The BIG question on everyone's mind now is " Is it Safe to visit Nepal " -- This IS a very difficult question and all the individual prospective traveller to Nepal can do is weigh up All the pro's and Con's after researching the Current situation over there !!
I Myself did Exactly this using these pages here at VT a + Lonely Planet Thorn Tree and I came up with My decision and that was to Go, I am pleased that I came to this decision as I Personally had No major problems on my trip. It is true that I suffered the occasional delay because of Strikes, I had to re-plan the exit of my trek having Listened to and Taken local advice because of a Maoist blockade -- However I Personally never came across a Single Maoist whilst trekking, 17 days in the Annapurna region. If I had I would have paid the " Fine " and I had included that in my trekking budget, however it wasn't necessary !!
Once again, on this my 5th trip to Nepal in 2006 I again had the same decision to make -- To Go on Not to Go !!?? Then to compound the difficulty of the decision a couple of days before I left the British Government went and put a warning to travelers notice out -- Only to go to Nepal for Essential Travel !! -- Then when I checked with my Travel Insurance they told me that If I decided to go that I wouldn't be covered -- And IF you think that was bad enough, They also told me that IF I decided Not to go then there was No cancellation refunds because in effect I was cancelling the trip by my own volition !!?? -- So what to do ?? Well what I did was to ring around and find an insurance company that would insure me,This I did with surprising ease, ok -- I had to pay a bit more but that's what I expected, So armed with my new insurance off I went !! -- I had NO problems other than the usual difficulties of transportation and at No time was I ever in danger, and that included getting to the airport at Kathmandu for my flight home in the middle of a strike -- was I pleased that I went -- Dammed Right I was ;-)))))
I was back in Nepal in both 2007 and 2008 and again had absolutely no problems, I left just before the 2008 elections. Now that the Maoist party has won these elections we will just have to wait and see, But my feeling is that Nepal will remain a Very Safe country to visit !!
The events around the elections in April 2008 have generally been positive in terms of travellers access and general ease of travel.
There is still a considerable level of violence in Nepal, but this does not rellay affect travellers. The districts of central-eastern Terai is probably best still a no-stopping area for visitors for the time being. In the hills and cities, the maoists political thugs called Young Communist League - YCL - is on a political rampage, somewhat political-cleansing-style. Still, this is not really a threat to tourists, but YCL does not like witnesses, so be careful around them. These thugs may also block roads and access and still conduct some extortionist activities, but generally this "donation" drive in Nepal is vaning.
You can be pretty sure to go trekking in Nepal today without being asked for donations to the maoist cause, however, you can be equally pretty sure that your guest house owner has to pay in order to keep his bones and business intact.
In summary, it can be assumed safe to go trekking and visiting Nepal as a tourist now. But the situation is volatile and best to remain alert. Proliferation of arms, including into the hands of pure bandits and ethnic liberationsits courtesy the maoists has caused a surge in armed crimes, but this is not to any degree affecting visitors to Nepal.
My first day in Kathmandu meant my first contact with the maoists – they were “requiring” a general strike, apparently because they were not satisfied with the ambassadors recently appointed to a number of European capitals. Groups of teenaged boys marching down the boulevards with red flags with communist symbols, quarrelling with shopkeepers who had not closed the shop already and puncturing tires of the rickshaws they came across. “Better listen than argue them”, a middle aged pedestrian whispered to me while we watched what was happening. At some point, the maoists met a military force blocking the road to the royal palace, and stopped their advance, but continued to shout slogans. A few tires were set on fire, to mark the no-cross area, and both the militaries and the maoists retreated.
In addition to a little adrenaline while watching the events from a rooftop terrace, the strike meant all shops and museums closed for the day, but nothing more.
I’ve heard and seen further meetings and marches during the next 2 weeks I stayed in Nepal, especially in the cities around the Valley, but they were all totally peaceful and consisted mainly of some posters and speakers advocating for their cause. Far from being dangerous, these meetings were an interesting piece of history mingled with local flavour, so many foreigners used to gaze from the sides.
Faced with the protests of crowds, the king Gyanendra restored democracy in Nepal in April 2006. 2 weeks later, the king was stripped of his immunity from prosecution and taxation, as well as his position as head of the army in April 2006. The parliament assumed the power to set the king’s budget and even to choose the next hair. The word royal whitewashed from government and army signboards across the country and the king awoke to find himself a figurehead.
At the time of writing this, the king was celebrating his 60 birthday, becoming the oldest ruler of Nepal in the last centuries. Western diplomats boycotting the ceremonies.....
We were stopped by the Maoists twice. Once at a roadblock in Kathmandu. We were asked to make a small donation and it seemed rude to refuse. And once in Sagarmantha National Park. Where we had to pay 100 rupees per person per day that we were hiking. This was mandatory. Plus they carry guns, so who is going to argue? While we were there the government, king and the Maoists reach a seven party power sharing agreement and permanent cease fire of hostilities. This is designed to end the violence, but also the parallel Maoist government operating throughout much of the rural areas of the country. Other than that we were not hassled at all. Basically, they understand that the people need the revenue from tourism, so it would hurt their base of support to demand too much head tax per trekker.
During my time the clashes between the people and the king´s army were finished, the king gave up his totalitarian power and talks between the democratic parties and the Maoist rebels had started. Because of that there were no strict road blockades by the Maoists anymore, but they still stopped our bus on the way between Kathmandu and the Tibetan border asking for a "good-will" donation for their movement. We were stopped by the students movement of the Maoists - they were actually really friendly. So I gave the smallest amount possible (10Rs) but still got a receipt, in case we get stopped again later on the way.
I think they would get even more money by selling those receipts as souvenirs in a "Maoist Shop" in Thamel ;-)
We had a Strange experience on the local bus from Muglin to Sauraha -- just as the bus was leaving ( it had been held up because of a " strike " and was going to head down the Trisuli Highway in convoy ) these guys jumped on with guns !!! -- they were in civilian clothes and wearing bandannas over their lower faces and sunglasses !! I wasn't sure what the H... was going on -- so I just kept quiet !!
Later after reaching Sauraha I found out that they were Army in plain clothes !!!! It would have been nice if someone had told me -- But there again by the army doing this they were in fact putting Everyone on the bus at risk !!!
2006 -- I would like to think that this sort of thing has now stopped with the King now giving certain concessions, But unfortunately I can't guarantee that it has !!??
Nepal is a country that can change in a heartbeat and the last time I visited in January I witnessed this first hand. I walked into an unexpecting demonstration by Maoist supporters (1000 of them) and they were damaging cars and hurting people. Nepal is so fragile that you should contact your local embassy for details about the current security situations throughout the country. Maoists rarely attack tourists but the danger is getting caught up in a cross fire between the police and rebels. Please be careful and stay away from public long distance buses and demonstrations.
The Maoist uprising in rural Nepal had significantly affected most trekking routes, though the Maoists have made it clear that they are not targeting foreign tourists. While no tourists have been harmed by Maoist groups, trekkers have been asked for 'donations', ranging from $5 US to $100 US, when passing through areas under Maoist control. Even in unaffected regions of Annapurna and Everest, telephone booths etc have been destroyed and some police checkpoints are no longer manned. If the fragile cease fire called in January 2003 holds (currenly broke down/resumed/broke down in 2006), things may slowly get back to normal. The bargaining between the corrupt government and th Maoists have resumed with no end in sight. You must be extremely cautious and I trekked the Annapurna circuit and experienced Maoist / insurgency bombing/attack on my trekking village and I walked away unharmed but the threat remains.
I can honestly say that I found the Maoists that I met to be a very decent bunch. We met them in Tadapani and to be honest the guy in charge could not have been much older than 18 or 19! There were three of them all carrying machine type guns and they sat with us for over an hour explainging their cause and we asked questions and they answered every one of them as best they could. They did not demand money from us in any threatening way, they politely asked us for a donation and if we had any spare medicines that we could give. They also said that he would write down on our receipt that we were students so that would not to be bothered again. I have, however heard the opposite, where people have been threatened into giving money. I think take every situation calmly and don't panic, they genuinely don't want to hurt you. Of course take every precaution not to frequent areas where Maiosts are holding demonstrations, as these are the times that turn violent. You will have a lovely time in Nepal and it is very safe to visit.
There is some political unrest in the country. Maoist groups disagree with the government and have taken up arms.
In tourist areas and on busy roads there are many soldiers, policemen and roadblocks to prevent an attack on tourists. It's certainly not recommended to travel to areas which are considered 'not safe' by the government.
It's good to check the actual situation on internet or, if you stay a little longer, read the Kathmandu Post (also on internet)
MAOIST ATTACK INJURES EVEREST CLIMBERS
April 13th 2005. Russian Alexander Abramov, leader of the Seven Summits club team, has chosen to remain in Katmandu rather than lead his group's trek into base camp. His climbing partner was injured last Saturday in a Maoist bombing.
"It was Saturday and the shops opened one hour later than usual. As a result, we left Katmandu at 10:00 am instead of 8:30-9:00 as we had planned. We got out of Katmandu and drove at a speed of 80-90 km/h. There seemed to be no problems. We met 12-15 military troops and all of them waved us on. Around 12:00 am, at a turn in the road, we saw 3 people who started throwing bombs at us. Two bombs exploded somewhere outside, the third one broke the rear window of the vehicle and exploded on the floor of the car," reported Abramov.
Serguey, Abramov's injured partner, was quickly flown to a hospital via helicopter. Abramov will rejoin his team once Serguey's evacuation plans back to Moscow are finalized.
[RESPONSE FROM IMEC BOARD MEMBER SCOTT MACLENNAN, CURRENTLY IN NEPAL]
“This took place during a strike and was really a very random thing. They were on a public bus that was running in spite of the strike. I don't think there was any intention for harming a tourist at all. We spent 10 peaceful days walking all over the place and met only wonderful kind people. I think there is more being reported than the situation calls for, by a long shot. There is not rampant lawlessness here and no reason to avoid this place. [Nepal is] safer than most American cities by far!”
For the complete story go to: http://www.mounteverest.net/story/MaoistblastupdateAbramovThreepeoplestartedthrowingbombsatusApr132005.shtml
Due to press censorship it is hard to get any clear idea of what is happening inside Nepal these days, and even less in terms of wise analysis.
Some of the best sources of information are actually now in India. Of all the opinions and analysis I have seen, this one in Outlook India is the best one that gives you a concise analysis of what has happened to Nepal:
If you cannot get all this to work, start with www.outlookindia.com and browse for news updates and articles on Nepal.
In the past the maoists would announce road strikes, but now due to news censorship and closure of FM radios and the mobile phones you don't know when or where there will be a strike, making it much more dangerous. The whole situation after the king's take-over is more volatile - nobody knows what will happen, and the uncertainty leads to rumors and people are scared.
If stopped by the maoists on a trail, they will ask for extortion money ("donation"), not much - up USD 100, normally in the 1-2000Rs league. Your trekking guides will know the local situation and handle it well, so no particular danger to you. It is more of an annoyance.
Road transport these days outside KTM Valley is terrible: at night the roads get treed (trees felled over them), booby trapped and local people are forced at gun point to block the roads by piling big stones on it. At day time the army people come and at gunpoint ask the villagers to clear the road blocks again.
Basically, you cannot trust road transportation. What you can trust so far, is domestic air travel. You can start hiking from Lukla, Jomsom, or Manang if you are short on time. Also, fly to Bharatpur in Chitwan and visit the national park of Chitwan. The main trekking areas such as Annapurna circuit and the Everest treks are fine with little disturbance, while the road access to Langtang makes that way slightly more exposed to trouble and delays.
Generic, current travel suggestion:
1) Fly to Nepal
2) Visit Kathmandu and Pokhara areas, you may wish to fly to Pokhara.
3) Visit Chitwan national park by flying to Bharatpur.
4) Go trekking in the Everest (fly to Lukla), Langtang (road from KTM) or Annapurna areas (road and/or fly).
In this way, if you spin a plan around these options, you can still spend your tourist money in Nepal, see much of the country and have a wonderful time without many hassles, without being a nuisance and yet you have a chance to talk with people, learn from people and see some effects of the insurgency on the nation and her people.
Wether it's safe in Nepal depends totally on what you are planning to do and where you want to go. If you stick to Kathmandu Valley you will not land into much problems, but if you try to get into the countryside outside the main trekking routes you will maybe land into trouble. Travel agents are painting a much nicer picture of Nepal than it currently is.
You should ensure you have a buffer day or two between scheduled departure from Nepal and the next appointment. If the regime cuts the phones and internet again, all flight bookings and departures will go into disarray again.
Many businesses, hotels and enterprises in Nepal now pay protection money to be left in peace by the maoists - that's Thamel of today.
Maoists keep operating by violence, extortion and other mafia methods, and government indeed does much the same. In the vaccum of a third force in the country now (parliamentary institutions, parties, free press), corruption and the old league anti-democrats creep into their old positions again.
There is total press censorship in Nepal, so you cannot trust any of the political or conflict related news coming out of there from Nepali news channels. You can surf some of the available news on the internet on www.nepalnews.com, but remember they cannot write critically or analytically anymore, nor report from the battlegrounds apart from army successes.
Yes, you will be safe in Nepal as a non-offensive tourist, going the well-throdden path and visiting Nepal in a manner that doesn't put yourself and others into danger. At this stage the biggest danger in Nepal comes from land transportation; buses that get stopped and fired at, burned etc., landmines laid by maoists etc. Sometimes military personnel ride civilian buses, or try to hitchike with your vehicle - that makes you a target by the maoists' definition.
( - - to be continued in part 2)