Nepal Courts Nervous Tourists

An Overview for Travel Agents

Nepal tourism has suffered several body blows in the past year or so. First was the massacre of the royal family in June 2001 and September’s terrorist attacks on America. Then Nepal’s perennial Maoist insurgency spilled out of remote mountain valleys with attacks on major population centers. Tourism officials have been at pains ever since to reassure jittery travelers.

“Nepal is one of the safest and most peaceful destinations, with the most hospitable local people,” insists Pradeep Raj Pandey, CEO of the Nepal Tourism Board. “Since Nepal was opened to tourism in 1962, there has not been a single incident in which tourists were the target.”


Target Clientel: Nepal has long appealed to the young international backpacker set, for whom a sojourn in its dirt-cheap guesthouses is a cherished rite of passage. Thanks to its well-developed tourism infrastructure, however, Nepal has much to offer the upscale traveler seeking to blend outdoor adventure, eco-travel, and third world exoticism with the comforts of a fine hotel. Anyone considering a tour of India is a candidate for an extension in Nepal.

Attractions: Nepal boasts eight UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Sites, seven of which are in or near the capital, Kathmandu, making the region something of an extended open-air art museum. The three palace squares, or durbar margs, of Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur date to the twelfth to fifteenth centuries, when these three near-neighbors were homes to rival kingdoms, and represent Nepali art and architecture at its height. Red brick palaces with intricately carved wooden windows that seem to shimmer in the sunlight are typical of Newari architecture. They are offset by pagodas, a style that originated in Nepal, and stone Shikhara temples that reflect a heavy Indian influence. Of the three, the square at Bhaktapur is the best preserved. A standout is the Nyatapola Temple, a towering pagoda set on a high, multi-level plinth. Bhaktapur is also home to some of the country’s finest carved wooden windows and most renowned craftspeople.

The Hindu temple of Pashupatinath sits astride Kathmandu’s Bagmati River; here devotees come to cremate their dead as colorful sadhus, mendicant Indian holy men with painted foreheads and eccentric garb, perform their devotions and pose for pictures in exchange for alms. Just west of Kathmandu is Swayambhunath, an enormous white stupa that bespeaks the ancient Buddhist and Tibetan influences that spice predominantly Hindu Nepal.

Outside Kathmandu, cultural tourism gives way to the splendors of Nepal’s natural beauty. The Himalayas, which on clear days form a backdrop for the capital, are high on every visitor’s list. Treks to the Everest National Park can be arranged for the hardy, but most tourists opt for the comfort and convenience of a “mountain flight” ($110). These 50-minute excursions fly as close as three miles to the world’s highest peak and offer an unparalleled view of the justly famous Himalayan range. Of the several airlines that offer these flights, Buddha Air (977-1-437025) and Mountain Air (977-1-489062), which fly 16-seater Beechcrafts, are considered the best choices.

To the south, in Nepal’s lowlands along the Indian border, lies Royal Chitwan National Park, where visitors can sleep in thatch-roofed huts and climb aboard elephants for jungle safaris that regularly spot grazing rhinos and occasionally an elusive tiger.

The lakeside resort town of Pokhara is the jumping off point for treks into the Annapurna region. These range from easy day hikes to grueling weeks-long expeditions. The less adventuresome can opt for a pre-dawn excursion to nearby Sarangkot to watch the sun rise on the sacred peak of Machhapuchhare.

Trekking is only the start of Nepal’s adventure travel options. Whitewater rafting is booming as the government opens more rivers to rafting, including some of the world’s wildest. An outfitter with an excellent reputation for safety is Ultimate Descents in Kathmandu (977-1- 419295; www.udnepal.com). Other activities include hot air ballooning, bungy jumping, and the extreme sport of canyoning.

Accommodations: Kathmandu’s most storied hotel is the centrally-located 270-room Yak and Yeti, with doubles starting from $185 (977-1-248999; www.yakandyeti.com). The 290-room Soaltee Crowne Plaza offers gracious service and fine dining, with doubles from $190 (800-465-4329; www.soaltee.com). A choice near the airport is the new 290-room Hyatt Regency, where doubles start at $220 (888-591-1234; www.hyatt.com)

In Pokhara, the best choice is the Shangri-la Village near the airport with its stunning mountain views and garden setting; doubles start at $150 (977-61-22122; www.nepalshangrila.com). Those who opt out of trekking might want to await their companions’ return at the lavish and secluded 165-room Fulbari Resort, with its 9-hole golf course and elaborate spa facilities; doubles start at $170 (977-61-23451; www.fulbari.com).

In Royal Chitwan National Park, The Temple Tiger Jungle Lodge (977-1-221637; www.catmando.com/temple-tiger/) offers thatched-hut accommodations, elephant-back safaris under the supervision of trained naturalists, and other activities for an all-inclusive rate of $250 per person.

Dining: For most travelers hotel dining is the safest recommendation, with major hotels offering Nepalese cultural programs with dinner. A more authentic experience is available in Kathmandu at Bhojan Griha, a restaurant in a restored palace, where a Nepalese banquet is accompanied by traditional music and dances from the country’s many ethnic groups. It has quickly become a favorite spot for a celebratory end-of-tour dinner (977-1-416423).

Getting There/Around: Singapore Airlines (800-742-3333) offers direct service to Kathmandu from the east and west coasts, while Thai Airways (800-426-5204) services only the west. Connections using Royal Nepal Airlines (800-266-3725) are available via Delhi, Hong Kong and other Asian cities. Within Nepal, air travel is recommended whenever possible. Major domestic carriers include Royal Nepal Airlines and Necon (977-1-47169).

Tour operators with a strong presence in Nepal include Anik Travel (503-244-1674) and Absolute Asia (800-736-8187). For adventure travel and some special requests you may have to rely on a receptive tour operator such as Shakti Travel in Kathmandu (977-1-488552; shaktinepal@usa.net).

Strongest Selling Points:
The opportunity to gawk at the Himalayas in comfort, from a hotel pool or an aircraft, is perhaps the country’s biggest draw, with the elephant safaris of its jungle parks a close second. Undersold and often overlooked, at least by adult travelers, are the soft and hard adventures offered by Nepal’s mountains, canyons, rivers, and extensive system of trekking routes.

For more information:
Nepal Tourism Board
Bhrikuti Mandap
Kathmandu, Nepal
977-1-256909
info@ntb.wlink.com.np
www.welcomenepal.com

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