Can Nepal become Tourist Hub, despite India’s air-blockade?



Shangrila Alive

By Hari Prasad Shrestha      22 October 2018

Recent India’s decision to refuse additional entry air routes to Nepal could be a big blow to its tourism industry in the future.

In the past nine years, Nepal requested India to grant air routes, but India was only haunting without accepting or refusing Nepal’s proposal.
All sudden, during a recent technical meeting between officials of Nepal and India in Delhi, Nepal’s request for air entry points from the L626 route in Mahendranagar and Nepalgunj has been denied by India.

The entry point from Nepalgunj was “denied” for “defence” issue while entry for high-level flights (flights above 24,000 feet) from the L626 route in Mahendranagar was “denied” for heavy traffic in the Indian airspace.

It seems that the issue will not be sorted out at the technical level and hence it will require a political level intervention.

However, previously in June meeting, both sides have agreed to operate two-way air routes from Kathmandu to Biratnagar and Kathmandu to Janakpur. International flights to Nepal can now enter, and exit from Janakpur and Biratnagar, based on flight security evaluation carried out by both sides.

In August 2014, a joint communiqué issued by the two countries said, “The direct cross-border routes will facilitate flights between regional airports in Pokhara and Bhairahawa, and this will save time and money for air travellers and also improve air connectivity between India and Nepal.”

In the absence of air routes, the aircraft bound for Gautam Buddha International Airport will have to take, will raise the operating costs of airlines and make the flight costly. The airport is expected to come into operation by September 2019. The international airport in Pokhara, which is scheduled to be completed by mid-2021, will face a similar problem if the new cross-border air routes do not come into operation soon.

For instance, if an aircraft flying from New Delhi, India, is not allowed to use airspaces in Bhairahawa, Nepalgunj or Mahendranagar to land at the Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa, it must fly an extra 300 kilometers distance, according to CAAN documents. Or, this aircraft coming from Delhi will first have to fly to Simara and again go back to Bhairahawa to land.

A similar problem exists for the international airport in Pokhara. According to CAAN, if Nepalgunj or Mahendranagar airspace is not implemented, the Pokhara-bound international flights coming from the western part of Nepal must cover an additional 185 kilometers distance. This lengthy process of landing will raise operating cost and time of airlines and make flights costly too.
After a great earthquake of 2015, this air-blockade would again hit the negatively to Nepal’s tourist industry. The earthquake of the year 2015 was discouraging for the tourism industry in Nepal as a number in tourist arrival sharply fell by that time. It severely damaged many parts of the country, which killed around 9000 people, destroyed hundreds of thousand houses and caused around US$ 10 billion economic loss.

Major sites of global cultural and religious significance of Kathmandu valley also destroyed by the earthquake – three Durbar Squares, Changu Narayan Temple, Syambhunath Stupa and Dharhara Tower of Kathmandu Valley. The Pashupatinath Temple, Lumbini Shrine appear unharmed, and no significant damage noticed in Bouddhanath Stupa except only a few coatings fell off. Moreover, the deadly avalanche on Mount Everest and a landslide of Langtang Valley, during that devastating earthquake killed hundreds of people.

Nepal is home to eight UNESCO World Heritage cultural sites. That includes three royal cities and several Hindu and Buddhist sites within the Kathmandu Valley, as well as Lumbini, the legendary birthplace of the Buddha, in the western plain of Nepal.

Nepal’s three Durbar Squares of Kathmandu valley, also known as “noble courts” or “palace squares,” are the historical heart of the country’s cities and are positioned around palaces, temples, and public places.

Changu Narayan Temple is one of the oldest Hindu temples in Nepal, dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu and believed to have been built in the 5th century A.D. Located on a hilltop east of Kathmandu; the two-tiered pagoda is considered one of Nepal’s most exceptional architectural monuments.

Syambhunath Stupa, a fifth-century temple complex west of Kathmandu features what is perhaps Nepal’s most iconic stupa, with bright eyes of the Buddha emblazoned on its surface.
Dharahara, the 183-year-old Tower, which once appeared nine stories over the ancient city and modern capital of Nepal, was a symbol of the nation’s historical and cultural significance
Damage of these religious and cultural sites was a significant setback and sad news for the tourism industry of Nepal. These are the major attractions of Nepal for tourists.

No one was expecting that the ruined tourism industry would retain its pre-quake status within couples of years. However, Nepal managed to renovate some of these sites entirely, and some sites are in progress of renovation. Still, a lot of works must be done to complete the reconstruction and completion of damaged historical temples, monument, and palaces around the capital.

The following year of the earthquake was surprised by the tourism industry as unexpectedly tourist arrival numbers increased sharply, which spread a positive message all over the world that Nepal was safe and secure to visit.

The reason behind the recovery of the tourism industry was that the required facilities for tourists such as airport, hotel, roads and other major infrastructures were not completely damaged.

Nepal is the world’s biggest natural and historical museum. Since time immemorial, Nepal has always been considered as the holiest of the holy lands for the Hindu and the Buddhists. Nepali people are well known for their language of generosity.

Shangri La is still alive in Nepal. The Himalayas are considered as a faraway haven or hideaway of idyll and tranquility. The Himalayas are a place of complete bliss and delight and peace. While travelling the mountains of Nepal one can perceive an imaginary remote paradise on earth, a remote and exotic utopia.

More than hundred (around 50 in Kathmandu valley) tourist destinations have been listed in the official website of Nepal Tourism Board The important places to visit in Nepal are- Kathmandu Valley, Pokhara Valley, Chitwan National Park, Everest Base Camp, Annapurna Trekking Circuit, Bardia National Park, Lumbini Temple, Muktinath temple, Janakpur Temple, Langtang Valley, Dolpa, Khaptad, Upper Mustang, and Mountain Flights to see major Himalayan peaks.

According to Lonely Planet’s Annual “Best in Travel List,” Nepal is the Best Value Destination to travel in the year 2017. Nepal has even made it to Lonely Planet’s list of Top 10 countries that ‘you cannot afford to miss list.’ Nepal ranked 5th in the list. The World of Wanderlust had also listed Nepal on 19th position in their ‘Top 25 Best Destinations in the World List’ for 2016. Nepal is also listed as No. 1 destination in Rough Guides’ “Top 10 Best Countries” list. Nepal was in the hot list in the ‘Top Destinations for 2016′ list in Nepal ranked 23rd in the TripAdvisor’s ‘Top 25 Destination in the world’ list. Nepal bagged 23rd position in’s list of 30 Best Countries in the World to visit. Sherman Travel has listed Nepal on in its list of ‘Top 10 Eco-tourism Destination’. Nepal bagged 7th position Traveler’s ‘Best Travel Destinations 2016′ list. Nepal is ranked 6th in Trips to Discover’s ‘Best Ecotourism Destinations in Asia’ list.

Have you ever seen the Living Goddess? You can meet and see her in Kathmandu city.
Once upon a time, the Kathmandu valley was a lake, and a shining lotus was seen over the lake water, which was later believed to be Syambhunath (Buddha) monastery. Manjushree, the traveler, cut one side-hill of the valley to let the lake water out. The great Bagmati river civilization was found in Kathmandu valley with numerous Hindu and Buddhist religious sites.

The famous pagoda style architecture is Nepal’s souvenir to the world. Originating in Nepal, it found its way to Tibet and on to China and spread to Japan and other East Asian countries.

Eight of the world´s ten tallest peaks are in Nepal. These are Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest, 8,848 m.), Kanchanjungha (8,586 m.), Lohtse (8,516 m.), Makalu (8,463 m.), Chuoyu (8,201 m.), Dhaulagiri (8,167 m.), Manaslu (8,163 m.) and Annapurna (8,091 m.). There are many world-famous glaciers in Nepal. Khumbu, Langtang, Yulung, and Nupche are some of the crucial glaciers. The moving of these glaciers seems extraordinary and attractive.

The world famous trekking routes in Nepal attract tourists from all over the world. Annapurna–Muktinath–Manag routes, Helembu–Gosaikund–Langtang route, Solukhumbu, the ultimate Trans Everest route, are some of the famous trekking routes. Nepal has 2% of the world’s total flowering plants, 8% of the bird population and the total mammals on earth, Nepal has 4%, and 11 of the total of 14 families can be found in Nepal.

Nepal is rich in festivals. Rato (red) Machindranath Jatra, Lord Buddha’s birthday, Teej,
the women´s festival, Gai jatra, Krishnastami, Kumari- Virgin Goddess Festival, Dashai, Tihar, Mahashivaratri, Holi, and Ghode Jatra are important festivals in Nepal. These are major attractions for tourists of the Shangri La nation.

People have heard about “Yeti,” the abominable snowman of the Himalayas. Some individuals of trekking and mountaineering team had encountered the Yeti several times in the Nepal Himalayas. Many Sherpas, the tigers of the snow, also support this fact. There have been several myths surrounding the snowman or the Yeti in the Nepalese Himalayas. Whether it exists or not depends on the individual? But for many Sherpas and mountaineers, the Yeti does exist.

Nepal has the potential to be among the top attractions on the global tourism map and has strong prospects to be the top destination in South Asia. Being the pivotal point of Hinduism and Buddhism, it has the potential to attract tourists from South Asian and South East Asian countries. Besides, there are high possibilities to increase the number of tourists arriving from western countries and the rest of the world for cultural and adventure tourism.

Tourists in Nepal travel for predominantly adventure, historical, and recreational or leisure purposes. The international community also voyages for the sake of holiday, pleasure, study, religion, health, sports, mission, seminar and business trips, etc.

Nepal has set a target of 25 percent contribution from the tourism sector within five years. Currently, tourism contributes 5 percent to its GDP, and it earns around US$ one billion from one million tourists annually. Tourism has offered continued growth and deepening ‎diversification to become one fastest growing economic sectors. ‎Contemporary tourism is closely associated with the development and encompasses a growing number ‎of new destinations. These dynamic forces have turned tourism into a key driver for socio-economic progress.
Nowadays, the business size of global tourism equals or even exceeds that of oil exports, ‎food products or automobiles. Tourism has become one of the major players in ‎international commerce and characterizes at the same time one of the primary income ‎sources for many developing countries. This progress goes hand in hand with a ‎growing diversification and competition among destinations. ‎

As tourism is consumed at the point of production, it is giving local businesses and communities the opportunity to benefit by selling goods and services directly to visitors in domestic destinations and with assets to offer such as culture, art, music, natural landscapes, and wildlife. It supports other economic activities, providing jobs and income through the supply chain. Being labor intensive, it offers a wide range of employment opportunities, especially for women and young people and it creates openings for much small and micro business. Tourism also helps instill cultural pride and greater awareness of the natural environment, and the infrastructure required by tourism, including transport and communications, water supply and health services, also benefitting the local communities.

The Government of Nepal with the objective to develop the tourism sector as an alternative foundation for economic development has specified policies including promotion of tourism market in neighboring countries as its priorities. Besides, it has emphasized on investment in the areas where tourists have made expenditures, development of internal tourism infrastructure supporting the private sector and encouraging environmentally friendly tourism activities. Nepal also gives high importance to domestic travelers.
The Government of Nepal, in collaboration with development partners, has a plan to develop rural communication, health facilities, security and develop local trekking agents and tourist hubs for implementation of integrated tourism projects. It has been realized that pollution control and solid waste management in urban areas are subject of much importance in this regard. Moreover, without activating the embassies and the consular offices abroad, tourism development will be a difficult task.

The image of the state-owned Nepal Airlines by increasing wide-body aircraft and destinations would undoubtedly give a positive message to the tourists.

Nepal has declared “Visit Nepal 2020 Lifetime Experience” with an objective to bring two million international tourists that year. The existing hotel infrastructure could accommodate, comfortably two million tourists a year.

Along with the government and the private sector, foreigners and non-resident Nepalese should also be given high priority with better support to invest in this sector. High investment in hotel accommodation, restaurant, entertainment, highway, airport, transport, recreation facilities, cultural, historical and environmental preservation, and other activities could undoubtedly support the tourism sector up to a great extent. A Herculean effort is needed to reform and develop these sectors to compete with other tourist destination countries of the world.

Even after India’s refusal to provide additional air-routes to Nepal, the construction of other three international and gradual operation of regional international airports in each province have been a landmark to boost tourism industry equally in all potential areas of the country. The construction of Gautam Buddha International Airport at Bhairahwa in one year and Pokhara International Airport in three years are going to be completed. The alternative to Kathmandu Airport, the Nijgadh International Airport is in its initial stage of construction and an express highway, under construction will connect this airport to reach within an hour to Kathmandu.

Moreover, from four regional airports of Tarai – Nepalgunj, Biratnagar, Janakpur, and Dhangarhi, private airlines are in process to start flights to neighboring counties’ cities soon. Buddha Air had announced to operate flights to Indian capital city Delhi from regional airport of plain western town Nepalgunj. This route was expected to add one hundred thousand Indian tourists’ visit in tourist sites of western and far western region of Nepal specially visit Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage in China. But after the refusal of India this route, it also hit this airline to operate flights to Delhi. However, there is a possibility to fly from Nepalgunj to Nagari Gunsa Airport Tibet of China near Mansarovar pilgrimage if Nepal initiates this proposal to China. Shree Airlines of Nepal is also in process to get permission to operate flights from regional airports to neighboring countries’ cities. Moreover, Nepal and Bangladesh are also close to an agreement to operate flights from Saidpur airport of Bangladesh to Biratnagar regional airport of Nepal to ease the travel of border people in either country.

According to tourism experts of Nepal and media reports, India is not happy with the construction of Gautam Buddha international Airport in the birthplace of Buddha in Bhairahwa. The issue of India’s discontent was even the world communities had recognized Lumbini as the birthplace of Buddha, and most India publications, as well as higher authorities, are still creating confusion that Buddha was born in India. Once even they used Dalai Lama to publicize this propaganda.

India may bargain with Nepal to offer airspace on the condition of deputation air marshal in its flights to Nepal and may impose many conditionalities during the construction of Nijgadh International Airport in Nepal. India also seems afraid of that this large airport of Nepal could affect negatively use of New Delhi and Kolkata airports of India.

Nepal did not forget its border blockade by India in 2015, and it must struggle diplomatically against this air blockade once again, which is right of land lock countries.

This undesirable attitude of India could force Nepal to divert towards China for airspace. As Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha and Pokhara, tourist hub of Nepal are popular destinations for Chinese tourists. If India continues blockades air routes to Bhairahwa and Pokhara international airports, China would undoubtedly be benefitted by flying in these airports bringing large Chinese tourists. However, it would be difficult to operate to middle east countries but no problem to fly east Asian countries and Australia from these airports. Moreover, Nepal must ask China to provide, western Chinese route, which would be appropriate to reach European countries from these airports. The air-blockade could be counterproductive for India.