Travel update for Nepal, spring 2005. Tourism arrivals in Nepal continue to plummet due to increasing violence surrounding the growing Maoist insurgency, and the February 1st royal takeover of political control of the country. According to the Nepal Tourism Board, tourist arrivals during the spring climbing season are down 34 percent from last year. The country continues to be crippled by frequent transportation strikes and blockades of urban areas by Maoist guerillas.
In a bold move that brought intense scrutiny from the international community, Nepal’s King Gyanendra seized control of country and the Royal Nepal Army in what has been equated to a “bloodless coup.” The King cited great domestic instability and the inability of the democratic government to properly address the Maoist insurgency as justification for his actions. He vowed to quickly restore peace to the country and to put an end to the civil war, which has now claimed over 11,000 lives. Since his takeover, scores of human rights activists and protesters have been arrested, and Nepal now tops the list for the highest number of kidnappings and disappearances in the world.
Despite the growing conflict, tourists have not been deliberately harmed by either Maoist insurgents or security forces thus far. A well-publicized exception to this occurred when a Russian expedition was attacked by Maoists armed with homemade grenades as they traveled toward Tibet for an attempt on Everest from the north. Two climbers were injured, and the attack was credited to the fact that the group was traveling unaccompanied during a known national transportation strike. For trekkers and climbers, paying “taxes” to local Maoist factions along popular trekking routes has become commonplace across the country, and trekkers in the Everest region have become accustomed to encountering security forces on their frequent armed patrols.
In summary, travel to and around Nepal is still very possible and relatively safe. Mountainous regions of the country—especially the Khumbu valley leading to Everest— are quite removed from the civil conflict, as are the tourist centers of Kathmandu. Travelers need to be prepared for frequent and inconvenient hassles such as transportation strikes, vehicle searches, tightened security, etc. Travel outside of popular trekking routes and during times of civil conflict should also be avoided. The political situation in Nepal is, like other places in the region, becoming increasingly unstable and could potentially become dangerous. Travelers should do their homework before they travel abroad, register with their embassy, and be prepared to change plans at the last minute.
Ben Ayers, Porters Progress, AAC