Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Kathmandu Nepal - Day 1 - Arrival and chilling

There was the annual Biogas Workshop taking place in Kathmandu, Nepal from November 9 -13, 2009 for which i, as Programme Manager, Pakistan Domestic Biogas Programme was invited. It was sponsored by the Asian Development Bank and SNV. Took a flight with a long route, from Islamabad to Doha, Qatar (4 hours), 4 hours layover and then Doha to Kathmandu, Nepal (4 hours). Got some chillout stuff from Doha. Qatar airways hostesses were hot but there was a distinct service difference between the two flights including the chillout option in the latter flight. There was no requirement for a visa for Pakistanis, and hence no waiting in line as the goras were made to wait.
yes the rooms were awesome
Met a non English speaking Mr. Mahman (Benin) and a very happy Mr Bien Alme (Burkino Faso) and we got some local chillout stuff right outside the airport. The roads were very crowded on the way to the Hyatt and they were rule-free roads. However, the Hyatt Regency, which is the premiere hotel, was just awesome with really big rooms and awesome service.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Kathmandu Nepal - Day 2 - Meetings

Start at 9 am with a meeting with the Bangladesh Team -- Formanul Islam (Director and Co. Secy. – Infrastructural Development Company Limited IDCOL) and Nazmul Haque Faisal (Sr. Programme Manager, National Domestic Biogas and Manure Programme NDBMP). Interesting attitudes. Forman was friendly, the younger Faisal seemed to have strong anti-pak feelings. Met Saroj Rai (Executive Director – BSPN) who gave an excellent presentation on the Nepal Programme. Good stats and things to learn from there.

Visited Nepal Biogas Promotion Association (NBPA) and Exec Dir. Mohan Raj Sharma and his team met with us including Dilip Kumar Acharya (Secy) and Bikash Adhikari (Engineer) who did his Bachelors in Engineering from Quaid-e-Azam University of Engineering in NawabShah in Sindh. The organization was in a dilapidated building and it didn’t seem like a very professional setup. Their mandate and responsibilities seemed somewhat unclear and obscure. Went to the Alternative Energy Promotion Center (AEPC) and met executive director Dr. Narayan Prasad Chaulagain and Neils Juhl Thomson (Chief Advisor). AEPC is responsible for a number of activities of the Biogas programme in Nepal. Also visited Renewable Energy Test Station (RETS) and met Prem Bdr. Basnet (General Manager) who gave a tidy presentation and tour of the facilities. Very interesting to see them. The Bangladeshi team wanted to replicate the same lab there. In 2-3 years the PDBP should do the same.

Came to the Hyatt and after some chillout with Bibhushan Bhattacharya and a colleague went to the Rox Bar for some networking, chillout and socializing. Very good session of meeting and getting to know people from a lot of places including SNVs Senior Biogas advisor in Indonesia, the extremely enterprising, Felix SNVs Senior Advisor in Tanzania, the boisterous William Boers, Senior Advisor in Ethiopia, the man of the hour SNVs Wim Van Nes, the enterprising and knowledgeable Bastiaan, SNV advisor to Vietnam, Biogas Practice Leader, Lam Saoleng, Programme Coordinator, National Biodigester Programme, A Cambodian Senate Official, a representative of Lettinga Associates Foundation (LeAF), Netherlands, D. Vidya Sagar, President, SKG Sangha, and the Indonesian programmes (HiVos) counterpart Robert de Groot among many others.

Went with Bibhushan Bhattacharya for dinner on a cab whose rates Bibu had to haggle down a lot. We were stopped at a security check post, probably set up cause there was a scheduled strike the next day and the driver quickly said there is a ‘Vadaishee’ (foreigner), the cop shook my hand and we exchanged greeting in Hindi/Urdu and he let us go through with a smile. J However, was surprised to learn that Kathmandu pretty much closes down by 9-10 pm. None of the restaurants were open, ate some sandwich at a bakery, had some lively chit chat with Bibu, who was very hospitable and came back all the way to the Hyatt, which was completely out of his way just to ensure that I get home safely even though it wasn’t a serious issue. Came home, say the heroics of Mohammad Aamer of the Pakistan cricket team against New Zealand fail at the very end and then dropped asleep.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Kathmandu Nepal - Day 3 - Plenary Sessions

Had to getup at 7:30 for another early start. Registered for the event, had breakfast and then the workshop programme started with initial remarks and some rather bland country presentations from Nepal, China and India. The Indian presentation was exceedingly boring and unprofessional, quite shocking for most of the participants. A very informative and appealing presentation full of numbers by SNVs Felix livened up the proceedings. Had a scrumptious lunch with the company of the appealingly pretty Sweta Pokharel , an investment officer of Nepali origin in Thailand, Marco Linden, Carbon Finance Advisor in Nepal and the PhD candidate, Shaunna Barnhart from Penn State University. Great to see people from across the globe sharing their experiences in the biogas sector.

Also met several other people including Rajendra Shakya, Regional Head of Admin and a Nepali supporting the Energy initiative in Afghanistan. Attended a rather slow session on realizing biogas benefits including presentations and group work. A couple of the presentations were really good in the sense that we got an understanding of the biogas experience in Ethiopia, gender mainstreaming measures in India and ways of integrating biogas into rural policies and plans. This was the first of two plenary sessions for the workshop and they helped in identifying how the programmes varied from country to country focusing on different issues based on their local needs.
Faisal from Bangladesh
Afterwards we got together at poolside for some chilling with all the attendees of the conference and some nice chit chat while having some very appetizing snacks. Met a Ministry of Environment member from India who gave an insightful account of his experiences. Chilled out with a few colleagues over discussions over the days proceedings and implication on our programme. Came to the room, wrote the blog for the past 3 days and went to sleep relatively early.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Kathmandu Nepal - Day 4 - Plant Visit, Himalayan Lunch and Garden of Dreams

I woke up at 6:30 am in the morning to have time for breakfast before the participants headed off in 10 buses at 7:30 am to Bela village located near Dhulikhel in Kavrepalanchok District where three hundred or so plants have been built. A 90 minute initially bumpy drive, Kathmandu roads need quite some repair, to a very scenic area where the plants were located. We had a very nice group of 12 people all different nationalities in our bus. 

With Mariela Pino, Chile
Especially interesting to note was the versatile and knowledgeable Micheal Yon, an American who writes about the US military among other things for NY Times, takes photographs which have been published in the Smithsonian and the Times Magazine. He spoke of his travels to Iraq, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, India, Nepal and many others. Also made acquaintance with the lively Mariela Andrea Pino from Chile, currently studying in Germany and she had lots of experiences and learnings to share.

Atop a biogas plant
We visited two plants, a 6m3 which had been operating for four years and was operational even with one animal. Slurry was however not being produced. The house was still using some firewood to feed their animals (cow, goats, chickens). What really impressed me was that the family was growing organic vegetables for themselves and for selling, they were also transporting beehives from trees to neatly designed borrows in the house walls to collect honey. It was really neat to see the biogas plants transforming and improving the lives of the people in the rural areas.
A tasty and well needed lunch was had at the Himalayan Horizon, an ostentatious place with a view to die for. The landscape was of the Himalayan range showing over 10 peaks ranging from 6000 – 8000 meters, needless to say the lunch session pretty outstanding especially since I got to chat with Shanti Kapila, consultant from the Asian Development Bank, who pretty much 

everyone wanted to accost and after speaking with her, it was obvious why that was so. Came back to the Hyatt and set up the stall for PDBP in the marketplace arranged in the workshop. We gave out marketing material and other info on the Pakistan programme. The Nepalese friend from BSPN especially Ameesha was very helpful in our marketing efforts, so was Gisella Mcguiness from ICRC. Great opportunity to see some of the appliances and products that other programmes and manufacturers had developed. From PDBPs perspective i felt the Indonesdian programme is one which we can work together since we are at a similar place.

Then I chilled out with the boss and another colleague before getting onto the buses to go to the Garden of Dreams, which is located in the Kings Palace. The place was really quite grandiose and classy and we had the opportunity to chill out some more. Most important was that we had very exciting discussions with some of the other participants. 

SNV gave permission for me to invite my Nepali friends to the dinner and I got the opportunity to meet with Bibhushan and Manjita Sharma which was quite fabulous.Had some animated and detailed discussions with Henri Spanjers from LeAF and Fred Marree who was SNVs person for all the logistics arrangements. It was quite an exciting evening overall even though extremely exhausting and I got back pretty late before I finally retired for the evening.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Kathmandu Nepal - Day 5 - Workshops, networking and the Nepali President

Woke up at 7 in the morning, with a groggy head due to all the chilling out the previous day. Had a quick breakfast before going into a session on innovations in the biogas plant models and other features of the programme. It was helpful in the sense that it was evident that the GGC 2047 is the best model, especially for conditions as they are in Pakistan. Also important was to get some of the information regarding specific data which is very helpful.

Had a very tasty lunch followed by some boring speeches before we were given a bit of a break to network with the other members and I had the opportunity to chat with Hans Heijdra, SNV country director and the ultra casual boss of every boss, Kirk, SNV BoD Chairman who was extremely friendly and helpful to talk and share ideas with. This was a really impressive aspect of the entire workshop, that i could meet with such high places officials in a casual setting and share are experiences. One of these meetings was with the extremely hard working Dr Indira Shakya, Treasurer BSPN and one of the most enterprising and friendly yet extremely intelligent person I’ve met Sheila Oparaocha, Consultant for ETC Foundation, both of whom are related to the Gender Mainstreaming component of Biogas Development. Also got to meet the female mason who has constructed over 400 plants herself, which is quite the achievement. Women in rural Pakistan are hesitant to take up that task.
Some awesome ladies including mason who build 400+ plants
Then the final presentation took place which included the Honorable President of Nepal, Dr Ram Baran Yadav, who is facing lots of strikes from the Maoists due to his decision to reverse the decision of the Defense Ministry (controlled by Maoists) to oust the Chief of Army Staff (COAS). Even though the COAS has now resigned the Maoists want the government (read President) to accept the mistake and apologize, which does not seem to be happening anytime soon. A lot of awards were given away to the BCCs, MFIs, masons, NGOs etc who had performed exceptionally well during the programme.
After the presentation, there was a grand dinner which i excluded myself from, although i did have some nice chat conversations. Instead i headed out to have dinner at Manjita Sharmas house which was located about 15 minutes away by Taxi. Shared the cab with Shaunna, and walked a little bit in a dark street with a superbly fresh winter breeze which made the evening just awesome. Had a really scrumptious meal and some very fine discussions with the couple while we chilled in their 4-5 bedroom house with a very nice terrace. I even got a ride on the bike as i was dropped off near someplace where i got a taxi and came back to the hotel after an eventful fifth day in Nepal.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Kathmandu Nepal - Day 6 - Breakfast, Shopping and Departure

Woke up nice and relaxed at 9am. Packed up my stuff, had a very healthy and chilled out breakfast by the poolside.

Had a good time to think over the past week and all that had transpired through it. There were plenty of learning to take home from this trip, lots about the biogas programme from different countries, the well matured Nepalese programme, the amazingly progressive Bangladeshi Bio-slurry programme, the difficulties faced by the African nations, the growth in the Vietnamese programme, the similarity of the Indonesian Programme with ours as well as learning about the people.
Had an opportunity to socialize with individuals from several countries and learned a lot from those interactions.
Later on in the day, took a taxi to do some shopping, bought some souvenirs and some gifts for family and friends including the famous Nepalese ‘whistling bowls/bells’. Came back stuffed in all we could and headed back on our flight back to the Pakistan.

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