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Kathmandu/Nepal, July 11 (ANI): Nepal’s tourism sector is as vibrant as ever, notwithstanding adverse reports appearing in the media across the world in the aftermath of the April 25 and May 12 earthquakes that hit the nation, and claimed over 8000 lives.

To project that Nepal is still a tourist’s delight, the Government of Nepal, the Hotel Association of Nepal and the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) recently invited 15 journalists from India to visit a couple of their must see tourist destinations.

Travelling from the Kathmandu Valley in the centre of Nepal downwards to the south-central Terai region of the Himalayan nation by bus provided a birds-eye view of a breathtaking and changing landscape that necessitated frequent stopovers for both photography and interaction with locals.

By and large, the people we met during the journey were candid in admitting that tourism footfalls have dropped. They blamed this on adverse reporting of the earthquake, and added that they would have been much happier had the media, especially the Indian media, been more factual and accurate about its initial reporting on the calamity, rather than projecting absolute devastation, which was not true. They said that only 14 of the Nepal’s 75 districts were affected by the earthquake, and that the devastation was maximum in areas close to Nepal’s borders with Tibet.

Our first destination was the Chitwan National Park, Nepal’s first national park. Established in 1973 and granted World Heritage status in 1984, this park is spread over 932 square kilometers and located in the sub-tropical Inner Terai lowlands of south-central Nepal in Chitwan District.

In terms of altitude, it ranges from about 330 feet in the river valleys to 2,674 feet in the Churia Hills.

In the north and west of the protected area, the Narayani-Rapti river system forms a natural boundary for human settlements.

Since the end of the 19th century, Chitwan, which means “Heart of the Jungle”, used to be a favorite hunting ground for Nepal’s ruling class during the winter season.

In 1959, Edward Pritchard Gee undertook a survey of the area, and recommended the creation of a protected area north of the Rapti River, and of a wildlife sanctuary south of the river for a trial period of ten years. A subsequent survey in 1963, this time for both the Fauna Preservation Society and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, resulted in a recommendation for the extension of the sanctuary to the south.

The park’s headquarters is in Kasara, and the sanctuary, we were told, is haunt for over 700 species of wildlife, including at least 43 species of mammals, and is normal to expect, has its collection of tigers, elephants, rhinos, leopards, sloth bears, gharials, mugger crocodiles, turtles, vultures, Gaurs, wild boars, sambar deer, red muntjac, hog deer, herds of chital, four-horned antelopes, insects and an assortment of bird life, including the rarely seen white-throated kingfisher.

Rhesus monkeys, Langurs, Indian pangolins, Indian porcupines, several species of flying squirrels, black-naped hares and endangered hispid hares are also present.

Conservation breeding centres for elephants, gharials, turtles and Gyps Vultures have been established, as these fauna are increasingly becoming an endangered species.

Climate-wise, Chitwan has a typical tropical monsoon climate with high humidity throughout the year.

The Indian media delegation was taken to the Fewa Wildlife Resort, 160-kilometers south-west of Kathmandu for a night-day stay.

The resort, which is managed by Varun Mehta, Executive Director of Worldways Tours and Travels, is situated on the banks of the Rapti River, and was without doubt, a tourist delight.

There was absolutely no sign of earthquake-related damage visible in these tranquil surroundings.

The night stay was quiet, peaceful, pleasant and far away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

The next morning, Indian media undertook an elephant safari and canoe ride on the Rapti, besides a nature walk. The elephant safari though agonizing in terms of seating, was a wonderful learning experience on how these huge pachyderms have such a high level of understanding about the terrain they travel through, and are able to balance themselves with a comfort that defies logic.

It was interesting to note that each elephant possesses the intelligence to land his or her foot in the exact spot left by the elephant in front, as also the ability to nimbly cross over fallen tree trunks and slide down prescribed wet and muddy paths with ease.

Another unique experience was watching them carefully dusting clomps of wet mud off the grass that they had chosen to eat against their legs.

The elephant breeding center also made for a good watch. Resort authorities spent some time briefing us about the advantages and disadvantages of breeding in a closeted space, and in the wild, as also how pregnant elephants find it more difficult to give birth and bring up their young calves in enclosed structures.

It was interestingly revealed that female elephants are let loose in the wild adjoining forest to get impregnated, and have an inane ability to return to their caretakers/mahouts when ready to gestate, which can last for up to two years.

The canoe ride was equally salubrious and fascinating, as we watched gharials coming in and out of the river.

The hospitality, of course, was top class.

From Chitwan, we headed to picturesque Pokhara, Nepal’s second largest city and sub-metropolitan municipality.

Pokhara serves as the headquarters of Nepal’s Kaski District, Gandaki Zone and the Western Development Region, and is located 200-kilometers west of Kathmandu, and lies at an altitude of 780 to 1350 metres.

It is the proud owner of three of the world’s ten highest mountains – the Dhaulagiri, the Annapurna I and Manaslu.

Tourism is a major source of revenue for the people of Pokhara, which is dotted with hotels of various starred category. We were told by representatives of the Pokhara Hotel Association that there are over 300 hotels in Pokhara. The tourist district is along the north shore of the Phewa Lake and is mainly made up of small shops, non-star tourist hotels, restaurants and bars. Tourism, the service sector and manufacturing contribute the maximum to Pokhara’s economy.

The Indian media delegation interacted with key representatives of the Pokhara Hotel Association and tour operators, besides media representatives, who informed that the tourism sector has taken a hit because of the earthquake, but were appreciative of the fact that the Indian Government has stepped forward with alacrity to assist in their recovery.

They said that they were confident about a significant recovery sooner than later, and that everything was being planned along these lines.

The delegation was accorded a warm and rewarding stay at the Fishtail Lodge located alongside the Phewa Lake before heading back to Kathmandu to catch the flight back to Delhi, with a thought that a visit can safely be undertaken, despite the recent calamity.

By Ashok Dixit (ANI)

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