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Ilam – A Feast for the Visual Senses

With its endless rows of tea gardens, its luxuriant foliage and incredible views of the Himalayas, the district of Ilam has long been known to be one of Nepal’s authentic gems. Yet, few tourists from outside the country appear to have heard of it.

Ilam lies in the eastern part of the country, right on the border of India. In decades past, when India was far more protectionist than its neighbor, Ilam, and the border town of Pashupatinagar in particular, had high commercial visibility. Indians would often cross the border in droves looking for foreign goods such as high quality sports shoes, VHS players and walkmans. Now that India itself has liberalized, the commercial importance of Ilam for Indians appears to have faded. Indeed, the Indian border town of Siliguri is today home to swanky shopping malls that are glitzier than the ones found in Nepal’s capital of Kathmandu. So there is little incentive for Indians to cross the border to Pashupatinagar compared to the past.

But entrepreneurial Ilam seems ready to leave the past behind and move headlong into the future. It is helped in large part by its great climate and topographical conditions. Already known for its tea, in recent years it has made the move to other cash crops. Nepal is now the world’s third largest producer of ginger and Ilam is the country’s leading district.

But tourism could yet be the district’s biggest advantage. While the entire Himalayan region is beautiful in its own right, Ilam’s particular charms set it aside. No other district in Nepal has tea gardens on the same scale as Ilam does. Across the border there are tea gardens on a vaster scale in India but there areas have not retained their pristine natural beauty. Anyone crossing over from India to Nepal immediately notices the difference. The hills in Ilam appear greener, brighter and less congested than those in neighboring Darjeeling in India.

Limbus are the original inhabitants of Ilam. In the past, Limbu tribesmen were widely admired for their martial prowess. In fact, the British so admired their skills in warfare that they recruited them in large numbers to serve on their ‘Gurkha’ regiments. Even today, having a son serve in a Gurkha regiment is a mark of great prestige and pride to Limbu families. However, in recent years, Limbus have tended to downplay their martial abilities and have made their mark in other fields such as business, law and politics.

The culture and history of Limbus is a fascinating one. They were the last peoples to be conquered by the Nepali state and still maintain a sense of independence. Of course, today Ilam, like the rest of Nepal is a multiethnic and multicultural place. This mixture of cultures is another important facet of Ilam.

Source by Manish Gyawali

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