As the northern hemisphere heads rapidly into autumn, the southern into summer, we hope this note finds you all well, healthy and happy and able to get out into the great outdoors.
We have hopefully seen the last of this year’s monsoon rains, with incessant, heavy rain for 3 nights and days last week, which sadly caused yet more landslides, loss of property, livestock and most sad of all, lives. It is a huge relief to welcome back the blue skies and sunshine that autumn in Nepal is known for and with the approach of Dashain and Tihar, to see so many kites flying in the sky.
Since we wrote a couple of weeks back, there have been lots of announcements, but sadly, as usual no substance behind them.
As of today, 1st October, international flights are no longer restricted and airlines can come and go as often as they wish as long as they are able to get the slots at the airport. This is mainly to enable those thousands of Nepali’s still stuck abroad to get home in time for Dashain, but will also make it easier for those who are still stuck here in Nepal to leave.
From the 17th of this month, trekking and mountaineering tourists are also being allowed to enter the country, although under some pretty strict rules, i.e. visa to be obtained in advance of arrival; provision of a negative PCR test no older than 72 hrs; insurance cover to a minimum of US$5,000; mandatory quarantine in a hotel for 7 days (hotel booking to be shown upon arrival); 2nd PCR test to be taken on day 5 of quarantine, if negative you will be set free.
Although this news may excite some people, it has left most in the industry despairing, as for many travellers adding an extra week to their itinerary alongside all the extra costs is untenable, but mostly because nothing has been put in place to back up this acceptance of guests to Nepal. The Nepal Tourism Board has come up with a document that is supposed to offer a safe and controlled way forward for all involved in the tourism industry, guests and stakeholders alike, but once again it has been produced by people who sit in an office rather than those who live, work and breathe it. At best it is unrealistic and at worst totally impractical and unworkable.
Added to this there is also the very real possibility of the country being locked-down once again at very short notice. The virus is running rampant in the Kathmandu Valley and Kathmandu city in particular, with little to nothing being done to try at least to reduce the spread. The Ministry of Health has declared that once the country reaches 25,000 active cases it will petition the Cabinet to declare another lockdown. The likelihood of the petition happening in the not too distant future is very high, because as of yesterday we were at just under 21,000 active cases and with the first day of Dashain just over two weeks away, people are going to start travelling back to their villages in over packed buses and quite possibly taking the virus with them.
Amrit and a couple of other industry professionals have just returned from a seven day trek in Helambu to collect stories and draft mountain protocols for trekking groups, lodges and communities.
They witnessed first hand the eagerness of lodge owners to once again accept trekkers, but at the same time this eagerness is tempered with worry about protecting their communities.
Reopening trekking tourism is not just about ensuring trekking groups understand and follow the rules, it is also super important to properly educate and monitor all the stakeholders and communities along each route. This will only be possible if everyone works together, industry professionals are consulted and local governments provide support. We are not looking at a quick fix, as there is as we have all seen, no quick fix to a global pandemic of this magnitude. It is all about breaking old and creating and following through with new habits to ensure everyone’s ongoing safety and prosperity into the future.
So despite the country being open for guests, as much as it pains us to say so, we personally do not advocate travel here at this current time. For us, given how many variables are in play, our client’s safety is our utmost priority and currently the systems are just not in place here in Nepal.
We shall continue to work hard, push forward and lobby the government agencies to create and role out safe, practical, workable protocols that cover all aspects of the industry, so that we are all ready to hit the ground running for the spring season. There is nothing we want more than to welcome you, our clients back to the mountains that we know you yearn for, just not at any cost.
Where there is a will, there is a way and we will get there.
Love, light, peace and patience. Dream now, travel later.