To our Nepal travellers,
Over the past couple of months we’ve had many questions from travellers about the situation in Nepal, with many people wishing to help the people affected.
I have just returned from visiting the country myself, and wanted to give you a firsthand update in the hope of addressing any concerns that you may have on the current situation.
No doubt you’ve seen the heartbreaking images and read about the damage that resulted from the April 25 earthquake in Nepal. From what I’ve seen, I can confirm there are parts of the country which are not in great shape right now, and there is no doubt in my mind that it will take many years for the country to fully recover.
However, I am pleased to report that there is more good news than initially expected. That’s because, as often happens, it’s not the good news that gets reported by the media.
Firstly, Kathmandu had a surprising energy about it. The roads have been cleared and are filled with traffic. Shops are open and buzzing with people, just as before. Electricity, phone lines and internet are all working too. Over the course of four days in Nepal I only experienced one brief blackout, which is better than in any of my visits over the past 30 years! Things are better than expected in so many ways, given the size of the earthquake.
In terms of our own operations, it was good to see that things are also looking better than expected. All the hotels in Pokhara that we use on our trips have been ‘green flagged’ by the international post-earthquake engineering specialist firm Miyamoto. This ‘flag’ means they have been thoroughly checked by the team at Miyamoto and found to be structurally secure. In Kathmandu all but three hotels received the ‘green flag’, and that give us the information we need to make sure our travellers are safe – and the hotels the information they need to address any issues.
Most people visit Nepal to go trekking, so one of the key priorities during my visit was to find out whether we should expect the Annapurna and Everest regions to start the season as usual in September. The reports to date said that the Annapurna region had experienced very little damage, but before my visit we did have some concerns about conditions on trekking routes in the Everest region.
Last Friday a small group of us took a helicopter from Kathmandu to Lukla, then flew on to Namche Bazaar and Everest Base Camp for firsthand reconnaissance. We could see that all footbridges were open and carrying traffic, that the main trails were all clear and that the teahouses seem to have incurred minimal damage. This assessment was confirmed by one of the team from the Himalayan Rescue Association who had just completed the trek on foot.
While seeing the situation for myself has provided some assurance, the safety of our travellers and staff is our primary concern and we want be as certain as we possibly can be of the safety of Nepal’s trekking regions. This week, with the support of the World Bank, we will be sending engineers from the Miyamoto team to undertake both the Annapurna and Everest Basecamp treks for a full geotechnical survey of all bridges, accommodation and the main trail. While we’re fairly confident that the engineers will sign-off with ‘green flags’, we do want assurance from additional experts so we can in turn assure you and others considering travelling to Nepal that now is the best possible time to visit the country.
On the flight back to Kathmandu we flew over areas of the country that had been 80 to 90 per cent devastated. We saw a sea of orange and blue tents that indicated aid was getting through to these remote regions, but they also showed us how far the country has to go to return to normality.
It’s now been 26 years since we started our company, and as disasters have struck in our destinations over those years, two of the key questions for me have been, ‘what is the right response for our company to take? And when should we take it?’ Through the incredible efforts and generosity of our staff and travellers, we established an emergency relief appeal twenty-four hours after the earthquake in Nepal had hit that has now raised AUD 400,000. That was the right thing for us to do in the initial aftermath of the quake.
But as we look forward, we need to ask again, ‘what is the right thing to do for Nepal in the months ahead? How can we best help?’
Yes, further aid dollars will help – and we’re aiming to raise AUD 1,000,000 over the next year. But I believe that the best thing we can now do is actually visit Nepal. Tourism is the biggest employer in the country and has a far greater footprint than just those directly employed by the industry.
Thank you for choosing to visit Nepal. It is a decision you can be proud of because by visiting you are helping Nepal get back on its feet. Not only will you see those magnificent mountains and meet the wonderful Nepali people, you are also lending your support in a very meaningful, personal way.
Please don’t hesitate to drop me a line if you have any questions about your upcoming trip, or if you have friends that need a little further assurance. I hope to see you in Nepal when I return again myself later in the year.
Intrepid Group CEO