Task force greenlights Nepal for arrivals

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Annapurna region Nepal
Trekkers in Nepal's Annapurna region. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Three months after Nepal was ravaged by powerful back-to-back earthquakes in April, the government of Nepal, engineers and tourism agencies have released their first official report about earthquake-related damage in the country’s popular trekking area of Annapurna, deeming it is safe to return to the region.

The report says that the Annapurna region, located in the Himalayas in northern Nepal, sustained “very little damage, with the 3% of buildings which were damaged in the earthquake all easily repairable.”

The assessment of the Annapurna region was conducted by a team of earthquake geotechnical experts, structural engineering experts, conservation officers from the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP), and tour operator Intrepid Travel. Ahead of the monsoon season, the team conducted a technical inspection of the main trekking routes and selected villages. 

The report concluded that some 30 bridges that were inspected sustained no damage; of 250 buildings that were assessed in the Annapurna region, earthquake damage was found in only six buildings, all of which can be easily repaired; and the Annapurna Circuit and Annapurna Sanctuary trails and villages appeared largely undamaged by landslides following the earthquakes.

However, the engineering assessment identified a number of potential hazard areas on the trek that local authorities will work to remedy. Experts from seismological assessment firm Miyamoto have recommended a more in-depth follow up assessment to be completed after the monsoon season ends.

The report also identified several longer-term projects to reduce risks on the trails, including improved signage and communications for locals and visitors about natural hazards and providing engineering support for hotel owners and construction workers to build and rebuild improved structures along the trail.

Having witnessed the assessment firsthand, Intrepid Travel will resume its Nepal operations in September.

“Like many other tour operators, we’ve seen a significant slump in bookings since the quake as travelers are concerned about safety in Nepal. There’s been speculation about the condition of the treks, but we believe that the industry needed a proper assessment to make decisions based on facts,” Intrepid CEO Darrell Wade said in a statement.

Tauck, too, this week said it would return to Nepal in October.

According to Tauck CEO Dan Mahar, Tauck decided to operate its fall dates as planned following a recent visit to Nepal by Sanjith Mukund, Tauck’s operations manager who helps oversee the company’s “Northern India & Nepal” itinerary.

Mukund, who has traveled to Nepal nearly a dozen times in recent years, visited all of the sites Tauck features during its three-night stay in Kathmandu. According to Mukund, most of the serious damage in the greater Kathmandu area seems to have occurred in the outskirts of the city, in suburbs and in villages, and the most visible signs of damage within Kathmandu itself are small piles of rubble that should be cleared before Tauck's return in October.

Dwarika's Hotel, which accommodates Tauck's guests during their Kathmandu stay, is fully operational and had already been deemed safe by an accredited engineer, the company stated.

Also this week, the Adventure Travel Trade Association announced the dates for its AdventureWeek Rebound Nepal program, which will take place Oct. 24 to Nov. 1, 2015. The travel trade group’s program, originally announced without specific dates in May will serve as a familiarization trip that will highlight that Nepal is ready to welcome travelers again after the April 2015 earthquake and showcase the adventure travel opportunities along the Himalayan trails.

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