Fuel shortage and unrest compounds issues for travellers in Nepal

Nepal has been experiencing a critical fuel shortage for weeks now, and while some supply has started to filter back into the land-locked nation, the impact of the crisis is still being felt by residents and travellers.

Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, is an important centre of tourism in the country.

Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, is an important centre of tourism in the country. Image by xiquinhosilva / CC BY 2.0

The fuel shortage began as supplies had been unable to cross the border with India into the country. India cited violent protests, sparked by a new constitution that is opposed by some minority groups, as the reason for the inability to bring in fuel, but Nepal believes India had imposed an unofficial blockade at the border.

The stilted flow of fuel into the country has picked up due to the use of another border point. But the American government has issued a warning advising citizens to reconsider their travel to the country, noting that emergency services, such as helicopter evacuation for those trekking on Nepal’s many trails, may not be running due to lack of fuel.

Michelle Boczonadi, an American traveller who was in India last week, rescheduled plans for Nepal after seeking advice on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum, contacting the U.S. Embassy and speaking with Nepali guides in India. She wrote in a blog post that she and partner Gabi had planned to cross the border from India, but weren’t sure whether they could make it through with the ongoing protests, or if they could, whether buses would be running to Kathmandu. Boczonadi had intended to attempt Everest Base Camp in October, but decided to delay until the spring.

October is a high season for travellers to head to Nepal.

Kathmandu is an important city for tourism in Nepal.

Kathmandu is an important city for tourism in Nepal. Image by Dhilung Kirat / CC BY 2.0

According to the Associated Press, the Kathmandu-based Incentive Tours had about 40% cancellations from tourists who had planned to come this fall, a number that is anticipated to climb.

On Thorn Tree, some people reported having their tours cancelled by operators and being forced to postpone trips.

Elizabeth Gilmour, an American currently living in Kathmandu, said the situation is definitely affecting tourists, but noted that but if they plan carefully it can actually be a great time for sight-seeing in the city.

Gilmour said that about half the restaurants are open, buses are very crowded, and taxis are hard to get and more expensive than usual. She said people visiting Kathmandu should expect to get around primarily by walking. But she noted that the benefit is that the streets are less crowded and the air is cleaner, adding that the streets around Basantapur Durbar Square are “filled with pedestrians rather than motorbikes.”

She added that things are looking up as the fuel crisis eases.

Nepal has already faced a difficult year after being hit by an earthquake in April that killed more than 9,000 people and has had a lasting impact on the tourism industry. The fuel crisis has hampered tourism in a country in recovery, which receives a significant amount of revenue from travellers looking to explore Nepal’s famous peaks.

Annapurna (left) and Machapuchare (right) mountains are some of Nepal's many tourist attractions.

Annapurna (left) and Machapuchare (right) mountains are some of Nepal's many tourist attractions. Image by Marina & Enrique / CC BY 2.0

The issue presents many difficulties for locals as winter approaches. Humanitarian groups are worries about the ability to bring in air to remote, mountainous communities before the snow begins and the areas are cut off.

Nepal looks to invest in bikes as a solution to fuel shortage.

Nepal looks to invest in bikes as a solution to fuel shortage. Image by Richard Masoner / CC BY-SA 2.0

Meanwhile government ministers in Nepal are debating a new proposal to buy bicycles for politicians who are struggling to get to work because of fuel shortages. The proposals also include investment in new electric vehicles for the land-locked Himalayan nation, which imports all of its gasoline but has huge potential for generating hydroelectric power. Read more: kathmandupost.ekantipur.com

Joe Bindloss

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