|Photo by Freeimages.com/Manish Shakya|
Just a few months after a set of major earthquakes struck Nepal, tour operators are resuming travel to the country.
Tauck has announced that it will begin operating Nepal itineraries this October, six months after the earthquake, beginning with the October 20 departure of its "Northern India & Nepal" tour. The first earthquake, which struck on April 25, occurred during Tauck's March through September off-season hiatus for the itinerary, and the company said it had been taking a wait-and-see approach with its scheduled departures for the coming fall.
"We're thrilled to be bringing Tauck guests back to Nepal," said Tauck CEO Dan Mahar. "Tourism is an important industry in Nepal, and beyond the human and physical toll of the earthquake, a sustained downturn in visitation would compound the tragedy by adding an economic toll." According to Mahar, Tauck decided to operate its fall dates as planned following a recent visit to Nepal by Sanjith Mukund, the Tauck operations manager who helps oversee the "Northern India & Nepal" itinerary.
Mukund visited the sites on the Tauck itinerary and found that most of the serious damage in the greater Kathmandu area seems to have occurred in the outskirts of the city, in suburbs and in villages, and the most visible signs of damage within Kathmandu itself are modest piles of rubble that should be cleared before Tauck's return in October. Dwarika's Hotel, which accommodates Tauck's guests during their Kathmandu stay, is fully operational and had already been deemed "safe for full operation and occupancy" by an accredited engineer.
The one heavily damaged site included in Tauck's itinerary is Kathmandu Durbar Square, which is normally visited on Day 5, Tauck said. "Durbar Square" is a generic term denoting plaza complexes found near former royal palaces in Nepal, and Tauck guests will instead visit Patan Durbar Square. Mukund reports that of the many structures in Patan Durbar Square, only a few sustained serious damage. The rubble from that damage has been removed, and there is little evidence of the earthquake there today. Like Kathmandu Durbar Square, Patan Durbar Square is a UNESCO World Heritage Site comprised of temples, idols, open courts, water fountains and more.
Intrepid Travel Study
Tauck's announcement comes at the same time as a new study by Intrepid Travel, along with the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) and a team of geotechnical experts, that has found that Nepal's hiking destination of Annapurna is safe for travel after recovering from the earthquakes.
The ACAP team tested 30 bridges and 250 buildings and surveyed potential rock fall areas, and did not find any potentially hazardous damage. The team found that most of the region is now safe, although travel companies may still need to reevaluate specific itineraries and hiking routes.
ACAP plans to survey the area again after the country's monsoon season ends.
Intrepid also promised to donate all its profits from the upcoming tourism season to local charities in Nepal to support relief efforts.
The set of earthquakes, which hit in April and May and killed well over 8,000 people, prompted an outpouring of relief from the travel industry.
G Adventures raised over $200,000 in aid for critical needs in Nepal. Carnival Corp. likewise pledged $200,000 on behalf of its cruise brands, working through Mercy Corps, the Disaster Emergency Committee and Save the Children to support on the ground teams distributing emergency supplies and aiding rebuilding efforts targeting the most affected families in Kathmandu and surrounding areas.
Ann Arbor-based tour operator Journeys International and its nonprofit arm, the Earth Preservation Fund (EPF), also helped to aid Nepal earthquake victims with a $50,000 grant by The Peat Fund of The Philadelphia Foundation.
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