Dr Upendra Mahato needs no introduction in Nepali business fraternity. One of the most successful business persons in Nepal and abroad and the Founder Chairman of Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA), Mahato holds numerous prestigious designations including President of Russia-Nepal Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Honorary Consul General of Nepal to the Republic of Belarus. Mahato is currently busy with his latest venture Nepal Mediciti Hospital. Having lived most of his life in Russia, and also being a football lover, Mahato agreed to give a general guideline to Nepalis travelling to Russia for the FIFA World Cup 2018. In an interview with living, the business tycoon also shared his experience in Russia and the recent developments regarding the World Cup. Excerpts:

How excited are you about the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2018? What are thoughts about the sport in general?

I am really awaiting the World Cup, and I will definitely find time to watch the games despite my busy schedule. I am supporting Russia in this World Cup as I have spent the majority of my life in Russia, and I have emotional attachment with the country. I also have plans of watching a few games live, preferably semis or the final. The way I see it, sports is more than just entertainment, it brings countries and people together despite the critical relations between countries. As sports bring people together, it also compels the countries to come together. Whether it is world cup of football or cricket or any other sports, the best thing it does is it brings people and countries closer, which I think is the most important aspect.

Can you share with us the preparation Russia made for this World Cup?

This world cup has helped in overall beautification and infrastructure development in Russia. Eleven cities will be hosting the games, and all of these cities have been transformed for the world cup, including Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Even new train lines have been set up and new hotels have been constructed. Stadiums have been upgraded, new roads have been constructed and every city has been decorated to look its best. Even the police have been trained to speak English, and a special young police wing has been created just for the world cup. If anybody wants to visit Russia, this is probably the best time. This world cup has helped a lot in branding Russia and promoting it. Today’s world runs on perception, and branding has a big role in creating perceptions. Russia had allocated a budget of 20 billion dollars for this world cup, but owing to fuel crisis and various sanctions, around 12 billion has been spent for the development of infrastructure. Such huge budget has been spent in such a short time, so this has really transformed Russia.

How has been your experience in Russia so far?

After spending all these years in Russia, I have felt that Russia is a country that cannot be understood by reading about it or hearing about it or seeing on TV, one must go there to understand it. Throughout decades, media has portrayed Russia as a communist world and as a country isolated from the rest of the world. To change this image, a visit to Russia is indispensable.  Once you go and see Russia for yourself, you will be compelled to change your perception of Russia. We as Nepalis have a lot to learn from Russia as we share a lot of political similarities. Both Russia and Nepal have suffered a very long transition phase. We can take lessons from Russia in terms of political stability, infrastructure development and agendas of national development.

What are your advices to Nepalis visiting Russia to watch the world cup?

The first I would like to say is Russia is very big. The first thing you would notice is the roads, which are very wide. Be extra careful when crossing the streets, you might get penalized if you cross it from undesignated places. There are beautiful high rise buildings and the lighting system is just stunning, make sure you enjoy the architecture.

As soon as you are in Russia, I advise Nepalis to contact Nepali Embassy in Moscow and register your whereabouts as it will be helpful in case of emergencies. You can also contact NRN office in Moscow. There is no racism or discrimination in Russia and it is safe to travel, but still try to travel in groups. And while travelling, have your passport or your identification with you at all times. Contrary to popular belief, Russians are very warm and friendly towards guests and visitors, and We Nepalis have a very good image in Russia, and Russians generally like Nepal and Nepalis. If you are not familiar with Russian accent and dialect, be aware that Russian sounds quite harsh, even if they are saying nice things. You will get used to it soon. Ask twice when you ask for direction, as Russian places and names all sound quite similar, so it can cause confusion.

Regarding food, beef is very common is Russia. If you prefer not to eat beef while eating in restaurants, be careful and order very clearly. Keep in mind that most of the Russian starters are served cold. Vegetarians need to be extra careful as Russians see fish, chicken and egg as vegetarian food, so pay attention when ordering food. The weather is very fine this time of year, it won’t be very cold, but still pack light jackets. If you’re at a bar, do not drink till you pass out.    

Five star hotels and their restaurants are very expensive, but there are plenty of economic hotels and eateries too. And even the cheapest restaurants serve hygienic and good food, so choose according to your budget. There are dollar exchange counters at numerous places, so exchange only at those places. Take your medications, and keep more than you need. If you need some special foods, take it with you. Do not take anything suspicious, like Nepali spices. Do not carry Khukuris as gifts, Russians prefer Nepali handicrafts. If you want to bring back gifts and souvenirs from Russia, buy matryoshka dolls.

Which tourist destination do you recommend in Russia? Any cuisine that Nepalis must try when in Russia?

All those who travel to Russia must visit Red Square, Victory Square and Borodinskaya Panorama Museum. If you have more time, Saint Petersburg is another great destination. If you decide to travel, choose metro over any other forms of transport. It is the most safe and convenient way to travel in Russia. City tour buses are introduced recently, so take a ride in those buses. Visit river beaches for sunbathing this time of year. Take evening cruise in Moscow River to witness the real beauty of Moscow city.

Regarding the cuisine, Borsch Soup is very famous in Russia. Meat and potatoes are staple food there, so indulge in the local cuisine. If you are staying in an economy place or in hostels, keep in mind that water is quite expensive in Russia. So keep good supply of drinking water with you. This is the season of fruits, so buy fruits from markets and keep it with you, especially berries. And Russian vodka is a must try too; drinking vodka in Russia itself will be a memory you’ll cherish all your life. And apart from all the travel and fun, I wish that Nepalis who see the development in Russia must bring something back with them. If you are from hospitality industry or any kind of entrepreneur, study the cities, tourist places, infrastructures and services offered. It will be worthwhile if you can replicate that back in Nepal.