladder truck, had been purchased by my U.S.-based watch company. The other vehicles were donated by a number of communities in Western Pennsylvania, including the City of Pittsburgh. Another aerial vehicle, with a replacement value of a million dollars, had been earmarked to be donated to Nepal as well. Due to the 2015-16 economic blockade, the initial arrangements to deliver these vehicles to Nepal were dashed. Subsequent efforts to get the expedition underway also failed after the expedition’s title sponsor pulled out as a result of the publicly-traded company’s stock taking a nosedive due to the retail apocalypse in the U.S. After a number of other U.S.-based and some European companies declined to participate in the expedition because they had no business interests in Nepal, my solution was to find smaller sponsors based in Nepal.
The new strategy worked to a degree, but due to interference by an unknown entity or person, several potential sponsors who initially agreed, very enthusiastically, to support the expedition financially, backed out before the talks produced actual results. My colleagues in Nepal and I had a suspicion that someone was either reading our emails, listened into our calls, or both –and then contacted the potential sponsors after we met with them in an effort to dissuade them from supporting the expedition. Ever since I first arrived in Nepal to make final arrangements for the delivery of the fire trucks, I sensed that my phones were being tapped. A Navy SEAL friend, in whom I confided, told me that the various tell-tale signs my phones were exhibiting, were all hallmarks of electronic surveillance. During the blockade, I mounted several concerted efforts to publicly expose the complicity of Narendra Modi’s government in the blockade. The Indian prime minister was known for his ruthlessness, and several sources with ties to India provided detailed background information that I collected in order to publicize Modi’s culpability, in the hopes of embarrassing the Indian government to such a degree that they would lift the blockade.
During this time, a great many other efforts were simultaneously underway, both officially and covertly, to pressure India’s government to stop its blockade. For example, Nepal’s Army chief asked his Indian counterpart for support in convincing India’s defense minister to take the matter up directly with Modi and his foreign minister. This plan worked, as a top official at the Indian embassy in Kathmandu later confided in me. “There was a conversation and it was around the time that these guys were looking at ending the blockade. The pressure points were the Indian Gurkha regiments and the Gurkha veterans whose families were affected by the blockade,” this official told me in 2017 under condition of anonymity. “Please, don’t release your film about the blockade yet, it will cause more problems. We’re just now slowly getting things back in order with the Nepalese. We made a mistake, the blockade shouldn’t have happened,” this Indian intelligence officer told me in the garden of the Shangri-La hotel, the same venue where the spy chief of the embassy in Kathmandu confirmed India's involvement in the blockade to me over a year earlier.
That the Indians had me on their radar was understandable. With contacts at the highest levels in Washington and in past U.S. presidential administrations, I was willing to do whatever I possibly could to comply with Nepal’s Prime Minister K.P. Oli request to expose India’s blockade in as high profile a manner as possible. My objective would ultimately be successful because one evening, thanks to a healthy dose of good luck, the viewers of Fox News discovered -during a prime-time news show- that the popular program's anchor had "also been digging into this...what India is doing is just outrageous and they're saying it's not our fault, but guess what? India could fix it. India could fix it tonight if India really wanted to, and to let these people freeze to death is just unconscionable. These people have nothing to do with their battle fight and if India wanted to they could end it tonight."
Soon after this Fox News program aired, the phones at the Indian embassy in Washington, D.C. rang hot as Indian-Americans called to register their objection over their native government's act of cruelty towards Nepal's 30 million people. This, in turn, caused consternation in South Block. "There was a lot of chatter about this Fox News piece," an Indian journalist with close ties to India's foreign ministry told me. When I informed her that I had orchestrated the PR coup, her jaw dropped.
Immediately after the Fox News segment aired, the public affairs officer at the Indian embassy in Washington made arrangements for her ambassador to appear on the same program a few nights later. The likable ambassador's job was unenviable insofar as that he personally disagreed with his government's secret blockade. Yet, ultimately, an ambassador is paid to put on a game face and, when required, lie on behalf of his nation. And so despite his serious personal reservations about the blockade, the ambassador touted India's official position that the blockade had nothing to do with Delhi. It did not take the Indian intelligence service long to discover that their nation's very public loss of face was the result of a certain German national purporting to bring fire trucks to Nepal. "What are you really doing here," the then-head of India's Research & Analysis Wing station in Kathmandu asked me over tea one afternoon.
All of this caused some mild security concerns and I received a steady string of warnings, from friends in America and from a German diplomat in Kathmandu, that India’s intelligence service, R&AW, might take revenge. “Don’t bring your family to Nepal,” the German contact warned me one day over lunch, “people do disappear here and there have been a string of suspicious accidents outside of the Valley.” When the Pakistani ambassador in Kathmandu later asked me to meet him in his office, and -unsuccessfully- attempted to recruit me for another publicity stunt against India, I began to wonder if perhaps it might be better to abandon the fire truck expedition and leave Nepal.
The recent assassination of a Nepalese official by motorcycle-mounted killers had caused panic among some of my otherwise laid-back but high-profile Nepalese friends. “Please look into bullet proof cars for me,” a close personal friend requested. Against this backdrop, I had elected to remain at the Hyatt Regency, despite the considerable expense associated with permanently living in an international chain's five-star hotel. The Hyatt is famous for having the best security in Nepal and I made a point to tip every one of the security guards on a bi-annual basis. When I traveled outside of the Kathmandu Valley, at least one personal security officer accompanied me. Usually, a Nepalese Army intelligence officer was part of the security detail. While I felt relatively safe throughout my stay in Nepal, I always had the feeling that I was being watched.
After the blockade ended, and as one highly promising sponsorship lead after another fell through, despite much initial excitement and many assurances to support the expedition financially, I started to have a suspicion that perhaps someone was intervening in order to stop the expedition before it ever began. I therefore was only cautiously optimistic when Rotary Nepal's Chintamani Basnet and Sanjary Giri expressed their interest in Rotary Nepal becoming a major financial sponsor the expedition.
“The amount of money you’re requesting is not a lot, we can just ask for $500 from each club,” Sanjay said after conferring with Chintamani. Discussions were close to coming to a positive conclusion with another potential sponsor, Ncell, the telecom and one of Nepal’s largest companies. Together, Ncell and Rotary would enable us to ship the vehicles to Nepal. Smaller sponsors who agreed to pay $10,000 each once the vehicles reached Nepal, would make up the remaining amount necessary to conduct the expedition. The fire truck expedition made perfect sense for Rotary Nepal. According to rotary.com, Rotary International is an international service organization whose stated purpose is to bring together business and professional leaders in order to provide humanitarian service and to advance goodwill and peace around the world.
The Nepal chapter of the international organization had previously organized a donation of fire engines, and all Chintamani and Sanjay requested in return for sponsorship was to have the Rotary logo prominently placed on each fire engine.
Just in this moment of positivity arrived Kiran Lal Shrestha, looking rather confident and failing to apologize for his lateness. The first thing Kiran Lal Shrestha did upon examining my business card, was to ask me if I had gotten the tourism minister’s approval to use the ministry’s seal over my name and title Goodwill Ambassador for Tourism. I had asked Deepak Joshi of Nepal Tourism Board for permission and shown the business card to the minister of tourism, Rabindra Adhikari, and to his assistants, all of whom took a card without making any remarks about the seal. “The minister has my card, as do his staff, what is the problem,” I asked. Kiran Lal Shrestha looked unhappy. He had missed most of the meeting, including my presentation about the dismal state of Nepal’s fire services. “We don’t need more fire trucks,” he said sharply, cutting me off mid-sentence, “Nepal shouldn’t be a dump site for used equipment.” Astonished at his rudeness, I informed Kiran Lal Shrestha that every fire chief in Nepal with whom I had met over the past few years was of a different opinion. “Besides, these trucks are in excellent condition. They have been inspected by several officials, including Nepal’s only internationally certified fireman, the former fire chief of Kathmandu.”
Kiran Lal Shrestha continued with his negative comments and attacked every single point I made, all to the equal astonishment and visible discomfort of his two colleagues who had just agreed on all the same points that Shrestha now dismissed. I found it difficult to control my emotions. The fire truck expedition had been derided by countless people, including by Westerners living in Nepal who considered it just another scheme by a fraudster, and by Nepalese officials. Still, I continued to believe in the project rather passionately. After some more contentious back-and-forth with Kiran Lal Shrestha, I wanted to appeal to the man’s respect for human dignity. “Let me ask you, you know about the two firemen who were severely burned in the fire in Birgunj, correct?” Kiran Lal Shrestha mustered me without much interest. Without saying a word, he motioned his head forward with a forced expression of indifference on his face.
Birgunj is a border town in southern Nepal. It was in this city that workers at a gas factory reported a leak to the local fire department. The first fire engine arrived almost an hour later. Due to the lack of training that prevails in Nepal’s fire departments, the firemen failed to turn off their vehicle’s engine, in turn causing the leaked gas to explode. Two firemen died instantly and another two were severely burned. It was one of Nepal’s worst fires and received unusually extensive media coverage. By coincidence, the Nepal Tourism Board had previously scheduled a press conference to announce the release of my book, Nepal Needs Fire Trucks for the same day. The morning press conference had to be moved to later in the day because so few journalists expressed an interest in attending. Yet as the news of the Birgunj fire spread, a large horde of journalists descended on NTB’s headquarters in Kathmandu, completely packing Deepak Joshi’s conference room.
In the evening, while having dinner at the Roadhouse Café pizzeria overlooking the Boudhanath stupa, I received a call from someone asking if there was a way for me to help the injured firemen. “The one guy has 80% burns, he will die here, nobody can help him. But if he could be flown to India, there’s a small chance he'll survive,” this person informed me. A few phone calls later, my co-producer and I convinced one of Nepal’s top policemen, a personal friend, to join us on our mission to get the ailing fireman flown to India. A German embassy official provided some guidance with respect to transporting burn victims by air “you need a medical jet, you can’t put him in a business class seat, no way.” This seemed obvious, but in our eagerness to help as rapidly as possible, we had overlooked this crucial detail.
A few hours later, we had arranged an air ambulance, a medical team in Nepal and onboard the jet, as well as a receiving doctor and a bed in a burn clinic in Delhi. We had also crafted a plan to stop Kathmandu’s otherwise busy traffic for the entire distance from the hospital to the airport in order to ferry the fireman from the hospital downtown to the air ambulance. “My men will take care of everything, leave it to me, once we have him on the ambulance, we will short-circuit morning rush hour traffic and clear the way for the ambulance,” the highly professional and very focused police official told us. It was meanwhile 4 in the morning and the three of us were seated in what Nepalese health officials incorrectly labeled a hospital. The fact was that by European standards, short-term accommodations for canines are more well-appointed than this so-called medical clinic. A young doctor told us matter-of-factly “there’s no chance, I can’t do anything for him, my team and I are just not trained for this level of burns. If he stays here, he’s dead in 48 hours.”
It was already evening in Washington, but on short notice the Soarway Foundation’s executive director, retired U.S. Ambassador Scott DeLisi, agreed to help raise funds to pay for the air ambulance. Once my well-heeled friends in Nepal would wake up, I planned to ask them for additional support. “In order for the victim to leave Nepal and get treatment in India you need the permission and the signature of the health minister himself,” the doctor said. “We will go and see the minister in the morning,” the police official said, “I’ll get someone to get a handwritten request letter from his parents.” The fireman was in his early twenties. By 7 A.M. we were in possession of a handwritten letter from the young man's parents.
In the late afternoon, without having slept, the police official and my co-producer met the health minister of Nepal. After the official was briefed, he shrugged his shoulders and smiled “this requires a cabinet level decision. We just had a cabinet meeting yesterday. Our next cabinet meeting is on Monday. Come back then and I’ll see what can be done,” the minister said before disappearing in his SUV. “Today is Friday, that chap will not survive,” the police official told my co-producer. At the same time, I had no luck in convincing anyone in Kathmandu to help cover the expenses associated with transporting the fireman to Delhi.
After working all day on trying to drum support among Kathmandu's elite, I had not obtained a single pledge of support. The air ambulance was standing by in Delhi, waiting for the necessary funds to arrive before departing for Kathmandu. The clock was ticking and I became increasingly disillusioned with the state of Nepal's civic society. “Mike, you will never learn how this country works, you’re a hopeless case,” a family friend told me. “If this fireman gets flown to Delhi, do you know how many other people will demand the same special treatment,” he asked. “This is Nepal, life is cheap. Get used to it and stop wasting your time on little side projects like this, focus on your fire trucks.” Several other powerful, rich and Western-educated friends told me the same thing, with varying degrees of bluntness. “He’s just a fireman,” one civic leader said, “firemen aren’t respected here like they are in America or Europe.”
On Sunday, we received word from the doctor that the fireman had died. It was Christmas eve and I had cancelled my family vacation to see if there was another way to help the fireman.
Over many years I have been able to shrug off life’s little and medium-sized setbacks without showing much emotion. “Germans aren’t engineered to cry,” I once told a friend who remarked that I failed to show any visible emotions about a major setback about which we had just learned. Years later, after James Gandolfini, whom I considered more a brother than a best friend, died in Rome, I was too busy to get emotional. This inherent resoluteness enabled me to function at a high level of calmness despite an unfolding crisis on several occasions. However, the episode of the fireman from Birgunj produced a wide range of emotions, including rage and resignation.
“What a shithole of a country you have, human life means nothing to your government but at the same time you ask for all of these donations,” I said to a high-ranking Nepalese official, a personal friend until that particular outburst. “Please don’t call my country a shithole,” he responded. “Are you kidding? That’s what every diplomat in town calls Nepal. You don’t hear it because everyone bows down to you. Maybe I should record these people next time and play you the recording.” This was true, in years of dealings on a personal level, I had heard the term shit-hole used often to describe Nepal in my interactions with dozens of foreign aid workers and diplomats. When Donald Trump later used the term to describe several nations, an Israeli diplomat joked "he didn't mention Nepal, maybe he never heard of it." Even a few Nepalese used the term. "This is the best shithole on earth, I love it here, nothing works but everything works. Jai Nepal," a young Nepali friend told me.
“Sexy humanitarian aid,” Gail Marzetti, then the Nepal country director for UK AID/DFID, called it diplomatically. “Nobody gives a hoot about when a dam breaks in Pakistan or some other Muslim country, but if something happens in Nepal, every donor nation falls over itself to help," Gail added over pasta at Piano B, a popular Italian bistro across from DFID's Kathmandu compound. I had resisted for years to call Nepal by any name except Shangri-La. Even after I made several unsavory discoveries about the place, I was happy to promote Nepal. But the situation with the fireman was my personal breaking point.
“Do you realize how big a signal it would have been if this man’s life had been saved,” I asked the Nepalese government official. Sitting in his office in Singha Durbar, this man said “we have our problems, you’re right, but why only focus on the problems.” This attitude only increased my level of frustration.
Defeated, I realized that no amount of goodwill can correct the shortcomings of an entire nation if the leaders charged with its stewardship are uneducated, inept, corrupt and focused on nothing but foreign junkets paid by for by “sponsors”. It took me two months to recover from a bout of depression over the incident with the fireman from Birgunj. During this time, I developed very dark thoughts about Nepal. “Mike, you can’t blame yourself,” Malcolm McDowell told me from Ojai during a lengthy call to discuss the various problems the fire truck expedition and I, personally, had faced. “You have worked so hard at this, you must succeed. I know you will.”
Malcolm would arrive in Nepal less than two months later to do a cross-country road trip in a green vintage Range Rover formerly owned by Nepal’s royal family. This two-week long trip, together with Bollywood actress Manisha Koirala, resulted in The Adventures of Maiko McDonald, a tongue-in-cheek documentary film about Malcolm’s exploits. Only after the successful completion of this project did I regain my usual optimism and began working on the fire truck expedition with renewed vigor.
“I’m sorry that I called your country a shithole,” I told the Government of Nepal official, “it wasn’t right but I was extremely upset about the fireman. That really got to me. I just overreacted. Please accept my apologies,” I said to the man. Although the apology was accepted, I sensed that my former friend had become disenfranchised and was simply being polite. The fact that I love Nepal very deeply never changed, but the fireman episode stuck with me. Whenever I faced difficulties, I used this story as a way to demonstrate that my desire to help shore up Nepal’s firefighting services was nothing but genuine.
Thus, I decided to use the incident to bring Rotary Nepal's Kiran Lal Shrestha on board. After explaining what my colleagues and I experienced and how much pain we all felt at the news of his death, I expected the prominent Rotarian to come around in his opinion of the fire truck expedition. Kiran Lal Shrestha, however, reacted completely differently than expected. Without saying a word, he grimaced complete indifference, raised his eyes and shrugged his shoulders, the corners of his mouth pointing downwards as if to feint sadness. Incredulous, I looked at Chintamani, the extremely likable banker and sitting district governor. Chintamani buried his face in shame, covering his eyes with his hand, his elbow resting on the desk before him. Sanjay Giri looked down at his hands in obvious discomfort. My co-producer and I had brought along our young intern, an extremely cheerful and unfailingly polite young woman of only 18 years. Her mouth wide open signaled the same disbelief I sensed.
Chintamani made a last-ditch attempt to save the situation. “It is not a lot of money, we will support your project, Mr. Kobold,” he said. “No, I am sorry gentlemen. We will not be working with Rotary Nepal. Not with someone like this man, Mr. Shrestha. Mr. Basnet, you are a very good man, I can tell from just this meeting. Sanjay, you, too, have been very kind in your repeated offer to assist us. But we will not work together. I am sorry but your incoming DG is an asshole,” I said as I got up and shook Chintamani’s and Sanjay’s hands. “You are an asshole, we don’t need your fire trucks,” Kiran Lal Shrestha yelled. “Mr. Shrestha, evidently your mother did not teach you manners. Unlike you just did with me, I did not address you directly, I only spoke about you to your colleagues. You just happened to be present to hear the remark. There’s a difference. Good day, gentlemen.” So much for the motto Service Above Self, I thought to myself as I passed a sign with Rotary International's slogan.
Outside the Rotary Nepal office, a ramshackle building surrounded by a huge construction site, the young intern was incredulous. Rotary Nepal was in the process of having its new, fancy headquarters building constructed. “I can’t believe what I just heard, what a mean man. I am so shocked and so sad. Now I am beginning to see how Nepal really works.” It’s noteworthy that our intern’s family owns and runs one of the country’s biggest business houses. “I have only heard stories about things like this, but this is the first time I’ve witnessed it. It’s so sad. Now I know what you guys have been through with this expedition.”
Intrigued about this unusual Rotarian, I began researching Kiran Lal Shrestha’s background. “You know, he’s not very well liked here,” a business leader in Pokhara told me. A leader of one of the Kathmandu Valley’s Rotary clubs said “there are a lot of very good people in Rotary, this man is not one of them. But there are also a lot of folks who join Rotary after they made money in some unorthodox schemes. Rotary serves as a way for them to rise above their past transgressions.” A community leader and journalist said “those guys are all corrupt, they choose their pet projects and then feel good about themselves.”
I wasn’t sure which version of Rotary Nepal to believe as some dear friends of mine are prominent members of the organization. I sought out the counsel of one of Nepal’s gentlest and wisest citizens, Ambica Shrestha, herself a longtime Rotarian. Ambica is highly regarded as the grey eminence of luxury tourism for her and her late husband's pioneering work in establishing the beautiful Hotel Dwarika's in Kathmandu. Ambica was also one of Kobold Nepal’s first supporters and I greatly respected Ambica for her incredibly sharp insight. “Michael, these people come and go, you have to try not to take it personally. Good people stick together,” the resolute octogenarian cancer survivor said.
Following our meeting, it was Ambica’s spirit of hope and positivity that reminded me of my late friend James Gandolfini. “There is so much corruption here, you wouldn’t believe it,” Jim once said about the United States. “Just look at what they did to Marty Tankleff,” he said. The Jewish high schooler had been framed in the violent murder of his parents and spent more than a decade in prison. Jim worked with a team of attorneys and off-duty police detectives to help Marty get a new trial. Later, Marty was exonerated.
“Corruption exists everywhere, not just in the financial sense but morally. That’s why you have to be careful not to fuck up. Sometimes, all it takes is one bad guy to cause all kinds of problems.” I was only 28 when Jim spoke those words, still too young to really understand all the levels of human existence, but I vividly recall the time and place when Jim extolled this wisdom. It was around 3 A.M. in April, 2007. Sitting in Jim's Tribeca living room, we talked about filmmaking. Jim had just made me watch Jeremiah Johnson, an extremely long western starring Robert Redford. “This is one of the greatest films ever made. You should watch it from time to time.”
Below is an email I typed out within 20 minutes of the fateful meeting with Kiran Lal Shrestha. The email was compiled with the help of my co-producer and our intern.
From: Michael Kobold
To: Chintamani Basnet
Date: Thu, Jul 12, 2018
It was a pleasure to meet you today, although I wish the meeting had ended on a positive note. While my colleagues and I have a very positive impression from you and Sanjay, we were completely surprised and appalled by the comments and behavior of your colleague, Kiran Lal Shrestha.
Below is a transcript of our meeting. I intend to raise this matter with Rotary International, as well as the members of Rotary Club Pokhara. Whoever elected this gentleman to the position of future District Governor should understand the spirit in which he has conducted himself.
I regret that we will not be working together as our team had hoped to help promote Rotary Nepal.
Nevertheless, thank you for your time today, it is much appreciated.
Attendees from Rotary Club Nepal:
Chintanami Bhattarai, current District Governor
Sanjay Giri, immediate past District Governor
Kiran Lal Shrestha, future District Governor
Kathmandu, July 12, 2018, 12:30 P.M.
After an introduction to Chintanami Bhattarai by Sanjay Giri, Michael Kobold explained the purpose of the expedition in detail, that the fire trucks were the CSR component, including the long-term (5-year) training by professional firefighters from America, UK, Germany and Italy, the spare parts and the maintenance. He addressed the size and purpose of the fire engines and explained that Nepal's ambassador to the United States, Dr. Arjun Kumar Karki, the fire chief of Kathmandu, Kishor Kumar Bhattarai, as well as Prithivi Pande and several other prominent members of Nepal's society had visited Pittsburgh to inspect the fire engines.
He explained that while the fire trucks have a total replacement cost of approx. US $5 million, the bigger gift to the people of Nepal will be the massive media attention the fire truck expedition will generate, that the world will come to know that Nepal is a beautiful country with wonderful people and open for tourism, and that Nepal needs firefighting equipment, thus spurring further donations of firefighting equipment. Kobold explained that the fire trucks would be driven by up to 25 international celebrities who had agreed to visit Nepal.
Michael Kobold also explained that in addition to the fire engines themselves, including at least one ladder truck (currently, Nepal does not have a single functioning ladder truck), the donation would include bunker gear (fire proof jackets, trousers, boots, gloves, helmets, visors), as well as oxygen breathing apparatus for 50 people.
The only thing holding the delivery of this equipment up was $45,000, which was missing from the total cost to ship the items.
Chitanami Bhattarai appeared positive, Sanjay Giri, who was positive in a previous meeting about the same problem, remained quiet. Chitanami Bhattarai declared in English and in Nepali (to his colleagues) that the US $45,000 required to ship the fire trucks and other items could very easily be raised by Rotary Nepal and signaled his willingness to do so.
After Michael Kobold explained that Rotary Nepal could receive the credit (logos on the fire trucks, honorable mention in the documentary film and the two 1-hour-long TV episodes, as well press mention) for the delivery of the vehicles and gear, it was up to the Government of Nepal to decide which districts and communities would receive the fire engines.
Kiran Lal Shrestha, who attended the meeting very late and missed most of the presentation, was instantly very negative.
He began by saying "we don’t need more fire trucks, Nepal shouldn’t be a dump site for used equipment.” He then gave an example of two English fire trucks that were previously donated but don’t work. Kiran stated that a man named Arjun Bahadur Karki (“the same man you just mentioned, Arjun Karki”) accepted them and said that Nepal shouldn’t be a dump site. (For the record, Nepal’s ambassador to Washington, D.C. is Dr. Arjun Kumar Karki, no relation to Arjun Bahadur Karki.)
Kiran Lal Shrestha then asked what company the manufacturer of our fire trucks is and whether we could bring parts for the two fire trucks from England that currently don’t work. Kiran Lal Shrestha stated that Nepal only needs new fire trucks.
“Your country is 100% dependent on India. You know that, you just had a major blockade and when the blockade was on, everything in Nepal stood still.” Everyone at the meeting nodded in agreement.
"All of your fuel comes from India, 100% of it. Do you know that the fuel your country imports from India is of such poor quality that a new fire truck will stop working after one or two days? Because the engine of a modern fire engine is designed for high quality fuel, which you cannot obtain in Nepal. We took fuel samples and shipped them to America for laboratory tests, all of which came back stating that Nepali fuel (imported from India) is poor quality."
“In Pokhara we have two fire trucks, we don’t need more," Kiran Lal Shrestha said.
"You’re from Pokhara," Michael Kobold asked.
“Yes, I’m from Pokhara."
“Really, and you think that Pokhara doesn't need more fire trucks? Even with how big
Pokhara is, you really think two is enough?”
“Yes, when a fire happens, one fire engine is enough. How many times do we have more than one fire? That never happens.”
“But what if there is a factory fire like in Birgunj? You know that one of their two fire trucks got destroyed in the fire,” Michael Kobold stated.
“That was a gas factory,” Kiran Lal Shrestha replied.
“But Pokhara is such a big place. What if the fire truck is on one side of town and the fire breaks out on the other side of town? The response time will be too long.”
“That doesn’t matter, two fire trucks are enough,” Kiran Lal Shrestha said with a defiant inflection.
“I have a question,” Kobold asked, "what do you know about firefighting? I have spent seven years on this topic, visiting every major city and many smaller towns in Nepal. Everywhere I traveled, I met with the local fire chief and his colleagues. The fire chief of Kathmandu and the two past chiefs all agree with our plan. Did you visit the firemen who got 30% and 70% burns when they rushed to the fire in Birgunj?”
“No, I didn’t visit any firemen.”
“Well, my team and I went into the hospitals to visit these firemen and spent two nights trying to get them airlifted to India for treatment. If they had proper equipment and training, they would not have been burned. I have video footage of firemen responding to big fires just in clothes like you and I are wearing right now.”
“You have video of this?”
“Yes, I do. I was there and filmed it myself.”
“Still, two fire trucks are enough, we don’t need more.”
"How can two fire engines be enough? One of the trucks is a Chinese tool truck. It's designed to carry tools, not to put our major fires," Michael Kobold asked.
Kiran Lal Shrestha had no response.
Michael Kobold then became increasingly angry with Kiran Lal Shrestha and questioned his expertise on the topic of fire engines and firefighting.
“How do you know anything about fire engines, are you a subject matter expert? Because the fire chiefs and firemen from America and Europe who visited Nepal and met with me said how horrible the state of Nepal’s firefighting services is. Whom did you speak with?”
Kiran Lal Shrestha said simply “My friend is a firefighter from Oregon.”
Michael Kobold addressed the group and said "I am sorry, this is ridiculous. We did not come here begging for your support. We have come here as equal partners, offering Rotary Nepal the opportunity to take credit for helping bring the fire engines to Nepal and making the expedition a success." Addressing Kiran Lal Shrestha directly, Michael Kobold said "You, sir, have wasted an opportunity here by being ignorant of the facts and made a complete fool of yourself in addition to bringing shame onto your organization."
Michael Kobold then ended the meeting abruptly and wished everyone in attendance much continued success, stating that he was sorry for Rotary Nepal to have such an incompetent man as Kiran Lal Shrestha as future District Governor. He concluded by saying that people like Kiran Lal Shrestha were holding Nepal back on the path of development before using an expletive to describe his opinion of Kiran Lal Shrestha. Kiran Lal Shrestha then repeated the expletive in the direction of Michael Kobold.
The fact sheet below illustrates that in terms of coverage, Pokhara has 0.01 fire engines per square miles, while Kathmandu has 0.1 fire engines per square mile (so ten times the coverage than Pokhara). By comparison, the City of Pittsburgh in the United States has 0.75 fire engines per square mile (in effect 75 times the coverage of Kathmandu and 750 times the coverage of Pokhara).
-2 fire engines (one pumper, one tool truck)
-Municipality area 179.2 square miles
-Fire engines per 100,000 citizens 0.76
-Fire engines per square mile 0.01
Kathmandu Valley, Nepal
-5 functioning fire engines
-Total Valley area 49.5 square miles
-Fire engines per 100,000 citizens 0.16
-Fire engines per square mile 0.10
-44 fire engines
-Municipality area 58.3 square miles
-Fire engines per 100,000 citizens 14.5
-Fire engines per square mile 0.75
Pokhara is Nepal’s main tourist hub. It is in the process of constructing the country’s second international airport. In addition, Pokhara is home to a number of manufacturing industries, including garment manufacturers. Airports attract planes which, especially in Nepal, do have a tendency to crash. If a plane crashes at an airport, fire engines are on-site and can respond relatively quickly. However, if a plane crashes outside but near the airport, either on take-off or on approach (bird strike, engine failure, weather), chances increase that firefighting services will not be nearby. Similarly, recent fires in garment factories in Bangladesh and in hotels Myanmar and India illustrate the need for sufficient firefighting services in industrialized, urbanized areas.
Nepal is at the forefront of nations adversely affected by the effects of climate change. Pokhara is surrounded by dense forest which is prone to fires due to lightning strikes (caused by abnormal weather conditions) and man-made fires. Oregon, like Pokhara, is thickly forested. In 2017 alone, Oregon was affected by over 1,000 wildfires. Scientists expect that Nepal will be subjected to increased natural disasters as a result of climate change.
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