“Luckily we are still able to have our daily dhal bhaat and once a week Budhi and his friends kill a goat, so we have enough meat to eat”
On the 24th of March 2020 an auto rickshaw, with two policemen sitting in it, drives over the bumby sandy road in front of our home. They announce by megaphone that from today on, Nepal is in a complete lockdown for at least two weeks due the threat of COVID-19. In meanwhile it is 40 days later and the lockdown will at least last till the 7th of May, but probably longer. Yesterday on the 2nd of May we met our facebook followers during a live video chat and answered questions about the impact of the lockdown on our lives and the circumstances in Bardia. In this blog we like to share some extra information.
When the first news reports circulated around the world in January that the Corona virus had been detected in China, we immediately thought that Nepal, as a neighbouring country with a lot of trade and flights between China and Nepal, would be the next country to be hit. At that time the Nepalese government took some measures at the airport to check people their temperature, but airtrafic with China continued.
We also liked to think that it would all work out fine. After all, the year 2020 was announced by the government as ‘Visit Nepal year 2020’ and the goal was to attract 2 million visitors in 2020 to Nepal (in 2019 1,19 million visitors came to Nepal) The minister of Tourism announced in the beginning of February that there was no serious COVID-19 virus threat in Nepal and some Nepalese travel organisations dare to announce ‘Nepal is safe’ But we noticed since the end of January that bookings dropped down, compaired to the previous year. However in the first 3 weeks of March al our 5 rooms were occupied.
We followed the daily news and in March the decisions of the Nepalese government considering international travel.restrictions followed one another quickly. From the 14th of March the following rules applied for international travellers:
– visa-on arrival for all foreigners are suspended.
– foreigners with a prior valid visa have to submit a swab PCR health test certificate with a validity of maximum 7 days.
– foreigners entering are subjected to 14 days self-quarantine.
Soon after foreign embassies advised it citizens to leave Nepal as soon as possible if your stay was temporary and not necessary. They warned that international flights would stop flying soon and an outbreak of Covid-19 in Nepal would put many people at risk due to insufficient healthcare facilities.
From then on, cancellations from prospective guests poured in and we realised that at our season ended early. Some guests quickly rebooked their flight and left for Kathmandu. Other travellers continued to hope and planned their trip to other destinations in Nepal. Our last guest left on the 19th of March and were able to catch the last international flights. Prospects or past guests who got stock in Pokhara or Kathmandu since the announcement of the lockdown, were able to use the rescue flights the end of March /beginning of April offered by their own governments.
Where it is usually crowded around this time of the year with 10 to 20 guest going into the jungle, enjoying a countryside tour or a trekking, it is now quiet at our home. The national park has been closed since the 24th of March and is also for local guides not accessible. Understandable our guides Manmohan and Balé miss being in the jungle a lot. And what about the tiger, rhino and other wild animals? They are maybe celebrating the fact that there are no tourists peering at them. But the chance that poachers enter their habitat is lurking
With an estimate of 1,4 billion USA $ loss in 2020, the tourism sector in Nepal is facing a huge loss. Guides and other employees in the travel industry (around 1.3 million workers) and also in Bardiya were sent home from the start of the lockdown and that means in Nepal immediately no work is no income. Our 5 staff members have been working hard the past months and they deserve some social security. At the moment they work in a two weekly shift schedule. They cook, work in the vegetable garden and maintain the rooms. We paid them 100% full salary till the end of April and for the next months we pay them 50% of their salary.
The lockdown in Nepal means that citizens should stay at home. Public and private transport is stopped. Government offices and all other non-essential services are closed and many daily Nepali construction workers who work in Nepal and India lost their jobs. Food shops in Thakurdwara are open a few hours a day, but the supply of fresh vegetables and products is scarce and prices go up. We are lucky to live on the countryside where we and our neighbours grow our own vegetables, rice, wheat and lentil. We are still able to have our daily dhal bhaat and once a week Budhi and his friends kill a goat so we have enough meat to eat. In contrast to the big cities, there is no immediate food shortage. In our municipality food parcels are distributed to the poorest households. In meanwhile countryside life goes on. People work on the field to harvest the wheat and to plow the land to make it ready for rice plantation.
We are now living our lives according to the rhythm of ‘Slow living’. In the morning the birds wake us up around 6.30 AM. We read and watch the latest news, work in the garden and practice yoga and football. After dhal bhaat it is time for homeschooling, since the schools are closed since the 18th of March. We teach the children English, Dutch, Nepalese and other subjects. And Budhi is teaching Sonja Nepalese reading and writing. In the afternoon we all relax, children are playing and we read and work on the computer . Around 5 AM it is time to go for a walk and to have a swim in the nearby river. In the evening we play games, watch TV and go to sleep around 9 PM. We live in the moment and have accepted that this is what it is right now.
When the lockdown started there were 2 reported positive cases of COVID-19. At the moment there are fortunately only 59 registrated persons with Corona and 16 of them recovered and there are luckily no deaths. Most of the affected people live in east Nepal and in our district ‘Bardiya’ there are no cases at all. People do talk about the impact of the virus every day and are longing for less restrictive measures. The government is charting out plans to ease the nationwide lockdown from the 8th of May by dividing the 77 districts in green, yellow and red zones depending on population density, geography, linkage to international border and number of coronavirus cases.
When will travelling to Nepal will be possible again, is the big question for travellers and all tourism companies in Nepal and around Bardia National Park. Travellers want to feel safe and because there is no clarity for travellers about health safety, travel and visa requirements, international flight schedules and prices of flights, travellers will focus probably on local travelling and postphone their international travels. So we realise that there is a big chance that tourists are maybe not able to visit Nepal in the autumn of 2020 and that the numbers of international visitors will be limited. Instead of ‘Visit Nepal 2020, this year has become the year of ‘Survive Nepal 2020’ Hopefully, the government still has some budget left of the 2020 campaign to promote travelling to Nepal in the future so that we and other businesses can revive in 2021. In the meantime, we are developing scenarios for how we can generate income in a different way in 2020.
We hope all of you stay safe in your own country and more freedom of movement is coming up soon. Of course we are looking forward to welcome you in Nepal again. Dream now, Travel later!
Love from Sonja and Budhi , family Darlami and all the teammembers of Bardia Homestay.
Like to listen to us and watch us on video? Check Bardia Homestay Page facebook Live Video 2nd of May 2020