As news of the breakdown of the ceasefire spread, Nepal's tourism industry suffered a tide of cancellations for the autumn season. Many even cancelled their tickets from Bangkok airport, choosing to go to India instead. The few groups who braved the media representations of a nation in conflict were pleasantly surprised. They have this to say to fellow travellers: "Nepal is still safe for tourists. This is not our war."
Siobhan O'Reilly was trekking in the Annapurna Conservation Area in late August when she heard the news. Now back in Kathmandu, she feels there is no real threat to people like her.
"I actually had a good time and the only problem was the excessive traffic jam along the highway because of the security checks," O'Reilly says. In fact, the young Irish lawyer is so impressed with Nepal she is off to Everest Base Camp this week with a group of friends from South Africa.
"I'm more worried about the weather than anything," says Arne Hofkamp, a 23-year-old architect from the Netherlands, who had initially no clue about the situation in Nepal till he got to Bangkok and received a thumbnail sketch from other passengers. "Not that it bothered me. From what I hear, the worst thing that could happen is paying off the Maoists," says Hofkamp. "Maybe they'll give me a discount!"
A number of tourists we spoke to in Thamel told us their Nepali tour operators seemed more worried about their safety than they were. "Initially when I was home the news made me nervous, but now I'm not worried at all," says Bruijnen Pieter who plans to mountain bike from Lhasa through Kodari to Kathmandu.
Arie Ocidenarrde and Bianca Vanderwal were quite annoyed when the locals constantly reminded them of potential dangers. "Most of them told us not to go out of the Valley. They were being overcautious," says Ocidenarrde. "I'll encourage my people to visit Nepal because there's nothing to worry about," says Vanderwal.
For Israeli tourists Owen Bromberg and his girlfriend, the conflict is the least of their concerns. They still think Nepal is safer than India, or Israel. "We didn't take any local guides with us," they say. "This is nothing like the suicide bombers we face in our streets," adds Bromberg. The two are headed on a month-long trek to Annapurna Base Camp.
Even American tourists don't feel particularly threatened. "You hear a lot of rumours at home and especially Bangkok, but the feeling is different here. Tourists need to come here and find out for themselves," says Meg Anderson (see pic, top), who calls herself a global adventure traveller. Meg and her friends are now already on their way to Everest Base Camp. "If they don't like Americans, we'll say we're Spanish," says her friend Ryan Smith, laughing. He is unfazed by the recent news of Maoist harrassment, and threats against Americans. "I wouldn't worry so much about it, and miss out the great adventure that is Nepal."