Lonely Planet Writer

Nepal recovers as tourism numbers climb above pre-earthquake levels

Two years ago this week, Nepal was hit by a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake, which reduced thousands of houses and temples to matchwood and killed nearly 9000 Nepali and foreign tourists in and around the Kathmandu Valley. Almost overnight, visitor numbers slowed to a trickle and hundreds of thousands of Nepalis were forced to take refuge in precarious shelters, waiting for relief agencies and aid workers to reach remote and outlying areas.

Patan Durbar Square (Photo by: JTB Photo/UIG via Getty Images)
Asia, Nepal, Kathmandu, View of Patan Durbar Square Photo by: JTB Photo/UIG via Getty Images

That was 25 April, 2015; this is now. Since the start of 2017, Nepal has been rated as one of the ‘best places to travel this year’ by a string of travel publications – including Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel – and British travel agents announced this week that bookings for trips to Nepal are now exceeding pre-earthquake levels. Similar stories are emerging from around the world as tourists flock back to Nepal to gaze at its famous temples and walk its breathtaking trekking trails.

While many monuments are still awaiting restoration, and thousands are still waiting for permanent housing, the scars of the earthquake are slowly being erased, and trekkers are returning in droves to the backpacker cafes and mountain trails. Even routes severely affected by the disaster – including Langtang and Manaslu – are now fully open to trekkers.

The message that Nepal is ‘open for business’ seems, at last, to be reaching the outside world, but more significantly, trekkers are succeeding where international agencies and the government have failed, bringing much-needed money to ordinary Nepalis in some of the most remote, and most severely affected areas of Nepal.

The attractions of Nepal remain as they have ever been. Despite the loss of hundreds of landmark buildings, the Kathmandu Valley is still awash with medieval architecture, the jungles still teem with wildlife, and Nepal’s trekking trails are still dotted with lodges serving hot tea, daal bhaat (lentils and rice) and banana pancakes. Here is our pick of the must-see sights in this fascinating Himalayan nation:

Medieval Kathmandhu

The whole Kathmandu Valley is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, thanks to its magnificent abundance of medieval architecture – a rival to the classical wonders of Paris or Rome. Make a beeline for Kathmandu’s Durbar Square and the hidden bahals (courtyards) dotted around the backstreets south of Thamel.

A farmer selling his vegetables at Durbar square, Nepal
A Nepalese farmer selling radishes at Patan, Durbar Square, Nepal on Saturday, March 25, 2017.Image by Narayan Maharjan/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Stupendous stupas

The towering, gold-topped stupas at Bodhnath and Swayambhunath are the signature monuments of Nepal, thronged by Buddhist pilgrims and crowned by golden spires painted with the watchful eyes of Buddha.

An illuminated view of Bodhanath Stupa during the purification rituals at the newly reconstructed Bouddhanath stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal on Friday, November 18, 2016. Image by Narayan Maharjan/NurPhoto / Getty Images
An illuminated view of Bodhnath Stupa during the purification rituals at the newly reconstructed Bodhnath stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal on Friday, November 18, 2016. Image by Narayan Maharjan/NurPhoto / Getty Images

Exploring the Valley

Kathmandu is just one of dozens of medieval towns and villages scattered across the valley floor. Some, like Patan  and Bhaktapur, rival Kathmandu in magnificence and grandeur; others are timeless backwaters, where farmers winnow crops by hand along dusty cobbled lanes.

Meet the Peaks

Trekking is Nepal’s top attraction, and the whole Himalayan region is criss-crossed by a spider-web of walking and mountaineering trails, climbing to the tops of the world’s highest mountains. The treks to Everest Base Camp and the Annapurna Circuit have topped bucket lists for generations.

Rumbling rhinos and terrible tigers

The national parks of Nepal’s Terai plains  – most famously Bardia and Chitwan – offer vast stands of dense jungle, where endangered one-horned rhinos and Bengal tigers stalk secretively through the elephant grass.