Four months after an earthquake destroyed major heritage sites in Nepal, attractions and Everest climbing trails have been declared safe to visit, a report claims.
After a period of rebuilding and uncertainty, tour companies are resuming trips to the country after an assessment of Everest concluded that there was “minimal damage” to the majority of accommodation and trails.
April’s 7.9 magnitude earthquake caused major destruction to hotels, landmarks and attractions such as the city’s 61m-high Bhimsen Tower, which collapsed, and the country’s most important Hindu shrine Pashupatinat, which was also partially damaged.
Now a report, ordered by the government of Nepal and carried out by a team of specialist geotechnic and structural engineers from engineering firm Miyamoto International, has identified some minor hazards in need of repair.
Mountain guides also carried out a “rapid reconnaissance assessment of the main trekking routes and select villages ahead of the monsoon season” for the report, the Nepal Tourism Board said.
Suggestions to make the region safer for both locals and tourists include rerouting a section of the Everest trail, as well as relocating buildings in the villages of Tok Tok and Benkar to the opposite side of the river.
The report also recommends a follow up engineering assessment after the monsoon season, which will end this month.
“The aim of the report was to develop an initial understanding of the extent of the damage from the earthquakes so that we could assess the overall safety of the Everest region’s trekking routes before the season starts in September,” said Tulasi Prasad Gautam, director general of the department of tourism.
It follows another report from Nepal’s government released last month which identified “very little damage to the area in north-central Nepal, with the 3 per cent of buildings damaged in the quake all ‘easily repairable’”.
However both reports were criticised last month for the way in which they were conducted.
Ramesh Dhamala, president of the Nepal Trekking Agents Association, told the BBC that operators would not send clients to either region on the basis of the two reports.
“Such assessments need to have the involvement of stakeholders like us to have any credibility,” he said.
The BBC also quoted Ang Tshering Sherpa, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association President, as saying that because the reports commissioned by the government were based on about one week of fieldwork, they were “totally insufficient”.
“We were assured that our experts would be taken into the field, but those who carried out the studies failed to do so,” he said.
Intrepid Travel, one of the largest trekking operators in Nepal, did work with the government to co-ordinate the logistics of the second report and provided the local guides to make it happen.
“As far as we’re concerned the report is all good news, because even where it’s identified issues it means that we now have the information needed to rebuild Nepal stronger than ever before, and ensure the safety of our staff, travellers, and the local communities we visit,” said Darrell Wade, founder of Intrepid Travel.
Its full Nepal programme is on sale, with departures from the first week of September.
Rickshaw Travel is also keen that travellers return to the country, after having to reschedule some of its tours following the quake. “After the Nepal earthquake and aftershocks the country is making progress in its efforts to attract tourism back,” a spokesman said. “Now our thoughts are on the future and how travellers can help this beautiful country and its people recover.”
The latest report concluded that many villages on the Everest trail do not appear to have been affected by the earthquake, which devastated Base Camp and killed 18 climbers.
Fifteen villages with 710 buildings were assessed, including both tourist accommodation and local residences. Eighty three per cent of all buildings were given a green-tag by engineers at the time of the assessment, who found most damaged buildings could be repaired. Owners are making these repairs now using new construction methods that will improve safety in the future.
Other opportunities to improve long-term safety for trekkers identified include improving signs warning of natural hazards, and providing engineering advice to accommodation owners who are rebuilding structures on the trail.
• Nepal earthquake: What does the future hold for tourism?
The Foreign Office removed its warning against travel to the whole of Nepal on July 3. It currently advises against all but essential travel to the northern half of Nepal, with the exception of travel on the main highway from Kathmandu to Pokhara, which passes through Nuwakot, Gorkha and Dhading districts.
Tauck is one of the tour operators happy to resume its schedule to Nepal. It had been waiting to see how quickly the country would recover before committing to further tours.
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“We’re thrilled to be bringing Tauck guests back to Nepal,” said Dan Mahar, CEO of Tauck. “Tourism is an important industry in Nepal and beyond the human and physical toll of the earthquake, a sustained downturn in visits would compound the tragedy by adding an economic toll.”
Sanjith Mukund, Tauck’s operations manager, said that most of the serious damage in the greater Kathmandu area seemed to have occurred in the outskirts of the city, in suburbs and in villages, and the most visible signs of damage within Kathmandu itself were modest piles of rubble that should be cleared before October.
The one heavily damaged site included in Tauck’s itinerary is Kathmandu Durbar Square. Those booking with the operator will instead visit Patan Durbar Square.