After a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit the heart of the nation last year, Nepal is being restored and travellers returning to the planet’s highest peaks. Words and photography by Lara Down.
The world’s highest mountain range cuts across Nepal, drawing hundreds of thousands of adventurers a year to walk the most dramatic landscapes on Earth and climb its most challenging peaks.
In November 2014, my husband, his father and I were similarly attracted to the country to complete the Manaslu circuit, a three-week hike up to an altitude of 5160 metres that weaves a route around Manaslu peak, the eighth highest mountain in the world.
Ancient stone steps and mule paths take you up near the border with Tibet, through isolated villages, Buddhist monasteries, and a constantly changing backdrop of alpine forest, with monkeys jumping from tree to tree, sparse tundra, glistening glaciers and thundering waterfalls. Nights are spent in quaint teahouses, chatting with your guides and local villagers over a bowl dhal and an Everest beer.
But the same geological forces that threw up the spectacular Himalayas, the backbone of this developing country’s vital tourism industry, can also lead to disaster, and in April 2015 the mountains shifted with devastating effect.
Almost 9000 lost their lives as a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit the capital Kathmandu and Himalayan villages. There was an awful cultural loss too, with World Heritage Sites like those that comprise Durbar Square, a collection of ancient temples and shrines in the heart of Kathmandu, all but levelled.
Up in the mountains, the quake triggered avalanches and landslides; trekking routes, including the Manaslu circuit, were closed, as paths were destroyed and the iconic suspension bridges that criss-cross the many roaring rivers here were damaged.
A year later the painstaking effort to restore Nepal’s cultural treasures is well underway, the damage to Kathmandu, Himalayan villages and trails is being repaired and, crucially, tourists are returning.
Operators like World Expeditions ran its popular treks to Everest Base Camp and the Annapurna route last year, having sent experts up to assess any damage.
What’s more, the company will be returning to Manaslu and the Langtang region from March. It had 34 expeditions in the Himalayas last October; all went off without a hitch.
And if you want to go beyond simply giving the country your tourist dollars,World Expeditions has a series of trips that combine trekking with volunteer work in remote areas.
In fact there is not one, but two reasons to head to Nepal in 2016: you have to take a journey in this breathtaking country at least once in your life, walking among the planet’s highest peaks steeped in Buddhist mysticism and meeting its generous people; and while you’re doing all that, you will be helping this proud nation get back on its feet.