Its 10 years this week that I first visited Nepal and I thought this was a good time to reflect on my most recent trip. It was amazing how much things had changed this time around, but also how many things were the same and very familiar.
Kathmandu was as mad as ever, but much busier than before. There are far more tourists around, which of course is good news for a country heavily dependant on tourism. You do have to question though whether Nepal has the infrastructure to cope with this marked increase in visitors. Power cuts were a daily occurrence (there were even timetables in the hotels, restaurants and bars advising when they would take place!)
In addition to this, the political parties were squabbling and calling general strikes almost every other day. This had a direct impact on the tourist experience as it became extremely difficult to get around. This meant that Pokhara for example, was very quiet at times, as travellers were focusing on getting to Kathmandu to catch flights etc. To me, none of this made sense. If a country is serious about developing a tourist industry, they should be encouraging as many tourists as possible to spend as much money as possible whilst they are there. This becomes extremely difficult to do if all the shops and restaurants are closed for 3 or 4 days because of the strikes.
There did however appear to be a lot more wealth on display compared to 10 years ago. There were more local people in the bars and restaurants and even on the trekking trails. I even passed a multiplex cinema in Kathmandu, something I hadn’t seen before in Nepal. The mix of tourist visitors was also very different from before. 10 years ago the majority of the tourists / volunteers / visitors were Western; Europeans, Americans, Australians. This time around there were far more Asian tourists; mainly Chinese, Koreans and Taiwanese. When I was in Pokhara I bumped into Chotu, someone I’d met on my second visit to Nepal in 2003. He now runs his own jewellery business on Lakeside. He was telling me that if he didn’t have Chinese customers, he would have no business. He gets very few Western customers in his shop.
Nepal is an absolutely fantastic country to visit. If you ever get the chance, you should definitely go. It is a bit of a shock to the system the first time you land at the airport and take a mad taxi ride through the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu to your hotel. But once you get your bearings and get settled in, your journey can begin, just like my journey began in August 2002.