This author has hardly heard anyone say Nepal is not a nice place. Now that the cold of this country has melted away and spring has subtly entered this nation, few people cannot consider this place one of the most God-gifted countries of the world. We feel comparatively warm days, with the nippy fresh winds and plants sprouting leaves at almost all places. If this natural abundance does not fill your heart with joy, what does? But Nepal just does not have natural beauty and a pleasant weather alone, virtually all parts of the country, specially Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur, all situated within one valley are dotted with historic and unique artefacts and architecture.
That Nepal is a unique place can just be judged by the fact that it has several United Nations-recognised world heritage sites very close to one another, mostly in Kathmandu. This is a rare thing for any other nations of the world to have in proximity with visitors being able to stroll from such heritage site in a matter of minutes to the other. So this combination makes Nepal a wonderful tourist destination for people from all over the world. There was certainly a time when Nepal may not be attracting the high spending tourists, but people took a lot of trouble to get here and never regretted their decision.
Hippies and back-packers
There were Hippies, back-packers, people who drove over continents to get here in their sturdy vehicles and of course even some who hitch-hiked a ride from nearby cities of India to get to Nepal, which they called ‘paradise’. In fact, this author himself has met people from different countries like Australia and Japan, among others, who ignored to grab an air ticket to get to Kathmandu, instead chose to find vehicles which would give them a much cheaper ride and yet reach them to their destination while going through some other distant places you could only see from a vehicle.
About that trip when I was also there, I remember one of our vehicles breaking down in the middle of someplace in North India and the Japanese tourists did not have that extra budget to pay for the hotel where we had to stay. They were travelling on such a ‘shoe string’ budget and it made me wonder at what sort of place they would stay in Kathmandu and how much would they spend there. Yes, Nepal is a great tourist attraction, but first of all, we must be able to attract the more high spending tourists too. But on the other hand, till very recently, Nepal had only one fully operational international airport and that one was also not directly connected to other bigger airports. Nepal had no transit point either, so visitors came to Nepal because they had to or just to see the natural beauty and historical culture of the major cities.
So, though Nepal had formally opened to the world earlier, it was much later that the real tourists started to come in here. First of all, there were no international airlines flying into Nepal. Initially, some Indian flights took place but if I remember correctly, the first real scheduled international flight to Kathmandu was carried out by a Thai International Caravelle jet to fit in the then small-sized airport here. Slowly more international airlines started to fly in and after 1991, there were many more flights which connected Nepal to the world. This would have been a right time for the government sector and a growing private aviation and travel sector to really develop the tourism sector as a whole.
While it is said Nepal has a lot of natural resources that can give a huge boost to its economy, many were interested only in putting funds in the hydro-power business which is not only very expensive but it also takes lots of efforts and investments to bear fruit only after a long time. But the travel business is much cheaper and thousands of people get job opportunities as well. Until there are well developed infrastructures like good roads connecting remote areas to the main townships, readily available fertilisers, irrigation and locally developed good seeds, agriculture is also a long off dream for farmers to really thrive in this business.
The government must first start the initiatives and the private sector must also not sit on the sidelines jumping only to make profits. They must work together themselves and also with the government to promote Nepal in a big way and clear things when bad reports come out in the international media or social media. The private sector must also do what they can for the preservation and promotion of the very venues and the attractions they hold for the tourists. Seeing outsiders coming to Nepal to preserve the historical riches it has, is a shameful thing for any Nepali with any form of integrity.
Just see what a country like Singapore has become and what Nepal is, in fact many countries envy the natural resources Nepal has. With the right planning and no sense of only personal gains getting priority by the leaders and other authorities, there is no reason why Nepal cannot provide better and more job opportunities for our youths who are going in droves at present to difficult lands to do the dangerous and dirty works. And this must be started soon, as mentioned by none less than Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda himself, who is set to make a difference for the country and the people this time when he has become the Prime Minister for the third time.
So, we must not hesitate to make this country a major tourist destination where everyone wants to come and visit. But like we would like to repeat again, we must ourselves, especially with public private partnership, ensure there are good hotels that can compete with any other good hotels in the world, have better airports, wide open roads connecting the newly built airports with one another and also with important cities like Kathmandu, for instance, which everyone wants to visit at least once. There are other assets of Nepal, but tourism could be an example for other sectors to follow.
(Yug Bahadur is a freelance writer.)