An Entrepreneur with a Dream

Features Issue 40 Aug, 2010
Text by Dinesh Rai

Miyahara and his plan for Nepal
A man’s journey through life is like a voyage through uncharted waters. When Takashi Miyahara set out from Japan to climb a mountain in Nepal, little did he know that this small kingdom in the Himalaya would become his adopted home. This is the story of one more Bideshi, who was enamored by the natural beauty of Nepal.

In 1962, Miyahara arrived in Nepal as a 27 year old mechanical engineer and climbed Mukut Himal in eastern Nepal. He came to a Nepal devoid of man-made pollution. There were few motor vehicles and the industrial revolution had not arrived. He looked around at the endless agricultural land surrounding him and the snow-capped mountains that stood like a painted backdrop under the azure sky. In comparison to heavily industrialized Japan, where

pollution was still unchecked, this was heaven. It was instant love. He was not going to leave this country, if he could help it.

The young Japanese mechanic set his mind to work on a scheme that would enable him to stay in Nepal. He cleverly applied for a job at the Gharelu Udhyog in Kathmandu. He had to leave Nepal in the mean time, but four years later, his perseverance paid off. He was appointed technical assistant at the Tripureshwar office of Gharelu Udhyog. There he worked for two years (1966-68) during which time he managed to trek up in the mountains in the Everest region. Miyahara loves to trek and exclaims proudly, “In those days, I used to trek 65 days in a year. I have trekked a collective 1000 days around Nepal, from Kanchenjunga in the east to Humla/Simikot in the far west. And I still walk around the hills whenever I find time.” When he reached Shyangboche in his early days in the country, he was deeply moved by its astounding beauty.

In the ‘60s, tourism was a newly developing industry with its foundations having just been laid in the 1950s. A shrewd Miyahara judged quite correctly, that the future lay in tourism. He began dreaming. He would build a resort in the pristine environment of Shyangboche. It was a Herculean task, given the fact that there was not even a motor road going all the way to the chosen spot. He would have to use helicopters.

Returning to Japan, Miyahara single handedly raised funds through his friends and community. It must have been quite a challenge convincing people to invest in a country they knew nothing of. But Takashi Miyahara was known for his many adventures. He had embarked on the Antarctica Research Expedition as a 24 year old. He had then followed up his climbing trip to Nepal with a trip to Greenland in 1965. Finally, with his uncanny ability to convince people, Miyahara returned to Nepal with US $ 1 million to start building a hotel in the wilderness of the Himalaya. Having embarked on numerous successful adventures, his word obviously carried weight in his community.

This Japanese gentleman was probably the first businessman to build an airstrip in order to build a hotel. He soon realized that helicopters alone could not transport all that was required to build his dream resort. He would need transport planes. After pestering government officials persistently, he eventually managed to get the Nepali government to provide NRs. 500,000/- for the construction. With financial support from HMG, the airstrip was finally built and building material for the hotel was ferried up to Shyangboche. The construction began in 1969. Miyahara had asked his architect friend, an old class-mate to design the building. When construction was completed, he named the resort, Hotel Everest View. And what a view it offered its guests, when it opened to tourists in 1973. It was incredibly beautiful, inspiring some guests to spend the entire day sitting outside, just admiring the breathtaking sight of the Himalayan peaks. The resort is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the Highest Hotel in the world.

Miyahara showed his business acumen by registering a travel agency along with the resort. He named it Trans Himalayan Tours, which is still running more than thirty years later. “You have to also bring in tourists, if you want to run a resort,” says Miyahara, smiling. In fluent Nepali he goes on to say, “It was only the third travel agency in Nepal, after Yeti Travels and Third Eye Tours.” The latter does not exist anymore. But this Japanese mechanical engineer turned businessman had a greater vision. He also opened up a travel agency in Tokyo, Japan, that would send Japanese tourists to Nepal and hence to his hotel in Shyangboche. The agency is named Himalaya Kanco Kaihatsu and was followed up with a branch in Osaka. The unstoppable Miyahara went on to open a trekking agency named Trans Himalayan Trekking. He rightly proclaims today, “I introduced the Japanese people to trekking.” Who could dispute that claim. This man has single-handedly brought thousands of tourists to Nepal. He promoted Nepal through the many brochures he published and countless articles he wrote about this kingdom for Japanese magazines. He sold tickets for RNAC when the airline started its flights to Bangkok. In 1984 his company became the official GSA for RNAC. Presently Trans Himalayan is the GSA for Japan Airlines (JAL) and is still in the same location at Durbar Marg. As if to out do himself, he went on to organize chartered flights from Nagoya, Japan to Kathmandu, which added large figures to our tourist arrival lists.

Takashi’s parents were innkeepers in the Nagano prefecture where he was born in 1934. He graduated from the Faculty of Chemical and Mechanical Engineering, Nihon University, Tokyo in 1957 and then worked at the Chemical & Mechanical Engineering Company in Japan from 1957 to 1965 after which he moved to Nepal. Following the demise of his parents, the old inn in Nagano was inherited by his eldest brother, which Miyahara explains is the custom in Japan.  In an ironic twist, now his adopted home Kathmandu has turned into a polluted city, while the polluted cities he left behind in Japan, have cleaned up. Yet he has no regrets. He calls Nepal home, and finds the climate very good for a person’s physical well-being. It must be true as he goes on to inform us, “I attempted to climb Mt Everest in 1994, and made it to the South Peak which lies at 8,793m. We were just 55m below the summit.” He was 60 years old then, and one wonders if his feat inspired a certain Japanese gentleman to climb at 70, to become the oldest man to climb Everest.

The well known Hotel Himalaya in Kupondol is yet another enterprise of Miyahara. Formerly known as Jaya International, it was established in 1978 and financed by Mitsui Real Estates of Japan. Miyahara has been the Chairman ever since the hotel came into being.

With a mischievous smile he admits, “The Everest View never made a profit, which is why I started all these other organizations to lend support.” But in the process he has done a world of good to Nepali tourism. His agencies have brought thousands of Japanese visitors to this country. And the government could not ignore his contributions. Takashi Miyahara received the Prabal Gorkha Dakshin Bahu (Third Class) in 2003 for his invaluable contribution to Nepali tourism. Quite a few awards have been won by his agencies too, for high foreign exchange earnings. In 1995, Miyahara was awarded the Sagarmatha Award which was handed to him fittingly, during a ceremony in Pokhara, a favorite destination of most Japanese people.

When asked why the hotel in Shyangboche is still running, Miyahara replies, “I had to keep my dream alive no?” Indeed, the hotel has been around for more than thirty years and its creator arrived in this country more than forty years ago. Still energetic at 70, he moves with the ease of a 40 year old. Never one to hog the limelight, Takashi Miyahara is hardly ever in the tabloids. Yet in his quiet way, he has made immense contributions to Nepal.

But, he is not done yet. At his age, one would expect Miyahara to sit back, relax and enjoy the good life. But instead, this Japanese entrepreneur has been quietly making plans for a better Nepal. Some of his plans go back twenty years and he says, “I had made a Melamchi water plan long ago. Finally, now something is being done.” His plan reads, “To build three or four moderate-size dams at Melamchi, Yangri and Larke Khola at the height of 2200 to 2400m, all of which are to be connected and lead water to Sundarijal. At Sundarijal, a big reservoir dam shall be constructed to keep the water collected through these channels and also the water at the basin of Shivapuri in store.” According to this plan there would be sufficient water for the residents of the valley. He calls his dream “Vision 2005” and unveiled his plan on 17th February at the Hotel Himalaya while celebrating the award of Gorkha Dakshin Bahu III Class, which was bestowed on him by King Gyanendra. He has a plan for Pokhara and Annapurna Tourism. He furnishes properly made illustrations that were made in Japan. It shows a new model city in Pokhara near the Seti Gorge and the idea is to have hospitals, institutions, sports facilities, residential areas, IT and Media centers and two or three ropeways going up to Sarankot, Annapurna IV and Upper Kali Gandaki region. His plan includes a 120 km road from Pokhara to the lakes in Manang.

The other plan is for an East –West Railway. “It will help improve technological know-how in the country and create jobs to counter unemployment. There must be an overhead-running railway system in certain areas to protect the environment. We must emulate advanced systems like that in Japan,” says Miyahara. Besides these, there are plans for water (river) transportation and ecological development. This is an area nobody has paid much attention to, but a viable and easy means of transportation. To deal with the long standing problem of garbage dumping in the valley, Miyahara has his own ideas. He explains, “Dumping of waste has to be done outside the valley and not inside. Tunnels have to be dug to remove garbage, and outside the valley, a large factory must be constructed to recycle the waste. Nepal should be an example for ecological development.” He has been approaching various government officials he has known through the years, with his plans. He is shrewd enough to know that knowing people in high places matters.

Talking to Miyahara, one cannot help but wish our ministers and other leaders had such vision. He feels a genuine need and interest to improve the country. He sincerely believes and says, “Perhaps if we can develop this country in this way, the insurgency will go away.” After an hour of listening to Miyahara’s plans, I could not help wishing we could change the constitution, and elect this visionary to lead the country. Here, is a man who does not long for a Pajero, nor does he have a secretary. He will walk back to his office to fetch his illustrations and will write out an invitation in his own hand. Will Takashi Miyahara’s “Vision 2005” become a reality one day? If and when it does, we will know Nepal has come a long way.