| July 19, 2019
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Visit Nepal

Visit Nepal
Nepalis are naturally hospitable, their friendliness exemplary
One year after devastating earthquakes, Nepal’s tourism sector is yet to fully recover. However, the Director General of Nepal’s Department of Tourism, Sudarshan Prasad Dhakal, believes that this may actually be the best time to visit Nepal. “Facilities in Nepal are less crowded and more accessible,” he said. One example he noted was the Chitwan National Park, a popular destination where tourists ride elephants to watch wildlife. Fewer visitors means better chances of seeing tigers, rhinoceros and exotic birds.

Nepalis are naturally hospitable. Their friendliness seems to come out even more in times of distress. The Director General pointed out the advantage to tourists during these difficult times. “Since there are fewer tourists, competition is high. As a result, those who do come are given even more care and attention than usual,” he said.

When questioned about safety, Dhakal again looked at the bright side. “The older and weaker structures have already collapsed. The buildings that remain are strong enough,” he explained. “These buildings withstood a 7.8-magnitude earthquake, which won’t happen again soon.” Dhakal was emphasizing a popular concept in Nepal, supported by seismologists that the next major earthquake may not come for another 60 to 70 years.

Nepal will host an International Conference on Lord Buddha and Buddhism in Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, in southwestern Nepal next month. The government has invited UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, heads of state from many countries as well as Buddhist scholars and monks to the conference.

Tourists are still coming to Nepal, though the numbers are down. Last spring before the earthquake, 801 people were given mountain climbing and trekking permits. This spring only 679 permits were issued, a 15 percent decline from 2015. But Dhakal estimates that financial devastation to the tourist industry is greater. It’s down by 32 percent nationwide.

Nearly 9,000 people were killed and almost 22,000 people injured in the earthquakes last year. Hundreds of thousands of homes were destroyed and 3.5 million people were rendered homeless.

Tourism is the lifeline of Nepal’s economy. It is the largest industry and the leading source of Nepal’s foreign exchange. Overall, the loss of revenue from last year’s earthquakes has been enormous. Estimates put the price tag for the second largest earthquake in Nepal’s recorded history at US$10 billion—half of Nepal’s GDP.

Even more serious was the five-month-long trade embargo caused by political agitation along Nepal’s southern border with India, its largest trade partner. Some reports have claimed the financial damage caused by the strike was even greater than the destruction caused by earthquakes.

Despite all this, optimism still prevails in Nepal. That alone will make a trip here more enjoyable and certainly unforgettable.

The author is director of education for UPF-Asia