Nepal has finally opened its borders for visitors as well as adventurers looking to scale Nepal's Himalayan peaks and trek its mountain trails. The country reopens to foreigners for the first time in seven months, after being impacted by the pandemic as the rest of the world.
Nepal is home to the eight of the 14 highest mountains in the world, including the tallest, Mount Everest. Rudra Singh Tamang, director-general of Nepal's Department of Tourism said: “We are not opening the country for all visitors and only mountaineers and trekkers who have taken prior permission will be allowed to come to Nepal. We are opening to a sector of visitors who we know we can handle and manage.''
Foreign visitors are a major source of income for Nepal and the closure has impacted the estimated 800,000 people who work in the tourism industry. For now, the reopening will come with restrictions and mainly be limited to those seeking to climb or trek its famous peaks.
Rather than a visa on arrival, visitors now need to get prior approval, give details of their itinerary, hire a local company and have health insurance that covers COVID-19 treatment. They are required to take a coronavirus test before leaving their home country, stay for a week in quarantine at a hotel in Kathmandu and then take another coronavirus test before being allowed to go up the mountains. Local guides, porters, cooks and helpers who will be part of any mountaineering support team will be required to take coronavirus tests and prove they have been living in areas with no infections for the past two weeks.
“We are trying to revive the tourism industry that was badly hit by the pandemic, but we are not taking any chances or any risks,'' Tamang said. “We did a test run just recently with a foreign expedition team and now have a good idea of how to manage the adventure tourists.''
Spring is the mountaineering season when foreign climbers come to Nepal to attempt to scale the highest peaks, while the fall is popular for trekkers who come to hike the mountain trails. The spring mountaineering season was cancelled in March when the scale of the pandemic became clear and was followed by the country mostly closing its borders to outsiders.
Earlier in the fall season, a team of mountaineers from Bahrain was given special permission to scale Mount Lobuche and Mount Manaslu. They were made to follow all the new rules placed by the government and reported no problems. The success of the expedition was celebrated by the mountaineering community in Nepal, as was the government decision to reopen to all qualified mountaineers and trekkers in October.
“We need to give a small ray of hope to the people in the adventure tourism industry that there is still a future somewhere to look forward to,'' Tamang said. The pandemic hit as Nepal was preparing to double the number of tourist arrivals with a government campaign declaring 2020 as Visit Nepal Year. People in the mountains have been the hardest hit. They work during these spring and fall seasons to make enough money to last them all year. The prospect of trekkers and mountaineers returning to the mountain has been a welcome piece of news for those in the industry.
Meanwhile, trekking organizers in the adventure tourism industry are very excited that the country is finally open, and are beginning to get many calls and inquiries from foreign clients. There is particular
interest in the spring 2021 climbing season, especially for Mount Everest. Still, with the virus still surging in many parts of the world, it will take time for things to return to normal.