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.

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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 hopes for more Indian tourists for rapid recovery

Only a third of a total 30,000 seats a week under an air service agreement with India is available due to the limited number of flights between Nepal and India. Tourism entrepreneurs say that gap needs to be cut airlines to help Nepal’s tourism sector recover after the earthquake of April.

Ujjwala Dali, the officiating director of the marketing and promotion department of Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), says Nepal needs to bring more Indian tourists not only to fill the remaining seats but also for the tourism industry to recover faster. In an effort to get back on their feet, four months after the devastating earthquake Nepal’s tourism entrepreneurs have travelled all the way to Bangalore and are organizing promotional events there to promote Nepal as a tourist destination and attract Indian tourists.

NTB organized promotional events at the Bangalore Press Club hoping the media there will help relay a message to the people there to visit Nepal.

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Speaking at the event, Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Nepal Chapter Chairman Suman Pandey said that recognized tour operators and renowned international organizations who had visited Nepal after the earthquake as well as positive advisories from different countries had declared Nepal a safe place to visit. Tourism was open in the country, he said.

Nepal has also launched the NEPAL: BACK ON TOP OF THE WORLD campaign to broadcast that tourism services had resumed and to help bring in foreign tourists.

At an event here in Bangalore, NTB also made public a logo and a slogan ‘NEPAL: BACK ON TOP OF THE WORLD’ to convey the message that Nepal was open for business and ready to welcome tourists.

“The logo and slogan are a part of our recovery campaign and will go on for six months. We request all of you to visit Nepal and be a part of the campaign and help Nepal rebuild,” NTB’s Dali said.

To bring in more Indian tourists to Nepal, Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) launched direct flights to Bangalore on September 1, and to Mumbai on Friday after a decade’s hiatus.

“We have announced a special ‘buy two tickets get one free’ offer on round-trip tickets on Kathmandu-Bangalore flights targeting Indian tourists,” Ram Hari Sharma, the corporate director of NAC, said.

Govinda Bahadur Karki, the director general of the Department of Tourism, says that as many as 61 districts out of the total of 75 are unaffected or least-affected by the quake and were ready to welcome tourists while the 14 quake-hit districts are also getting back on their feet and rebuilding.

“After the quake, Nepal had immediately formed the Nepal Tourism Promotion Committee (NTPC) for to work on the recovery of the tourism industry. We have also formed the Nepal Reconstruction Authority (NRA) as a high-powered authority to execute recovery and reconstruction programs,” Karki said.

Pandey says Nepal is expecting to bring in visitor levels to at least 60 to 70 percent of previous times this autumn and hopes to hit the previous levels in the spring of 2016. The country received around 800,000 tourists in 2014.

NAC TO FLY TO Kolkata, SRI LANKA

NAC says it will start flights to Kolkata and Sri Lanka in the near future. Saroj Kasaju, the commercial director of NAC, says the flag carrier is working to begin flights to Kolkata directly and plan to fly to Sri Lanka via Bangalore.

NAC says it may take at least three to four months to starts flights to Sri Lanka, which would be a new destination for NAC.

“Sri Lanka as a new destination and will help augment the flag carrier’s presence,” Sharma, the NAC corporate director, said.

NepalNOW.org WEBSITE IN OPERATION

NTB and a group of tourism entrepreneurs, with support of CBI — a Netherlands-based organization — have launched a public campaign for visiting Nepal through the NepalNOW.org website. The site provides current status information about Nepal.

The NepalNOW movement has received much appreciation from tourism entrepreneurs around the globe and has already created a buzz in the social media, people from the tourism sector say.

NAC resumes flights to Mumbai

Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) began scheduled flights to Mumbai on Friday.

According to a NAC statement, its Airbus 320 made fly to Mumbai from Kathmandu on Friday, carrying 52 passengers on board. The flag carrier will fly twice a week to Mumbai — on Mondays and Fridays, according to the statement. NAC has set the one-way fare for Kathmandu-Mumbai flights at Rs 11,109, while two-way fare for the service has been fixed at Rs 22,049.Meanwhile, NAC has also announced to an offer of a free ticket with the purchase of every two two-way tickets on its Kathmandu-Mumbai flights.NAC started flying to Mumbai after a gap of 11 years. The aim of the resumption of flights to the film city is to attract religious tourists, industrialists and tourists.

Source: myrepublica

Nepal in Lonely Planet’s best travel destinations

Nepal has been included in the top list of the best places to travel this October by the world’s leading travel guide Lonely Planet.

“Everyone has seen the news reports from the April 25 earthquake in Nepal, but most reports neglected to mention that most of Nepal was untouched by the disaster, including the most popular trekking areas,” the travel guide said. “With the clearing of the monsoon rains, October is once again peak season for trekking, and the Annapurna region is a great, nay epic, place to start.”

Annapurna-region

From the gateway town of Pokhara, which saw little damage from the tremor, classic trekking routes such as the Annapurna Circuit and Annapurna Sanctuary Trek offers the kind of views normally reserved for mountaineers, it said.

Pokhara is easy to reach from Kathmandu, also fully open for business, and it’s easy to make arrangements for a trek on arrival. “In the process, you’ll be performing a valuable social service, helping Nepal to rebuild after the disaster by investing directly in the local economy.”

The Annapurna Circuit is the most popular trekking route in Nepal . It includes the high pass of Thorong-La. The trek reaches an altitude of 5,416 metres at Thorong-La, touching the edge of the fabled Tibetan plateau. The magnificent mountain scenery seen at close quarters includes Annapurna 8,091 metres, Dhaulagiri 8,167 metres and Machhapuchchhre 6,993 metres. Every year, more than 100,000 trekkers visit the Annapurna area, 50 percent of whom visit the circuit.

Other places recommended by the travel guide are Jordan’s Petra, Mexico, Britain, Italy and New Mexico for the world-renowned Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

With most of the countries lifting their negative travel advisories on Nepal, travel traders are optimistic that the country’s tourism will bounce back by autumn this year.

Recently, the US, UK and New Zealand lifted restrictions on their citizens travel ling to Nepal except to the districts hardest hit by the April 25 earthquake and aftershocks. A few countries have toned down their travel advisories.

The government, in a bid to revive the tourism industry, has been persuading countries to consider Nepal in regard to the travel alerts they have imposed after the earthquake.

The government has projected losing 40 percent of the tourists this year due to the mass departure of the visitors after the earthquake. Trip cancellations for the upcoming seasons are estimated to be more than 70 percent.

The Post-Disaster Needs Assessment report has pointed out that Nepal will significantly lose high-end tourists, but the low-end segment and backpackers will stick to their travel plans to visit the country.

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Source:Ekantipur