Nepal : Offering insights into the Wonders of South Asia
By Dr Srimal Fernando, South Asia Correspondent
Nepal is called the land of festivals that boasts a varied landscape ranging from flat rolling farmland to dramatic towering mountains. Nepal has a special ambience not felt anywhere in the world. The country is land locked between China in the North and India in the South. The geography of Nepal is diverse and exciting.
The country covers a land area of 147,181 square kilometers. Of the world's fourteen high peaks the country has eight that include Mount Everest known as Sagar-matha in Nepali. At 29,021 feet it is the world’s highest point. It is the home to some of the most fascinating tropical rain forests, forking rivers, cascading waterfalls, verdant vegetation, gurgling streams, grottos, temples and pagodas.
Kathmandu is the capital of Nepal and the largest city in the country. It is located in the bowl shaped Kathmandu Valley. Tourists visiting Kathmandu will find hotels available to suit every taste and budget.
The Nepali people boast a rich literary heritage, shared with neighboring India and China that constitutes a cultural bridge between these two regions. Nepalese have always been and still are hospitable people, who deeply respect their guests and love to assist others. Nepal is a very pleasant place to stay in and travel around and is a favorite among trekkers and mountaineers.
The country’s tourism industry is growing very rapidly and is one of the major tourist destinations in South Asia. The expansion of tourism in the country continues to achieve spectacular gains in recent years. The tourism sector in the country, which had an astounding success story in the year 2007 with a growth of 37.19 percent is entering a new track with fresh dimensions. According to Ministry of Culture, Tourism & Civil Aviation of Nepal 509,956 tourists have visited the country in the year 2009. The Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) is promoting Nepal as a favorite tourist destination at major travel trade fairs under the theme of ‘Nepal Tourism Year – 2011’.
The growth and achievements of the Tourism sector in Nepal are outstanding. Tourism of the country has grown at an annual rate of 6% GDP (Gross Domestic Product). According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) the contribution of travel and tourism to GDP of the country was US$ 653 million in 2009. The WTTC forecast that contribution from the tourism sector to the national to the GDP of Nepal would exceed US $ 1 billion by 2019. The country made the optimum out of almost all star class hotels.
The opening of Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) was an important landmark in the Nepal travel industry. Nepal offers a cheaper alternative to airlines for tourists, traders and pilgrims. Tourists are finding the proximity, the value for money due to the exchange rate differential and the frequency of flights good reasons to visit Nepal. Many international airlines are exploring possibilities of exploring frequent daily flights from major cities in the world to Kathmandu.
Currently, India is the number one market for the tourism industry in Nepal. In 2009, visitors numbering 93,884 from India arrived Nepal. The number of Indian tourists to the country was more than 2.97 percent increase over year 2008.
Each year thousands of visitors are drawn to towns such as Kathmandu, Lumbini, Pokhara Patan, Janakpur , Nepal-guni and Bhaktpu . One can notice a marvelous change in vegetation from low to high altitude hill slopes. Geographic diversity gives Nepal rich wild life resources. The national parks located in the country are accessible.
Kathmandu has been a thriving metropolis and a center of intellectual and artistic achievement for centuries. Natural and historical attractions appeal to many visitors from all parts of the world. Among its highest-esteemed attractions in the capital is the Royal Palace. The Monkey temple Swaymbhu-nath and the world’s largest Shiva temple the Pashupati-nath temple are prominent sites of Kathmandu for tourists to visit. The national museum of Nepal has some of the rarest and exquisite pieces of art and craft. These prized possessions of the museum were collected from all over Nepal and are displayed at the museum. The capital city is a bustling affluent town with glitzy shopping malls, boutiques and colorful markets. The capital is the seat of the government and houses the intellectual elite.
The country’s culture is as vibrant and versatile as its landscape and natural beauty. Historically the culture of Nepal is complex. Over centuries the country has assimilated influences of many religions. Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, is located in the south-western side of the country. This world heritage site is a place of pilgrimage for millions of Buddhists allover the world. Shivaratri is one of the major festivals of Nepal. Thousands of Hindu devotees from India throng to Nepal weeks ahead of this festival to participate in celebrations.
The true spirit of the country’s culture is reflected in music, dance, drama, literature and cuisine. Handicrafts of Nepal are the symbol of rich socio cultural heritage. Nepal is not just admired for its beauty but it is also known for its amazing dances and music. The country’s classical music is one of the most elaborate and inspiring artistic forms found in the region. The music of the country includes an array of traditional and popular styles, ranging from native folk music to modern rock and hip hop music. Festivals and celebrations, expressing the diverse beliefs and backgrounds of the multicultural society are held throughout the year in Nepal. Nava-varsha also known as the "Nepali new year", Holi celebration where colored powder and colored water are thrown at each other, Saraswati Puja, Maha-Shivaratri, Gai Jatra, Cow Festival and Buddha Jayanti festivals are annual festivals that attract tourists from all over the world.
Welcomed by the hospitality of the smiling people and its remarkable history and unrivalled settings, it is no wonder that Nepal has always been a prime destination for travelers from all corners of the world.