My first and, so far, only visit to Nepal was just over two years ago, and I’ve been dreaming about coming back ever since. I went to Kathmandu, Pokhara, and Chitwan National Park.
I watched the sunrise over the Annapurna range, saw a rhino out in the wild for the first time in my life, admired Mt. Everest (sadly, only from a plane), and visited Swayambhunath and Boudhanath stupas among other major cultural sites.
Above all, I was struck by two things: the natural beauty of the country, which I’d barely scratched the surface of in that visit; and the general kindness of Nepalese people, who I found to be among the sweetest people I’ve ever met.
I was therefore even more shocked when I heard the news of the devastating 7.8 earthquake last April. The earthquake claimed the lives of over 9,000 people, and provoked widespread devastation in many areas of the country, including its capital, Kathmandu.
I wouldn’t want to sound mawkish or, worse, insensitive to the fate of the thousands of people who died or were injured; but as soon as I heard the news, I started thinking about all the Nepalese people I met while walking around Pokhara and Kathmandu with my camera. Almost without exception, they were sweet and friendly, and many were kind enough to let me take their portrait. Looking at those photos back home after the earthquake, I can’t help but wish that they and their loved ones are all right.
Eight months after the disaster, the country is still in a difficult situation. Reconstruction works appear to be well under way, and many insist that the country is open for business and ready to welcome tourists back.
So that got me thinking. If not by enrolling into one of the numerous NGOs providing aid on the ground, could I at least bring the Nepalese some relief by simply visiting the country and spending money there?
Would that be any effective? Would it even be acceptable to go there on what essentially would be a pleasure trip, when so many people in Nepal are undergoing so many hardships?
It’s hard to tell. A part of me thinks, yes, but after reading the latest news coming from Nepal, I’m not so sure.
While the latest reports talk about Kathmandu having regained its traditional bustle, minus a large proportion of the tourists, news about the daily life of regular Nepalese people are not so good.
It seems that Nepal is now suffering from increasingly worrying shortages of fuel and, consequently, food and vital medicines like vaccines and antibiotics. So much so, that UNICEF recently alerted that another major humanitarian crisis could happen over the winter.
If I understood it correctly, the shortages are related with an ongoing dispute between the Nepalese government and Indian ethnic groups living in the south of the country, who disagree about the recognition given to their rights in Nepal’s new constitution. In response, these groups have started a blockade, now at its fifth month, affecting all imports from India and, some say, surreptitiously backed by the Indian government.
As a result, there is now a shortage of LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas), the main fuel used by regular Nepalese for daily tasks like cooking. Some households are seeing their energy bills multiplied by as much as five times, since they now have to resort to much more expensive electric power. In addition to that, the prices of many commodities like rice, oil, sugar and some vegetables have risen sharply.
Given these conditions, I wonder: would visiting Nepal now make things better or worse for its people?
On the one hand, it is hard not to think that, if commodities are more expensive and hard to come by, foreign visitors can only make things worse by diverting many of the existing supplies with their far superior spending power. On the other hand, for a country as dependent on tourism as Nepal, foreign visitors should provide a much needed source of income.
How to balance these two perspectives? I’m inclined to think that in Nepal’s current situation, and almost 8 months after the disaster, visiting is one way to help. Of course, there are other ways, like donating to an NGO and volunteering, and it is clearly possible to combine all three.
This is something I’ve wondered several times when planning to visit other countries with troubled political or economic situations. Does it help in any way if I go there as a tourist? I’ll admit that I don’t have a clear answer. However, as far as Nepal is concerned, I’m pretty certain I’ll go back to that wonderful country sooner than later.
Would you travel to Nepal now, based on the information you have? Hace you ever taken these factors into consideration before choosing your travel destinations? Tell me in the comments!