Daily Moving Goal Posts
At the time of writing – 4 October 2020 – the Kathmandu international airport is due to open in less than 2 week. Some guidelines and protocols are beginning to appear slowly. These, however, change day by day. Meantime you want to know about Nepal travel advice and safety. Is it safe to go trekking in Nepal? Are tours in Nepal going ahead this year? Let me tell you what we know at the moment. Bearing in mind things are rapidly evolving and the goalposts are moving daily!
On 12 March the Government of Nepal stopped visas on arrival. Pretty suddenly because I personally know someone who arrived by flight to Nepal from the UK, where no one mentioned this new rule at check-in, only to be turned around and flown back out of the country. With the majority of other passengers on the plane.
On 20 March international flights were stopped and on 24 March the whole country went into lockdown. Lockdown was first lifted on 21 July (but we have had some on-off lockdowns since then), with restrictions in place.
So, Can You Come to Nepal in Autumn 2020?
Assuming that your home country does not have Nepal on the red list of countries you cannot travel to, then the following applies:
Nepal is open for trekking and mountaineering from 17 October 2020.
However, it’s not a straight forward process. This is what to expect:
- A visa prior to arrival.
- A negative PCR test report within 72 of boarding (we think it is boarding but that is unclear also).
- Hotel booking for at least seven days in Kathmandu. Although this changed 24 hours after I wrote the first draft of this post. So please enquire!
- COVID-19 insurance coverage worth $5,000 per person.
- In order to obtain the visa, there is a process of applying to the Department of Tourism (who will issue the trekking permits). Then on their recommendation, the Department of Immigration will arrange a visa at the immigration entry point or the place of departure.
If you have ever been to Vietnam you will have experienced something similar.
Of course, this is also subject to change!
Meantime, obviously as an individual trekker, small group or family hoping to tour Nepal, this will be impossible to achieve alone. The only possible solution is to book through a Nepal travel/trekking agency that will do the paperwork for you.
- Obtain a PCR negative report 72 hours or less before departure. At your expense, from your home country. We realise some countries do not provide results swiftly…
- At this point it is unclear whether you need to be quarantined and if so, can you choose your hotel in Kathmandu or does it needs to be one on a list (not public at the moment) of quarantine hotels. Probably the latter. Please enquire to your Nepal travel agent.
Once in the hotel, you will be quarantined for 7 days. PCR tested again on Day 5. If this test is negative, you are free to continue on your trek. If it is positive, you will be obliged to stay quarantined until the time your test comes back negative. This is all at your own expense. And subject to change!
- Please enquire to your local insurance company.
However, at this point, it is unclear whether communities in some of the more remote areas, such as the Limi Valley, Manaslu Tsum Valley etc will welcome trekkers with open arms. Some areas such as Manang are saying no tourists this season thanks.
I know for a fact that Upper Mustang is far from thinking about COVID-19. Like other remote areas, there are no reported cases so the locals are just continuing their village life as normal. Whether this will change as now trekking is open for domestic tourists, we can only wait to see.
What Restrictions May Local Communities Place on Trekkers and Mountaineers?
This week I have been told that in the Khumbu (Everest) Region, a negative PRC test will be required to be shown at Lukla (the airport into the region). Trekkers coming in from Phaplu will undergo a health check at Phaplu in the form of temperature taking before being allowed to proceed to Lukla and beyond. This will also apply to trek staff. I'm sure a lot of other areas will also announce similar prerequisites to enter their area.
With regards to insurance, the Government of Nepal has also stated trekking staff must be insured to the value of Rs100,000 per person (approx US$1,000), as must domestic tourists.
Ask Before You Book!
Hopefully, you are in contact with one of the best travel companies in Nepal. Even one of the top 10 travel companies in Nepal.
So, before doing anything, please check with them on the current situation.
Some of the things you should look for in a trekking company include:
- Are they complying with the national regulation regarding COVID-19?
- Are they keeping their groups to a maximum size of 10, preferably one family or one group of people who know each other?
- Are they operating treks in the approved areas?
- Are they willingly providing you, the potential client, with information about the current situation in Nepal?
- Do they know where to go and what to do if a client falls sick with potential COVID-19 on the trek? What is their procedure plan?
- Have they got insurance for all their staff, including porters?
No Tours or Pilgrimages this Season
Unfortunately for you who were thinking to go to, for example, Chitwan National Park, or Lumbini or on a pilgrimage to some of the Hindu or Buddhist areas, or if you were thinking of a Nepal yoga retreat, this is not currently possible since the country is only open for trekkers and climbers this year.
It’s unclear whether your group can go to ie a national park or rafting after your trek. Of course, this may change also. So again, ask before you book.
Health and Safety Aspects to Consider
At the time of writing Nepal does not have COVID-19 under control. This is something to consider particularly if you are coming with young children or older parents/ friends.
Mountain protocols are still in the process of being formed. So off the beaten track treks are something you might want to save for another visit. Treks which are close to Pokhara (such as in the Annapurnas) and perhaps even treks in the Langtang Region (easily assessable by road from Kathmandu) might be better alternatives. Please be aware if you were thinking of a Nepal Bhutan tour Bhutan is closed to tourists until, currently, January 2021.
For those who are climbing then please discuss with your climb organiser.
Wear a mask! Wearing a mask in public spaces is compulsory in Nepal. You may be fined otherwise. It is also just pure common sense not to expose others on your trek and locals in the villages you visit.
Wash your hands and sanitise: this is something you should be doing in a country like Nepal anyway.
Hospital care: please be advised hospital care is quite basic in Nepal. There are some very good private hospitals in Kathmandu, but not many outside of the Kathmandu Valley.
Altitude related illness: this is always something to consider in the mountains. Now with COVID-19, each could make the other worse. In many ways, severe COVID-19 symptoms are similar to acute mountain sickness. Although your guide should be familiar with the ways to tackle altitude-related illness, he will not be qualified to tell the difference.
Other Health and Safety Concerns in Nepal
Food and water: never drink from a tap or mountain spring! While your trekking staff and locals you meet on the trail may do this, you do not! Bottled water, boiled water, or purified (with drops or tablets) or purifying bottles are the way to go. In general, the food on the trek will be well cooked. But it may be spicy, particularly in areas where they see fewer tourists, therefore, have less “apple pie and pizza” on the menu! Watch your stomach! Don’t eat meat on higher altitude treks. It’s hard to keep meat fresh in areas which do not have electricity. Having said that, menus and food standards on the old, well establish treks like to Poon Hill or the lower level Annapurna Circuit Trek are pretty good. Don’t overindulge with alcohol. The odd beer now and again is fine. But in general alcohol and altitude don’t mix. Back in Thamel and Lakeside, avoid those late-night burger and sandwich joints. Hygiene is not their strong point. There are plenty of wonderful restaurants and cafes to choose from.
Animals: avoid streets dogs which may have rabbis. Same goes with wild animals in, say, Bardia National Park or Chitwan National Park. Monkeys have grown familiar with humans. Particularly those at Swayambhunath (also known as the Monkey Temple for obvious reasons) and Pashupatinath. Do not feed them! Be careful when passing mules or yaks on the trail. Always stand on the inside (mountain side) of the trail to avoid being accidentally nudged over the edge.
Natural disasters do occur. Earthquakes, floods, landslides are the common ones! No doubt you will come across landslide areas when trekking or your transport may be delayed due to the road being washed out. Particularly in the monsoon. With regards to earthquakes – stay where you are. Do not return to your hotel if you are subjected to a large earthquake. Follow what the locals do.
To Sum Up
After almost seven months of being closed, Nepal is slowly opening up.
In terms of fewer trekkers on the trails, it would be a wonderful time to come!
As long as you check your agency is following all the necessary procedures, as long as you are prepared to follow them yourself and as long as you are prepared (perhaps) to go into seven days quarantine on arrival, then coming to Nepal this year is something you can seriously think about.
Be aware, however, that like other countries, the situation can change instantly. There are tourists still in Nepal who have been here through the whole lockdown period. They are waiting for scheduled international flights to begin so they can leave. Understand, like every country at the moment, you might get locked down for a considerable length of time.
But if life gives you lemons….
“An Aberdeen family on a round-the-world trip of a lifetime found themselves unexpectedly locked down in Nepal have finally achieved their goal of reaching Mount Everest Base Camp - after spending four months in the mountains.
Julie and Kris Smith and their two children Erihn, nine and four-year-old Jacob arrived in Nepal on 6 March with a mission to make a 30-day-trek from Kathmandu to Everest Base Camp.
After beginning their journey on 19 March, the family were able to walk for just five days before Nepal went into lockdown.
Thousands of miles from home, the family decided to continue their adventure rather than return to Scotland.
On their incredible journey, the family locked down in a local Sherpa’s teahouse at an altitude of almost 3,000m within the Himalayas waiting to continue their adventure again.
“It has been kind of ridiculous, crazy and surreal,” Julie said, “We really wanted to reach Everest Base Camp and we didn’t know if it would happen. When we went into phase one of lockdown here, we spoke with our friend who is a local Nepal guide and asked about continuing our trek, and somehow he pulled it out the hat and made it happen.”
Source: The Scotsman newspaper (Edinburgh)
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