Next week will mark the anniversary of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal during the spring of 2015. On April 25 of that year a 7.8 magnitude temblor destroyed villages, leveled ancient temples, and claimed the lives of thousands, leaving the country in complete disarray. Now, many months later things are slowly starting to get back to normal there, although major challenges continue to exist.
Over the past few years, millions of dollars in aid has flowed into Nepal, and thousands of volunteers have traveled there to work on projects designed to help get the country back on its feet. But the Nepali government is notoriously inefficient and very slow at making decisions at times, so much of that money has not been distributed properly, nor has it all gone to helping the rebuilding process. As a result, there are areas of the country – such as the Sindhupalchowk region – that continue to struggle.
To make matters worse, there have been more than 400 aftershocks in the wake of the original earthquake. This has kept Nepali citizens on edge as they live in fear of another major disaster striking the region. Couple that with poor living conditions in the hardest hit areas and it becomes very difficult for anyone to eke out a living in places that have been completely leveled and have yet to be rebuilt.
It isn't all bad however. The Annapurna region and the Khumbu Valley have both been declared completely safe and open for visitors. On top of that, the U.S. State Department lifted it's travel advisory on March 1, 2016 and independent studies of the areas – which is popular with visiting trekkers – found that the hiking trails in those places were completely safe and stable.
Villages have been mostly rebuilt, and local tea houses are open too, welcoming guests as they have done for years.
Even though those areas have reopened, travelers have yet to return in any significant numbers however. Popular mountaineering blogger Alan Arnette recently hiked through the Khumbu Valley on his way to Everest Base Camp, and he reported that the trails and villages are currently quieter than they have been in the past. That means that tea houses have vacancies, guiding companies don't have enough clients, and the economy of the region continues to struggles. That also means that opportunistic travelers have a chance to experience Nepal in a way that hasn't been common in recent years – quiet and empty.
As the travel industry in Nepal struggles to get back on its feet, there are deals to be had with local guides. Most are looking for work, and are willing to take customers at steeply discounted rates in order to attract business. Better yet, the trails along the Annapurna Circuit and the route to Everest Base Camp are mostly empty, which means crowds will be almost nonexistent, providing a sense of solitude that hasn't always existed in those places for quite some time.
The climate in Nepal at the moment is a welcoming one. They people there know that if they are going to get their country back on track, they'll need the precious tourist dollars. That has led many of the locals express gratitude to the travelers who are visiting, while urging them to share the experience with friends and family back home. Even though the current numbers are low, there is a lot of hope that things will rebound in the near future.
Adventure traveler has always been important to Nepal, but that is true now more than ever. The money we spend in the country will be part of the building blocks that help get the economy back on track and assist in getting some of the villages that have yet to be rebuilt up and functioning again too. On top of that, it will give many of the Nepalese people a reason to stay.
With their economic outlook currently seeming very grim, some have been departing for neighboring countries looking for work and better prospects for the future. If the turn-around can continue to take place however, they'll have reasons to stay at home and help with the efforts too.
The spring trekking season in Nepal lasts until June, ending with the arrival of the summer monsoons. A second season than begins in the fall, starting in late September and running through November. Both are good times to be in the Himalaya, and it is not too late to book a trip for either season at this point. Now only will you have the chance to visit one of the most amazing travel destinations on the planet, you'll also be contributing to the welfare of those who live there. Who could ask for anything more than that from their travel experience?