|Future Buddha in the Himalayas northern India's Ladakh near Nepal (Tamvir Singh Multani).|
|Trekking the Annapurna route near Jomsom. Trekkers are critical to Nepal's tourism industry, but travel warnings can boost cost of optional travel insurance (Alina Simone/PRI).|
|Hundreds line up to buy gov't firewood, 11-16.|
|Himalayan Buddhist temple.|
The goal was to show tourists that despite the earthquake and political protests, which erupted after the passage of a new constitution, Nepal was “open for business.”
[She] had never paid much attention to government travel advisories, but [she] decided to check what the U.S. State Department had to say. In October, it issued a “warning” for Nepal. Also on the warning list -- Iraq and Somalia.
“We want you to know the risks of traveling to these places and to strongly consider not going to them at all,” the State Department site said. Yikes. I began to wonder whether this trip was really such a great idea.
At the airport in Abu Dhabi, [she] wasn’t exactly reassured to learn [she] had been bumped from [her] flight because the plane was carrying extra fuel to Kathmandu [starved of fuel deliveries by neighboring India]. The protests at Nepal’s border with India, related to the new constitution [which Nepal says is none of India's business, but India has long meddled in and dominated the country's internal affairs], had led to a severe shortage.
But once [she] finally got to Kathmandu, life seemed remarkably normal. The earthquake damage was largely cleared away and fenced off. There were, of course, lots of empty spaces where centuries-old temples once stood.
And in historic Patan Durban Square, the sound of reconstruction was everywhere.
|Earthquake-damaged buildings in historic city of Bhaktapur, Nepal (Alina Simone/PRI.org)|
That’s exactly the impression tourism officials in Nepal were trying to change.
“It is not Nepal that has been affected; it is only 14 districts that have been hit hard,” said Sunil Sharma, of the Nepal Tourism Board. Nepal's 61 other districts suffered minimal or no damage.
Samarth, the NGO that helped sponsor my trip, also commissioned an independent assessment of two of Nepal’s most popular trekking routes, Everest and Annapurna. They were pronounced safe, with some important caveats.
The thing is, trekkers are key to reviving Nepal’s tourism industry, but travel warnings boost the cost of travel insurance. And backpackers need that insurance if they’re trekking in remote areas, like our next stop, the town of Jomsom on the Annapurna circuit.
The landscape is spectacular at the foot of the Himalayas -- our trekking route threaded over wild mountain streams to Dhumba, a sacred Buddhist lake.
It’s far from the epicenter of the earthquake and the political struggles at the Indian border, but still, you won’t see many tourists here. Tripple Gurung, who owns a hotel called “Om’s Home,” told [her] bookings are down 50 percent. He’s not the only one here who depends on tourism.
“I’m running a hotel, but there are people who grow vegetables. They come here in the morning, so we buy the vegetables for our guests.”
The story was the same in Nepal’s second largest city, Pokhara: minimal earthquake damage, major tourism declines. And long lines of cars and mopeds were queuing up for rationed gas.
It’s easy for a tourists to insulate themselves from the day-to-day realities of life here... More + AUDIO