--BY MADAN LAMSAL
They’re saying Nepal will bring in two million foreign tourists in 2020. To be exact, the government has declared 2020 as ‘Visit Nepal Year (VNY)’. It has also appointed a coordinator for the VNY campaign. Now, you can rest assured that tourists from around the globe will be swarming into Nepal as bees to a cup of honey! Only a short while ago, Lonely Planet, a travel advisory site, labeled Kathmandu number five in the top 10 must-see places in the world. But now, with such preparations already made, Kathmandu deserves the top spot on the list, not just fifth.
After all, what is not there in Kathmandu that may not lure the tourists? Nature has given it a lot. It has people. Especially the bosses at the Kathmandu Metropolitan City Office, Department of Roads, Nepal Electricity Authority, Melamchi Drinking Water Project etc who work day and night to make Kathmandu even more ‘attractive’ and ‘adventurous’ for the tourists. Now tourists don’t have to go to Afghanistan, Syria or Iraq to see what a war zone looks like. Kathmandu has much more smoke, dust, dirt and debris and potholes on its roads and it is much more chaotic!
What’s more, the national flag carrier Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC), from which the prefix ‘Royal’ was dropped after the country became a republic, gives the tourists a free ‘preview’ of their Nepal visit while they are still in their own country. They have to make a trip to the airport 2-3 days before the flight day to check if their flight has or hasn’t been cancelled! They can’t get that knowledge sitting inside their homes, they must move! In this way, tourists are eased into understanding why Nepal is ‘special’ even before they board the plane. This only serves to pique their curiosity as to what more ‘special’ things they’ll get to see when they land in Nepal!
Even if their flight to Kathmandu is on time, when they reach Nepal, they’ll get the rare opportunity to circle the Kathmandu skies for 3-4 hours! This allows them to see the mountains. After landing at TIA, the tourists are squashed in like sardines in a bus that takes them from the tarmac to the airport terminal. This is so that they’ll get to snuggle next to each other and automatically understand the meaning and significance of the saying, ‘global brotherhood’ as soon as they enter Nepal!
The tourists then come across a most ‘unbelievable’ sight at the immigration counter at the airport. They are made to walk through a narrow lane, resembling the slender alleys in Ason bazaar, to reach the immigration counter where they jostle each other to fill their visa forms. There’s no better way for them to stretch their bodies after sitting inside a plane for hours. They will be overcome with a sense of victory when, finally, they get the visa. Then they’ll find themselves queuing up in a very long line to collect their luggage. This gives them quite enough time and a rare opportunity to introduce themselves and get introduced to and befriend people from different countries. Surely, no other country in the world gives tourists such opportunities!
In order to give the tired tourists enough time to relax, their luggage takes a long time to get to them. And then the ‘mental gymnastics’ the tourists have to do to identify their luggage is even more taxing than a game of chess. The tourists will not get this ‘fun’ at any other airport in the world!
Then there’s another pleasant surprise waiting for them at the X-ray machine. The officer on duty will grab any bottle of duty-free alcohol found in their luggage like a greedy dog jumping on a bone! Maybe they’ll wonder if it’s one of those no-alcohol countries! These days, the tourists coming to Nepal get a brief ‘trekking experience’ at the airport itself; they have to walk for almost 300 metres after coming out of the airport to catch a taxi. Is there any other country in the world that can make the tourists feel what their visit is going to be like at the airport itself?
And as soon as they leave the airport, they’ll finally understand the significance of the air attendant’s ‘mask demo’. Their hands will automatically reach for their masks outside the airport! Then their real Nepal visit begins which everyone in Nepal already knows about. These tourists, when they return home, tell their friends how and why Nepal really is a must-visit place. A lot of them – a whole five percent – will revisit Nepal.
It really seems like the goal of bringing in two million tourists in 2020 is very achievable, right?