Nepali Times Asian Paints
Business
Down, but not out


ANOOP PANDEY



PADAM GHALE

The barren streets of Thamel and Pokhara's Lakeside are testimony to the downturn in the tourism industry after a decade of conflict. But faced with the slump in international visitors to Nepal, trekking agencies are nurturing a growing Indian market and directing hikers to safe, well-worn trails.

Hindu pilgrimage treks to places like Muktinath, Goasaikunda and Kailash Mansarovar have become great hits. "In a way we are not suffering-the insurgency has hit our market hard but it has only diverted our clientele and shifted it to the Indian subcontinent," says Rabi Shrestha of EcoTrek International.

On the other hand, Shrestha says his overseas business has dipped 30-40 percent in recent years. Whatever the situation in Nepal, it was the French who kept trekking alive by refusing to heed travel advisories and braving it. But after the ceasefire ended in January and instability picked up, even the French went down. Says Catherine Joriot of Glacier Safari Treks in Thamel: "Last season was pretty good but this year for the first time the number of French trekkers has dropped."

Another survival tactic that tourism operators are adopting is to work in cooperation with neighbours. For example, EcoTrek now sends 500 trekkers a year to Tibet to explore Lhasa or hike in the Kailash regions. Nepali trekking agencies are also getting into the business of organising mountaineering expeditions in India, Pakistan and China.

Back at home, bookings for remote trails, such as Dhaulagiri and Makalu, have dropped as trekkers fearful of Maoists have switched to more secure, commonly used trails in the Everest (see Tough slog in Khumbu) Annapurna and Langtang regions.

"If you choose the proper agency and have the finances, it will guarantee safety. There is no reason why anyone should be afraid of trekking in Nepal," says Shrestha. Indeed, trekkers have never been harmed by Maoists although there is extortion on some trails. Added one trekker we ran into in a Thamel restaurant: "We meet them on the trails and we pay our fees and get a receipt. That is all."


LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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