Is it time to go back to Nepal?

On 25 April and 12 May 2015, deadly earthquakes struck central Nepal, causing catastrophic damage to Kathmandu and the surrounding valleys. Harrowing pictures of magnificent temples turned to rubble and concrete hotels collapsed on their foundations were beamed around the world. Five months on from the disaster, Nepal has declared itself open for tourism, but is now the right time to come back to Nepal, and what exactly will you find when you get here?

ADB photo

Image by Asian Development Bank

Assessing the damage
Media images at the time of the earthquakes made it look as though Nepal was completely destroyed, with its astonishing cultural heritage in ruins. The truth makes for less sensational headlines: while 130 historic temples collapsed across the country, only 14 of Nepal’s 75 districts suffered damage, and many of Nepal’s most famous sights escaped completely unscathed.

Even at the height of the disaster, travellers were relaxing in the resort town of Pokhara, unaware of the destruction to towns just 50km away. In Kathmandu, the vast majority of hotels reopened within days of the earthquakes, with just a handful of historic heritage hotels remaining closed for repairs.

This is not the first time Nepal has faced an earthquake of this scale, and as in 1934, Nepalis have stepped in to save what can be saved, and are now rebuilding for the future. How quickly this can happen will depend to a large degree on how quickly tourists return to the country and invest in the local economy.

Here is an overview of how different parts of Nepal are recovering after the disaster.

Kathmandu suffered the full force of the earthquakes, and damage was extensive, but localised to specific parts of the city. Four of the iconic temples in the UNESCO-listed Durbar Square collapsed completely including the multi-tiered Maju Deval Temple, one of Kathmandu’s most famous landmarks but the majority of temples still stand and the square is once again open to sightseers.

The royal palace of Hanuman Dhoka remains closed due to structural damage to the southern courtyards, but work is underway to reopen the museum and palace chambers. Perhaps the most photographed casualty of the earthquake was the Bhimsen Tower, which collapsed completely for the second time in its history (it was also destroyed in the 1934 earthquake). Today, it stands as a ruined plinth, but developers have pledged to rebuild it.

Other major World Heritage Sites such as the magnificent Buddhist stupas at Swayambhunath and Bodhnath were only mildly affected; restoration work has repaired the most obvious damage and the most tangible evidence for the disaster is some lingering scaffolding. The sacred Hindu pilgrimage site of Pashupatinath saw a terrible tide of funeral cremations following the earthquake but the site itself was mostly undamaged.

Patan krishna Mandir

Image by Rene C. Nielsen

Patan, Bhaktapur & the Kathmandu Valley

Despite the loss of some landmark monuments, including the famous Char Narayan and Hari Shankar temples, Patan’s Durbar Square and its stunning Patan Museum are open as normal. The quakes took a heavy toll on the traditional brick buildings of Bhaktapur, but here too, most of the medieval temples are still standing, including Nepal’s tallest, the five-storey Nyatapola Temple.

Elsewhere in the Kathmandu Valley, the damage was patchy. Some places escaped with minor cracks, while towns like Sankhu and Bungamati saw temple after temple crumble to rubble. While the valley is definitely open to travellers, it’s worth checking with locals before heading off from Kathmandu to be clear on which areas are still off-limits due to reconstruction following the disaster.

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Image by Mike Behnken

Across the country

Looking beyond the Kathmandu Valley, the historic towns of Nuwakot and Gorkha and their fortress-palaces were particularly badly affected due to their proximity to the epicenters of the two tremors, and the quakes caused extensive damage to the road to the Tibetan border and the Langtang Valley. However, away from the center of the country, there are few signs that the earthquake ever happened.

The east and west of the country were not seriously affected by the disaster, and most damage is restricted to trekking routes in remote areas. The tourist and trekking hub of Pokhara was effectively untouched and the trekking routes around it have been surveyed and declared safe. Despite damage to some villages along the trails, trekking in the Everest region has also been declared safe.

In the lowlands, the towns and national parks of the Terai were almost entirely unaffected. Wildlife safaris in Chitwan National Park and Bardia National Park continue as normal and the number of tigers in Nepal is actually on the rise, bucking the regional trend. The birthplace of the Buddha at Lumbini – an increasingly popular stop on the overland route between India and Nepal – also escaped unharmed.

lukla-airport

Image by Chris Marquardt

Travelling to Nepal after the earthquake

The key thing to note is that infrastructure for tourists was remarkably unaffected by the disaster. Airports are operating as normal and almost all of Kathmandu’s tourist hotels and restaurants remain open, or will reopen for the winter tourist season, though business is currently slim. Kathmandu’s traveller district of Thamel is much as it was before the disaster, and transportation around the city, the Kathmandu Valley and the country continues as normal.

The main roads across Nepal are open to traffic (or as open as they ever were!), and the Arniko Hwy/Friendship Hwy to Tibet and Everest’s North Base Camp (in Tibet) is due to reopen for the 2015 winter season. However, roads are still cut off in some rural areas, where earthquake damage has been worsened by monsoon landslides. This situation is likely to persist for some time, so it pays to confirm that roads are clear and that accommodation will be available before leaving Kathmandu.

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Image by Wonderlane

So should I go ?
In August, the US and UK lifted their country-wide travel advisories against travel to Nepal, meaning that travellers and companies can once again get travel insurance for upcoming trips. Most western travel companies plan to run trekking trips as normal for the 2015/16 winter and spring seasons and some companies are even offering special reconstruction treks, though it’s now more important than ever to do some research and partner with a reliable NGO that has long-established links with the country.

Of course, Nepal still has its problems – including a fuel shortage caused by a political stand-off with India over the new Nepali constitution – but these kinds of issues are part of the landscape when travelling in the subcontinent. Despite these problems, in many ways now is a great time to visit Nepal.

The infrastructure that travellers need is in place, but tourism is down by over 50%, which means fewer crowds on the popular trekking routes and discounts for hotels and airfares. More importantly, the money you spend when hiring a guide or porter, staying in a lodge or hotel, or eating in a restaurant will directly help local people. Given that 500,000 Nepalis work directly in tourism, the country needs travellers more than ever to rebuild its economy and bounce back stronger for the future.

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Source: www.lonelyplanet.com

Nepal tourism appoints son of Edmund Hillary to promote Everest mission

After the Earthquake Nepal’s Everest missions has taken a back seat as people are weary to scale the peaks in fear of avalanches. The Nepal government on May 28, 2015 observed the international Everest Day marking the conquest of the world’s highest peak by Edmund Hillary and Tanzing Norgey Sherpa 62 years ago. The day was observed with intentions of reviving tourism in the country.

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In a bid to call back tourists the Nepalese Tourism Minister Kripasur Sherpa appealed to international tourists to visit the country. He assured them that there are still many safe and beautiful places which include heritage and cultural sites along with trekking trails that have remained intact despite the devastating earthquakes.

The minister looked for support from the private sector. He felt that together the public and private sector can rebuild the losses that Nepal has met with.

The mountaineering sector was suffering losses since 2013 when 16 mountain guides were killed in April 18. But the Earthquake in central and North-West Nepal was hit by the devastating earthquakes. The avalanche from the quake killed 18 people which had 5 foreigners and all expeditions had to be brought to a halt.The area is under grave threat owing to melting glaciers and continued avalanches. The country needs faith and support from international tourists and climbers to get things back in tempo.

Before the quakes thousands of climbers trekked the Everest each year providing employment to the Sherpas and bringing millions of dollars for the Government. If Everest mission should stop it would amount to grave losses for the government. So the government has appointed 19 goodwill ambassadors which include Peter Hillary, son of Edmund Hillary, Jamling Tenzing, son of Tenzing Sherpa, Junko Tabei, the first women Everest Summiteer from Japan and Reinhold Mesner, Italy, who climbed the Everest without oxygen for the first time. They will help promote tourism in Nepal.

Source: Travel And Tour World

Over 70% of glacier volume in Everest region could be lost by 2100

A team of researchers in Nepal, France and the Netherlands have found Everest glaciers could be very sensitive to future warming, and that sustained ice loss through the 21st century is likely. If greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise, glaciers in the Everest region of the Himalayas could experience dramatic change in the decades to come according to a research published in The Cryosphere, an open access journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU).

 Instruments used to study the Mera Glacier region of the Dudh Kosi basin Credit: Patrick Wagnon

Instruments used to study the Mera Glacier region of the Dudh Kosi basin Credit: Patrick Wagnon

“The signal of future glacier change in the region is clear: continued and possibly accelerated mass loss from glaciers is likely given the projected increase in temperatures,” says Joseph Shea, a glacier hydrologist at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Kathmandu, Nepal, and leader of the study.

The glacier model used by Shea and his team shows that glacier volume could be reduced between 70% and 99% by 2100. The results depend on how much greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise, and on how this will affect temperature, snowfall and rainfall in the area.

“Our results indicate that these glaciers may be highly sensitive to changes in temperature, and that increases in precipitation are not enough to offset the increased melt,” says Shea. Increased temperatures will not only increase the rates of snow and ice melt, but can also result in a change of precipitation from snow to rain at critical elevations, where glaciers are concentrated. Together, these act to reduce glacier growth and increase the area exposed to melt.

Glaciers in High Mountain Asia, a region that includes the Himalayas, contain the largest volume of ice outside the polar regions. The team studied glaciers in the Dudh Kosi basin in the Nepal Himalaya, which is home to some of the world’s highest mountain peaks, including Mt Everest, and to over 400 square kilometres of glacier area. “Apart from the significance of the region, glaciers in the Dudh Kosi basin contribute meltwater to the Kosi River, and glacier changes will affect river flows downstream,” says Shea.

Changes in glacier volume can impact the availability of water, with consequences for agriculture and hydropower generation. While increased glacier melt initially increases water flows, ongoing retreat leads to reduced meltwater from the glaciers during the warmer months, with greatest impact for the local populations before the monsoon when rainfall is scarce. Glacier retreat can also result in the formation and growth of lakes dammed by glacial debris. Avalanches and earthquakes can breach the dams, causing catastrophic floods that can result in river flows 100 times greater than normal in the Kosi basin.

To find out how glaciers in the region will evolve in the future, the team started by using field observations and data from local weather stations to calibrate and test a model of glacier change over the past 50 years. “To examine the sensitivity of modelled glaciers to future climate change, we then applied eight temperature and precipitation scenarios to the historical temperature and precipitation data and tracked how glacier areas and volumes responded,” says study co-author Walter Immerzeel of Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

Part of the glacier response is due to changes in the freezing level, the elevation where mean monthly temperatures are 0°C. “The freezing level currently varies between 3200 m in January and 5500 m in August. Based on historical temperature measurements and projected warming to the year 2100, this could increase by 800–1200m,” says Immerzeel. “Such an increase would not only reduce snow accumulations over the glaciers, but would also expose over 90% of the current glacierized area to melt in the warmer months.”

The researchers caution, however, that the results published in The Cryosphere should be seen as a first approximation to how Himalayan glaciers will react to increasing temperatures in the region. Patrick Wagnon, a visiting scientist at ICIMOD and glaciologist at the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement in Grenoble, France, says: “Our estimates need to be taken very cautiously, as considerable uncertainties remain.” For example, the model simplifies glacier movements, which impact how glaciers respond to increases in temperature and precipitation.

But the researchers stress in the paper that “the signal of future glacier change in the region is clear and compelling” and that decreases in ice thickness and extent are expected for “even the most conservative climate change scenario.”

The research team is composed of J.M. Shea (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development [ICIMOD], Kathmandu, Nepal), W.W. Immerzeel (ICIMOD and Department of Physical Geography, Utrecht University, the Netherlands), P. Wagnon (ICIMOD and Laboratoire d’étude des transferts en hydrologie, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, Grenoble, France), C. Vincent (Laboratoire de Glaciologie et Geophysique de l’Environnement, CNRS, Grenoble, France) and S. Bajracharya (ICIMOD). – ICIMOD

For more info : www.the-cryosphere.net

China may build railway to Nepal, with tunnel through Mount Everest

China is considering building a railway to Nepal with a possible tunnel through Mount Everest, state media said Thursday, as Beijing courts a country India regards as firmly within its sphere of influence.

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A passenger train travels the Qinghai-Tibet railway, about 100 km northwest of the city of Lhasa, in this file image from 2008. | JAN REURIK / CC-BY-SA-2.0

The Qinghai-Tibet railway already links the rest of China with the Tibetan capital Lhasa and beyond, and an extension running as far as Nepal’s border is already underway, the China Daily newspaper said.

It quoted a Tibet official as saying construction as far as the border will be complete by 2020. It also quoted an expert at the Chinese Academy of Engineering as saying the extension was made “at Nepal’s request.”

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi visited Kathmandu in December and, according to Nepalese reports, said the line could eventually be extended to the Nepalese capital and further, potentially providing a crucial link between China and the huge markets of India.

Such a plan could see a tunnel being built under Mount Everest, the China Daily said.

“The line will probably have to go through Qomolangma so that workers may have to dig some very long tunnels,” expert Wang Mengshu told the newspaper, referring to Everest by its Tibetan name.

He said that, due to the challenging Himalayan terrain with its “remarkable” changes in elevation, trains on any line to Kathmandu would probably have a maximum speed of 120 kilometers per hour.

The proposal underscores China’s influence in the impoverished Himalayan nation, where Beijing has for years been building roads and investing billions of dollars in hydropower and telecommunications.

Chinese tourism to Nepal, which is home to eight of the world’s 14 peaks over 8,000 metres, is also climbing.

Beijing’s increasing role has raised alarms in New Delhi that China, already closely allied to Pakistan, is forging closer economic ties with Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Nepal in a deliberate strategy to encircle India.

In an apparent counter-move, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged late last year that South Asia’s largest economy would fund a series of regional investments and free up its markets to its neighbours’ exporters.

But India has struggled to compete with China’s financial muscle.

Chinese plans to expand the rail network in Tibet have also come under criticism from rights groups including the International Campaign for Tibet, which has warned of the project’s “dangerous implications for regional security and the fragile ecosystem of the world’s highest and largest plateau.”

“The Chinese government’s claim that rail expansion on the plateau simply benefits tourism and lifts Tibetans out of poverty does not hold up to scrutiny and cannot be taken at face value,” ICT president Matteo Mecacci said in a statement last year.

Source: japantimes.co.jp

Climber Seeks Six 8,000-meter Peak Summits in 2015

All he wants to do is summit six 26,000 foot mountains in about seven months. In doing so, he would rack up more than 70,000 vertical feet and end up in the record books. Not only that, he’s climbing for a cause. Plus, he’s management at a well-known outdoor apparel company.

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Nick Cienski is hoping to climb six of the world’s major peaks in 2015.

Image courtesy Shinji Tamura

Nick Cienski and his international team of mountaineers plan on undertaking the 6 Summits Challenge (6summitschallenge.com). On one level, they’ll be climbing six of the world’s highest peaks from April through October.  On the other platform, they’re raising awareness and funds to fight human trafficking.

Cienski is the senior director of innovation at Under Armour. His team will use apparel Cienski designed featuring base layer, mid layer and outerwear made to withstand extreme weather.

The mission is to climb some of world’s highest mountains. That’s Everest Lhotse, Makalu and Manaslu in Nepal, and Cho Oyu and Shishapangma in Tibet.

The plan is to begin at Lhotse and move on to Everest and Makalu, climbing that one at the end of May. In the fall, the team is bound for Manaslu, Cho Oyo and Shishapangma.

An experienced mountaineer, he’s also founder of a Baltimore, Maryland-based non-profit human trafficking awareness group called Mission 14 (mission14.org) and is employing his climbing background as a way to generate social change in one of the largest illegal industries in the world.

“Climbing mountains is what I know, and raising awareness for human trafficking is what I am called to do,” says Cienski who celebrates his 49th birthday this July. “Working at Under Armour with full support from them to develop my own gear and to follow my passion is a unique opportunity for any climber. By summiting these peaks, I am working to empower organizations and inspire individuals to be brave, take action, and think beyond your own limits everyday.”

Cienski will attempt to scale more than 70,000 vertical feet, breaking the current world record of five 26,000 foot summits in one year. South Korean mountaineer Park Young-Seok holds the Guinness World Record for climbing five of the 8,000-meter Himalayan peaks within one year.

To train, Cienski hit the gym five times a week, three with a personal trainer. He did a lot of body weight resistance training, band workouts and TRX.

“My focus is mostly on my legs, lower back and core and my trainer uses a variety of workouts to achieve this but these are all incorporated with speed so as to maximize heart rate,” he said.

For cardio, he did a lot of stair climbing while carrying an 80-pound pack.

He figures on burning more than 80,000 calories during the total expedition.

Cienski starting high mountain climbing at age 21 in 1987, scaling peaks in the Himalayas and Karakorum. He did that for a good decade before succumbing to a career.

He returned to the Himalayas in 2014 to test gear and get a sense of how his body would acclimate to the elevation and elements.

Logistics leader is world-renowned climber Russell Brice. He’s behind the organizational requirements for the challenge. Russell holds the world record for fastest single, solo ascent without oxygen of Cho Oyo and 22,000 foot-plus Ama Dablam. The head Sherpa for the expedition is Phurba Tashi, who has not only summited Mount Everest 21 times, but also holds the record for the most total ascents of the world’s 8,000 meter peaks, summiting 35 times, more than anyone in the world.

The plan is for three teams to begin climbing the first three mountains simultaneously fixing ropes and making camp. They will use traditional routes and supplementary oxygen above high camp. Cienski will begin climbing with the Lhotse team and aim to summit it in early May, then descend to camp 2 and join the  Everest climb to summit in mid-May. Then it’s on to Makaulu.

In the fall, the same plan will be in place.

They’ll use about nine tons of gear, some six tons for the spring climbs and three for fall. Just for the Everest and Lhotse climbs they figure on five tons of equipment.

What are they carrying? The climbing gear is harness, plain carabiners, screw lock carabiners, descender, ascender, tape slings, set prussic loops, ice axe, retractable poles, crampons, helmet, head lamp with spare bulbs and batteries, pocket knife, sunglasses, goggles, water bottle, pee bottle, large 50-60 lbs. pack, 30-35 lbs. day pack, batteries, avalanche transceiver, kit bag, sleeping bag and sleeping mat.

Lhotse is the world’s fourth highest mountain at 27,940 feet and a base elevation of 17,500 feet. With a base of 17,700 feet, Everest is the tallest spot on the planet at 29,029 feet. The fifth highest peak is 27,776-foot Makalu with a base elevation at 15,975 feet.

Cho Oyu tops out at 26,906 feet. The sixth tallest mountain has a base elevation of 16,000 feet.  Shishapangma, with a summit at 26,335 feet and 16,400-foot base elevation, is the world’s fourteenth highest peak. Manaslu is the eighth highest with a 26,781-foot summit and 15,750-foot base elevation.

Sourc: nepalmountainnews.com