The best time to go to Nepal? Now.
“It’s often remarked that travellers go to Nepal for the trekking and go back for the Nepalese, and local guides, restaurant owners and guest houses are keener than ever to showcase the hospitality that makes them extraordinary.”
Home to eight of the ten highest mountains in the world and a whole host of incredible ancient temples and palaces, Nepal is a country of gilt-edged natural beauty – yet the diminutive landlocked nation receives just 600,000 visitors annually. However, following the devastating earthquake that ripped through the heart of the Himalayas on the 25th April this year, official travel advice has been confusing and travellers are turning their backs on this Himalayan nation. And as the 2015 trekking season begins, a report commissioned by the Nepalese government has warned that the number of tourists could fall by a staggering 40 percent this year compared to 2014.
And yet – if ever there was a time to book a holiday to Nepal, it is now. The country has a renewed vigour as it rebuilds itself following the earthquake, and is welcoming tourists with open arms. With the exception of a couple of affected regions, the FCO
has removed its Nepal travel warnings as of October 2015, so the country really is open for business. It’s often remarked that travellers go to Nepal for the trekking and go back for the Nepalese, and local guides, restaurant owners and guest houses are keener than ever to showcase the hospitality that makes them extraordinary. What’s more, visiting now means that you can take full advantage of the lower tourist numbers, with no wrangling over bookings or crowds, and as an added bonus you’ll be supporting local people as you do.
“What makes Nepal so attractive to visitors is all still here and the damage that Nepal suffered isn’t to the scale that has been globalised by the media.”
– CEO of the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal
Marang La, Nepal. By Jean-Marie Hullot
“The world must go on,” says Ganga Sagar Pant, CEO of the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal
(TAAN). “What makes Nepal so attractive to visitors – mountains, flora and fauna, jungles, trails – is all still here and the damage that Nepal suffered isn’t to the scale that has been globalised by the media. Less than 10 percent of our heritage sites have been damaged and only two of the hundreds of trekking trails are damaged. All the others are OK and have been assessed as safe to climb.”
An immediate post-disaster report indicated some 150km of tourist trekking routes had suffered significant damage, but in relative terms, this is a mere drop in the trekking ocean.
“The vast majority of Nepal was not affected by the earthquake, or has seen very minimal damage – the Annapurna region is fantastic for trekking and Chitwan National Park is still great for jungle walks,” says Sarah Allard, co-founder of adventure travel specialist, Lost Earth Adventures. “From an operator's perspective, safety is always our highest priority and we would never put someone at abject risk. My advice is that if people are extremely concerned about safety, book with an operator – a company that has people on the ground and firsthand knowledge. That way, you'll get real, accurate information.”
It isn’t just the mountains of Nepal that need attention, though; it’s the Nepalese people, too. Mr. Pant at the TAAN advises that if we want our donations to go further, we’re better off cutting out the middleman:
“My suggestion would be to support local initiatives directly,” he says. “ TAAN is almost midway through our huge Manaslu rehabilitation project, and we have provided jobs and real hopes to thousands of local community people.”
That said, there are two regions that are out of action during the 2015 trekking season: the Langtang Valley and Manaslu. There has been extensive trail damage in the Langtang/Gosaikunda region in particular – the entire Langtang Village was covered in a landslide and sadly doesn't exist anymore. However, the trails are expected to be open again to trekkers by spring 2016. The Manaslu Region has not been quite as badly affected, and locals in the area have been working hard to re-route some of the trail that has become unstable. While most adventure travel companies have suspended trekking there, small, more experienced groups have recently begun travelling into the area again.
This is just a snapshot of a much bigger picture, but what’s clear is that Nepal is very much open for business – with both tourists and locals standing to benefit greatly from a trip to Nepal this season. We asked our friends at Exodus, at Manakamana Treks and Expedition, and at Lost Earth Adventures for their one piece of advice to travellers thinking about how they could best help Nepal and their response was resounding: “The best way to help Nepal is to go to Nepal and pay local people to do their jobs.”
Travel warnings have been lifted, airports are open, and most of the road network is now intact – getting visitors back to the country is a vital step in Nepal’s recovery and there’s never been a more timely opportunity to put your money where your mouth is.
The TAAN Manaslu repair team at work