There is an air of relief among the Nepalese people. Lasting peace is in sight. It took several changes of government, a significant show of public strength which overthrew the King earlier this year and a string of negotiations to bring to an end an armed conflict that has already taken over 15,000 Nepalese lives in about 10 years.
A peace accord is being signed in Nepal on the 16th of November, 2006, making this date the most historic date in present history. This accord, between the Maoists and the Government, is aimed at ending the armed conflict that has been hampering development of this Himalayan country for over 10 years now. The draft has already been prepared and what has been put in is important. Bringing the peace situation of the country back to before 1996, when this armed conflict came to surface, ban of extortion, abductions and public display of arms etc.
Apart from this important accord, it has already been agreed that the Maoists and the Army will lock up equal number of arms in cantonments supervised closely by the UN from the 21st of November 2006. This is significant, as this will now dissolve the “rule of fear” that has been governing the conflict. The Maoists are also joining an interim parliament by the end of November, which will elect a new constituent assembly, draft a new constitution and go for fresh elections in June 2007.
The implications for tourism, the most important industry, are tremendous. Sweden has already removed Nepal from its threat list, and it is likely most other countries will have little reason not to follow suit now. Travel advisories and its effects of installing fear of travel as well as hesitation of insurance companies to offer comprehensive cover, or raising of premiums, has been the main cause of tourism going back to 1988 levels in the past few years in Nepal.
The downhill spiral was also fuelled by the negative international media attention, which is a common phenomenon in today’s world. Bad news makes sensational news but the same is not necessarily true for good news. If the talks had broken down and the Maoists had taken up arms again and killed a few soldiers, it would have made news and several repeats, but now that we have a breakthrough, it is not that interesting. But this is a factor we cannot control, and if we can look at the positive side of all this, it has made Nepal more and more popular, the world knows where it is now, and that it is worth visiting.
To top it all, the uncontrolled irresponsible growth of the tourism industry, leading up to the tourism boom in 1998 in Nepal, has been stemmed, and operators that have withstood the conflict till now, are stronger, more determined, have had to study markets and strategise, and know what the markets want.
There cannot be a better time to visit Nepal. A new country is emerging, the mountains are still as spectacular, the culture is rich and ancient, the adventure activities excellent and the people one of the friendliest in the world, always ready with palms joined in front of their chests with the Nepali greeting “Namaste” meaning “ I worship the God in you”.