Itahari, March 19, 2017: East Nepal has numerous tourist destinations to allure world travellers. The magical Himalayan peaks of Mt. Everest, Mt. Kanchenjunga and Mt. Makalu; world’s deepest valley, Arun Upatyaka; amazing rhododendron forest of Tinjure, Milke and Jaljale (TMJ) and Asia’s highest fall called Hyatlung Jharana – all are in East Nepal. All have immense attraction potential for tourists.
Koshitappu Wildlife Reserve, famed for being South Asia’s bird gallery, is also in East Nepal. Just a-day-ride from three countries, namely Bhutan, Bangladesh and Indian states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Sikkim, East Nepal can also be an overland travel destination for Chinese travelers after two northern border crossings like Kimanthanka of Sankhuwasabha district and Olanchunggola of Taplejung district come into operation.
Despite such a huge multinational touristic potential, East Nepal lags far behind in terms of total tourist footfall. However, in last five years, rosy picture has emerged in tourism sector thanks to groundbreaking initiations by private firms in this region. “These bold tourism initiations are sorts of ‘revolutions’ in East Nepal’s tourism sector,” says Basudev Baral, a tourism entrepreneur.
Following are nine touristic revolutions that took place in the last half decade:
Since 9 October, 2015 Dharan Sky Adventure Paragliding has been commercially operating paragliding facilities from historical town of Dharan. Jointly owned by entrepreneur Roshan Adhikari and pilot Madhab Prashad Dahal, this company has flown 500 plus clients from Nepal, India and even from Europe and America. A year after the operation of Dharan Sky Adventure Paragliding Company, another paragliding company called Budhasubba Paragliding came into service since December 2017.
Both paragliding companies charge US$70 for a flight that includes pick up from any parts of Dharan, drop off, photos, videos and insurance for remotely possible air accidents. Dharan Sky Adventure has its take off station at Bhedetar, at an altitude of 1,250 meters and Budhasubba Paragliding takes off from Ramite Danda of Dharan located at an altitude of 480 meters from sea level.
Addition of commercial rafting company
Until 20 April 2016, there was a single commercial rafting company named Tamor River Rafting. This Dharan-based company, owned by Madan Dhakal, has been carrying out rafting service since 2005. Since April 2016, Suresh Basnet and his three other entrepreneur friends from Itahari initiated another government-registered rafting company named River Deep Rafting. Inspector General (IG) of Armed Police force (APF) Durja Kumar Rai and Asia Chairman of Non-Residential Nepalese (NRN), Gangaraj Rai, are among those who have taken services from River Deep Rafting. Both of these rafting companies charge each client US$30 for a day-long rafting in Tamor. They charge additional US$30 for a night package in their rafting in Tamor, Arun and Sunkoshi rivers. Operators say rafting in Tamor is an incredible experience compared to other rivers in Nepal because it has highest numbers of waves and rapids among Nepal’s rowing rafting rivers.
Birth of a professional travel agency
Travel and tour agencies in East Nepal have till now been merely selling air tickets and running courier business. However, after the arrival of the agency named Sechha Travelling, jointly owned by tourism entrepreneurs Basudev Baral and Alina Magar, travel and tour packages through official travel agency have seen a spike. According to Sechha Travelling, they have facilitated tours for hundreds of Nepalese and Indians in parts of Nepal, India and even in Bangladesh.
Commercial initiation in mountain biking
Mountain biking was just passions for some individuals before Krishna KC and his counterparts in Dharan initiated commercial mountain biking in East Nepal. Having world cyclist Pushkar Shah as their patron, Cycling Dharan, a group of professional mountain bikers of the town, has explored new biking routes and inspired hundreds of young biking enthusiasts from this part of Nepal.
They have developed two cycling routes in east Nepal. Eastern Circuit is the longest route that starts from Dharan and comes back to Dharan circling nice districts like Dhankuta, Sankhuwasabha, Taplejung, Tehrathum, Panchthar, Ilam, Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari where Dharan lies. Travelling through this circuit takes 10 days to accomplish. Another two-day route is called Koshi Circuit starting from Dharan to Gufapokhari including Bhedetar, Hile, Basantapur. Krishna KC, also the owner of Tusk Mountain Bikes Stores, says they charge US$5 for guiding the route and add US$5 for meal and accommodation along the route.
Jungle safari exists only in Chitwan and Bara. Basudev Baral, a popular tourism entrepreneur from east Nepal, discovered new jungle safari route even in Sunsari. Baral-built route starts from Dharan and goes through forest areas of Sunsari to which many term Charkose Jhadi of Sunsari and reaches Koshitappu Wildlife Reserve, famed for housing rare wild buffaloes and alluring birds from Siberia. This safari includes an amazing jungle journey with sighting of wild buffalos and beautiful flora and fauna of Charkose Jhadi. Its itinerary accommodates elephant ride, dolphin view, Tharu village travel and sunbath on the shores of Nepal’s biggest river of Saptakoshi. Baral says his company charge US$25 for a day-long safari including breakfast and lunch and package travel guide.
Academic studies of travel and tourism
Sagar Bhattarai of CB College initiated first academic studies of travel and tourism in Itahari since June 2015. Likewise, private colleges of Dharan have also initiated plus two level courses on travel and tourism. Dharan Higher Secondary School, Summit Higher Secondary School and Dharan Adarsha are three college running plus two level academic courses of travel and tourism in Dharan. Colleges in Damak, Birtamod and Biratnagar have been running such programmes for Higher Secondary and Under Graduate level students with affiliation from Higher Secondary Educational Board (HSEB) and Purvanchal University (PU).
Establishment of Hotel Management School
Unlike past, schools on hotel management and hospitality have been increasing of late. Since January 2015, Premier Hotel School was established in Itahari to run hotel courses. A year after the establishment of Premier Hotel School, another hotel school called Skill Campus also came into being since 2016. Both of these hotel schools are government-approved and their students are accepted by global chains of hotels, resorts and restaurants. Besides Itahari, there are some colleges in Biratnagar, Dharan, Damak and Birtamod running or are all set to run hotel schools.
Growth of quality hotels, resorts and restaurants
Leaders of regional hotel association say there is exponential growth of hotels, resorts and restaurants in east Nepal funnelling millions of dollars in the last five years. Along Koshi corridor only, more than 40 tourist-class hotels are operated. Likewise, in Mechi corridor, some two dozen quality hotels are being constructed. Rewati Bahadur Thapa of Biratnagar-based Ratnal Inn has constructed and operated new resort named Horizon Mountain Heritage in Hile, Dhankuta investing 1.3 million US dollar.
In the same manner Radheshyam Poudel of Sundardulari, Morang has established Gokulam Resort since 2011, investing US$ 0.5 million. Another resort called Gokarna Resort has also been functional with its owner Ramesh Acharya saying that he invested US$1.5 million to build this resort. Many other entrepreneurs and hoteliers are lured to invest in hospitality sector. Many locally initated home-stay projects like Namje of Dhankuta, Khorsanekhaap of Itahari and other home-stays of Ilam, Panchthar, are also being popular each day.
Start of helicopter ride service
2015 was the silver jubilee celebration of mountaineering in world’s third tallest peak Mt. Kanchenjunga. Mt. Kanchenjunga’s silver jubilee celebration launched helicopter ride service circling Kanchenjunga Conservation Area (KCA) and popular shrines of Pathibhara. Soon after this transient helicopter-riding service of Taplejung, entrepreneurs of Morang also launched this service charging US$500 for round trip from Morang-Pathibhara-Morang in their recent trade fairs of Biratnagar and Koshiharaicha.
Similarly, they launched city helicopter tours charging US$75 for individual clients. Locals and others tourism entrepreneurs are for long-term helicopter ride and mountain flights targeting travellers from Bhutan, Bangladesh and India.
‘Mountain flight could be best one from Biratnagar airport’, says Sonu Jayanti, an Itahari-based theatre artist and tourism enthusias, ‘It is because Biratnagar is just a-day away from overland travel from Bhutan, Bangladesh and East India and world’s tallest peaks are nearer from here than from Kathmandu.’
By Birat Anupam