Saturday, 29 September 2012


There was another air crash in Nepal last week. Nineteen people died - it seems that the plane took off from the domestic airport in Kathmandu, developed some sort of problem, turned round and burst into flames when the pilot tried to land on the river bank.

There have been at least six crashes of domestic planes in the last two years in Nepal. (I have heard a claim that there have been over twenty - but I can't verify that. It seems too high a figure to me, even for Nepal.) I'm not going to get into the whys and wherefores of this crash - there may or may not be an enquiry in Nepal and it's not for me to second guess what the outcome of that might be.

However, as those who have read Hidden Tiger know, it might take a while to get an Inquiry off the ground. Meanwhile, planes will continue to fly. Tourists will have to weigh the risks of using them, or resorting to buses - surely the more sensible option? Except that roads in the mountains can be, er, interesting. Tarmac clings to the mountainside - if you are lucky. Often it is washed away in the monsoon. Tata lorries give the surface such a pounding that too soon it is broken up into boulders and potholes. Travelling any distance can involve a night bus - do you need details of night buses? It is like travelling in a coffin. Except if you were in a real coffin you'd be dead and never need the toilet ... Or you can use taxis, which is expensive but at least you feel in a bit more control (except when the taxi breaks down ...)

All of which makes any plan to visit Nepal look like a very silly idea. Yet I want to go back. Because I have friends there now. Because the mountains are spectacular. Because the temples continue to mystify me. Because water buffalo wander through the lake at Pokhara. Because I've got the hang of strikes and power cuts, and love those corners where resources are limited and there is only the kindness of strangers. Because there are tigers.

And Nepal needs tourists. Manufacturing is rudimentary; they need to import food and services from India - they have nothing to sell but their scenery. If Nepal is ever to sort its education and health challenges it must attract international income.

So - is the risk of travelling there, by road or in the air, worth the benefits of seeing this wonderful country? Here is a picture, just to show you want you might be missing if you decide not to go. It was taken at Lumbini - the birthplace of Buddha, a site filled with temples from all over the world. Some are quiet and mystical. Others are such fun - like this!

Worth the risk? What do you think?


  1. I would guess if the risks of flying once in Nepal were assessed against the risks of eating a huge fried breakfast in Crawley every day for 10 years the results might be pretty interesting!

    But we are so strange about risks, aren't we? I wouldn't avoid doing anything I really wanted to do, personally, though I would think about my family in weighing the risks. After all, I would hate any of them to end up in pieces on a mountainside because of some incompetent travel operator, and I am sure they feel the same about me!

    In general, too, I don't agree with making excuses for poor safety. Even if some tourists will accept risks to have the experience of a lifetime, the Nepalese also deserve decent standards for their families and kids and friends going about their ordinary lives.

    From your desciptions, I'd guess it's impossible for Nepalese individuals to force any kind of official action on safety standards. But even so, individual operators should take some responsibility for seeing their own maintenance is up to scratch in the modern world, and their drivers and pilots are properly competent, and they could join together to publicise this and police themselves if nobody else will. It's hard, but every reform has to start somewhere.

    If nothing is done, then bad publicity and more deaths are likely, and they just won't get mainstream visitors, or families, or the wealthy people who could spend much money and invest in the country.

    Then we get into how much do Nepalis need foreign money anyway, how much should they aim to be be part of the affluent boring materialistic modern world? Not a question I would like to answer!

    Interesting post, Jo, I thought of you when I read about the crash.

    1. What an interesting, thoughtful reply. I agree with you completely, Jenny - there are no right answers to this. Of course individual operators ought to attend to safety standards (in the absence of anything helpful from the government), and they are caught in the pressures to keep people moving. Efforts by Nepalese to act collectively seem to get nowhere at the moment.

      As to whether Nepal should look to western materialism - as a tourist I'd say no, as the corners I love best are the most remote. But is it possible to bring in adequate health and education and still suggest people cling to old ways of doing things and reject western thinking?

      So - more question than answers!

  2. It is a difficult issue. Now that I have a family, I tend to be a lot more careful. That's probably what age does for you!
    Your post reminded me of the risk I took when I was backpacking with my then-boyfriend in Indonesia. We were robbed in a night bus once, took a small plane that ended up caught in a tropical storm and had to land in a small airport in the middle of nowhere...l would not do it again.
    As for going to Nepal, well, I suppose that it will have to wait until I have less to lose (kids gone, etc..). With luck, safety standards will have improved by then!

    1. I'm sure you're right - I take risks now I'd not have dreamt of tackling when the children were small. But please don't tell my kids, as they keep the show on the road at home while I'm off exploring Nepal!

  3. That plane crash sent a shiver through me as it probably did anyone who uses that method of travel. I don't think I would ever fly in a small plane. I'm just not as adventurous as you although I love reading of your travels. It's funny that I also enjoy TV programmes about treks and survival maybe I was an explorer in a previous life and have returned far more sensible,haha! Rural Turkey is enough for me I leave the rest of the world to you Jo.

    1. I've not been to Rural Turkey - and I can see that small planes might not be the best idea for everyone!