The U.S. State Department has lifted its travel warning for the Himalayan country of Nepal. The original warning was issued back on October 8 of 2015 following ongoing geological instability after the April, 2015 earthquake that devastated the region. But things have stabilized dramatically in the months that followed, prompting the U.S. government to remove the warning altogether.
It has been a challenging couple of years for the tourism sector in Nepal. In the spring of 2014, 16 porters died in a high profile accident on Mt. Everest, which put an abrupt end to the climbing season there. Later that fall, a massive blizzard struck the Himalaya at the height of the trekking season, claiming the lives of more than 40 people who were hiking through the mountains at the time. But neither of those incidences compared with what was to come next.
On April 25, 2015 a massive and powerful earthquake hit the Lamjung District, causing widespread damage throughout the country. The quake destroyed entire villages and crushed World Heritage sites in Kathmandu, while claiming the lives of more than 9000 people and injuring 23,000 others. It was a devastating blow to a country that already struggles with economic challenges and providing modern infrastructure to its people.
Recovery and Rebuilding
The rebuilding process in Nepal has been difficult. Slowed by challenging terrain, poor logistics, and government corruption, it has sometimes taken weeks – or even months – to get supplies delivered to the areas that needed it most. On going aftershocks have also kept the population on edge, as fear of another major quake spread through the population, which continued to struggle to rebuild their shatter lives.
As if that wasn't enough for the Nepali people to deal with, they have also dealt with an ongoing fuel crisis. Relations with India – the country's closest ally – have been strained in recent months, creating a blockade at their shared border that prevented oil from being shipped in. This affected everything from the amount of gas that was available for vehicles to heating oil used during the winter months, bringing the country to a standstill, hampering rebuilding efforts, and slowing the economy even further.
The Nepali government faced another crisis when civil unrest became an issue in the Terai Region as well. In July and August of 2015, protests over the country's new constitution broke out, and the police and military used excessive force to quell those demonstrations, resulting in more than 50 deaths. That region remained unstable for weeks, but has finally calmed down enough now to make it safe for foreign travelers.
Each of these issues played into the decision by the U.S. State Department to issue its original travel warning, as fear of unrest and more natural disasters hung over the region. But since things have improved substantially in Nepal, the decision was made to lift the warning altogether. That move couldn't have come at a better time, clearing the way for an influx of climbers and trekkers to return to the Himalaya in larger numbers.
Return to Normal
In the years following the earthquake, the tourism sector in Nepal has suffered to a degree. Early on, bookings for travel to the Himalayan country remained way down as adventure travelers took a "wait and see" approach to visiting the country. Conditions on the ground have improved dramatically, but there is still a perception of ongoing problems that is only now starting to be overcome.
The 2016 and 2017 climbing seasons on Everest went off without a hitch, and there have been few problems with trekkers visiting the area as well. This has gone a long way to help rebuild confidence in Nepal as a destination that is safe and accommodating to foreign visitors. This has led to a rebound in business, with most trekking companies and mountain lodges now starting to see larger numbers return. That influx of cash will be important for the the country as it continues to rebuild and plan for the future.
Nepal is one of the classic adventure travel destinations found anywhere in the world, and while it has faced challenges in recent years, it is still a safe and spectacular place to visit. And now just might be the best time to go. With fewer travelers visiting, trails, mountains, and teahouses will be practically empty, and good deals should abound. By traveling there you'll also be assisting with the rebuilding process too, which is a good enough reason to go in and of itself.