He first came to Nepal in 1984 as just one more tourist and lived for a month with the well-known Architect, Gotz Hagmuller, through whom he made many friends. Since then he has been to this country many, many times." I spend 2 to 3 months in Nepal every year," says Dr Kurt Luger, D (Phil), Chairman of Eco-Himal, Society of Ecological Co-operation Alps-Himalaya. Presently, he is busy doing research on media development, especially the effects of new information technology, as well as research on conservation works in the Gaurishanker region.
His ten- year old son, Maurizio Karl Valerian Everest, is studying in Kathmandu Friends' School in Lazimpat. "I think Maurizio was conceived at the Everest Base Camp one starry night during a trip with my wife Karin in 1993," jokes Dr. Kurt Luger candidly. He further adds, "I had a difficult time getting my son's name registered in Austria. I had to get Kanak Mani Dixit of Himal magazine to give a signed statement on 'Himal' stationary vouching that 'Everest' could be used as a name!" Dr. Luger and Karin married in 1987.
With startling light blue eyes Dr Luger talks in a manner that is decidedly disarming. He specializes in economics, philosophy and communication. "Nowadays my primary focus is on communication and tourism." What does he think of the present developments in communications in this country? His reply is revealing, "Well, I still find it very problematic to send drawings and photographs quickly to Kathmandu from places in the Khumbu region". He adds, "You know, it is extremely difficult to do serious journalistic work in Nepal. There are too many constraints such as lack of really modern equipment, training, communication and of course, lack of enough readership." Eco-Himal is planning to set up an FM station in Solukhumbu in the near future. "We have also funded the Sagarmatha FM, which we feel is doing quite a good job, especially on issues like disseminating awareness about waste management."
Besides being the Chairman of Eco-Himal, he also heads the International and Intercultural Division, Department of Interdisciplinary Tourism Research (INIT), and is Director of the Interdisciplinary Institute for Tourism Research in Austria. Dr. Luger has also been visiting Professor at Tribhuvan University in1998/1999 on behalf of the Center for Nepalese and Asian Studies (CINAS). He is also founder of a program to initiate collaboration between the Austrian National Park and Sagarmatha and Barun National Parks in Nepal.
Having just returned from a trip to Thailand and Cambodia he says, "We are exploring possibilities of doing a study on the impact of world heritage sites to tourism. Although Angkor Wat in Cambodia is really a massive site, in Nepal there are seven unique world heritage sites. However, people here seem to be totally unaware of their importance and are bent on destroying this precious heritage."
Dr. Kurt Robert Luger was born in September 1952 in Linz, which is an industrial town beside the River Danube. Dr. Luger's father was a master mason and his mother worked in a garment factory. He has an elder brother who is a retired mason. "I am the only academic in my family's entire dynasty. All the others were involved in either carpentry or masonry." At present Dr. Luger has made his home in Salzburg and teaches at the University there. "It's a small university with about 14,000 students," he informs. "My wife Karin, who is a linguist, and specializes in French and Russian studies, also teaches there. Besides, she is also a member of the International and Intercultural Division." In his spare time, this scholar likes to read or listen to music, and has a keen interest in mountaineering.
Dr. Kurt Luger started his university studies in 1980. "I was always interested in research. I was greatly influenced by Robert Ezra Park, Professor of Sociology and founder of the Chicago School of Sociology. He encouraged students to always 'nose around'. I think that university studies are not enough. One has to explore and experience for oneself too."
From an expert's point of view this is what Dr. Luger has to say about tourism, "Although Austria is only 80,000 sq. km in area, and has a population of just 8 million, tourism is big business in the country, contributing almost 7% to the GDP. You know, last year there were 115 million overnight stays in the country and 30,000 people are employed in the tourist business. Vienna alone is visited by 7 million tourists every year." Dr. Luger himself has been a ski instructor for some time in Salzburg, a world famous ski resort, and has climbed many peaks of over 4,000 meters in the Alps. "Nepal is double the size and has a much larger population, besides, of course, having seven unique world heritage sites. If this country is to really benefit from tourism then much more needs to be done. I have surveyed tourists visiting Nepal and have found many of them to have been quite disappointed with the reality as compared to their expectations."
Dr. Luger sounds very sad while relating, "People in Europe have expectations of Nepal being a country of pristine beauty and easy going people. A kind of Shangri-la. However, when they land here and experience things like the unwieldy bureaucratic procedures and pollution, and even find it difficult to cross the road due to the chaotic traffic, they feel quite let down. Also, the Nepalese people, they realize, are not as unhurried and easy going as they had imagined them to be!" Eco-Himal has conducted a small survey on the pollution levels in Thamel and found it to be very high according to Dr. Luger.
Eco-Himal has quite a few ongoing projects on hand and one of the most interesting ones is the Garden of Dreams restoration and development project at Keshar Mahal in Thamel. The project, which was started about three and a half years ago, is funded by the Austrian Development Aid and implementation is administered by Eco-Himal in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Sports of HMG. "We are planning to have the opening in October 2006, " says Dr. Luger.
"This is more than a garden, obviously. I call it a part of the greening of Kathmandu." He adds, "We envisage the Garden of Dreams to become a center for cultural activities and a place for retreat among all the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu's hectic city life. A lot of institutional works still have to be completed. Ludmilla Hungerhuber is the project manager and Gotz Hagmuller, the chief architect."
Dr. Luger is also the responsible editor of the book series, Tourism transdisciplinary and transcultural, Communication Society, New Aspects in Culture and Communication and Long-term study visits to Asian countries (Nepal, Tibet, China, Pakistan, India) and has been responsible for the publication of eight books so far. Dr. Luger's " Long Haul Tourism" has recently been published and it contains a chapter called 'Concept of Other-ness'. "In it I have put forward the view that international tourism affects society of all countries in many different ways. People, when they travel to other countries as tourists, gain wider knowledge and greater perspectives of other societies, thereby acquiring a broader view of the world in general. This of course, can lead to greater understanding among peoples and bridge the gap between nations," opines Dr Luger.
After spending Christmas with his wife in Salzburg, Dr Luger plans to be back in Nepal in February to continue his work in the country he has adopted as a second home. "Although Eco-Himal has started projects in other countries like Tibet, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, 70 % of our work is still here in Nepal." Current projects receiving official Austrian foreign aid include Makalu Barun-Arun Valley project, Village Development in Thame Valley, Grid extension Study in Lukla, Mountaineering School in Thame, Rolwaling Eco Tourism, tourism training, and the Keshar Mahal Garden project.
Co-financing projects include a health post in Simigaon, cultural heritage/ infrastructure in Bhaktapur, basic needs project in Khotang and a Tibetan Medical Center in Jharkot. Dr Luger also reveals that Eco-Himal has a funding of only one million Euros annually, and says, " We have to manage so much with so little but I remember the late Toni Hagen's words, ' Big money, big mistakes. Little money, little mistakes.' So of course, we are very, very careful in implementation of our projects."
Dr. Kurt Luger, with his impressive academic record and his vast experience, is undoubtedly the right person to handle the job ably and efficiently. Although he claims to be very practical, he admits that he is not very good technically. "My son, Everest, is just the opposite," he beams. "He has a technical aptitude and is very interested in outer space. I hope he goes to the moon and beyond!"
We will surely be looking forward to that and more, with keen anticipation. May be, some day in the future, we will read in the news, “'Everest' on Jupiter!”
(Dr Kurt Luger is also professor for International and Intercultural Communication at the Department of Communication, University of Saltzburg & Department of Interdisciplinary Tourism Research.)
Eco-Himal, Nepal -telephone: 4414714 Website: www.ecohimal.or.at