Experiences In Nepal
The 7.8 magnitude earthquake which hit Nepal on the 25th April 2015 caused untold damage and loss of life, sending shockwaves throughout the world’s media. In the preceding months I had been planning to visit in the spring, but this was put on hold as the extent of the carnage unfolded, and then a second earthquake hit on 12th May. Six months later I flew to Kathmandu to carry out an extensive research trip for Bamboo Travel to launch a new tour programme. The plan was to visit as many places as possible, experience the outdoor activities and get first-hand knowledge of the lodges and hotels. My travels took me from the Kathmandu Valley to the rural village of Nuwakot, then on to the old town of Bandipur in the Central Hills with some white water rafting en route. The laid back city of Pokhara was next, where I was lucky enough to have a go at paragliding, before a spectacular 4-day trek to Poon Hill in the Annapurna Conservation Area, as featured on our Adventures of Nepal tour. The last leg of my journey took me south to the jungles of Chitwan National Park to check out the best lodges and experience some superb wildlife trips, which contrasted beautifully to the previous days in the mountains. Being a lover of mountains and jungles I knew Nepal wasn’t going to disappoint, but my overall experience of the country surpassed my expectations by some distance. One of the many joys of travelling around Nepal was the constant change in altitude, topography and vegetation. The thrill of ascending a ridge to encounter thin crisp mountain air was often followed by a descent to humid tropical conditions. North facing slopes were cold, grey and damp, but as you rounded the valley colourful vegetation bloomed in optimum conditions. And the local people were some of the friendliest I have come across in all of Asia – relaxed, open and genuinely interested in getting to know you.
I found a country very much back on track and welcoming visitors with open arms. Some of the country’s treasured temples and ancient buildings were damaged by the quake, but ongoing reconstruction work backed by foreign aid will soon restore them back to their former glory. Just 3 of the Nepal’s 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites were affected. The tourist infrastructure, including roads and hotels, are all operating as normal, and the country is now completely safe for tourists to visit. While I was travelling around the worst affected areas west of Kathmandu one thing that struck was how the impact was so localised. Within a relatively small area some villages were completely destroyed, whilst those separated by a mountain ridge or valley a few miles away seemed to escape significant damage. Many of the locals I spoke to were upset by the world’s media portrayal of the disaster which as always focussed on the acute devastation and loss of life. Omitted in these reports was that 65 out of 75 districts in the country – including the popular tourist areas of Pokhara, the majority of trekking routes and all National Parks in the south – were completely unaffected. Tourism is the largest economy in Nepal and they are currently seeing around 25% of the usual numbers of foreign visitors. This absence of tourists is hitting the local population hard, and compounding the misery and suffering from the natural disaster.
Speaking to the locals about their experiences of that fateful day, the timing of the event was one of few positives. The quake struck at 11.15am on a Saturday, the one day of Nepal’s weekend, when most people were outdoors enjoying their day off. Should it have happened in the middle of the night when the population were at home asleep, or on another day of the week when workers were inside, many more would have lost their lives or loved ones. Six months after the first quake there was still a residual sense of fear – it is hard to imagine how acute this would have been in the immediate aftermath. The guides and drivers I travelled with described how hard it had been to get to sleep at night, and the recurring nightmares that plagued any shut eye. They explained how rumbling sounds or bird movements pricked up the senses, and I was told of when someone tapping their foot on a restaurant floor out of habit was shouted at by the rest of the diners to stop. One of my guides was standing by a wall with some clients in an airport car park when the quake struck. He described how at that moment instinct kicked in and he led the couple into the middle of the car park away from any structure, and then saw the wall collapsed where they had been standing. He certainly deserved a good tip that day!
The Nepalese government changed its constitution in September giving the Tharu, Kiranti and Madheshi minorities in the south of the country less representation in parliament, and crucially not allowing any Indian born politician to hold office in Nepal. The southern minorities then started a strike and blockaded the country’s fuel supply across the Indian border. The Indian government were reported to have supported the minority protest resulting in a severe fuel crisis for the whole country, crippling the post-earthquake relief and rebuilding process. Despite long queues for fuel and gas for the annual Dashain festival in October, the mood of the people seemed resilient. It struck me that the Nepalese are blessed with the positive spirit they need to back from such hardship.
Since my visit we have been working hard in the office to create a selection of tours that are meticulously researched and up to date, and recently launched our Nepal programme. All our tours are tailored to suit the individual, but we have three recommended itineraries with the emphasis on general interest (Classic Nepal), adventure (Adventures in Nepal) and luxury (Nepal in Style). In keeping with our house style these include on and off the beaten track locations, delightful character properties, activities tailored to individual fitness levels and experiences that provide genuine interaction with the locals. Now is a great time to experience this truly magical destination without the crowds, and help the charming Nepalese people get back on their feet.