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.

pokhra-nepal

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.

local

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

Asia’s Top 10 Destinations for Vegetarian Travelers

Living as a vegetarian is often a challenging life in many parts of the world. The problems may get worse if you love traveling. Luckily, there are many places which are veg-friendly. Some countries listed below have vegetarian tradition deeply rooted into their culture for ages while some of them have recently developed as veg-friendly destinations.

  1. India

India has more vegetarians than anywhere in the world. Traditional beliefs in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism inspires people to be vegetarian. The Indian menu is often filled-up with majority of veg dishes. Ingredients like heat, rice, roots and pulses are major ingredients of Indian food. You will find variety of dishes as you move to different parts of India. Dishes like Idli, Dosha, Uthappam with rice as major ingredient is found in Southern India. Northern India offer dishes like Roti, Naan, Samosa with wheat as major ingredient. Happycow has listed 440 veg-friendly restaurants but you will find thousands more when you visit the country.

Idli and Samber found in Southern Part of India.

Idli and Samber found in Southern Part of India.

  1. Thailand

With attractions like diving sites, sandy beaches, tropical islands, Buddhist Temples and archaelogical sites, Thailand is one of the major tourist destinations in Asia. Thanks to its large Buddhist population, you will be able to find plenty of vegetarian restaurants in Thailand. Chiang Mai alone has over 80 veg restaurants. Happycow list 612 veg-friendly restaurants in Thailand. Dont miss out tom yum soup, pad thai, salads and coconut-milk based curries.

Tom Yum soup in Thailand

Tom Yum soup in Thailand

  1. Israel

With numerous tourist attractions including Dead sea, Negev desert and plenty of religious and cultural places, Israel has been a major tourist attraction. There has been a vegan revolution all over Israel in past few years. 8% people in Israel follow vegetariasm and you will be able to find veg dishes almost everywhere. Vegan restaurants are being established everywhere. Happycow lists 279 veg-friendly restaurants in Israel. Dont miss out Hummus, Sambusak and Pita bread if you ever visit the country.

  1. Nepal

With 8 of worlds highest ten mountains, Nepal is a paradise for trekkers and people who love extreme sports. As the majority of the people in Nepal are Hindu or Buddhists, vegetarianism is widely adopted all over Nepal. You will often find at least one vegetarian dish in Nepalese menu. Indian veg-dishes are also available all over Nepal. Happycow lists 56 veg-friendly restaurants in Nepal but you will find thousand more if you visit the country. Dont miss Nepali Veg thali (Dal, Bhat and Tarkari), Veg Momos (Dumplings) and Ju Ju Dhau (Yoghurt made in Bhaktapur) in Nepal.

Assamese_thali

Typical Nepali Thali (Dal, Bhat and Tarkari)

  1. Taiwan

With 13% people following vegetarian diet, Taiwan is often considered a heaven for vegan travels. There are more than 6,000 places serving vegetarian dishes in Taiwan. Taiwan has the best vegetarian labelling laws in the world. Dont miss shuǐ jio (Dumplings), glǐ (Japanese style curry) and tiey ban fàn (Steel-Cooked rice) if you are vegan visiting Taiwan. Happycow has a list of 436 veg-friendly restaurants in Taiwan.

Shuǐ Jiǎo (Dumplings) popular in Taiwan

Shuǐ Jiǎo (Dumplings) popular in Taiwan

  1. Vietnam

Vietnam has risen as one of the most affordable travel destination for people who love landscapes, beaches and rich culture. Buddhism is practiced by majority of the population due to which you can find vegeterian food almost everywhere. Its better to say I only eat Buddhist foods as a way to explain being vegan as word vegan or vegetarian can often confuse people. The country has dedicated Buddhist restaurants in major cities. Dont miss out pho and spring rolls. Happycow has a list of 405 veg-friendly restaurants in Vietnam.

  1. Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka can be great travel destination if you love beaches, mountains, wildlife and Buddhist Tradition. Vegetable curries are sold everywhere in Sri Lanka as most people are Buddhists who dont eat meat. Sri Lanka ranks as one of the least meat consuming countries in the world. You would find plenty of dishes with rice and coconut being the key ingredients. Dont miss out wonderful Lankan dishes like Kottu, Happer and Kevum. Happycow lists 39 veg-friendly restaurants in Sri Lanka but you will find plenty more there.

Hoppers(appa) made from coconut milk and rice

Hoppers(appa) made from coconut milk and rice

  1. South Korea

South Korea is often considered as a paradise for meat lovers. But you will find plenty of options for vegetarians as well. The best option is to go for a vegetarian restaurant like Loving Hut which has vegan chains all over the country. Vegeterian dishes are also common in South Korean menu but its best to double check if there’s meat in any of the specified menu. Happy has listed 102 veg-friendly restaurants in South Korea. Don’t miss out wonderful South Korean dishes like Kimchi – fermented Korean side dish made of vegetables, Bibimbap (mixed rice) and Somandu (dumplings) made solely from vegetables.

  1. Singapore:

Singapore has been considered as one of the best city attractions in Asia by many travelers. It is often associated with the words safe, clean, green and efficient. Traveling in Singapore as a vegetarian is not a problem. Almost every food court or stall will have an Indian stall with more than one vegetarian option. Apart from Indian, you can also find Japanese, Malay and Mediterranean vegetarian dishes. Happy Cow has listed 362 vegetarian-friendly restaurants in the country.

Indian Rojtak, a popular dish

Indian Rojtak, a popular dish

  1. Jordan

Situated in Middle east, Jordan is often considered as a safe heaven in the middle of conflict. Meals in Jordan start with Mezze — an array of appetizers followed by a main course. As most of the main course are meat-based, mezze dishes like Taboon(bread), Tabbouleh (salads), hummus (Dips), falafel and gourmet can make an excellent meal for vegetarians.

Tabbouleh (salads)

Tabbouleh (salads)

Source: Travel Helpr

Pokhara tourism entrepreneurs call to lift negative travel advisories

Tourism entrepreneurs in the Lake City have asked foreign governments not to issue any negative travel advisory to discourage their citizen Nepal visit in the wake of devastating April 25 earthquake. They have asked Nepali diplomatic missions abroad to take initiatives for the end. Due to such negative advisory after the massive earthquake, they argued, flow of Chinese tourists has significantly decreased. After the devastating earthquake, the Chinese government had asked its citizens not to visit Nepal for safety concerns. However, six tourists including five journalists from Kunming Municipality of Yunnan Province of the northern neighbor visited Pokhara to know the reality.

tourists-in-pokhara

Tourists enjoying on the bank of Phewa Lake in Pokhara in an undated file photo. Photo: THT

At a programme organized by Pokhara Tourism Revival Committee (PTRC), tourism entrepreneurs of Pokhara requested the visiting Chinese journalists to help promote positive views about Pokhara visit after the devastating earthquake. PTRC Vice-Coordinator Bishwo Palikhel informed that there is a good relation between Pokhara and Kunming city of China, so the media persons must help promote the visit of Pokhara for the enhancement of tourism sector rattled by the earthquake.

After the devastating earthquake, Chinese tourists had feared to visit Pokhara, but now if the Chinese journalists spread positivity, again there will be the flow of Chinese tourists, informed Palikhel. The journalists also promised for promotion of positive views to attract Chinese people toward Nepal. Entrepreneurs also emphasized for exchanging two countries journalists to enhance the tourism sector.

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Source: The Himalayan Times

Naturally Nepal needs tourists now more than ever, says Peter Athans

In the wake of the devastating April 25 earthquake and its subsequent aftershocks, one of the world’s foremost high-altitude mountaineers Saturday appealed to foreign visitors to come to Nepal as the country was in need of tourists now more than ever to revive its vital tourism sector.

Peter Athens

Talking to this daily, Peter Athans, who summited Mt Everest seven times, noted that it was an opportunity for global tourism to help Nepal in time of need as the country was always very welcoming to visitors and travellers.

Peter, who is also embarking on a three-week trip to Mustang with his team to explore ancient cave dwellings as well as to summit a few mountains in the region, said there were numerous things to explore in Nepal beyond the world’s highest peak.

“Tourism sector in Nepalis really hurting now after the earthquakes and visiting tourists can only heal it,” he said, mentioning that it was also high time tourists gave back to the places they visited.

The motivational speaker is also highly concerned about ongoing recovery efforts. He says they should focus more on community-based approach. “From a high-altitude worker to a tea house owner along the hiking trail, recovery and rebuilding efforts must mean something to them,” he said, terming the country a tourist-friendly host with a big heart and an even bigger resilience.

Saying that the resilient communities were still struggling hard to rebuild their lives after the tragic disaster, the country’s tourism goodwill ambassador also requested world media to highlight the ongoing rebuilding process as well as the country’s flora and fauna that remains untouched by the earthquakes to their global audiences.

“It’s not the time to repeatedly draw global attention only to the rubble and debris as three months have already passed after the quake shook the nation,” he said, referring to the findings of recent assessment that substantiate the fact that the country is a safe destination for visitors with its famed nature and culture. According to him, the disaster has also brought all stakeholders together in efforts to build back a better country.

Peter arrived in Nepal for the first time in 1981. He said he has been visiting the Himalayan nation every year and has also led numerous expeditions to the mountains. Being a strong proponent of Sherpa culture, Peter has documented Sherpa talents at high altitude in books and films as his name has been synonymous with the exploration of Mt Everest. “Nepal has now become my first home and not the second one.”

Peter, who has also been awarded the American Alpine Club’s David J Sowles Award (with Todd Burleson) for unparalleled bravery and selflessness during the May 1996 Everest disaster, also launched Magic Yeti Library project to support children’s education.

The Bainbridge Island-based mountaineer is also associated with Himalayan Cataract Project that brings eye care to cataract patients in Nepal and has recently authored abook, Tales from the Top of the World: Climbing Mount Everest with Pete Athans. The highaltitude film-maker has earned credits on films for NOVA, National Geographic Society and also the feature film, ‘Seven Years in Tibet’.

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Source: The Himalayan Times

Tamang Heritage Trail opens for trekkers

Hotel Entrepreneurs Committee of Thuman, along the Tamang Heritage Trail in Lagtang Region on Thursday declared that most of the sections of trail are safe and ready to welcome visitors.

Tamang-Heritage-Trekking

Speaking at a program organized in Kathmandu, the entrepreneurs said hotels and lodges in Syafru, Gatlang, Tatopani, Nagthali, Thuman, Timure and Briddhim are safe and open for business. “There is no problem in the heritage trail,” Tshering Lama, a local hotelier, said.

“As 90 percent of homes and hotels in the Langtang region have been damaged by the earthquake, it is difficult for people to believe that Tamang Heritage Trial is still safe,” Lama said, adding, “As the trail as well as most of the hotels and lodges is intact, concerned authorities should help us to promote the trail.”

According to local hoteliers, most of the hotels and lodges along the heritage trail are made of wood and hence are completely safe.

Ramesh Kumar Adhikari, administrative chief of NTB, said the notion that the Langtang Region is completely devastated is wrong and hence has to be corrected. “Local entrepreneurs are ready to welcome tourists in the region and tourists have started getting Trekking Information Management System (TIMS) card for visiting the region,” Adhikari said.

Local hoteliers suggested trekking operators to devise attractive packages to woo more trekkers. “As the tourist season is coming, we must work out some packages or offer discounts for at least this autumn to attract more tourists,” he added.

Local hoteliers say they can accommodate 200 trekkers per day. They have also asked concerned authorities to allocate some budget for rehabilitation of some damaged sections of the trail. “We have submitted our proposal to the Department of Tourism. We are hopeful that we will get necessary support and cooperation from the government,” added Lama.

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Source: Republica

Nepal Tourism Is Back On

Despite concerns about safety and infrastructure following the earthquakes earlier this year, Nepal has gotten the all-clear for tourism, including on Mt. Everest.

Nepal-Kathmandu-Valley-cr-getty

Following devastating earthquakes this spring, Nepal has officially been cleared to welcome tourists again, just in time for peak hiking season. Miyamoto, a structural engineering firm, oversaw a survey of Nepal’s infrastructure that was paid for by the British government. They determined that the country—as well as Annapurna, Mt. Everest, and other places favored by international tourists—is safe to visit. While the Nepalese government, which counts on tourism money to help boost its economy, is happy about the news, not everyone feels the same way.

“Travel insurance is the major problem for us right now,” Shiva Dhakal, the owner of the Royal Mountain Travel tour company, told The Guardian. “Travelers from the U.K. are scared.” The survey’s methods also drew concern, as it was pulled together in a short amount of time, leading some critics to argue that it wasn’t entirely thorough.

But not everyone is put off. Tauck, a U.S.-based tour operator, has announced that its previously scheduled Nepal visits this fall will go on as scheduled. The 17-day itinerary is primarily across India but includes three days in Kathmandu. Tauck corporate communications manager Tom Armstrong told Condé Nast Traveler that he felt confident sending travelers back to Nepal after his own partners there had okayed the venues they would be visiting, including the famed Dwarika’s Hotel.”We’ve been in consultation with all of our partners in Nepal since the earthquake,” he said. “We sent one of our employees, who has been to Nepal many times, in [early] July to go visit all the places our guests visit on our tour. He inspected them and found that, much to his surprise, it was better than anticipated. Based on the media coverage, there were a lot of areas that were better than he expected them to be.”

Nepal Reopens Earthquake-Damaged UNESCO Sites

The Tauck itinerary in Kathmandu includes a flight seeing trip through the Himalayas, a Q&A with a Sherpa, and a visit to the historic village of Bhaktapur. It doesn’t involve any mountain climbing, one of Nepal’s riskiest outings. The only change to the itinerary, Armstrong reports, was a planned visit to Durbar Square, one of the UNESCO sites in Kathmandu that was seriously damaged during the quakes. It has been replaced with a visit to a similar monument in less-precarious condition. “It’s definitely not intended to be an adventure itinerary,” Armstrong added. “The Nepal component is much more about history and culture. Typically, this [tour] appeals to a seasoned traveler who is culturally curious, who has traveled extensively.” He believes that people who want to help Nepal’s recovery efforts should do so by going there and spending money, as tourism is such a key part of the country’s economy.

A second Miyamoto report, this one funded by the World Bank, is due this week. It’s also expected to say that Nepal is ready to welcome back tourists.

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Source: www.cntraveler.com