Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Nepal Ceasefire: travel implications

07 September 2005

On the fourth of September, communist rebels in Nepal announced a unilateral ceasefire for the next three months to continue peace talks to end a decade-long insurgency. The leader of the rebels, Prachanda, said his fighters would not attack any government or civilians during the ceasefire, but would defend their positions.

For the flailing tourism industry hit year after year by decreasing tourists, it could not have been timed better. It is the start of the tourism season in Nepal, which will last till next spring. The news of the ceasefire has started making its impact on the industry and the inquiries and actual bookings are taking a positive turn. The perception of potential travelers about safety while traveling to Nepal has changed and hopefully this will mean more will come to Nepal.

Strangely, the travel advisories are still not updated. The US Department of State travel advisory states it is current as of today but does not mention the ceasefire. Nor does the British travel advisory. Thankfully more and more travelers choose to ignore these advisories and depend on information from friends, contacts and travel companies in their own countries and in Nepal for more accurate up to date information to make their decisions.

So the question is: Is Nepal safer for travel now with the ceasefire in place?

For tourism purposes, there is no difference at all in the Nepal before the ceasefire and after. Nepal has always been safe to travel. What is safety anyways while traveling? Not getting killed, kidnapped, maimed or injured accidentally I guess. This has never happened in Nepal so far in the ten years of conflict. Having said that, last spring, one Russian climber was injured by a bomb planted by the rebels meant for the army. This is the only case in the ten years of conflict. The Maoists have categorically mentioned that they will not harm tourists’ right from the start of the conflict and have kept that promise. They do charge a tourism tax in their areas, nominal in popular routes and exorbitant in others, but it is charged only once and an official receipt given (needless to say, this becomes the most treasured souvenir for travelers). It is probably safer to travel in Nepal than in Israel or in Bali.

There are no visible threatening signs of the conflict that travelers see while traveling in Nepal. Of course, there is a higher presence of the army and the police which is understandable and meant for protection.

So how has the conflict affected travel in Nepal?

The biggest impact of the conflict while traveling in Nepal has been the increase in what I like to call the hassle factor, road blocks, tourism tax taken by Maoists, delays due to blockades. This will not change much even now, except for the blockades, which hopefully the rebels will not declare during the ceasefire.

So how does one plan a trip to Nepal?

Communicate with the people in Nepal, take information from tour operators in your country, in Nepal and follow the press. Go to websites like www.nepalnews.com for information on current situations and get doubts clarified by asking questions to the tour operators and also to the tourist helpline at the Nepal Tourism Board (details on this can be got from the tourism board website at www.welcomenepal.com). This will give you information on currently evolving situations, festivals that can stop everything or delay your trip or enhance your trip experience. All this information will help you time your trip and activities even better.

While planning the trip, pad the trip activities by a couple of days to allocate for potential delays. If not, you can always use these few days to relax and absorb the culture.

HAPPY TRAVELLING…

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