Sunday, 5 December, 2021

Nepalis mark New Year forgetting COVID-19 fear


By Aashish Mishra
Kathmandu, Apr. 15: Last year, Nepalis began the year 2077 under the shadow of a raging coronavirus outbreak and a nationwide lockdown. This year, the outbreak is still there but the lockdown is not, giving revellers a chance to celebrate the arrival of 2078.
Pratik Bhattarai, 32, made the most of New Year’s eve by inviting his friends over to his house in Naya Bazaar and going to a nearby pub.
“New Year is a time for merrymaking and enjoyment. Yes, there is COVID-19, but the situation is not as bad as last year. We felt we could safely go and have a drink,” he said.
Similarly, Swikriti Kandel, 30, decided to host a kitty party at a restaurant in Bijuli Bazaar to mark New Year. She fears the government might soon impose restrictions on gatherings and movement in light of the increasing number of COVID-19 cases and she wanted to have a party with her closest friends and relatives before that happened.
Baisakh 1 (April 14) saw an immense boost in business thanks to people looking to celebrate the beginning of the Bikram Sambat year of 2078, according to Araniko Rajbhandari, president of the Restaurant and Bar Association of Nepal. “Restaurants are fully occupied with customers coming with their families and friends to have a good time,” he said. Rajbhandari’s restaurant ND’s Fast Food in Mahaboudha had so many customers on Wednesday that he had to add seats to accommodate everyone. “It is the same situation in other places as well. Destinations like Nagarkot, Pokhara, Rara and Chitwan are packed,” he said.
In Bandipur, almost all of the 80 hotels and restaurants are full. Bais Gurung, former chairman of the Bandipur Tourism Development Committee, shared that 5,000 tourists, almost entirely domestic, visited the rural municipality on Wednesday alone.
These people are staying in local hotels, eating at eateries and helping boost business, a jubilant Sangeeta Pradhan, owner of Heritage Guest House in Tudikhel, Bandipur, said.
Bipin Pradhan, president of the Bandipur chapter of the Regional Hotel Association, said that businesses had not expected many visitors because of the pandemic. “This huge number is really encouraging,” he said.
Similarly, various tourism destinations in Sarlahi and Rautahat like Nunthar, Patharkot, Nadhiman, Malhaniya, Murtiya and Sagarnath were filled with people coming from inside and outside the districts to bring in the year 2078.
Back in Kathmandu, scores flocked to destinations like Single Tree Hill and White Gumba. On Tuesday – New Year’s Eve – there were so many people in Thamel after 7 pm that it caused a traffic jam for almost two hours, according to locals. There were no less than a thousand people here, one resident told The Rising Nepal. However, while it was heartening to see so many people gathered, it did not contribute much to the business, stated Bhabishwor Sharma, vice-president of the Thamel Tourism Development Council. “Thamel depends on expats and international tourists but the gathered individuals were teenagers and youths who only roamed around.”
“Thamel is not allowed to run nightlife right now because of the closure of businesses after 9 pm. So, no doubt there were many merrymakers out on New Year’s Eve, the night was not really profitable for us,” Sharma added.
While people welcomed the New Year with much fervour, they seem to have forgotten that the country is still in the midst of the pandemic.
On Wednesday, 603 people tested positive for the coronavirus in antigen and PCR tests. The number was 517 on Tuesday. Yet, the celebrators were out on the streets without masks or social distancing.
This is how Bhattarai described the situation in the pub he visited: “People were shaking hands and hugging; some were even sharing towels and exchanging masks. I asked the bartender why he was allowing people to behave so carelessly at the time of COVID-19. To which, he replied that it was the New Year and laughed.”

(With inputs from our Tanahun Correspondent Amar Raj Naharki and Sarlahi Correspondent Janarjan Khatri)