If you’ve been mulling a visit to Nepal over the past couple of years, it’s not surprising that you’d feel conflicted. After all, what exactly are you going to gain from touring an earthquake-ravaged country? And what’s going to happen to you should there be another strike while you’re there?
First off, it’s only right that you ask yourself worse-case-scenario questions – Nepal is a seismically active country after all. But the probability of another massive earthquake striking anytime soon (let alone during the days or weeks when you happen to be there) is relatively low – which makes your risk in travelling to the country statistically insignificant. And even if a quake does happen, you’d have to be in just the right place – at just the wrong time – to be in mortal danger.
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And while it’s true that parts of Nepal are still in ruins after the quakes, the fact is that many of the country’s popular attractions survived the tragedies unscathed, and those that were damaged have mostly been rebuilt. It’s not a stretch to say that most of the places in Nepal are as beautiful as they’ve always been.
In Kathmandu, for instance, only minor scarring lingers in Durbar Square (above) and the former royal palace. If you take a weekend trip to the capital to explore these destinations, as well as the bustling Thamel, the mystical Pashupatinath Temple and the Swayambhunath temple, a picturesque viewpoint, your experience will be almost identical to the one you would’ve had before the quakes.
The UNESCO World Heritage city of Bhaktapur, a popular day-trip destination about an hour’s bus ride east of the capital, is also slowly but surely rising from the rubble.
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Mountaineering expeditions to Nepal should likewise be free of earthquake-related road blocks, since local communities almost immediately filled in damaged portions of the Annapurna Base Camp and Everest Base Camp treks post-quake. While the fixes don’t make the challenges of climbing the mountains any less daunting, they do ensure your safety as you cross rickety bridges over crystalline Himalayan rivers and scale the steep hillsides that surround remote communities such as Muktinath and Namche Bazaar.
On the other hand, destinations such as Chitwan National Park – home to elephants, rhinos and, at certain times of the year, tigers – and Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, were minimally affected in the first place. In bohemian Pokhara, Nepalese families still take to the shores of Phewa Tal lake every morning and evening, as they’ve always done.
That said, rural roads throughout the country remain impassable and Himalayan foothill districts such as Nagarkot await basic triage, as a conversation I have with a local one morning in Kathmandu illuminates viscerally.
“Members of my extended family are still homeless,” says the attendant at my boutique hotel as he pours tea, when I ask why he’s working as a waiter despite having a university degree. “Right now, they’re living under an abandoned rail car.”
He doesn’t say anything more on the subject, asking for neither money nor sympathy. I know that by travelling to Nepal, I’m already helping in some way, but I also know I have to go deeper; we have to go deeper. Indeed, remedying the massive devastation that remains requires more than just showing up – even if the tourist arrival numbers in 2016 were 40 per cent higher than that in 2015.
The first thing you can do in this quest is to take a trip to Nepal yourself. Simply spending money in the country, especially at hotels, restaurants and tour companies run by locals, directly empowers them to continue rebuilding their lives. Whether that means hiring a Himalayan guide – thus contributing to the funds he needs to repair his family’s home – or tipping the young woman who prepares your cup of tea in Pokhara, every rupee you spend in Nepal these days counts.
Numerous buildings fell when Nepal shook not once but twice, but if we all join hands, Nepal will rise higher than ever before.
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.