As my plane touched down at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, I really wasn’t sure what I would find in a place that recently suffered from natural disaster. The date was November 30, 2015, a little over 7 months after news spread across the world of a massive earthquake that rocked a small country nestled among the highest mountain range in the world.
From the airport I took a taxi into the city, and as we drove I looked out the window and assessed the conditions of post-quake Nepal. To my surprise, everything seemed to be business as usual as far as I could tell. The only thing that became apparent to me right away was that even during rush hour, the roads seemed much emptier and lacking the endless bumper-to-bumper traffic that is typically omnipresent throughout Asian cities. My initial assumption was that this was a result of the earthquake, but my driver explained to me that the big concern at the moment for most Nepalese people is actually India’s oil embargo on Nepal. This has gone on since September 2015 and many believe India’s actions are in response to the country’s newly drafted and controversial constitution. As a landlocked nation, Nepal is entirely dependent on it’s southern neighbor of India for fuel and other important resources. The resulting fuel shortage means more people are off the roads (which might help a little in reducing the high pollution levels in Kathmandu), but it also means that the people have less access to foods and supplies (like medicine) that normally have to be imported by trucks.
To make matters worse, since the earthquake, the western media has portrayed Nepal as an unsafe and unstable place to visit. Even in the weeks prior to my arrival, I was still seeing images of famous, beautiful temples in rubble and buildings in ruin. This has resulted in a huge setback in the tourism industry. Fewer visitors, unfortunately, means many people who work as guides, porters, hoteliers, and many other tourism-based jobs that are vital to the economy (tourism is the largest industry) are unemployed. It was shocking to see the numbers posted on this sign at the park office at the entrance to Sagamartha National Park, down on average 50% of the usual inflow.
While I did observe some damaged areas in Kathmandu, it certainly wasn’t widespread. Most of the main historic sights and infrastructure had been reopened or was being rebuilt. Unfortunately the epicenter was closest to the most densely populated part of the country, which is why there was such a high number of people affected. But at the time of the earthquake, news media made it seem as if the entire country was destroyed. In many other areas around Nepal, such as the popular Everest region, the effects of the earthquake were much less. When I did my trek in early December 2015, I noticed hardly any signs of damage aside from a few buildings, which may have suffered due to poor construction to begin with anyway. In other regions, such in the country’s far west and east, minimal to no damage was reported.
To hear all the negative news coverage was discouraging because during my few weeks in Kathmandu and trekking in the Himalayas, I saw a very different Nepal. I saw a colorful, diverse, and vibrant nation full of stunning scenery and friendly, resilient people who are desperate for the tourists to return. The truth is, there’s nothing much to worry about at the moment for visitors. It’s still fairly safe, the country is still stunningly beautiful, and the people who are well-known for their friendliness are just as warm and hospitable as ever.
Nepal has declared itself open for tourism. They desperately need visitors to return. So if there was a better time to go, let 2016 be the year to see this amazing place.