On 25th April 2015, Nepal was hit by a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake. It was sudden, strong, and lasted for over a minute, which seems an eternity when there’s nowhere to hide. Then, I remember the aftershocks. The tremors continued for several days into May, causing more damage and hampering rescue efforts. At the time of the shake, I was in Kathmandu packing for my second trek to Everest Base Camp, just a few days away from welcoming trekkers at the Tribhuvan airport.
The epicentre was just 65 kilometres from the capital city Kathmandu. The government declared a state of emergency. Some of the most iconic world heritage sites were destroyed. Countless historic and religious sites were also flattened. More than 9,000 people were killed as a result of the quake and the landslides and avalanches it triggered.
In my area, vast crowds flocked in schoolyards, open spaces, parks and roads. No warning system was in place, so I had to rely on my neighbours’ radio for news. Whole villages were completely destroyed by the earthquake, especially in the unstable hillside regions of the West. Crops were destroyed, leading to food shortages and economic collapse, and the economy is still recovering to this day.
The infrastructure, or lack of it in Nepal, hampered rescue efforts and made the distribution of aid money almost impossible – as little as 12% was distributed 30 months after the event, with governmental corruption taking most of the blame for this.
The impact on tourism
Nepal is a huge country. There are places that weren’t affected too badly. So off the beaten track and to the east of the country, there are plenty of towns and villages which are just the same as before the earthquake, but the majority of the country did experience terrible negative effects.
The destruction of tourist attractions has affected the industry in the country as well as the parts of the economy which rely on tourism.
Rebuilding has been slow, hampered in part by the government’s actions, or lack of them, regarding aid distribution and the system of grant and loan applications which people have to take out in order to afford to rebuild their homes. Almost four years after the quake many people were still living in temporary shelters, although now a lot of rebuilding is well underway.
Some of this rebuilding, however, is being undertaken solely to receive the grant, and the resulting dwellings are not fit for purpose, requiring several more months of building and extending before they are a replacement for the homes that were lost.
In rural areas, these efforts are even slower due to communication and delivery difficulties, and these communities are the ones who are still suffering the worst.
In the capital, many of the reconstruction projects are complete or nearing completion. Tourism is starting to recover well though, but the recovery has been slow and difficult due to corruption and political instability in Nepal. The fast-growing city is now densely populated with increasing pressure on the environment.
According to Smart Paani, the population in the Kathmandu Valley is growing at an alarming rate of 4.7%, leading to a water crisis. I don’t recommend drinking tap water in any circumstances. I feel it is a lot safer to trust the bottled drinking water from the local store. Buy “filtered” water, and while on trek drink from boiled soups, tea or juices. I am treating my drinking water with filters, water purifiers and in very remote areas with iodine tablets. When I stay for an extended time in the capital, I usually buy a 20 Litre blue Jar sealed at the top… and it keeps me going for at least a week.
How is the country recovering
Enterprising locals are working with a “trade not aid” concept, aiming to kickstart their rebuilding efforts. It encourages socially responsible tourism by attracting cultural tourists to see not only the older culture of Nepal but also contemporary culture, arts and crafts.
Tours focusing on artisan building skills have proved popular, and a good way for the Nepali people to capitalise on the rebuilding projects that are happening.
Is it still safe to travel to Nepal?
Nepal is one of my favourite destinations. The Himalayas simply fascinate me. I was back to Everest Base Camp a year after the earthquake and most of the teahouses along the trail had bigger rooms, improved hot shower systems and also better food. The resilience and determination of the country have been met with admiration around the world.
People strive to rebuild their lives despite the numerous setbacks and trials that have made reconstruction a slow road. You’ll see how much progress the country has made towards restoring normality – despite the corruption which cripples the country. By contributing positively to the local economy you can do your bit to help those who need it most and support the efforts that ordinary people are making to improve their lives once again.
Be a sensitive tourist
My way of travelling has always been toward protecting local environments and fragile cultures. So it is vital to be a sensitive visitor to the country. Be mindful not to do anything which might negatively impact the remaining sites and the local communities around them. Solo travelling is relatively safe in Nepal. Women can enjoy backpacking as a small group, even if I would recommend hiring a guide – and the recent trekking rules head in that direction. For solo female travellers, there’s the reputed 3Sisters Adventure Trekking agency which trains and employs female guides for treks in the Himalayas in Nepal – a safe and fun way to do good for women empowerment.