Going Droning in Nepal some things to think about!

Okay, today I am making, I am doing an interview with my friend Pradeep here who owns Retort Media. And I’ve been in Nepal for almost a month and I was very fortunate I was staying at Bodhi Boutique Hotel in Thamel, Kathmandu and one of the owners owns a media company an up and coming media company here in Kathmandu and it’s called Retort Media. And it was very kind of them to ask me for an interview today, so some of the questions I’ll be answering about my stay in Nepal have to do with the filming work that I’ve done and some of the time I got to spend with Pradeep and his media company.

One of the questions that we’re going to be reviewing has to do with how to get a permit to film in Nepal. So, we’re going to go through some of the first stages of getting a film permit and a video permit. So, I was fortunate that Pradeep also needed to apply for getting a film and video permit and so he actually took me on a very long journey, so we went on a journey together for about six days and this was to try and get permission to do some documentary work. And some of the questions I’ve been asked have to do with what it was like to try and get permission to film here and I would like to address that but first I would like to say that I think that Retort Media did a fantastic job taking the experience that myself and Pradeep went through and used that experience and put together a step by step guide in how to get permission to do both film photography and any kind of droning work that you want to do here in Nepal. It’s a very complicated process and it takes a very, very long time and so be prepared and we presented a step by step guide and you can find that on Magical Nepal Blog, I will also be, I am going to be tweeting about this process and you really need, now you don’t have to, it’s not required by law that you hire a media company to do this. But because the Nepali government requests that everything be written in Nepali when you submit it. It is definitely recommended that you try and find a media company and I can highly recommend Pradeep’s company Retort. So, if you’re coming to Nepal, get in touch with him if you’re looking to do some filming here as your company will need permission.

gail press pass

Now the thing is without permission if you do get caught, I’m not talking about doing some iPhone work, you know just taking your iPhone out, I’m talking about proper professional filming or droning. If you are caught doing that, you run the risk of having your equipment confiscated, you also run the risk of getting a fine and possible imprisonment, depending upon what you are filming and get caught doing, if you do not have a permit. In Nepal they take it very seriously here, especially droning, droning in Nepal is banned unless you have a permit. It is absolutely forbidden. I would like to address that and talk about that for a minute, now when I was in Nepal I had interviewed several people one of them being Pradeep of Retort Media as to why several media companies thought that using a quadcopter in Nepal and doing any kind of droning is forbidden.

Now, at first, I was told that what happened was when the earthquake hit in April 2015, many hobbyists came here and many even professional pilots and there were only a few Nepali at the time who had some quadcopter. But it wasn’t the Nepali media that had any, that’s for sure. So, many I am told droned the earthquake aftermath, naturally they came in and they droned aftermath for some news outlets, some small, some large, some freelance. But they droned the aftermath and the Nepali media news outlets did not have any drones any quad-copters, to show the aftermath using aerial footage. So, the footage that the local media was able to present to the world was still footage and they were able to show also video footage, but they were not able to show aerial footage. And many hobbyists who visited Nepal after the quake showed the destruction, many professionals showed the destruction the aftermath of the quake and it posted some of that video on You Tube.

I am told that the received millions of hits from different You Tube subscribers that had posted some of the earthquakes aftermath. And what happened was that this really upset the media here in Nepal. Because they did not have the capacity to show the aerial footage but one thing they realized was that the aerial footage showing the aftermath of an earthquake was very critical in order to show how much damage was done. So, by using photography and traditional methods of showing how the aftermath of a quake had a massive impact was very important but it was the aerial footage that really, really showed the damage of the quake. And many tell me including I am told not to mention any names because many people in the media don’t want to get in trouble by having spoke to me about this. But also, there’s some new media companies here who also don’t want to be mentioned. Also, the local media felt vey humiliated and said to the government you know, hey, what is all this aerial footage, we don’t have any drones, we don’t have one drone. But yet these ‘foreigners’ are coming here with these fantastic quad copters, they’re going to the aftermath and they are showing the world truly what happened. And it’s pretty fantastic, but we don’t have access to that kind of hardware that kind of technology. And so, the government sided with the media and they decided that there would be a ban on any drones used and so that’s what one story is.

gail in kathmandu
Gail in the Government of Nepal Press Office Registering to receive her Press card

Another story I was told was that the reason drones have been banned here was because after the earthquake when hobbyists and professionals came, and the news media came with some drones, once they did the aerial footage of the aftermath of the earthquake, they also because some UNESCO sites were damaged, and some holy sites were damaged. But it was sort of a free for all for quad copters and they went over the UNESCO sites without permission, this was very, you know this was three years ago almost. So, this is very, they’re flying at that time that would have been the line of phantoms by DJI because you didn’t have the Maverick then, you didn’t have the smaller drones. So, we’re talking these you know quite large drones flying around over UNESCO sites that are damaged and also holy sites. And that footage was also posted, and many tell me that that was really the turning point for the Government and really made them angry, that all these quad copters, had just flown over these protected sites and holy sites and that was it, the government at that point that’s it, no more drones. And really cracked down, so there’s many stories, it’s complicated because the earthquake happened, and it was just about the time where you know DJI was running that line of Phantoms and sort of you know everybody was really just getting their hands on these drones, these civilian drones and going out and doing aerial work.

And many were not licensed, so it is a complicated situation in Nepal, so that sort of covers questions that have been asked to me, you know why is Nepal so strict you know, look at the terrain now, even before, look at what wonderful place Nepal is. What a fantastic place it would be to be able to do some UAV work here. They need aerial footage not only to show its beauty, but they need it for surveying, they need it for mapping. However beautiful Nepal is there’s many infrastructure problems here. And it is for that reason I believe most strongly that drone work in particular needs to be introduced here in a proper way.

So, if you do look at the infrastructure it is very, very fragile and very weak and you know 10,000 people perished in that earthquake three years ago. And I don’t know want to call it, I hate to call it an anniversary, but three years is coming up since the quake and I’ve walked around a lot by foot and there’s still a lot of damage and you know slowly it is being taken some of is being taken care of. There is still a lot of damage to holy sites and UNESCO sites.

Moving on from that one of the very serious reasons why surveying especially needs to be done here is because there are, it’s even actually worse in Nepal in terms of how many wires and I am going to let you see some of the photographs that I’ve taken of this, are in areas of the urban centre where people live. I mean this, I thought when I was droning in Iraq that there were a lot of wires, but there are a lot of electrical, telephone all sorts of wires, mass amounts of wires. You can see from the photographs and these need to be surveyed from an aerial perspective, because if a quake happened just for safety reasons people are really, as I walked around, Thamel which is a very tourist part of Kathmandu. It really struck me how Thamel is really put together by just piles and piles and piles of wires. And so, it concerns me, and it should concern the people of Nepal that these wires are so vulnerable and would need aerial footage of these to show just how sort of literally how strung together some of this infrastructure is in heavily populated parts of let’s say for example Thamel.

So, there are very strong arguments for why aerial footage is so necessarily and why it’s so important for the Nepalese government to work with drone journalists to work with media companies like Pradeep who are also trying to get drone work done. It is very important for the Nepalese government and the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal to make it easier for us pilots to have access to droning these areas. As I said for surveying but reasons as well as mapping and for reasons to help the infrastructure. So, that can be brought to the Office of Home Affairs who can then start dealing with some safety issues here in Nepal.

Okay, I think I’ve pretty much touched on that issue about why droning is so important and one of the things that I’d also like to address is how difficult as I may have pointed out earlier, just how difficult it is to get a permit here to do any kind of filming and photography and I think what we’ll do is put in what Retort Media and myself have created, but this is a compilation really Retort Media has done about what you need to do to get a permit. You need to pay close attention to it, because it’s something very important that is not in this, which is once you get your permit, that permit lasts 15 days. Okay, so you’re allowed to drone everyday for 15 days and what they do is they make you fill out a log, but they don’t necessarily won’t give it to you, it could be issued for 5 days, it could be issued for 2 days. So, they will give you a piece of paper and they’ll ask you to fill it in, and they will say what is you know, what it is what you want to do your filming on, whether it’s just stills, traditional video footage or aerial footage. What do you want to do? And when you make that list and they approve or they don’t approve it whatever, that’s all your allowed to do. So, in other words 2 weeks may go by and you need more work done, you need to really think about this when you go and make sure you go to get your permit for the first time. You should think about filming for about 20-30 days or however long you need because when you come back you’re going to have to fill out and do this whole application again. So, my recommendation is put down every single thing you can think of and even more, because that’s all you’re going to get a permit for. So, if 2 weeks goes by and you think I’ve got this permit I am going to go up to Mustang and I am going to film, and you didn’t put that down you have to reapply and go through this whole method again.

So really, really, you’re filming has to be like a business plan, it has to strategically really be thought out and think of all of these extraneous places you may want to go to because you’re going to have to do this process all over again, each time you want to film, in other words the permit that you get that’s good for one time and one time only. And its only good for the things that you have listed, so my recommendation is that you really, really pre plan everything, pre plan more than you want to do because it doesn’t hurt if you don’t use it. But it takes a lot longer if it’s not on the list and you need to do it. So, if you’re somewhere like in [inaudible 22:54] and you didn’t have that on your list, you are going to have to go through this whole process again. So, I would really think about the shots that you need and even extra shots and put them down so that you don’t have to come back just for one maybe shot you need in [inaudible 23:17] that you didn’t put down. Just put it down and if you don’t use it, you don’t end up going to [inaudible 23:24] to go and shoot well that’s fine, that doesn’t hurt.

The other thing is, okay so I think that that pretty much covers my point about how much work it is to get a permit. And it’s not guaranteed and why you need a media company to do it and you know because everything has to be written out in Nepali and I highly recommend Retort Media because Pradeep has gone through this process many times and this is a person that can help you. Okay, the other thing is you will need all the paperwork done in Nepali so that is another reason why it’s good to have someone in Nepal to help you out, especially a media company.

Okay, so another interview question I’ve been asked is about how could Nepal benefit from a flight school here and of course I am very much, Nepal at this point no flight schools, there is no UAV schools here and interestingly enough one of the ways they are able to get around to getting a drone permit to fly here is they make the argument that we have no drone schools here, so it’s not possible for us to have a drone license. So, they make that argument and actually many times they can’t say anything the CAA because there are no drone schools. The irony is very strange, they can ultimately fly here even though they’re not trained and so that’s a strange irony because you do have to have your license, your droning license and you must bring it to the Civil Aviation Authority. And even if you have your drone operators license, you still might not get a permit, if you have your RPV license. And one reason that is is because you cannot just present your drone operator’s license without having to do all the other paperwork. So, the process is a whole process because the Ministry of Home Affairs can still reject you. But as I said the irony is that let’s say you don’t have a drone operator’s license and the company the media company that you’ve hired in Nepal will not have had any kind of drone operator’s license because there’s no school in Nepal unless they went, and they received their operator’s license outside of Nepal and brought it back. Which the only reason I am saying that’s highly unlikely is because that would be very, very expensive for not only a Nepali but for really anybody to do. To go to another country to get your operators license and then come back to your country. Its very expensive to do that, because flight schools they can be up from £1,000 to £4,000 to get your pilots license to have your UAV license.

So, the thing is that as I was talking about the irony what I’m saying is that these guys in Nepal, they’re not trained but yet many of them will go on to get permission to fly, but yet if you’re a foreigner not only is it incredibly difficult but even if you have the operators license, it does not guarantee you will be able to fly. Now, there is a little bit of a way around this, you are allowed to fly and do surveys for example if you’re hired by a private company. So, you can do survey work, let’s say a business hires you but you must stay on their property and you must, you have very, very strict, you must do your pre survey work, your assessment. But if you are from Nepal you wouldn’t necessarily know how to do that, but many have done some on private property and it is legal I am told but you would have to get this confirmed to be able to do UAV work when you’re hired by a private company or an organization. That is one way around it, but you would have to get that confirmed by the Home Affairs Office, before I recommend taking on any work in Nepal. Please don’t say well I heard that I can just do private work here, so I’m not going to even bother with anything. Please get that confirmed because the rules may have changed as I am making this interview on April 6th, 2018, maybe on April 7th the rules to do UAV work on private property where you don’t need a permit that may change and may have changed already. So, that’s another thing going back to other bureaucracy here and the list you’ll see by Retort Media on how to get your license to do work here, these rules may similarly change and any one of them can arbitrarily change. So for example when Pradeep and I were at the Communications Affairs Office they just said to him you know what you need this paper and this paper and this paper and so he got this paper, this paper and this paper, he went and did some extra work and then we moved over to the Civil Aviation Authority and they needed extra paperwork, so what we’re presenting to you doesn’t mean that you one the Nepali government won’t change these and two when you get there other paperwork won’t be needed. So, they can change these rules and they can arbitrarily ask you to get other, people so sign other signatures from other Government Departments. That’s why Nepal really needs to work on standardization because the bureaucracy is killing any incentive for any media outlets, any freelancers, any one to want to do not only professional traditional filming here but certainly any aerial work.

So, I am going to move onto one of the last questions and that is my experience here in Nepal has been a very interesting experience and one of the things I was telling Pradeep is that as we were had a six-day journey, it was harder for me to do any work in Nepal ever than it has been in any of the conflict regions that I have droned in as a drone journalist. It’s much harder going through this bureaucratic process which can similarly change at any moment and which they the Government can arbitrarily ask you to do another process. So, I would like to thank Retort Media and I would like to thank the Bodhi Boutique Hotel where I was able to stay, and I was able to get a lot of work done and I really just personally recommend it, this hotel for one reason the Wi-Fi is incredibly fast not to mention it’s a very comfortable place to work. But I would like to thank Pradeep because Pradeep has a lot of patience and one of the questions I asked him was how he feels going through all this and does he ever get you to know, feel down about having to go through such a long process. And he also feels oppressed by the bureaucracy here in Nepal, he feels every ten steps he gets with his paperwork there’s something holding back and you know it was very interesting Pradeep because one thing is he could be doing an amazing amount of filming and shooting and doing aerial work for his trekking company Magical Nepal but because the process is so long you know there’s a limited amount of time you keep wanting to go through this and I am a witness to that. So I really empathize with them, every time as I said he wants to go through filming and doing all this he has to go through this process and it is quite oppressive and during this, I sort of got a sense you know of how frustrated he was at just how much he had to go through and I just want to thank him and thank him for his time and what a wonderful place Nepal is and I look forward to the days when there’s a proper school here and when drone professionals will be able to come and it will be a very standardized, easy process to be able to professionally drone here. So, thank you very much and enjoy, I hope you enjoyed my interview and the questions that were put forward to me from Retort Media. And thank you very much for Pradeep and his team.

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Article by Pradeep Guragain

Pradeep is the co-founder of Magical Nepal. He was born and bred in Nepal and is a seasoned hiker and rider.

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