Tourism News & Message – February 2021 from Nepal
Aart Last and Sandra
News – 22 Feb 2021
When do tourism in Nepal Restart
Nepal Tourism in post-Covid-19
When do you think would be safe to say ‘post covid.’ The answer is not quite easy to answer. The closest we can say is autumn 2021. But most likely it will not be before the end of 2022. Of course, all countries and societies that depend upon tourism are in hurry to restart their tourism. The livelihood of the people is the main concern. In Nepal, tourism entrepreneurs and tourism workers are desperate to restart. Tourism is the first segment of the economy that was hit hardest when coronavirus started, and it would be the last to get back on its feet.
A huge investment made in the prospect of Visit Nepal 2020 has now become a burden to the investors and a liability to the bank. Present Governor of Nepal National Bank while reviewing the current fiscal year in his most recent statement said that “Covid affected loan wouldn’t create a big financial issue that increases the risk to bad debt yet books of the bank would look good but the loan may sink and that may create a problem.” All tourism enterprises are incurring losses every day. Workers in the trekking are without job and support from any quarters. Employees working in hotel and catering are living in very much reduced pay that can hardly survive their families. Further cut in the salary of the hospitality industry in January 2021 without furlough indicates they are bracing for the worst to come.
Corona -19 shot down VNY 2020 before it even began to take off. The year 2020 is the worst tourism year after steady growth to 11,97,191 in 2019 – the lowest in 34 years. Nepal recorded 230,085 visitors’ arrival in 2020 – 90 percent of the arrival happened before all the borders were clampdown in March 2020; it is an 80 percent decrease compared to the arrival figure in 2019. The arrival figure made a nose dive to the level of 1986.
Caution to open and restart tourism
There is a lesson to be learned from countries that have opened for tourism after having some form of control – It is prudent to be cautious not to open so fast. As examples are Tahiti, Bora Bora, Mo’orea and other French Polynesian islands that reopened to tourists from all countries back in July 2020. For the past 7 months tourists from any country worldwide could enter Tahiti and Bora Bora with no isolation period, but with double-testing protocols in place. “French Polynesia saw their highest spike in case of numbers in November 2020 but has since brought levels down to the ultra-low numbers they saw when they first reopened. Despite the impressive reduction in case numbers, a trend that prompts many countries to reopen their tourism industry, the nation still believes closing for all visitors is the best decision.” (Quote from Travel News, Travel off Path.com. https://www.traveloffpath.com/tahiti-and-bora-bora-close-for-all-tourism-until-further-notice/)</p>
Even Thailand and Vietnam that did remarkably well in controlling covid-19 are cautious of opening their tourism early. The rapid development of several vaccines in a record time, an incredible feat in itself, has given hope to early recovery. The prospect of getting the vaccine to every segment of the societies in the world definitely would take time. The imbalance distribution may even create a resurgence of the pandemic. As the covid-19 pandemic had shown not even the strongest and stable government can withstand once it is spread quickly in the present interconnected world. If tourism has to start both ends of the tourism economy – supply and receiving side – must be stabilized.
Though the variant form of Covid-19 has been reported much more powerful than what we all went through yet the vaccine has brought hope for a speedy recovery. The result from some parts of the world has proven that the vaccine can help prevent it from fast-spreading; instead, it has controlled the virus. Actually, the world has panicked when it initially spread like a wildfire throughout the world. Gradually human being are adapting and fighting against it. Panicking and shutting doors, windows and borders are not the answer to the problem and the issues it has created. As we enter the 12th month of the havoc created by the pandemic the world has shown and learned that if standard protocols, hygiene, tracking and taking quick measure to address it as and when a flare-up happens an open border and allowing economic activities would be helpful in winning the war against the pandemic.
Nepal is a case that defies any justification. The country could have easily swirl into its’ devastating fall that covid-19 created. A helpless government reluctant to offer even survival relief left its citizen to their own fate. It declared on two recent occasions zero death from covid-19. And the report says cases of covid-19 are decreasing every day. In this light, you can call them resilient, death deifier, or simply desperate to get back along with their life.
The Guardian, published in London, in its International edition dated 11 Feb 2021, published its front-page headline -www.thegurdian.com
‘It’s as if there’s no Covid’: Nepal defies pandemic amid a broken economy.
Cases appear low and sports venues are packed, but protests are on the rise as jobs are lost and personal debt soars, traffic jams and soaring pollution levels are back. Political leaders are organising mass rallies, far more focused on fighting each other than any virus. If poorer Nepalis are struggling with the dire economic fallout from Covid-19, on the surface, at least, it appears daily life in the capital, Kathmandu, is back to normal.’
“It’s as if nothing has happened. The nightclubs are crowded. Schools and colleges are reopening. Sports venues are full. It doesn’t seem like there is any Covid,” says Sameer Mani Dixit, a public health specialist. “It defies logic.”
It is indeed a candid remark on current condition in Nepal.
No support from Government to revive tourism
What trade representatives have to say: “the government has to establish a job retention fund for the survival of workers. At the moment the major challenge for tourism entrepreneurs is sustaining their business. So, if the government could establish a tourism development fund to recover from this kind of crisis, it will not only support recovery from the current situation but will also play a crucial role in developing the tourism sector in the long run. The government should also waive several taxes that we have been paying to the local governments under different headings. Another major issue the budget must address is to arrange loans at a three per cent interest rate and there should be no penalty levied over delays in paying the interest of the loans. Meanwhile, the government must introduce paid travel leave for civil servants to promote domestic tourism.”— Shreejana Rana, president, Hotel Association Nepal.
“We want a stimulus package to be announced by the government for the survival and revival of the tourism industry.” – Achyut Guragain, president, Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents
Khum Bahadur Subedi, president, Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal Opinion: “We have been saying that 2020 will be a ‘survival’ year for the industry while 2021 will be a ‘revival’ year and we can hope the industry to be normal from 2022 only. The government has to arrange a policy whereby they can obtain loans of up to Rs two million at low-interest rates to sustain their business. Likewise, for at least one year the government has to arrange alternative jobs for workers involved in the trekking sector. We also urge the government to provide at least Rs 15,000 per month as a loan to workers of the trekking industry for one year. Thereafter they will start paying back their loans. Similarly, the government has to rescind the value-added tax and taxes on yaks, mules, porters and climbing-sherpa during mountain trekking. ”
That was on May 26, 2020, The Himalayan Times published the opinion of the leaders of the tourism sector. Now it is May 15, 2021, still, nothing has been done to help tourism to get on its feet. In the meantime, the Hotel Association has drastically cut down the salary of their staffs and the Nepal Association of Tour are on the street to get their voice heard. (Excerpt from The Himalayan Times)
Recession brought by Covid-19
Actually, until now there are no real estimated financial figures of the damaged caused by the pandemic. The government had allocated a substantial amount in its budget for tourism recovery and relief to the industry. In absence of a hard figure and a workable distribution system it has been sitting on it at a time workers, small and medium scale tourism enterprises are languishing at the point of no return. The banks have been playing the safe game at a time when the central bank is not making any effort to get the economy going.
Many banks have their loan tied to big-scale investment in the hospitality sector. In 2018/2019 Total lending to hotels has reportedly increased by 21.9 percent or NPR 14.81 billion and the total outstanding loans to the hotel sub-sector was totalled at NPR 82.4 billion.
The lending to the tourism industry was totalled NPR 2.6 billion and the total outstanding banking investment stands at NPR 275 million. In 2018/2019 tourism industry growth was 10.8 percent.
The economy is sitting under a ticking time bomb. With many feeling the economic squeeze during the pandemic and resulting recession (not to mention the growing wealth gap), most people don’t have this kind of cash in their savings and investment accounts.
World Bank forecasts that 31.2% of Nepalis are at risk of falling into extreme poverty, primarily because of reduced remittances from overseas workers, foregone earnings of potential migrants, the collapse of the tourist industry, job losses in the informal sector and increased cost of essential commodities, all as a result of COVID-19
Tourism is one of Nepal’s largest industries. Tourism revenue in 2018 accounted for 7.9% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and supported >1.05 million jobs, with the expectation of providing >1.35 million jobs by 2029.4 Nepal hosted 1.19 million foreign tourists in 2019,
In its regular twice a year update World Bank declared that “Nepal’s economy is projected to grow by only 0.6 percent in 2021, inching up from an estimated 0.2 percent in 2020 as lockdowns caused by COVID-19 disrupt economic activity, especially tourism” (Source: World Bank’s latest South Asia Economic Focus Beaten or Broken?)
“The economic consequences of the pandemic and impact on livelihoods across Nepal is expected to be the most acute for informal workers or those without social security or assistance, who are more at risk of falling into extreme poverty,” stated Faris Hadad-Zervos, World Bank Country Director for Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. “Swift action is needed to provide incomes, social protection, and employment to support them. This includes key investment climate reforms to promote physical infrastructure and access to finance for the informal sector to shorten the transition to recovery.”
In September 2020 Asian Development Bank in its forecast in Asian Development Outlook (ADO) 2020 Update, a flagship publication of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said, “Nepal’s economy is anticipated to grow by 1.5% in fiscal year (FY) 2021 from the preliminary estimate of 2.3% in FY2020. After strong growth in recent years, Nepal’s economy will see a further slump as a result of a decline in exports, remittances, and tourist income, and the stringent measures to contain the effects of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, even as the lockdowns have gradually eased. An expected sharp economic downturn in neighbouring India, Nepal’s predominant trade partner, will also dent Nepal’s growth prospects,” said ADB Country Director for Nepal Mukhtor Khamudkhanov. “Growth may decline further if the containment period prolongs with periodic lockdowns in major hotspots and consequent restrictions in economic activities through this fiscal year.”
News in Brief
Zero Covid death on Jan 28 and Feb 14, 2021
Jan 28, 2021, Health Ministry in its updated Statistics Report said, ‘after five months and 24 days it is the first time there was not a single death due to covid-19.’ Since August 2020 there has been reported death every day due to covid-19. Again on 14th February, the Health Ministry reported zero death due to covid related infection. Since Feb 15 there is only one death.
Here is the latest government statistics: Total cases 2,73,070. Total active cases – 1621; Total recovered 2,69,394; death 2055; PCR Test 18,90,740; Isolation 7,515; quarantined 409. The majority of cases are in the Kathmandu valley. The latest report said 125 new cases surfaced throughout the country. Of the total 60 new cases in the Kathmandu Valley, the Kathmandu district reported 45 infections, 9 in Lalitpur (Patan) and 6 in Bhaktapur.
As of 16th Feb Kathmandu valley had confirmed 1,27,712 cases. Out of that Kathmandu Valley has reported 502 covid-19 related death, Lalitpur (Patan) and Bhaktapur have recorded 163 and 115 death respectively. (Kathmandu Post 17th Feb 2021: source Ministry of Health).
Covid-19 Vaccination started in Nepal
India donated 1million vaccination to Nepal. They have also donated to several neighbouring countries. In the first phase, Nepal has vaccinated fronts like health workers and security staffs. China has promised to donate 0.5 million. And WHO will be donating 2.5 million vaccinations from their Covax program. Of course, the vaccine will not be enough for all the population because the donating countries have their priority to vaccinate their own citizen first.
Nepal is in talks with several countries—India, China, the United States and the United Kingdom to get Covid-19 vaccines. A statement from Foreign Ministry said, “China will accord priority to Nepal in vaccine cooperation.” the British government would provide 550 million pounds to the World Health Organisation’s COVAX facility, under which Nepal would receive over 2 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine.
Nepal aviation industry once again fails to get off EU’s blacklist
Nepal aviation industry has once again failed to get off the European Union (EU) blacklist. The EU updates the details of the ban in every six months. On December 8, the EU released a list of banned airlines around the world.
According to the air safety list made public by the EU, all airlines in Nepal are banned. All three companies licensed for international flights, including Nepal Airlines Corporation, Himalayan Airlines and Buddha Air, have been blacklisted. In addition, all domestic airlines (regular flights and helicopter companies) have been banned, according to the EU’s latest security blacklist.
Nepali Airlines has been banned by the European Union since 2013. The EU had issued a statement a few weeks ago positively approving the bill on the division of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal under consideration in the Parliament of Nepal. The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation expected the bill to be passed in the previous House of Parliament.
However, the bill is unlikely to be passed immediately in the wake of the dissolution of parliament. As a result, Nepal will remain on the European Union’s blacklist for at least six months. (Tourism Mail Crew, 25th Dec 2020)
Like the street vendors, tourism entrepreneurs are counting on a quick decrease in corona cases and the success of vaccination. New covid – 19 variant and a fresh surge of covid -19 in Europe, and continued surged of the corona related cases in the United States has dashed hope of travel industry to begin their activities in spring 2021. Everybody is grappling with the effects of coronavirus with the only hope of lifting travel restrictions at home and abroad that may prompt tourists to think about travel abroad. The wish list includes the hope that people forget the fear and desire to travel again with confidence that they can get back home without getting stranded anywhere. Nepalese seemed to have overcome the fear they had in Mar 2020 as they enter 2021. For five months they were in endless fear of getting caught as the virus made a rampant increase. Now it seems they are free from fear.
To restart tourism Nepal is expecting people to start their travel. Travel disconnects people from everyday activities at home, business and office. Once again head to the Himalayas and reduce stress. Get exposed to a fresh environment. Boost energy, health and wellness. Get pleasure and add happiness to life.
Covid-19 brought a change in mindset
So much talk about the bleak picture of the economy. Like everything, the other side of the coin is the bright side brought by a coronavirus. Coronavirus pandemic did make a considerable change in our daily life and our mindset. The essence of life that we have missed was brought by a coronavirus.
For a considerable long time, we were lost in our own business world – the business of earning and living. Now we have learned to take care of ourselves at home. We found ways to reduce stress. That we had overlooked to invest in ourselves has suddenly become important. We all realize money can do so much; there is more than the money that life is valuable. We never have thought we can shift our mindset and improve our living. Our optimistic mindset actually would help in our finance. There are several smaller things that we had missed to see before coronavirus engulfed our thought and mind; it has brought light to the thing that would make our life happy and well being. In Nepal, it has thought people about basic hygiene. It brought to understand about virus and bacteria.
Nirmal Purja and a team of 10 Nepalese made it to the summit of 1st ever summit of K2 in winter
Nepalese climbers made history on Jan 16, 2021. Ten of them climbed the summit of K2 in mid-winter in uniform steps to the summit. Believed it or not they sang Nepal national anthem too as they climbed the daunting 8611-meter summit. The team was led by Nirmal Purja. This is the same guy who climbed all 14 eight thousand meter peak in 6 months and 6 days that other 40 international climbers took eight years. K2 was the only eight thousand meter peak left to be submitted in winter. Finally, Gurkhas made it with flying colour. K2 is regarded as the toughest eight thousand meter peaks even in normal condition. Climbing in winter and with 9 teammates, first-ever all Nepalese members, and Nirmal making the summit without supplemented oxygen is the greatest mountaineering feat he pulled off in his short stink in mountaineering.
Nirmal Purja left his service of the British Gurkha Army, which led him to a position in the UK special Boat Service – the most elite division in British Army, to his newfound passion in Himalayan mountaineering. “He has led 21 expeditions to 8,000-meter peaks—21 times these expeditions reached the summit, and 21 times all members of his team returned alive.” (https://www.climbing.com/author/bennett-slavsky/)
When he made yet another record at K2 he did what he does best. Moreover, he raised yet another bar for the climbers. The whole nation was jubilant because he made Nepalese proud by successfully leading all Nepalese climbers to the summit of K2 the second-highest peak on earth (8611m) and deadliest of all without being a climbing Sherpa, guide and porter. Pakistan Government accorded all the tram members a very warm welcome and bestowed great honour rarely given to foreign climbers. After Tenzing Norgay, Nirmal Purja made a difference in how Nepalese climbers are received in the climbing world.
Bhutan New Tourism Policy
Bhutan, a landlocked last of the Himalayan Kingdom, is entering into a new phase in its adopted policy of quality tourism. Like elsewhere Covid-19 has brought the policymakers to think about their lopsided tourism practice. According to the new Bhutan Tourism Policy 2021 that has the objective to maintain its ‘High Value and Low Volume,’ they have a plan to introduce same price for the same service for all visitors. They plan to achieve this goal by 2030.
In the recent past, Bhutan tourism has somewhat moved away from their practice to maintain high quality – low volume tourism strategy. They have been charging the all-inclusive cost of US@200 to 250 per night per person but the increasing numbers of visitors from some of the South Asian countries have been charged simply about US$12 per person per day as government fees termed as sustainable development plus the local cost for meals, sightseeing and accommodation. There were complains and wining that 78 percent of non-westerner visitors out of 315,00 arrival in 2019 created a big challenge in the preservation of their environment.
(www.bbs.bt/news Feb 11, 2021)
Liaison officers on Spring 2021 Everest Expedition to be strapped with GPS device
Reporting climbing the summit of Mt. Everest or any other mountain summit has always been difficult. This is what once late Elisabeth Hawley said. A prominent chronicler of the Himalayan expedition; she covered the 1963 American Everest Expedition while she was working for Reuter. It has always been the ethics of the climber more than what they can prove to the word that they have achieved their goal to set foot on the highest peak of the world.
The charm of Mt. Everest has not dwindled in all these years. To the success, it has bestowed fame, name and recognization. Just before the covid, in the spring season of 2019, Mt. Everest attracted 382 climbers from the Nepal side alone; then a record 229 reached the summit.
To monitor the progress of the expeditions to Everest 37 liaison officers from the various branch of the government were deputed. Out of them, the Ministry of Tourism had reported that only 22 went to the base camp. Until spring 2019 the official record of the Nepal Government has 6,507 climbers in the list of Everest Submitters that includes first on the summit – Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa. Both made a human record to the highest summit on earth in May 1953.
Apart from past controversies about the climbers claim to have reached the summit in recent years the frequency of fake claim has significantly increased. Most are happening from nationals from India. Fake claim involved some of the recipients of prestigious Indian national awards in climbing and sports. Though the Nepal government had exposed some faked claim and stripped them of the certificate it has not deterred climbers from repeating the same trick.
To discourage fake claim of summit Mountaineering division of the Nepal government had instituted a rule for the climbers to produce photos taken at the summit as proof of their claim. Thanks to modern technology, many could produce a photoshop image as their proof. They could even use a five-month dateline in their favour: all claimants must produce their photos that show they were on the summit of Mt. Everest. Of course, the report of the Liaison Officer is mandatory as part of the climbing report but most often they become part of the fake report as they are given good money in lieu of expedition equipment by the climbing team. Job as a liaison officer in the climbing expedition is considered very lucrative for civil servants.
Most expedition teams are not that happy that the liaison officers are not doing their jobs as prescribed in their duty and responsibility. They are simply piggyback riding at the expense of the expedition team. This story is as old as the expeditions to Mt. Everest.
Now the government has decided to use satellite tracking and biometric attendance technology to ensure that liaison officers are complying with their duty. According to the government press release they plan to use a GPS device to track the progress of their liaison officer. They plan to strap a GPS instrument to the deputed officers. If it is workable next would-be climbers. There will be about 20 officers involved in this experiment.
No matter what is used to control, like anything in life including sports and climbing, ethics and discipline are the essential principles of success. Climbers can claim any feat they have performed on the mountain but without their own ethics, they can always be a fake performer.
Election on April 30 may be deferred or upsurged
The prime minister dissolved the Parliament on 20th December 2020. He insisted that he has the right to do it in parliamentary democracy. His strong opponents inside the party and major opposition parties differed in his contention. They insist that the current constitution was made to ensure an uninterrupted five-year term for the winner of the general election. In the past government were often changed each not lasting more than 8-9 months. The prime minister called to hold for the fresh poll in two-phase – April 30 and May 10, 2021. Now opposition parties and their own rival faction in Nepal Communist Party are on the street almost every day demanding the reinstatement of the parliament that they think are dissolved unconstitutionally.
In May 28, 2008, Nepal was declared a republic and King Gyanendra Shah abdicated his throne the Shah dynasty held for 238 years. History is repeating itself from a different perspective. After Gyanendra took over the country in 2005 he dissolved the parliament and announced fresh election. This led the country into prolonged instability. Finally, he had to give up everything in the face of a popular street revolt by the people. This time around it is a civil war that broke out within the ruling Communist Party that had almost 2/3 rd majority in the recently dissolved parliament. In the ensuing fight against his rival faction in the party, the prime minister was stripped of the membership of the party of which he was the chairperson on the ground that he violated every norm of the party and undermined its own principal. Now the ownership of the party has become a contentious issue even for the Election Commission.
Nobody believes that he wanted an election. In fact, history reflects that he had always supported the regressive policy. Indigenous political parties blame him for going against the principle of Federal Republic norms that most representatives on the constitution assembly initially agreed. Now, most people believe that he has intentionally created an environment that would bring instability and thus the power gets transferred back to monarchy. Moreover, the election preparation is running out of time while the discussion is going on in the court.
The civil unrest is happening during the recession brought by covid-19. Most industries are already getting on their feet except tourism. It is reeling unabated in the pressure of the global pandemic. The GDP is now forecasted to go down to 1 percent instead of projected growth to 6 to 7%. This is happening at a time when the country needed to pull its socks and get together to restart its tourism activities despite the odd brought by the unprecedented turmoil by the virus.
At the moment the fight is ensuing at the supreme – court. Very soon the court has to decide whose contention is right. Even if the court decides to up-held the dissolution of the parliament it appears the roar in the street is not going to stop. Once again all disgruntled political forces will choose the main-street in Kathmandu to show their strength and revolt. At the moment the former king is watching on the sideline for an opportune time to strike.
Entry Procedure & Visa – Latest update
This is a continuation of our update on entry rules of the Department of Immigration for visitors irrespective of the 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 the decision taken regarding “Incoming travellers from foreign countries for their health safety and quarantine directive 2021 (BS 2077):
- All travellers must have and carry with them “PCR test taken within 72 hours before they board (originating) flight” to Kathmandu. This is a 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 issue tourist visa. All tourists are required to obtain a tourist visa prior to arrival in Nepal.
- For visitors from countries that have no Nepalese embassy can obtain a tourist visa on arrival, but they must carry with them a 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 the UN and diplomats can obtain a visa on arrival subject to health protocol set by Nepal Government.
- In case of a person with PCR negative report taken prior to travel within 72 hours from the time swap collected and persons who have been vaccinated with required doze against covid-19 they are allowed to proceed to their onward destination and maintain scheduled health protocol (standard distancing and cleaning rules)
- Passengers arriving only on the 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 travellers must fill online form “Abroad Returnee Management System” from the website: www.ccmc.gov.np . In case if they have missed to fill in online the 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.
- A person travelling from or in transit through countries afflicted by the Covid-19 variant is allowed to enter Nepal subject to the following additional conditions:
- a)Travelers must submit detail of their flight and travel date to Nepalese diplomatic mission abroad.
- b)The travellers must have hotel booking with hotels listed by the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism prior to purchase of air-ticket. The list is published in the website of the Tourism Ministry* and website maintains by Covid-19 Crisis Management Center run by Health Ministry.
The official letter from the office of the cabinet ministry did not say if this letter and the Government’s official gazette published by the Health Ministry overrides earlier notice from the Immigration. It is safe to assume that the updated rules regarding the management of covid-19 is an instruction that the government would follow until the next update. In this updated notice, there are several rules that have been enacted to make passenger carrier responsible before travellers board their aircraft. The rules have also made a specific unit of the government directly responsible to monitor covid-19 related issues. The highlighted rules are a new addition
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Covid-19 is here to stay. Let us accommodate our life in a dire situation. When travel restrictions are eased, concern for contacting is reduced, life around the world turns into new normal, the Himalayas and its wonderful mountain will be still there waiting for your dream to come true.
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