Come visit, Nepal's recovering, guides say

Teacher Muhammad Yusoff had wanted to complete the Everest Base Camp trek this December after his first visit to Nepal last year left him longing to experience more of its beautiful landscapes and warm people.

But the 26-year-old's plans fell apart when the 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit the capital Kathmandu and its surrounding areas on April 25, killing more than 8,000 people and injuring a further 18,000.

With the region still suffering aftershocks, Mr Muhammad is among many from Singapore who have cancelled or postponed trips to Nepal on the advice of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

  • HELP CHANNELS

  • #MothersForNepal: Two mothers in Singapore started this campaign for other mums to record videos of encouragement to boost the spirits of earthquake survivors.

    Go Bald for Nepal: Siblings Hui Han Xi, 19, and Fang Xi, 13, shaved their heads - and convinced 14 others to do so - to raise $16,600.

    Singapore Expo: The exhibition company held a one-day fundraiser with security company Certis Cisco and event organiser The Unusual Group of Companies to raise $128,000 for the Singapore Red Cross.

    National University of Singapore Society: More than $38,000 was raised by members and staff of the graduate club for the Singapore Red Cross.

    Nepalese Society Singapore: Collected more than $3,500 from its 150 members and sent 20 tents and 100 blankets to Nepalese aid groups for distribution to villages outside the capital.

    Rotary Club Singapore: Worked with the Consulate of Nepal Singapore and Malaysian airline Malindo Air to send medical supplies to Nepal.

    Government: The Singapore contingent comprised 182 officers who provided consular assistance to Singaporeans, performed search-and-rescue operations and provided medical help.

    A C-130 aircraft was used to transport supplies, equipment and personnel in 11 flights.

    The Government also contributed $250,000 through the Singapore Red Cross.

"My family members were concerned for my safety," said Mr Muhammad. "They advised me to give this year a break. I was reluctant but eventually decided to give it a miss as I cannot carry on with my outdoor pursuits when they are worried about me."

Travel agencies in Singapore are reporting a dip in bookings to the region and have also advised clients to stay away until at least October, when stability is expected to return.

"We are badly affected," said Mr Ganga Budhathoki, owner of Brothers International Tours & Trading. "Almost all nine groups that had bookings until September have cancelled with us, and even more clients thinking of travelling after are very afraid."

His company has refunded all deposits of those who cancelled.

Singapore Trekker, which specialises in adventure trekking and photography tours, has lost eight groups of clients due to visit Nepal.

Co-founder Adrian Loh said: "We've persuaded clients to wait till October, it's better for their safety as before then most of the places will be rainy with high chances of landslides."

Nepalese mountain guides have told The Sunday Times that business has nearly ground to halt, badly affecting their livelihoods which depend heavily on tourism.

They feel the international media has overplayed the extent of the damage.

"In tourism there is no big damage, but media highlighted different than reality," said Mr Ram Sapkota, 40, who has been rebuilding his home in Jyamrung.

"We have 75 districts in Nepal and only 15 districts were badly affected by the earthquake."

Mr Ganga agrees.

"The infrastructure is only 20 per cent badly damaged, and mainly affecting Kathmandu - other than that, everything is OK," he said.

"Nepal is recovering. Daily life and business is normalising despite tremors once or twice a week, which is to be expected after a devastating earthquake."

A few Singaporeans are pressing on with their travels to Nepal, some of them as volunteers in the country's recovery efforts, and others because they want to help with their tourism dollars.

Freelance photographer Dios Vincoy Jr. plans to go in November, despite friends pulling out of the trip. It will be the fifth visit for the 43-year-old.

"My motivation is I know the guide, he is a very close friend of mine and he just started a family, so I look at it as a way to help," said Mr Vincoy.

People like Mr Vincoy are just what Nepal needs right now, say the mountain guides.

"Most of the trekking routes and other destinations are safe," said Mr Jhak Bahadur Budhathoki, 33. "Slowly tourists are starting to visit Nepal again, which is really appreciated. I believe that is one of the best ways to contribute to the victims of any natural disaster, especially a country like Nepal whose main source of foreign income is tourism."

hpeishan@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 21, 2015, with the headline 'Come visit, Nepal's recovering, guides say'. Print Edition | Subscribe