Daman Pradhan, managing director of Nepal-based tour operator Yeti Holidays, was at home in Kathmandu on April 25 when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked the country. Pradhan spoke with News Editor Johanna Jainchill last week about repatriating 200 visitors on Yeti tours in Nepal and helping get aid to stricken villages, as well as about the future of Nepali tourism.
Q: Where were you when the earthquake struck?
A: I was at home, luckily. I've never witnessed anything like this in my life and I've experienced many earthquakes. Things were falling down. There wasn't a drawer left in the walls. The TVs were on the floor. The whole house just rocked. Luckily, my house is still erect, but the ground floor is totally gone and there isn't a wall that hasn't been cracked.
I cannot say the same for most of my staff. Two of my colleagues' houses are completely gutted, and there is nothing left. Luckily, they are alive. It's just around here in Kathmandu and Bhaktapur that we actually know the extent of the damage. But if you go [to areas slightly north] we've heard there is not a single house remaining, but we can't get there to see.
Q: I understand Yeti is helping deliver aid with its helicopters and airplanes.
A: We're trying our best. We have 15 airplanes and four helicopters, and some other companies have one or two. It's not enough. Where people are stranded in Everest, we are sending helicopters to get them, and we also take medicine, bandages, food. It's a bit difficult because there is no organization to distribute it properly. Yesterday, we dedicated a whole plane just for the relief, and we are taking about four or five trips a day, bringing in the relief and taking out the injured. There is a lot more required. Everyone is doing what they can.
Q: Thankfully, all your guests and staff are safe. Have the guests been repatriated?
A: We have only 25 people left from our company that need to go back. A few Turks, Americans, Japanese, and a couple Australians. They are all well. Some wanted to stay because they saw the amount of devastation and said, "I want to volunteer." A few are doing that. We knew exactly where each of [our guests] were. The difficult part was that civil aviation didn't allow any planes to land for the first two days, and all systems were down. There was no Internet, no GDS. We put our guests in our hotels, and they sat in the courtyard and lobby and didn't want to go to their rooms. We were all right.
Q: You are only canceling tours for the next two weeks. Do you think tourism can bounce back that quickly?
A: Certain areas -- Pokhara, Annapurna -- are more or less OK. You are not going to see houses falling down. In the Everest region there's nothing much, just a few places, and not [in] the places tourists go. The areas where they actually trek are fine. In Kathmandu and Bhaktapur, yes, it's a mess. We will take people to Pokhara and Chitwan and to Everest, and there it's basically OK. From June through September it is the low season; people don't really travel to Nepal anyway during the rainy months. We have a lot of months to put together something and see what we can do. May is the busy season at Everest because it becomes clear and nice, but that is gone this season. This year's climbing and expeditions are a total write-off. Nobody is going to risk climbing at this time.