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Tauck Returns to Nepal in October

Posted by Mary-Frances Walsh on 8/27/2015
Posted in: Tauck’s Travelogue
Tags: Asia, India

buddhaOn April 25, 2015, during the off-season of our Northern India & Nepal itinerary, Nepal was struck early on a Saturday morning by a powerful earthquake. Measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale, the quake’s epicenter was some 50 miles away from Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city. Images of crumbled buildings, dangling wires and cables, and scenes of disrupted life followed quickly on the web.

Yet the quake’s overall effect varied considerably across the country. Close to the epicenter damage was severe, especially in older sections of Kathmandu and its surrounding districts. Newer areas in these same districts were nearly unaffected. A day after the quake, Kunda Dixit, editor of the Nepali Times wrote, “…though in Kathmandu the casualties were high and the damage serious… the quake’s effects might not be quite as devastating as feared.”

According to the US Department of State: Conditions are returning to normal in Kathmandu. Cleanup efforts have cleared most of the rubble from collapsed structures and walls, and demolition efforts continue to address unstable buildings. Outside of Kathmandu, where damage was more severe, recovery efforts are ongoing.

To help determine whether our tour groups could safely return to Kathmandu this year, we asked Sanjith Mukund, Tauck’s Operations Manager (who oversees this itinerary) to visit in July 2015. Sanjith visited each of the sites featured on our guests’ stay in Kathmandu. Below he describes his familiarity and fascination with Nepal as well as what he found during his recent visit.

Tell me a little about your experience with Nepal as a travel destination.
My first visit to Nepal in 2000 was as a tour guide for a group of guests from across North America. The guests were captivated and I found the country to be as magical as I thought it would be based on my reading. I have been to Nepal more than ten times since, as a tourist and as a member of the Tauck team that developed our Northern India & Nepal itinerary. I remain as enthralled today as I was on my very first visit.

mountainsIn your eyes, what makes Nepal
an amazing destination?

Nepal is as exotic as a destination can be. The snow-capped Himalayan peaks are spectacular.
Flowing down the mountains are rivers that enrich the plains below; the plains are dotted with tiny farming villages. Nepal’s forests are among the few remaining sanctuaries for the Asian one-horned rhino, gharial
(fish-eating crocodiles) and the elusive tiger. Tiny and landlocked between the countries of India and China, Nepal has managed to sustain its unique traditions
and cultural practices over the centuries. For many years, Nepal provided refuge to exiled Tibetans who have made significant cultural contributions to the country. And Kathmandu, a city with a rich and royal history, is filled with fascinating stories of kingdoms, goddesses and revolutions.  

What did you expect to find when you visited in July 2015?
Along with memories of the country’s beauty and culture, my head was full of the images headlined in the news immediately after the earthquake. At the time it seemed like the whole of the country was in ruins and I was concerned that Nepal as a travel destination would be set back for many years to come. Our partners in Nepal kept reassuring us that things were getting back to normal and urged us to resume normal tour operations. So, in July, I arrived in Kathmandu on a Thursday afternoon. As the flight was about to land, I had my camera ready to take aerial pictures of whatever was left of Kathmandu.

templeHow did the reality of Kathmandu compare with what you expected to find?
I found Kathmandu to be as magical as I remembered from previous visits. On the drive in from Tribhuvan International Airport (fully operational today), I visited Pashupatinath Temple, a World Heritage Center on the banks of the Bagmati River. Said to have been constructed in 1696, its two-story, gilded roof crowns a richly decorated Hindu temple complex that survived the earthquake unscathed.

dwarukashotelAt Dwarika’s Hotel, where Tauck guests spend three nights in comfort in Kathmandu, the hotel is fully operational and shows no signs of damage from the earthquake. Constructed in the 1950s by Dwarika Das Shrestha, he is known locally for his commitment to preserving Nepal’s cultural heritage. The hotel structure incorporates intricate hand-crafted windows, columns, door frames, traditional wood carvings and terra cotta sculpture throughout. Still managed by the Dwarika family, the hotel remains a beautifully restful oasis.

Burbar_squareI visited each of the sites featured on Tauck’s Northern India & Nepal itinerary and drove along all of the roads on which Tauck guests will travel by motorcoach. Our guests may see some older homes in and around greater Kathmandu that show signs of damage and occasional piles of rubble where an unsafe structure has been demolished. But much of this is expected to be cleared within a few months – possibly before Tauck guests arrive here once again. Kathmandu’s Durbar Square and its immediate surroundings did suffer serious damage during the quake; this is the single area which we will avoid for the remainder of 2015. By contrast, Boudhanath Stupa, the largest in Nepal, and Kopan Monastery, nestled in the foothills of the Kathmandu Valley, sustained only minimal damage and will remain a part of Tauck’s itinerary as they are safe to visit.

BhaktapurOur Himalayan mountain flight will operate as usual. And in the ancient Nepalese city of Bhaktapur, a UNESCO World Heritage Site not far from Kathmandu, some buildings were damaged by the earthquake and some rubble remains visible. However, clearance continues and the damage was not significant enough to merit removing this well-preserved site from the itinerary.

Most of the serious destruction happened in the outskirts of Kathmandu, in outlying suburbs and villages. Some villages were destroyed and our guests can expect to see encampments set up to temporarily house the people displaced from these villages.

The earthquake’s destruction and damage were very visible in the media just after the quake, but since, there has been little news coverage of the progress of recovery efforts. Life in Nepal is indeed returning to normal for its residents.

What’s next in Nepal for Tauck?

We will operate our fall escorted tours, beginning in October 2015, as originally planned. Tauck is eager to convey the message that it is once again safe to travel to Nepal and that tourism is an economic lifeline for Nepal’s rebuilding and recovery. This is the very time to show support and caring for an enchanting country and its people.

nepal_bottom 

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