Making Nepal accessible to all

Making Nepal accessible to all The country is making a start in inclusive adventure tourism with disabled-friendly trekking and other facilities

As Nepal rebuilds many heritage sites and trekking trails that were damaged in the 2015 earthquake, activists say this is an opportunity to make them barrier free. Such improvements would render the facilities accessible not just for different kinds of tourists, but also for local people with disabilities, along with the elderly.

Accessible tourism simply means adapting facilities so they are easier to travel in, whether the visitors are people with disabilities or not. This gives tourists opportunities to visit areas they have been dreaming to see, but could not visit because of access difficulties. Inclusive tourism accepts everyone, no matter their physical state.

"There is still a lot of work to be done to make Nepal an accessible destination, and we need a partnership between the state, tourism service providers and advocacy groups," says Pankaj Pradhananga of Four Seasons Travel (4ST), a key player in creating accessible tourism experiences in Nepal.

A milestone in promoting accessible tourism in this country was the visit five years ago by the late American inclusive tourism advocate, Scott Rains, who worked with Nepali tourism entrepreneurs to develop an accessible tourism strategy.

Then, two months after the 2015 earthquake, 4ST organised a day trip to Godavari Botanical Garden for 50 people in wheelchairs who were living in a temporary shelter in Jawalakhel. Since then, the visually impaired and double amputees have climbed Mt Everest, completed difficult treks, and have been participating in relatively easier experiences, like taking mountain sightseeing flights out of Kathmandu.

In 2016, 4ST helped organise the 'Wounded Heroes Trek to Nepal', in which a group of amputee veterans trekked with prosthetics in the Annapurna Region (above). Last year, the organisation worked with Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) and the National Federation of Disabled Nepal to host the inaugural International Conference on Accessible Adventure (ICAA 2018) in Pokhara, during which Nepal's first ever accessible trail, near Sarangkot, was inaugurated by late Tourism Minister Rabindra Adhikari. (See box, below)

Freedom of movement and the right to mobility and travel are considered basic human rights in an international covenant signed by most of the world's countries. However, accessible tourism is still not a reality in many places, including in developed destinations. In Nepal, the concept is new and since most travel products involve adventure, inclusive tourism is still a long way off.

However, a start has been made with recent initiatives that use tourism to raise awareness among local people about the need to offer wheelchair access and make infrastructure safe and easy to navigate for people with disabilities.

More than 4,000 Nepalis were left with physical disabilities as a result of the 2015 earthquake. They join an estimated 600,000 people in this country with physical handicaps.

"It is actually more important to build accessible infrastructure for the benefit of the locals than for foreign tourists," says Pradhananga.

Suman Timsina of the Washington-based International Development Institute, which organised the Annapurna trek for veterans on prosthetics adds: "There are many advantages to promoting accessible tourism: it will open up Nepal as a new destination for people with disabilities, and senior citizens, and it will spread awareness among locals to care for people with special needs. Accessible tourism is not an easy thing to do but the right thing to do."

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