Nepalis and other travelers will ask me: “What are you doing in Nepal?”
As far as I can see, there are two types of travelers in post-earthquake Nepal. There are volunteers, here to assist in earthquake relief, and there are tourists, who are just as essential in Nepal’s recovery.
I first thought that being a tourist in Nepal during this time was odd. I couldn’t really justify “touring” the country especially after it was rocked by two devastating quakes.
But after being here for a month, I’ve realized that tourism, now, shouldn’t be viewed in a bad light. In fact, it’s encouraged.
In stores that normally attract tourists, like trekking gear shops, owners have said business is slow.
“Normally, this time of year is the low season for tourists. But now, the earthquake has made it even more slow,” my friend and store owner, Yogi, told me the other day.
These shops thrive – if not survive – on tourist money. And it’s obvious that tourists have avoided Nepal after the country’s two quakes, making this lull a significant blow to Nepal’s tourism industry, which, during the monsoon season, is already supposed to be low.
The high season for Nepali tourism is in October, when the skies are clear and the weather is ripe for trekking.
But many potential tourists waiting for the balmy weather should know that trekking is possible essentially any time in Nepal – and general travel to the country is encouraged throughout the year.
And it’s not that tourists are here “vacationing.” I’ve met many tourists that extend their planned stay to help / volunteer with NGOs and volunteer organizations, and I’ve seen tourists that feel a healthy dose of responsibility – an urge to help.
And this feeling is not so much guilt as it is a want to help the country and its people, because it’s everywhere you look – if you walk down the street in Kathmandu to get lunch, you’ll most likely come across a collapsed building, or a tent set up by a family on the sidewalk.
It’s not just in the major cities, but in the mountains, too. Mountain villages like Ulleri and Ghorepani in the Annapurna Conservation Area (Nepal’s main hub for trekking the Himalayas) are like ghost towns, with tea houses (that are used to seeing tourist traffic this time of year) empty of trekkers and backpackers.
So, really, the sag in Nepal’s tourism sector is visible wherever you go. And the easiest way to help out: come to Nepal. By being a “tourist” (I put this in quotes because volunteers are tourists, too) and giving stores business, you’re putting money directly into Nepal’s economy. I believe it’s more fulfilling than donating to some obscure NGO and never knowing when or how your money will be spent.
Not to say that donating is bad – I’m just one that likes to see direct results. And one way to do that… visit the tea houses, (especially the remote ones on the Annapurna Circuit), buy souvenirs for your families, take taxis, eat local foods, and stay at hostels. It’s a great way to help Nepal, if you’re not already helping in some other way.