Why Now is the Time to Visit Nepal

Late last year, I traveled to Nepal to report on whether the country was ready to welcome travelers after a series of major earthquakes rattled it to its core in the spring of 2015.

I came home wondering how you could not go. If ever there were a time to visit Nepal, it’s now.

My stomach is a knot of nervous anticipation as I check my packing list, preparing to join a group of international journalists and tour operators on a 10-day survey of the South Asian nation. How bad would the tourism infrastructure be?

In the days and months following the earthquakes, the media had portrayed a country in ruin. But was Nepal unsafe now, nine months after the ground had stopped shaking?

Getting there is no easy task. In Dallas, I have to sprint to make my connection, skidding into my seat a sweaty mess. Fifteen hours later, I touch down in Qatar, with eight hours to kill in an airport hotel. By the time I land in Kathmandu, after a full 35 hours in transit, I’m not sure what day it is, or if it’s time to drink morning coffee or go to bed.

Suitcases trickle onto the conveyor belt like water dripping from a faucet. When the creaky carousel slows to a halt two hours later, leaving me empty handed, I shuffle over to the grievance desk. As I gape at the chaotic piles of misplaced luggage crowding the floor, the baggage representative offers me a handwritten triplicate claim form. “It’s not even in a computer system,” I think, my chest tightening.

I email my husband in a panic, begging for help. “I don’t have time to call the airline,” I type desperately. After all my careful preparation, I have nothing. No water purifier. No clothes. No DENTAL FLOSS. I choke back tears and then immediately scold myself. “You’re a seasoned traveler. This is NO BIG DEAL.”

The next day, I scurry around Kathmandu’s Thamel neighborhood, outfitting myself for the days ahead in 45 frantic minutes between activities. I feel awkward in ill-fitting off-brand trekking pants and a bright blue tourist T-shirt that screams ANNAPURNA BASE CAMP. I’ve never been to Annapurna Base Camp; I’m not even sure where it is. I long for my slim Prana travel pants and wool Icebreaker tee.

Then I pass a dusty tent village in the Nepali capital, where earthquake refugees live with only the clothes on their backs. They are all smiling. I shrink down in shame. How could I be feeling sorry for myself?

The next morning, our group visits Kathmandu’s Kopan Monastery. A Buddhist monk in flowing robes leads us into the temple and speaks with uplifting potency about the secrets to contentment: love, compassion, acceptance. Stop looking for the next thing and be happy with the here and now, he says.

My heart swells with gratitude.

We continue on to Boudhanath, the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet, whose prominent golden stupa had cracked during the earthquake and is being rebuilt. Climbing worn stone stairs to a rooftop deck overlooking the temple, we pass a clutch of chanting Buddhists, who seem unfazed by the damage. Life goes on. Devotion persists. Stupas are still sacred, even if they are imperfect.

We light butter lamps and recite a prayer: “May all beings everywhere, plagued by suffering of body and mind, obtain an ocean of happiness and joy.”

In nearby Bhaktapur, earthquake damage from 2015 and 1934 is evident but not disruptive to the tempo of everyday life. “We are constantly rebuilding,” our tour guide tells us as we admire the ancient city’s carved lattice woodwork, narrow brick alleys, and open squares with pagoda-topped temples.

Nepal’s history is rife with hardship—poverty, earthquakes, civil war, border skirmishes, and—during our visit—a fuel shortage that has resulted in 20-hour waits for gas. Yet, everywhere we go the locals seem optimistic. So much so that I ask Sumit Baral, a tourism advisor for the country, for his thoughts on the subject. “It’s a mind-set,” he explains. “[Some things are] beyond our control. It all boils down to expectation.”

Our group hops a plane to Pokhara, an adventure destination and gateway to the famed Annapurna trekking circuit. Though the breathtaking region was almost wholly unharmed by the earthquakes, its tourism-dependent economy is suffering. Along the usually bustling lakefront, our footsteps echo against a row of shops where business owners sit idly with no one to greet.

Still, we see smiles. Riding mountain bikes to a stupa, we pass beaming locals who wave and shout, “Namaste!” Hiking through farms along a lush hillside, our small band joins a group of children playing on a swing. “Namaste!”

go paragliding in Pokhara, soaring on pockets of wind over the Himalayas. Back on the ground, my instructor tells me business has been down since the earthquakes. I ask if he’s had to consider seeking out other work. “I like to fly,” he says with a smile, grateful to have a customer for the day. “This is my dream.”

Experts estimate that tourism numbers were down 65 percent across Nepal in 2015. Yet the places we visit are functioning normally, lacking only the usual tourist rush. It’s a magically quiet time.

From Pokhara, we head north to Jomsom, in Nepal’s mountainous Mustang District. I wander the cobblestone streets, dodging donkeys and waving at shy, cherub-cheeked children who linger in doorways. A window cluttered with prayer wheels, singing bowls, yak bells, woven rugs, and jewelry catches my eye, and I duck into the small shop for a look.

I ask the elderly man behind the counter how life has been post-earthquake.

“This whole area has been empty since then. I’ve lost a lot of business, but I’m positive and hopeful that one day guests will return,” he says, then quickly adds: “I’m just happy me and my family are safe, and I’m very sad for those who died.”

Six days into our trip, just when I have stopped worrying about it, my luggage appears. I unzip my duffle and immediately feel overwhelmed. “What do I do with all this stuff?”

I have learned to live with what I have. Nepal is rubbing off on me.

Avery Stonich is a freelance writer based in Boulder, Colorado, who has traveled to more than 45 countries in search of adventure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @averystonich.

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Comments

  1. Himalayan Glacier
    Nepal
    June 16, 7:30 am

    Thanks for sharing your experience about Nepal after Earthquake. Now the situation is going well.

    Thank you from Himalayan Glacier Team
    http://www.himalayanglacier.com

  2. Katerina Clavijo
    United States
    June 15, 1:50 pm

    This article gives me strength and comfort. I am about to travel to Nepal on a four week teen service trip. I am committed to wanting to make a difference and believe that Nepal needs both tourism and aid. I am proud to be a part of the National Geographic team on the ground helping to the country put its self back together.

  3. chandra
    kathamndu
    June 8, 9:11 pm

    Thank you for such a real articles about Nepal for visitors. I do hope, it does help for more visitors.

  4. Nabaraj Thapa
    Kathmandu, Nepal
    June 2, 5:05 am

    Surely, Nepal tourism went almost dead after Earthquake. Many tour operators has a hope but not money in pocket. As a tour operator from Nepal i would like to say that we are surviving more than year without tourist and still we don’t have positive sign for the upcoming fall. How long the business can survive without income generate. After the quake we faced more then 100 days blocked by India (Nepal is fully depend on Indian supply) and its hard to live here without fuel, the price is triple for each things and so on.

    Currently, we are back to normal life and the major tourist attractions like Kathmandu World Heritage, Langtang and Manaslu region start to revive, build up new teahouse, lodge and we are able to operate trips in those region with basic facilities (Nepali standard) but Everest and Annapurna is safe to travel as before. Nepal needs your support at present by visiting Nepal. If you are making travel plan then why not for Nepal? It helps lot for needy people helping indirectly then direct donation. If you have further travel info required visit out travel webpage: http://www.himalayanplanet.com

  5. Randy woodman
    Miami
    May 27, 12:01 am

    After bad break up not sure if I want to go to Peru or Nepal . I need to find my inner peace again. What do you recommend from your travels ? Nepal sounds just the place to go.

  6. Robin Heka
    London, UK
    April 24, 4:29 am

    This is a beautifully written article from top to bottom. Nepal was indeed portrayed as the country in ruin by the media around the world. However, when I went there to see it for myself last year, life was normal and most people are unfazed by the incident. Yes there were casualties, yes the earthquake victims are still recovering from it but the country itself is far from how it has been portray worldwide.
    This is the time when Nepalese need all the possible help, and we can do by visiting Nepal, it’s a beautiful country and it’s very safe to visit.
    NAMASTE!!!!

  7. Cargo13
    WDC
    April 24, 1:21 am

    Go to Nepal but buy travel insurance. NatGeo recommends CSA TRAVEL PROTECTION because CSA is A+ rated by BBB. We bought CSA for spring trip to Nepal and found CSA affordable with great coverages.

  8. Jack
    Nepal
    April 24, 12:18 am

    I’ve spent a lot of the last 15 years in Nepal and am currently permanently based here working in conservation. Yes, come to Nepal but please come with your eyes open. There is a lot of suffering due to very complex political and social structures. Beyond the tourist traps mentioned in this article there is a grim reality, many are trying to get out of the country and for those still living under a tin sheet a year after the first earthquake the “optimism” mentioned here is not great. It’s an incredible place but there is a reality check needed for many visitors if they are to truly leave as better people. Obviously ex pat life is very different to being a tourist but I would be doing a disservice to my many Nepali friends if I didn’t share some truth. Come to Nepal… but shed the rose coloured glasses.

  9. Amanda Jane Walters
    Dubai, UAE
    April 23, 11:31 pm

    Yes…everyone consider Nepal as a holiday destination NOW….the country is desperate for tourist money and tourist numbers have very considerably dropped. Having just got back, yes some of the temples in Kathmandu and its surrounding towns are being rebuilt….but I was surprised at how little evidence of the earth quake was apparent. It was my third visit .. the first two were pre earthquake and I certainly didn’t feel that on my third post earth quake visit Nepal was any less beautiful….infact more beautiful … as considering what the Nepalese have been through their smiles are still beaming and they are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet….

  10. Kumar Gurung
    Kathmandu
    March 8, 11:30 am

    I salut for your articals towards my Motherland.

  11. Reason G
    Texas, USA
    March 2, 12:51 am

    Pleasantly refreshing article! Thanks for sharing your experience Ms. Stonich.

    My last visit was to Nepal was in 2014 – I plan to go back again in 2017 with big plans in my mind. Here is a link of a video that we made about Nepal and Nepalese::

  12. Nirajan Chaulagain
    Kathmandu
    February 24, 12:24 am

    Thank you Avery for giving such a beautiful words for Nepal, http://www.daytoursnepal.com

  13. Tulasi Ram Paudel
    Pokhara, Nepal
    February 23, 8:52 pm

    Hi Avery Stonich ,
    Thanks for your great article!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. Eveli
    Boston
    February 23, 8:30 pm

    Thank you for the very informative yet heart warming article. I have been wanting to go to Nepal for a long time. This has truly made me want to pack my bags. Later this year or early next year I will definitely make this wish come true. THANK YOU!

  15. Dustin Thacker
    Atlanta, USA
    February 22, 7:43 pm

    I’m visiting Nepal in April and this piece just makes me even more unbelievably excited about going!

  16. Ranju Timilsina
    Manchester, USA
    February 22, 11:08 am

    Reading articles like this makes me even more proud to be a Nepali. This article indeed brought tears to my eyes.

  17. Anamika
    South Africa
    February 22, 6:05 am

    Welcome to the land of the Sages

  18. Uzol Rai
    Kathmandu Nepal
    February 22, 2:36 am

    It was amazingly written from the top to bottom, last paragraph brought my tears down, I had to run away from my friends to hide it.

    Thank you for sharing your experience, thanks for the love towards Nepal and Nepali.
    Yes we really are suffering from so many things but this will really help Nepal for sure.
    Million Thanks again.

  19. Burcu Basar
    Istanbul - Turkey
    February 22, 1:40 am

    It is always a good time to go to Nepal and even more after the earthquake. Nepalese people are one of the kindest people I met during my travels and what a country! It thought me a lot in terms of how the concept of “living” could have such different perspectives and what concepts are more important over the others. Beautiful country, beautiful people.
    Burcu – http://www.burcubasar.com

  20. Alyssa Cypher
    Pittsburgh, USA
    February 21, 9:27 pm

    I really enjoyed this article, especially since I am leaving for Kathmandu in less than two months! I actually was supposed to take this trip in May of last year, just a few weeks after the earthquake hit. I’m glad to hear recovery efforts are going well.

  21. Yam
    Kathmandu
    February 21, 7:22 pm

    Thanks for showing the world that how neplease people are living with positive attitude despite of devastating earthquake and the cruel indian economic blockade.we have fighting spirits and will continue to live in a positive attitude.iam a tour guide since last 14 years.i ve seen lots of ups and down.but still I am positive that we will have more people as visitors as the world loves nepal not only for its natural beauty but also for the simplicity of people,honest people and kind people.

  22. Ashley
    United States
    February 21, 5:00 pm

    Nepal has always sounded magical. Hearing that the local people there are still so optimistic in the face of their hardship is so refreshing. I’m glad you gained some perspective by being there and interacting with them.

    But, girl, come on – you’ve traveled that much and you didn’t pack one emergency outfit and the bare essentials in your carry-on in case your luggage got lost in transit? I guess it was a blessing in disguise since when you received it you realized how little of it you actually needed.

  23. Thebooktrail
    thebooktrail.com
    February 21, 4:38 pm

    Nepal is always a place that has fascinated and thanks to Avery I want to go even more now. You paint the place in a very interesting light – you might like the book The Lie by C L Taylor as this is set in a fictional mountain and retreat but still captures the remote setting. Made me thankful the retreat was fictional but the setting is still a place I need to go!

  24. Nikolaï POSNER
    France
    February 21, 1:28 pm

    Here is nepal in september 2015: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzCgKMq_kBs

  25. Irmeli Westermarck
    Espoo
    February 20, 3:45 am

    I do share your feelings and hope the travellers will return to Nepal. Me and my husband were in late November in Everest region trekking and most nights were the only guests in the lodges. Nepal is such a fantastic country and Nepalese the most friendly people

  26. Prashan Shakya
    February 19, 8:00 pm

    Namaste!
    This is a beautifully pieced together experience that puts a sober picture in your head. Thank you Avery!

  27. Liz Peterson
    Barcelona
    February 19, 4:15 am

    Wow, this is a great article! Thanks for sharing your experience in such a well written piece.

    Maybe I’ll get to go soon :)! http://www.california2catalonia.com