“Suffering usually relates to wanting things to be different from the way they are”
– Allan Lokos
Life is still hard here in Nepal. The culmination of the Earthquake and the Fuel Crisis has made this tourist season barren in comparison to most. With many places still in ruins, and the cost of fuel and gas increased tenfold, this is a country that needs our support more than ever. Back at home we noticed large media attention when the disastrous earthquake struck on April 25, but then it dwindled off to nothing. But the effects are still felt here and the struggle continues; and that makes it really difficult to be a traveller here too.
Something seems to be out of balance, stuck in a vicious cycle perhaps. Tourists were rightly scared off by the Earthquake, but then the fewer tourists that come the less money around to make facilities better and get the country back up and running. Then as more tourist services are cut off or restricted, the harder it becomes to travel here.
Our couple of weeks in Nepal was thoroughly enjoyable and deeply interesting, but it was tough. We felt an odd combination of happiness that we were helping out the tourism industry, but sadness at the state of affairs here. Things were tinged with sombreness; the sometimes three-hour waits for food because there is no gas, the dust on the goods of shop shelves, the hoteliers relishing that someone had finally chosen to stay at their accommodation, and the main attractions sometimes in ruins.
L to R: a street in Kathmandu, rebuilding the Boudhanath stupa, and a temple being held up by scaffholding in Bhaktapur
L to R: trying to keep warm in raincoats and layers of polar fleece by the heater, a schoolboy sits by a destroyed temple in Bhaktapur, and exploring the scaffholded Kathmandu Durbar Square
We first got a taste of how difficult it was going to be when we drove to the border crossing from India. For kilometres before the border there were lines of massive trucks full of supplies waiting to go through to Nepal. They have been there for months, and perhaps will be there for months more. The blockade has strangled the supply of fuel and gas to Nepal, and once we had entered the country we could see the knock-on effect. In front of every gas station there would be lines of vehicles awaiting their turn at the dispenser, some people would wait all day in the cold for just a couple of litres of highly-inflated fuel. But it has to be done as without petrol and gas, many people will not have a livelihood.
L to R: the trucks waiting to enter Nepal, a line of motorcycles waiting for petrol, and cooking lunch on wood fires
Chitwan National Park is normally a hub of tourists and was really set up for the crowds; dozens of restaurants and shops selling trinkets, all with eager shopkeepers hoping that someone would walk in. From the streets it looked all good but empty of shoppers, but once inside you could tell the objects had not been touched for some time. We ordered our first momos of the trip (yum!!) and they took over an hour to arrive, and it made us kind of antsy as we were used to food coming pretty quickly! However, as we went to pay we got a glimpse of the kitchen and everything was being made from scratch: the vegetables just bought and cut up, the momo wrappers made fresh from the dough and everything cooked on a wood fire. All this because restaurants have to expect that nobody will come through the door, so nothing can be made in advance. The amount of effort and time that was put into those 20 momos was somewhat incomprehensible, and the fact that they cost $2.60 for the lot exacerbated those feelings.
Hotels have to run on minimal electricity, and some of the places we stayed had blackouts until 8:00pm with only one emergency light per room. In winter it is really cold as well, so some nights it was necessary to sleep in all our clothes and three blankets just to stay warm. Restaurant meals are frequently had by candlelight in dark rooms, with the fire from the oven also providing some light and warmth. Tourist buses have stopped running to a lot of towns, so cramped local buses become the only option – but wow they are an adventure! Packed like sardines and twelve people on the roof seems like the norm.
L to R: people packed on the roofs of the buses along the highway, and packed inside the bus
Travelling here is tough at the moment, and we struggled watching all this happening to people that are nothing but resilient, friendly and hospitable. I have personally never felt so homesick as you just feel so, so grateful for what you have back at home.
None of the experiences mentioned before are complaints, by no means, as what we have lived for the last week is just a tiny fraction of the reality lived by the people here every day now. Travelling here at this time has also been rewarding because you know that they money you are spending is going into good hands. Having so many of the places here to yourself is also pretty cool; you can wander around areas that are normally touristy but be surrounded only by locals. In Chitwan National Park, the lack of people meant that we felt quite alone in the park and may have contributed to our luck in seeing a Bengal Tiger (see Chitwanderful: Exploring Chitwan National Park).
Nepal is safe to visit, it just won’t be the luxury you might get elsewhere. We believe it is really important to not be scared off by what is happening here, because people being frightened to come only makes the situation worse. There are times that we found really hard, but at the end of the day we would do it all again. The absolute beauty of this country is not to be missed by any traveller, and even being able to slightly understand the hardships faced here will provide a better perspective on life.
We love Nepal (and the momos) and hope to visit again soon. It was a series of eye-opening and incredible experiences that we would not trade for anything else.
L to R: Kathmandu Durbar square, a road in Kathmandu, and a plate of Chilli Momos from YangLing Restaurant
L to R: view of Mount Everest from the plane, peaceful boat rides in Pokhara with very few tourists, and soaking up the prayer flags in Nagarkot