Kathmandu is finally finding a ‘new normal’ but that doesn’t mean that the city is operating like it was before the earthquake. Even after nearly two years, the capital is still far from what it was pre-April 2015 when that 7.8 magnitude quake ripped through the country. Many major monuments across the city, including Durbar Square, and surrounding ancient towns, such as Patan and Bhaktapur, stand in varying degrees of ruin. Held up by scaffolding, evidence of the destruction is everywhere.
Having been to these destinations before the quake, it’s a sorry state to see. There’s no escaping the fact that this scaffolding detracts from the beauty of the place but it’s essential. Crumbled buildings, broken bricks and, of course, massive poles supporting buildings, has become a staple sight in the capital. And what’s even sadder is that this probably won’t change anytime soon as there is so much work still to be done.
But the city is resilient and the Nepalese are a tough lot. With their friendly smiles and warm outlook they will push on and continue their daily lives and when the work gets done, it gets done.
Tourism is down. This is obvious. There are so many sellers, offering virtually the same products as the next one from prayer bowls to North Face jackets, but very few buyers. It’s plain to see that they are struggling and in desperate need of tourist dollars. Centrally located cafés are running far below capacity and tables at the most popular restaurants in the city are easy to get, even for a big group and on short notice. This would have once been unheard of.
Outside of Kathmandu we saw the mass destruction first-hand. Two towns we visited just 20km south of Kathmandu were hit especially hard by the quake – Khokani and Bungmati. These towns saw high death rates and the villages were largely decimated. Discovering how happy the villagers were to see us and receiving their warm smiles was a nice surprise – after so much death and destruction you would expect them to be sad and without hope. If Kathmandu is in need of tourism then these smaller places are even more so and I would recommend that anyone visiting Nepal makes a day trip out of the capital. It’s cheap and easy to rent a taxi and there are a handful of shops selling traditional wares, perfect for souvenir shopping.
It was tough at times travelling as a tourist through the Kathmandu Valley as I was only there for little over a week while for the locals, this is their home – they’re the ones who have to deal with the day-to-day issues. You do feel a little ‘traveller’s guilt’ when you are there, knowing you get to return to a country that hasn’t experienced anything like this. But the locals are happy to see foreign faces. Foreign faces mean tourism and more money brought into the economy. And you can make your money go further by eating in local restaurants, shopping at local stores and markets, and avoiding the high-end hotel chains – opt for family-run properties instead.
Why go now? First of all it’s quiet and the tourists haven’t flooded back in. Tourism is still massively down, which means you’ll be sharing lots of the sites with just a handful of Nepalese tourists, if any at all. We only saw one other tour group during the 10 days we spent in the country. This is great for travellers who don’t want to contend with crowds but it’s not great for the locals who need the cash travellers bring. Another thing to bear in mind is that the region outside of the Kathmandu Valley was virtually unaffected by the quake. In popular Chitwan National Park and Pokhara it really is just business as usual.
Nepal is a country with unparalleled beauty, friendly locals and some of the best hiking opportunities on the planet. The people need travellers more than ever so if you haven’t been and would love to go, just go. The earthquake hasn’t stopped them and it shouldn’t stop you.
Miles visited Nepal on our 9 day Nepal Encompassed group tour. Photo credit: Jaimie Rogers.
Have you visited Kathmandu since the 2015 earthquake? Share your experience in the comments section below.