Sitaram Dahal, 25, a cloth-store owner in Kathmandu, traveled to Pokhara and Kushma for paragliding and swing this Dashain. The lure was apparent. The cost of paragliding had plummeted, from Rs 7,000 to Rs 3,000. And airfare was also cheaper by 10 percent. What more could he ask for?
The purpose of his travel was “refreshment”. He thinks this is not the time to fear but to lead a normal life by adopting safety measures. “We stayed in, for almost six months. Now it is time for some refreshment.”
After the lifting of the lockdown, Hriday Regmi, 25, a Kanchanpur native who works at a bank in Kathmandu, visited Kakani, Sauraha, and Chandragiri for night stays. He rued not getting a chance to travel since he had joined university and a new job at the same time. “So, I did not want to waste the little leisure time I had, bolted inside my home,” he adds. Regmi also feels the festive season is the right time to contribute to internal tourism.
He agrees that the fear of covid is pervasive. “But I see no alternative to living with the pandemic by taking precautions.” Regmi says that the hotels and resorts he stayed in were low-fare. “The packages were available at almost 35 percent discount.”
Suruchi Thapa, 21, a student in Kathmandu, traveled to Baraha Pokhari, Lamjung on October 29 with her family, for “religious and refreshment purposes”. “In Baraha Pokhari, people take bath on the full moon day. We went there as pilgrims,” she adds. Thapa says the natural beauty there was worth watching as well, with vistas of beautiful snow-capped mountains all around.
Likewise, Sabin Adhikari, 30, a businessman from Dhading, went to Rara Lake along with his friends before Dashain. He wanted to explore nature there and learn about locals’ lifestyles. “I am ready to live with covid. My motto is: Live a normal life, travel and be as safe as you can. I don’t need to be stuck at home,” he says. He didn’t factor in travel costs but says the experience was worth all the money he spent.
Gita Chimoriya, a 27-year-old Lalitpur-based journalist, traveled to Mardi with her friends this Dashain. She visited Pokhara on her way back home. “We traveled during the festival because that is the only time I get some time away from my study and job,” she says. Mardi was open for trekking and she needed a break.
All these travelers claim to have considered safety. They say that though they traveled, they did so carefully, by adopting proper safety measures.
Dahal had to return to Kathmandu on bus. He was relieved when he saw safety measures being adopted in the bus too. “Masks and sanitizers were compulsory and there was social distancing inside the bus,” he says. Apart from personally using masks and sanitizers and avoiding contact, for safety, Dahal also did not stay at a hotel but at a friend’s.
Regmi for one did not find safety measures in hotels and resorts he stayed at different places in adequate. “We have to take care of ourselves while we have fun,” he says.
Thapa, the Baraha Pokhari visitor, says the travel, done in their own vehicle, was completely safe too. “We did not stay in any hotel or resort but camped in jungle and avoided contact.”
According to Adhikari, his group avoided direct contact with other people at Rara and always had masks and sanitizers handy. They had done proper research, too, including on hotels. “I won’t say they were completely safe but the hotels we visited were doing their bit to give the travelers some sense of security.”
Chimoriya, who went to Mardi, says she didn’t find folks in Pokhara careful with covid restrictions. “But the staff of the hotels on our trekking route were trained in safety protocols. That made us feel safer,” she adds.
Matter of survival
Hotel owners at tourist destinations say not enough tourists are coming for the sustainability of their business.
Arjun Chhetri, owner at Hotel Devis Fall View, Pokhara says the number of his guests was just 30 percent this festive season, compared to the same time previous years. “We used to house students on school tours and religious pilgrims. They are not coming now,” he adds.
As his hotel was always cheap, Chhetri did not lower costs during the pandemic. He further adds that current guests are mostly regular visitors and well acquainted with room rates.
At Devis Fall View, guests have to wash their hands with soap and water during their entry. But the guests have to bring their own masks and sanitizers, and Chhetri does not sanitize his rooms. He says the fear of covid is greatly exaggerated, and in any case he would not be able to afford more safety measures. “Right now I don’t even make enough to pay my rent,” he says.
Surendra Poudel, owner of Hotel Mirage at Sauraha, Chitwan, says his hotel is 40-60 percent full, even in this peak season. His hotel has some covid protocols. “We try to keep a recently vacated room empty for a day,” he says. He claims to regularly clean and sanitize rooms and to take cleaning staffs’ safety into serious consideration.
Besides the compulsory temperature check and sanitization at entry, “guests also apply their own safety measures.”
Some previous package programs like group Tharu cultural dance is unavailable now. And the cost of the package has been reduced. “Though our earnings have nosedived, we are still offering packages at 20 percent discount,” Poudel says. “Right now, it’s a matter of survival.”