"It has been nearly five months now since the first of two devastating earthquakes hit Nepal on 25th April 2015. Those 50 seconds of earthquakes took the lives of 9,000 people and injured 23,000. As I sit here now writing this in one of Kathmandu’s many quirky cafes. I am taking some time to reflect on the past week which I have spent travelling the country, trying to get a better understanding of what the lasting and ongoing effect of those 50 seconds has had.
Since the earthquake the rest of our company and I have been closely following the unfolding events, starting with the extensive media coverage, then later from talking to our colleagues and friends based in Nepal. The UK Foreign Commonwealth Office and other international organisations have since provided useful updates and advice, however they fell short of painting a clear picture of what the earthquake has really meant for Nepal as a nation and whether now was the right moment to resume our operations. As the dust settled and the media coverage dwindled and moved on to other global events, as a travel company we had to ask ourselves… when is the right time for travellers to return to Nepal?
In order to answer this question we needed to collate a whole raft of information. However, I felt it was important to see things for myself, to speak to those living and working in the country, and to find out what the impact has been for them.
It has been three years since my last visit to Nepal. As I arrived in Kathmandu and transferred to my hotel for the night, memories of the chaotic roads, the bustling streets and the haphazard buildings came flooding back. To those visiting Nepal for the first time it might be tempting to attribute some of this chaos to the events back in April, however those who have travelled to Nepal before will know that this has always been a part of life in Kathmandu. As I stared though the window of my taxi it all seemed very familiar and it was difficult on first impression to see any signs of the devastation we had all heard so much about on the news.
Over the next few days I travelled around, at first in Kathmandu and then over to Pokhara and the Annapurna region. I met with as many different people as possible, from hotel owners and those working in tourism, to taxi drivers and farmers to hear their stories. I also met and spoke at length with numerous expats who lived through the earthquake and those who had moved to Nepal working with international organisations involved in supporting its recovery.
Whilst there was certainly damage and lasting effects to some of Nepal’s historic monuments, in most of the tourist areas I visited it really was business as usual. Hospitals and banks are open and most hotels and restaurants are back in operation. However you don’t have to travel too far to realise that the people who have suffered the most are those living in the remote and rural communities throughout the country, many of which were perched vulnerably on the slopes and ridges of the country’s rolling hills and mountains. I only had to drive an hour or two outside Kathmandu to find whole communities which still lay in rubble. Many local people still rely on tented camps and makeshift roofs to shelter themselves from the monsoon rains. The rebuild for many villages is well underway, however it will take many months for these people to fully rebuild their lives and of course time will never replace the lives lost during this tragedy.
Much work has already been done across the country to get ready for the all-important post monsoon trekking season, which provides vital income to so many people. Teams of international engineers and geologists have been busy assessing the safety of the trekking routes as well as the hotels and guest houses of those areas worst affected.
The question I was asked most when talking to slightly puzzled local people was,
“When are the tourists going to come back?” Nepal’s economy relies heavily on its foreign visitors and because of that, its successful long term recovery depends on it. The spirit and resilience of the Nepali people is inspiring; despite what the country has been through everybody I met was full of warmth and optimism for the future. It was also pertinent that the Nepalese government passed its new constitution replacing the interim constitution put in place in 2007. Whilst politics in Nepal is complex and sometimes divisive this seemed to signify a fresh start for many people looking to rebuild the country and its tourism.
From what I have seen and heard from experts, locals and official sources, Nepal is ready and waiting for tourists to return and this autumn and winter could be the best time for years to experience this magical country and in turn help support its recovery. The monsoon rains are all but gone and one of the world’s most incredible trekking destinations is very much open again for business."