Tourism News and Views from Nepal – Kailash Himalaya Trek
Nepal Dashed Hope to Restart Tourism Soon
Nepal Tourism Submerged in Covid-19 Second Wave
Most optimistic time to restart tourism in Nepal was expected to be in autumn 2021.
Though, international airlines are not expected to service in their pre 2019 capacity before end of 2023; and the forecast now is full fleet of the airlines will not be in the air until end of 2024; however, in Nepal, near zero covid -19 deaths in February 2021, record number of climbing permit given to the aspirants of Everest spring summit and increased people’s confidence in overcoming corona infections boosted moral that brought hope to revive tourism. In March this year business and industries, except tourism industry, were getting back to almost near normal condition. All indicators had given hope to people involved in tourism to restart their business soon. But it was not to be. Sudden sharp increase of corona virus in India, especially in north eastern part of India, that spread spontaneously to Nepal dashed all hopes.
Tourism in Spring 2021
Tourist arrival in March was 15,000 (Department of Tourism). It is the highest number in any one month since Nepal lockdown in March last year. Since January 2021 total 32,997 tourists visited the country. March arrival was mainly due to number of climbers and accommodating policy of Ministry of Tourism. In this three month total 7658 Indian national entered through TIA (Tribhuvan International Airport). During this period Nepal Government declared on two recent occasions zero death from covid-19; the report said cases of coid-19 are decreasing every day. People were moving around their daily business as if corona never happened. In this light, you can call them resilient, death deifier, or simply desperate to get back along with their life. This is how The Guardian newspaper in its International edition dated 11 Feb, 2021 described in its front page headline.
As the corona cases slowed down school were allowed to open because education lobby pressured prime minister’s office to reopen all education institutions. Against disagreement of Health Ministry education institutions and schools were opened despite fear of children taking home corona virus. Ultimately their concern became real. Scenario in public transportation and other business are no different. Nepal Government Health Ministry relented on tremendous pressure. They could only say just maintain safety protocol and run your show. In practice no one maintained the protocol. It is evident first priority was their self interest more than health and safety of the public.
Recent news of outbreak of corona cases at the base camp of Dhaulagiri and Everest are another example how Nepal government is influenced by self interest parties. It is similar to that of schools and other sectors of the economy. Of course US$16 million was at stake in the case of Mt. Everest climbing expedition. Apparently news of rampant spread of corona virus infection at the base camps of these two huge and popular mountain peaks that splashed out in the news media in Nepal and abroad showed government and its liaison officers failed to maintain protocol they have set. As for expedition operators once expedition is in progress it is their clients who will be at the losing end. Helicopter and its agents stand to gain as climbers have to be rescued in the event and liaison officers are happy that they got their $3000 equipment and travel allowance. Aspirant climbers are also so obsessed that they disregarded to consider their insurance does not cover covid-19 case.
Strict maintenance of safety protocol has never been there since Nepal decided to open its door to tourists in October 2020. Rule that required tourists to remain in quarantine for 7 days, take PCR test after that, social distancing, etc. remained on paper only. Nobody including local administration did their jobs. There is a quarantine rule for tourists but nobody asked them if they have remained in quarantine or had PCR test. Once entry procedure is completed visitors can almost do what they want. Apparently no one followed safety protocol at all. Rules were made for the sake of rule.
Failure to manage crisis brought by Corona virus: When 2nd wave of Covid-19 was razing in India. That was in March, Nepalese authorities knew very well what was coming their way. About 200 thousand pilgrims from Nepal including ex king and queen attended huge Khuba-mela (huge religious gathering) in India. Most returned back infected with corona virus. There is no way administration could control influx of people fleeing and returning as Nepal shares porous border points with India; they could have at least prepared for the worst. Health administration could have stocked oxygen and oxygen bottles, increasing hospital beds, get private hospital in line with government policy, and purchased enough ventilators and oxygen concentrators. Authorities could have taken administrative action to keep Kathmandu valley safe by taking appropriate measure to contain and manage the virus at the border districts. At least they should have learned from previous year. None of these was done in advance. Even half of the total 1 million doze of covi-shield vaccine donated by India became subject of commission of commission agents based in Kathmandu. Now local news is buzzed with news of commission play between Prime Minister’s office and Health Ministry regarding import of other type of vaccination. All these are happening when corona death had reached 54 and infection rate remained all time high at 8970 in a single day on May 6, 2021. Out of this infected cases Kathmandu alone had 3,167, Patan – 567 and Bhaktapur -242.
Sharp increased of corona cases and highest death rate due to covid-19 has pushed tourism recovery plan from 2024 to much later date. Because Nepal failed to kick start recovery plan, tourism industry will now enter into a deep recession. Recovery would be painful. It is especially painful when government is pathetic and helpless to assist tourism industry as their burgeoning loan and perennial bank interest keeps on increasing their debt burden.
Business and employee working in tourism industry and many people whose livelihood depends on tourism once again have to grapple with another economic crisis. This would further push them through debt cycle in which they were already in. In absence of financial assistance from government tourism operators are virtually left by themselves to mitigate their income losses. Coming months would be tough on them. There are no plans at local or federal level to promote domestic tourism no matter how small it is. So hype on domestic tourism in Nepal is simply meaningless. In absence of government future for tourism regeneration and opening employment opportunities would be much harder than corona virus pandemic.
What lies ahead?
Immediate positive answer is ‘Future.’ What we can control is our present situation. Right now it is best to hold on fast and steady, wait out the storm and think about strategy to survive to move forward after storm is settled. There is a saying that nothing in the world is permanent – happiness, misery, and disaster are all temporary. This is what we all have experienced and learned throughout our life. So, corona pandemic would not be any different. Main question is how long it will last. Until then our survival strategy would make a big difference.
In a dire situation it is not easy to make plan. This is true. On the other hand there is no alternative to being positive. we can either be bold or make plan to move ahead, or remain in fear. Many would say it is risky to do anything when the situation is uncertain. But the only way out is to look forward. Nepal did try last fall to open up gradually even though there are limited international flights and corona was rampant in Europe and United States. Now variant of Covid-19 has been reported much more powerful than what we all went through last year. Difference from last year is at this point we have hope on vaccine. It has brought hope to stop its exponential spread; thus help in speedy recovery of our health and economy. No matter what critical step is to increase level of vaccination as soon as possible.
When situation is stabilized domestic and international travel will restart. April 2021 arrival figure has shown that people do travel once host country is serious in taking care of its citizen and visitors. Tourists would follow rules for what it takes. As confidence develop in traveler tourism restart to grow spontaneously at both ends. Tourist arrival recovery would take sooner than anticipated once all airlines start to run in their full capacity. Many tourists’ destination countries will jump start to welcome fully vaccinated travelers. As restrictions in source country eases as they return to near normal international borders would gradually open. Open environment encourages travelers to visit worldwide destinations. After all hope would not be in vain.
“No matter how much you stress or obsess about the past or future, you can’t change either one. In the present where your power lies”
Gautam Buddha (born 563 B.C)
News in Brief
Covid -19 Vaccination Status in Nepal
Nepal will need around 45 million doses to cover 72 percent of the 30 million people. WHO statistics on Nepal shows as on 7th May, 2021 total 2,091,512 had at least one dose and fully vaccinated figure is 362,001. These are 7.3 and 1.3 percent respectively of the total population. Children under 18 years are currently not eligible to get the vaccination. Nepal is the first countries in Asia to receive covid-19 vaccination under WHO Covax program. After India it is the first country that started vaccination to its citizens. Compared to WHO worldwide data of vaccinated population that stands at 4%, Nepal has fully vaccinated population of 1.3%. Though this figure is not that bad but in reality actual situation is different. As on 11 May highest infected number is at 413,111 and total death from covid-19 is 4084 (Nepal Government official figure). Almost half of is in Kathmandu valley.
Kathmandu District Health Office has temporarily suspended Covid-19 vaccination drive due to emergency lockdown on 29th April. Before lockdown third phase of vaccination was going on. From April 24 first dose of China developed Vero Cell was given to people in 18-59 age. Frontline workers were already vaccinated in January 2021; they were also given 2nd dose. And 2nd vaccination drive was done in March 2021 for age group above 65 years. Those who had first zap are still waiting for their 2nd one. To control and contain surged covid cases it is imperative to continue vaccination as soon as possible.
Rise in tiger number
Joint survey of tiger population in Bardia National Park conducted by National Trust for Nature Conservation and WWF in 2016 estimated 56 wild tiger in the park. There was 50 tiger in 2013. In 2018 tiger number increased to 87. National Park office hoped to see its number double by 2022. This is their goal. They have found increasing number of breeding tiger and cubs in the park. For wild life enthusiast it is an encouraging sign. Success of tiger conservation has brought challenge to manage increased conflict between people living in the periphery of the park and the tigers wondering around the villages. There are reports of people killed by this wondering tiger. There is increasing pressure on park managers to either kill or control tigers. Actually capturing problem-causing tigers is very difficult. Park official says at one point there were four different tigers captured on camera in Khata Corridor. Figuring out which one is men eater is very difficult.
- To learn more on tiger story click on the link https://kathmandupost.com/climate-environment/2021/03/20/rise-in-tiger-numbers-may-be-good-news-but-people-in-bardiya-live-in-terror
Fear of Nepal’s rhino migrating to India
This is another success story in wild life conservation. It is about rhino in Chitwan National Park. Here successful conservation of one-horned rhino faces a different challenge. National park conservation authority has found out that rhino population is migrating across border to India. Last monsoon excessive rain and flood swept some rhinos downstream to India; now they are stranded there. Some have possibly migrated to find better pasture. Park officials think it must be due to over concentration of rhino in the western part of Chitwan National Park. A study conducted in 2012 had estimate that in a normal condition a male rhino requires nearly 14 sq km as its home range, and a female rhino needs 9 sq km. Rhino census of 2015 recorded 645 one-horned rhinos in Nepal. In Chitwan National park itself it has 605. It has second largest one horned rhino population in the world after Kaziranga National park in Assam (India).
- You find more news on the link https://kathmandupost.com/climate-environment/2021/03/14/fears-of-nepal-s-rhinos-migrating-to-india-add-to-challenges-in-their-conservation
Dam and Distress in the Himalaya
By definition run of the river hydro projects is ideal as it is environment friendly. Beside it is part of sustainable development of local resources. It helps diversify local economic activity especially in remote areas. It produces clean and green renewable energy. Such hydro projects doesn’t require reservoir like big dam to store water. These are what we generally believe. Contrary to this view proliferation of hydropower development in the Himalayas has led to extensive land use that brought adverse change in the river valleys: Diverse and fragile ecosystem of the Himalaya has been threatened. The danger of deforestation, fragmentation, soil erosion and loss of forest biodiversity has become reality. Due to this unprecedented use of the river system life and livelihood of the people who have lived there and in downs-stream have suffered.
Now there are grave concerns in the residing local communities that their very lives and livelihoods would soon be deprived. These people depend upon forests and water from the river for irrigation and lively hood. They have seen rivers are diverted from their irrigated land and forests are cut down to make way for hydro power development. Ecological damage has been as big as it is caused by big hydropower development that requires construction of dams and diversion of river waters through channels and underground tunnels. Run of the river hydro project has proved equally harmful to the ecology and biodiversity of the region wherever natural resources are extensively used.
One of the glaring examples of hydropower development is in the upper reaches of Sutlej basin in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh, India. There are 53 planned hydropower projects; 17 are large ones. News report says almost 90 percent of forest land has been diverted for hydropower projects and transmission lines. As a state sponsored project extensive land use for its development has affected extensively forest in the lower end of the river valley.
- If you want to continue to read this report log on to https://www.indiawaterportal.org/article/dams-and-distress-himalayas
- You will find more information about the issue at https://www.intechopen.com/books/renewable-hydropower-technologies/hydropower-development-in-nepal-climate-change-impacts-and-implications
- Read more on similar issue on Bhutan log on to https://kathmandupost.com/world/2021/02/18/high-probability-of-uttarakhand-scale-flood-in-bhutan
Expedition in spring 2021
Kami Rita Sherpa reached summit of Mt. Everest on 7th May, 2021 for 25th time. He is leader of rope fixing team to the summit of Mt. Everest. His team was assigned to fix rope in the last section so climbers can traverse this passage to the summit. His team members were first to reach summit. He climbed Mt. Everest for the first time in May 13, 1994. K2 in winter was his last record. He has climbed Lhotse – one time, Manaslu 3 time, and Cho Oyu 8 times. In his climbing carrier he has set record for climbing most of the peaks over 8000 meter.
Climbers at the base camp of Mt. Dhaulagiri and Everest are tested positive covid-19: News report on May 5, 2021 said more than 10 climbers were rescued from base camp of Dhaulagiri to Kathmandu for treatment after they were reportedly infected by corona virus. There is a report of widespread corona virus infection at the base camp after some of them were tested positive during antigen and RDT tests carried out by a base camp medical team of Nepal Army. There are at least 33 foreign climbers and more than 100 base camp staffs at the base camp of Dhaulagiri.
Another report said more than 10 climbers had tested positive at the base camp of Mt. Everest. There are about 408 climbers and more than 1500 base camp and climbing support staffs are now at the base camp of Mt. Everest. In addition to this there are 100 climbers and climbing support Sherpas vying to attempt Mt. Lhotse; they share the same base camp.
Local news report says after covid-19 cases base camps are turned into isolation zone and each team are limited in their own bubble. Everest ER doctors run by Himalayan Rescue Association have held consultation meeting with leaders of the expeditions to figure out covid cases that has similar symptoms of high altitude sickness. Expedition leaders and medical doctors at HRA – Everest ER have mutually agreed to carry out their own set of protocol for all members of the expeditions. Increasing number of respiratory and high altitude sickness have added challenge to HRA – ER doctors as they were not authorized to do antigen tests by the government.
Souvenir shops in Bhaktapur
Fourteen Totally Free Things to Do in Kathmandu Valley
Kathmandu is a major tourist destination and gateway for international visitors. Most of the interesting places, events and monuments are clustered around Kathmandu. Patan and Bhaktapur are two other adjoining large cities in Kathmandu valley. It is a treasure house of prominent and historical arts and crafts. Many restoration works were done to preserve ancient works of arts. Kathmandu valley is sometime called an open museum by visitors because all historical palaces, temples and monasteries are scattered and clustered around the open valley floor. These cities are also hubs of cultural event of local Newar communities and modern event organizers.
What to see and where to go
Cultural heritage of Kathmandu are listed in world heritage List. Durbar Squares of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur are popular tourists’ destinations. At first all these places looks similar but actually each place has its unique features. Most architecture is built in pagoda style almost similar to what you find in China and Japan. Swambhunath and Boudhanath stupas are places for worship by Buddhists. Pasupatinath and Changunarayan are ancient Hindu temples. They are all located within Kathmandu valley. Actually there are more in the list. Most of the monuments and temples are made of wood engraved with meticulous design in silver; they have metal doors and golden roofs. These places are center to many festivals that happens throughout the year. You will be thrilled to find rich culture, different life style, unique art and architecture that date back to centuries but still thriving in the modern days. These monuments are part of culture and living heritage that people keeps on passing to their next generation. Other stark landmarks that you see as you walk around are gods and goddess located almost everywhere – in the street, inside the building, on top of the hills and at any viable places.
To see traditional culture of Kathmandu valley it is best to visit Bhungamati. Panauti is another growing city that has traditional look. It has some of the best preserved archaeological buildings.
Cities in Kathmandu valley are walkers’ paradise: Taxis are available in major touristic places. You can always get one to get to your destination and back. Normal taxi fare during day time is about Rs 40 (US$ 0.35) per km. Now you can get local hail-in service like uber. Simply down load Pathao from Google Play and App Store. They have both service – Bike and Taxi. Once you are at your destination take a walk around. You would be totally mesmerize and dazzled by sight, events, smell and sound of the places you visit. Other than entrance fees charge at Durbar Squares, parks and some worship places there are no separate charges. Distance from Kathmandu to Patan is 8 km (20 min), Bhaktapur is 16 km (40min) and Boudha is 5 km (15min). Godavari botanical garden is 18 km (55 min) and Panauti is 35 km (1.5 hr). Popular tourism activities are located within this radius.
You don’t need to spend fortune to visit these free places: Grab a taxi and go at a fraction of price you see in trip advisor or anything offered. You can also choose public bus that ply on major routes. Ratna Park is a main junction where you can get one of these buses to almost all destinations. Since buses and bus-routes are not well marked often it takes time to figure out one you should hop in. Morning and evening is not a good time to ride these buses. Most places have mini bus services but you got to be flexible and adventurous to travel in local transport though it cheaper than you would expect. During pandemic it is not a good idea at all.
What to look and expect:
- Kathmandu Durbar Square: Walk down towards Rani Pokhari and turn left towards Asan tol, Indra Chauk, Makhan tol, and finally Kathmandu Durbar Square. When you are at Durbar Square visit Hanuman dhoka, Kasthamandap, and temple of Kumari (living goddess).
- Garden of Dream and Kaisar Library: Kaiser Library is one of the oldest public library (1907). It has large private collection of books and manuscripts by Kaisar Shumsher Rana. The library is in Keshar Mahal (large building) complex located at the entrance road to Thamel from Kantipath; it is next to Ministry of Education. It has large collections of vintage books. Adjacent to Kaisar library there is a sprawling landscape garden built in neo classical style. It has pavilion and a restaurant that serves all fares throughout the day. The Garden of Dream is popular with tourist and local people. It is true to its name.
- Thamel: There are many restaurants, bars, entertainment joints, souvenir shops and massage parlors in Thamel. In the alleys and main streets you can find trek and climbing equipment shops (sell, buy or rent), outdoor equipment and book stores. There are many lodges and hotels of all categories located in and around Thamel. It is a tourist’s hub. Most tourists stroll around to get the vibe of Thamel.
- Swambhunath stupa: This is a famous Buddhist stupa built in 5th century located at the top of a hill overlooking Kathmandu valley. From Kathmandu Durbar Square it is 15 min by taxi (4 km).There are many alternative roads too. If you are not in hurry it is always nice and best to walk. During Hippy’s days Swambhunath was popularly known as monkey temple.
- Patan Durbar Square: From Kathmandu it is 8 km. Cross Bagmati bridge head straight to the main square via Pulchauk. Alternate route is from Patan Dhoka. From Patan Dhoka there is a narrow street through many shops selling souvenirs and artistic works. Patan is famous for its metal work. Their fine silver jewelry work is popular. On the way to Durbar Square visit Hirnaya Varma Mahavira, and Mahaboudha built in 299 AD. Mahaboudha is made of terracotta bricks built in pagoda style. Mahavira was built in 13th century. Don’t miss to see palaces in the Durbar Square and Patan museum. There are several lodges and accommodation located around it. Tourist chooses these accommodations to enjoy culture of Patan in depth. It is fun to hang around and watch people in their everyday life.
- Pasupatinath: It is believed to have been built in 5th century; its main temple dates back to 1359 AD. The shrine is built in pagoda style; it has silver walls and golden roof. This is a holiest Hindu temple dedicated to Hindu God Shiva. On the eve of Shivaratri Hindu sadhus and pilgrims from all over the world come to pay respect to Pasupatinath. In its tradition main priests are chosen and brought from South India. Special prayers are done at the temple every evening and morning. Devotees throng to worship ‘linga.’ Located inside the main temple. Temple complex is a unique heritage site. There are images, shrines, rest houses, ghats (platform near the river bank used for ritual bathing and cremation). Non Hindus are not allowed inside the complex. Pasupatinath temple is in the world heritage list. Taxi takes about 15 min (5 km) from Kathmandu
- Boudhanath: is a popular center of worship for Buddhists. Buddhist faithful from far-flung villages make a long journey to prey and offer respect to Buddha. This large dominant stupa is built in the shape of a Mandela (a Buddhist representation of the heavens). This is believed to be fifth century old. There are many monasteries in the vicinity of Boudanath that offer meditation and retreats to foreign visitors. Depending upon your time and interest it is worth visiting these monasteries to have glimpse of monastic life. It is about 2 km (5 minute) from Pasupatinath.
- Phulchowki (2791 m): is a hill located close to Godavari Botanical garden – 30 km (1.5 hr) from Kathmandu. If you are interested to watch birds Phulchowki is best. You can take a full day hike (3 hour up) or drive (12 km/ 40 min) to the summit. Start from Godavari bus stop, next to St Xavier school, follow the road to Marble factory. This road leads to the summit. On a clear day you see panoramic view of the Himalayan range as good as from Nagarkot.
- Bhungamati is a typical Newar village. Most Newar villages in the valley have gone through transformative change. Bhungamati have remained pretty much untouched even though it is 15 km from Kathmandu. The village provides sneak preview of Kathmandu 100 years ago. Machindranath temple hosts a prominent local deity. The deity of Machindranath is prominently worshipped in Patan once in a year. The worshippers take it around Patan in a specially made wooden chariot with a lot of festivities. Traditional life style of the people of Bhungamati has been attracting visitors lately. You will enjoy watching their wood craft making tradition; they make beautiful window and door frames with intricate design. If you have time visit Kohkna too. This is another traditional village.
- Bhaktapur Durbar Square is best known for its 55 peacock window palace (1427 AD). The windows have fine wood carving work. Other landmarks are its remarkable architecture like five storied Nyatapola temple, Bhairavnath temple and Golden Gate. Visit Changu Narayan temple located on a hill top 5 km from Bhaktapur. While in Bhaktapur walk through narrow lanes that have many shops selling souvenirs and arts. There you get to see women and men making clay pottery and masks. The city still has its traditional features like medieval trait and laid back condition. Like in Patan there are many lodges and hotels around the city. If you want to find more intimate culture of Bhaktapur stay in one of those hotels to enjoy their hospitality and culture. A high way to Kodari border connects this city with Kathmandu (17km).
- Panauti: Visit Indreshwor Temple Courtyard, Unmatta Bhairav temple, Tulanarayan temple, and Triveni Ghat. The artistic temples with beautiful wooden and metal craft were built in 1715. Some of the temples have golden roofs and idols carved from wood. All the temples are dedicated to Gods and Goddess as depicted in Hindu mythology. Triveni Ghat is an important place for rituals and festivals. It is believed that a famous Lichhavi king, Amshuverma, was born nearby Panauti and Khopasi. He was famous for promoting wood carving and wooden craft in those time. What you see now in Kathmandu valley are his legacies.
- Music Festival: First JAZZ FESTIVAL was held in 2002, in Patan. A renowned Australian jazz and swing musician Don Burrows, UK singer Natalie Williams, and Australian Jazz and Funk outfit Afro Dizzi Act participated in the first event. Since then Jazzmandu held several annual music event in the series. They held 10th anniversary in 2012. Now it is a week-long event performed at several locations in Kathmandu and Patan. In one of their event Jazzmandu had featured renowned and legendry Indian artists Trilok Gurtu and American jazz drummer Ari Hoenig. As the event come of age it has added several international artist and jazz musicians. This year, in 2021, festival is scheduled from Oct 28 to Nov 03. If you like music it would be a wonderful idea to attend the show.
- Film Festival: Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival (kimff) is an annual film festival organized by a non-profit organization, Himal Association based in Kathmandu. Last year the organizer held 18th edition of the festival virtually. If you are in Kathmandu in December you get to participate in the festival for free. The festival organizer hopes to bring people together to discover extraordinary experiences through films from around the world. It hopes to raise various human issues related to mountain and people through audio visual medium to bring about positive social change. Schedule date for KIMFF festival in 2021 is from 9 to 13 December. Kimff has gained momentum every year. International and local film makers submit more than 80 films for competition. You are welcome if you have one. Every year it has a theme. As an example, in KIMFF 2018 to quote the chair of the festival Basanta Thapa, “The spotlight of KIMFF 2018 focuses on women. This is reflected in the careful selection of the film programming festival satellite events; in the photo exhibits, audio-visual presentations, and panel discussions and dialogues. This is our ode to women, to Stri Shakti (women power). That year the film festival was opened with the film Mountain by a women director from Australia, Jennifer Peedom.
- Local Festivals: Nepal is known for its numerous festivals. People of all cultures find every reason to celebrate their festivals. Except for wet season all dry season has couple of festivals every month. Some of the popular upcoming festival that are celebrated in the valley alone are Indra jatra, Rato Machindra jatra (May-Jun), Buddha Jayanti (May 26, 2021), Gai jatra -humour day (23 Aug), Krishna Janmaastami (30 Aug), Teej-women festival (09 Sep), Dasai (12 to 16 Oct), Tihar (04-06 Nov). These are major festivals that has public event.
Alternative to self arranged transport you may prefer prearrangement with or without tour guide. You can book in advance at least 24 hour before departure. There is no cancellation charge. It is best to combine at least two or three sites in a half day tour (3 hour). You get a very good deal when you share transport with your friends and members of your group. Larger group size has cost advantage. All pre book transports are private and air condition with a dedicated driver. Normally drivers don’t speak English but they understand. Transports are clean and comfortable. Type of transport varies with group size.
Places to Visit in NEPAL before They Change Forever
Nepal is going through rapid change in last 20 years. Major change has been brought by road constructions in the mountain. Aspiration of local people is to have a road access to their villages no matter what. Their simple logic is once the road is there they will have convenient access to health, education and food. It is indeed true these are basic requirement of general people. Major road network flows from north to south and east to west in southern plain. In the first decade road from east to west connecting all district head quarters got underway in the middle hill; this program is continuing. Meanwhile villagers started building their own road to link with major high way in the middle mountain. This local road development work is in progress. In the second half of the decade road construction in high and remote part of Nepal including Jumla and Dolpa has started. Central government also started couple of their major project to link northern and southern border with big highway to link trade between Tibet (PR China), Nepal and India. These major highways have access to Bay of Bengal. Eventually two huge markets in the world will be connected by these corridors. Road constructions have opened up passage to build small and large hydro plant throughout small and large river system in Nepal. Electric transmission lines are being built to link electric power generated by the hydro power plant to the main grid.
Impact of these development works are already seen on the traditional trekking trials and tourist destination that became popular in the last two decades of the last century. Socio economic changes are happening by expanding road net work. It has been changing culture and environment of the region for ever. Soon some of these places will see influx of mass tourism and other destinations would be completely wiped out. Before the changes takes hold now is the best time to visit some of the best destinations to experience vanishing culture and marvel at nature that would not be same very soon. It is still not too late!
The land and people of Mustang that mesmerized famous Swiss geologist Tony Hagen, Giuseppe Tucci, an Italian scholar and a French adventurer Michael Peissei when they travelled this enigmatic land in between 1952 to 1962 still have the same charm. Little has changed since then until the trade road was opened from the northern border to link the road at Jomsom. Actually it is the same salt trade route used by the people of Kali Gandaki valley and Jomsom in the beginning of last century. The difference is now a broad highway is being built to link Kora-la pass.
Places to see and visit: The people of this region are excited in the prospect of their prosperous future. Lo Manthang, capital of Mustang, and villages en-route and in the periphery are must visit places. Pleasant and unique landscape of Mustang is something to see by your own eyes to feel its beauty. Because of the road access, though rough, you can visit Mustang more conveniently and in comfort of jeep for those who have limited time to spare. Option to trek and visit remote villages are best way to experience Mustang in total perspective. If you have free time and inquisitive mind the historical sites, wonderful caves and viewpoints that earlier trekkers had missed in 80 and 90’s are within your reach. These places are in the vicinity of Jomsom and Chaile. For religious wonderer and pilgrims Damodar kunda (small alpine lake) is the place for it has religious significance. The shaligram (fossilized ammonites) deity of Krishna in Vrindavan temple (UP,India) is believed to have been brought from this lake. Most of the historical and cultural sites are located in the valley around 3300m to 4000 meter. There are more to see than guide book and travel advisors say.
Travel access: You can either take 25 minute flight to Jomsom from Pokhara or full day travel by jeep through narrow and deep Kaligandaki George to enter high ground of Mustang. Allow minimum 5 days if you want to travel by jeep or 10 to 12 days if you prefer trekking – all starting from Jomsom. Trek is often off the main dusty road. This trip is a must in your travel bucket list of destination. It is awesome experience for people longing to see Tibetan plateau.
ARUN RIVER VALLEY
In his travelogue ‘Vignettes of Nepal’, a renowned geographer late Dr. Harka Gurung had remarked that “The Arun or the orient is a great river combines the waters of Bhong Chu (Bhum chu) and Yaru Chu in Tibet and has total catchment area of 36,533 sq km. It drains the plains of Dingri (Tingri) and Khamba in Tibet and enters Nepal at Kimathangka through a narrow george that continues to its confluence with Irhuwa.”
That’s the geography. Arun valley is the deepest and moist of all the valleys in the Himalayan chain. It has diverse botanical and biological ecosystem. The valley is known for its lush forest and glacier fed river. Arun River flows from the Tibetan plateau through Kharda, Khangzung east face of Mt. Everest, and flow through the massif of Mt. Makalu and Mt Kanchanjunga. Thus it has carved a 5000 meter deep Arun valley.
Development: Arun River hydro power project estimated to cost $983 million is one of the biggest undertaking of the Nepalese government with an objective to export electricity. This project was seriously considered by World Bank at the end of last century. It would have been completed a long time ago had there been no controversy regarding preservation of its eco system and politics. Part of the deal in this project is construction of access road to which there was very enthusiastic support at the site and in local communities. Now with a new financial arrangement with India it is scheduled to be commissioned by 2024. Road extension and expansion work have reached Num; it will be extended to Kimathanka. When the road is completed it becomes a major highway corridor for trade and transit between Tibet (China) and India. It may even replace Kodari and Rasuwagadi passage north of Kathmandu.
Road brought changes: Despite whatever implication roads and hydro power have made entire region on both sides of Arun river valley has begun to go through drastic socio economic changes. As an example, now trek to Makalu Base Camp is shortened by 5 days; and there are lodges and tea houses along the trail. Road construction has opened access to hinterland villages like Hatia in Upper Arun valley. Kimathanka pass that has shorter passage across the Himalaya soon would be accessible by road. Road access would soon open up Milke Danda, Chainpur and Gupha Pokhari for tourism. In spring entire Mile-danda ridges are covered by varieties rhododendron flower.
Rich cultural heritage: Many British explorers and diplomats in the last two centuries have described eloquently about Limbu. They are original inhabitants of the region east of Arun Valley. Indomitable spirit of this ethnic people have rich cultural heritage. Their ethnic cultural belt is now easily accessible for tourism activities. Walking trails across the middle belt are easy and views all along are beautiful. Entire region east of Arun valley will soon become a new tourists’ destination to experience sustainable cultural tourism.
Trek possibilities: This region has mountain trails for any age group; elevation is neither too high nor too low. There are many walking trials good for short and easy trek. Road access is good though now road condition is rough and dusty. If you are looking for a tough trek base camp of Kanchanjunga or upper part of like Olangchung gola are two of the best destinations.
Travel Access: There are direct flights from Kathmandu to Tumlingtar (35 minute) and Biratnagar(35 min). Biratnagar has several flights from Kathmandu throughout the day. Tumlingtar has limited number of flights. From Biratnagar in about 3 to 5 hour drive you can reach your trek starting point. You can find comfortable and clean accommodations in most places, especially in larger towns and villages. Alternative is home stay. In places where such facilities are not available camping is the only alternative. During your travel there are opportunities to see cultural event that often happens in the villages. It is possible to add multi day activities like white water rafting in the unspoilt Arun and Tamur Rivers, mountain biking and paragliding. In spring when rhododendron flower are in full bloom it would be a good idea to take a day hike to the ridge or a short 3 to 5 day walk to Chainpur and Tumlingtar.
If you are looking for a new and fresh active holiday to any of the above destinations it can be combined with drive, walk, camping and lodging. Each area has unique features that are different from other. In earlier days these destinations were out of reach to regular travelers. You either had to walk all the way as it required longer holiday and good physical conditioning. As I have said the road and flight access has made these places accessible that were domain of explorers and expeditions only. These places are now possible to visit by anyone with sound physical condition. Precaution for high altitude is not required. Normally weather is good any time of the year except monsoon in east of Arun and winter in Mustang .
Coming-up more in the next issue in July 2021
Articles of the month
“We need to visualize and plan to take vacation to help encourage us to follow through, since disconnecting from work improves happiness and reduce stress”
Asst Prof Ashley Whillans, Business Administration at Harvard Business School.
Entry Procedure & Visa – Latest update
This is continuation of our update on entry rules of Department of Immigration for visitors irrespective of type of tourism related travel – trekking, climbing tours, sightseeing or family visit. This update is based on Nepal Government Cabinet Decision on Jan 24, 2021 regarding directive related to quarantine 2021 (BS 2077) as well as decision taken regarding “Incoming travelers from foreign countries for their heath safety and quarantine directive 2021 (BS 2077):
- All travelers must have and carry with them “PCR test taken within 72 hours before they board (originating) flight” to and from Kathmandu. This is mandatory rule irrespective of any status. This update did not say anything about children under five years; in the last update they were exempted from this rule
- Now all Nepalese diplomatic missions issues tourist visa. All tourists are required to obtain tourist visa prior to arrival in Nepal.
- For visitors from countries that has no Nepalese embassy they can obtain tourist visa on arrival; but they must carry with them pre approved or recommendation letter from the concerned ministry to obtain on arrival visa at the port of entry.
- The rules also say “All foreigners should follow health and security related protocols of Government of Nepal.”
- NRN and foreigners working for UN and diplomats can obtain visa on arrival subject to health protocol set by Nepal Government.
- In case of person with PCR negative report taken prior to travel within 72 hours from the time swap collected and persons who has been fully vaccinated against covid-19 they are allowed to proceed to their onward destination and maintain prescribed health protocol (standard distancing, wear mask and observe cleaning rules)
- Passengers arriving only on flight from or transit through non covid-19 variant countries may travel to their onward destination on the condition to remain in home quarantine compulsory for 10 days
- All travelers must fill online form “Abroad Returnee Management System” from the webste: www.ccmc.gov.np . Incase if they have missed to fill in online concerned airline ought to ensure the form is filled before boarding or upon arrival at Tribhuvan International Airport (Kathmandu). It is mandatory for all arriving airline passengers.
- Person traveling from or in transit through countries afflicted by Covid-19 variant are allowed to enter Nepal subject to following additional conditions: Travelers must submit detail of their flight and travel date to Nepalese diplomatic mission abroad. The travelers must have hotel booking with hotels listed by Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism prior to purchase of air-ticket. This list is published in the website of the Tourism Ministry* and website maintain by Covid-19 Crisis Management Center run by Health Ministry.
It is safe to assume that updated rules regarding management of covid-19 is an instruction that government would follow until next update. In this updated notice there are several rules that have been enacted to make passenger carrier responsible before travelers board their aircraft. The rules has also made specific unit of the government directly responsible to monitor covid-19 related issues. Always check for latest update as it keeps on changing according to ground situation in Nepal.
Our Tribute to Ramesh Hughes
Ramesh Huges has been a team member almost right from the beginning of Kailash Himalaya Trek. He joined us right after he had finished his college. Ramesh worked his way up through various responsibilities. Except a few year breaks he has rendered his service uninterrupted. He dedicated his life in tourism because he finds it fun to share his knowledge and experience about the country – its people, culture and holidays. He was invaluable and asset to the company. We have grown together through thick and thin. We shared our enthusiasm in adventure tourism. Together, that is what we do best. Perhaps, after many years it is understandable that things wears out. And especially in time of crisis like the one brought by Covid-19 it has forced many of us to think about what next. For many it is end; they give up. But Ramesh thought otherwise. He sees it is an opportunity to make a break and embark on doing something that brings meaning in his life. So he decided to change his course and move on. He decided it is the right time to do so despite my urging that we team up our working arrangement differently that allows him same autonomy and independence he seeks. I thought that would be easy on him in term of financing his future plan. With a heavy heart I relented to his wish. I wish him success in whatever he pursues to do in the future. We all at Kailash Himalaya Trek wish him all the best! May his life prosper.
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Nepal is the most inclusive and versatile tourism destination in the Himalayas
The challenge in high altitude treks in Nepal is incomparable to any destination in the Himalayan belt. Nepal is the most open Himalayan destination on either side and at both ends of the Himalayas. There is no restriction at all. And, Nepal has most ethnic diversity than any countries in the stretch covered by the Himalayas.
Nepal has eight out of 14 eight-thousand meter peaks in the world. It has 1301 peaks over 6000 meter height. The highest peak in the world Mt. Everest (8848m) is in Nepal.
Himalayas in Nepal is a natural wonder and its ecology is a wonderful gift that require to experience personally
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Tourism News & Views from Nepal – Dec 2021 (Quarterly)
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