EDITORIAL: Have a nice flight

It is in the interest of the airlines to see to it that the health protocols are followed sincerely and strictly

Nine months after the country went into a lockdown on March 24 that brought all economic activities, including tourism-related, to a standstill, mountain flights are taking to the skies again. A popular experience that allows passengers to witness at close range a host of 20 Himalayan peaks, including Langtang Lirung, Gauri Shanker, Makalu, Lhotse and the jewel in the crown, the 8,848-meter Everest, a mountain flight is not one to be missed in a tourist’s schedule of activities in Nepal. Mountain flights head east of Kathmandu from Tribhuvan International Airport and are conducted round the year, although spring and autumn seasons are that time of the year when the mountains are visible at their best. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic that began with the start of 2020 has grounded all tourism activities, putting hundreds of thousands of people out of work. The resumption of mountain flights comes close on the heel of the government’s decision to reopen Nepal’s mountains for climbing, which also had been shut down for seven months. The mountain flights, though weekly for now, should help the airlines to generate some income to meet part of their operational costs.

Mountain flights, like most tourism activities, are associated with foreign tourists. However, as it will take some months before foreign visitors start trickling into the country, the two airlines that are resuming mountain flights are pinning their hope on the Nepalis. For now, two big private sector airlines, Buddha Air and Yeti Airlines, are starting weekly mountain flights beginning Saturday, December 5. Buddha Air’s ‘buy one get one free’ offer for only Nepalis is worth Rs 8,900, with the seat adjoining the isle coming free of cost. Yeti Airlines’ window seat also costs Rs 8,900, but double tickets can be had for Rs 13,499. Popular tourism activities are slowly starting to reopen with the government’s decision on November 9 to allow cable cars, jungle safaris and museums to operate by having the service providers follow the necessary health safety measures set by the Health Ministry. The government also recently came up with a stimulus package worth Rs 50 billion to help struggling businesses to tide over their problems. Grouped as highly-affected, tourism and the aviation sector can avail themselves of a Rs 100 million concessional loan.

This year that is coming to an end soon has not been a good year not only for Nepal but for all countries throughout the world. But with a host of companies announcing that effective vaccines are ready to be rolled out for mass immunisation by early next year, there is hope that life will bounce back to normalcy by the middle of next year. But the threat of the virus is still there, and with the onset of the cold season, there are fears that the pandemic will only worsen, which might force the government to take extreme measures such as another lockdown. Thus, it is in the interest of the airlines to see to it that the health protocols are followed sincerely and strictly. And the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation must keep close watch of all tourism activities so that there are no lapses in the health safety measures so that the country is safe for travel.

Clear no-man’s-land

Nobody is allowed to reside or erect any kind of structure on no-man’s-land. However, this international rule does not apply to most parts of the open border between Nepal and India. A case in point is the Jamunaha-Rupediha border, where people from both the sides have erected makeshifts on no-man’s-land, which should be cleared of all human activities. The area, where people from both the sides have been living, is just a few hundred metres away from the customs points, where security personnel from both the sides are present round-the-clock. But they have done little to remove those who have occupied the border strip.

The people, who have made the no-man’s-land their permanent home, claimed that they have been living there even before the area was divided between Nepal and India under the 1816 Sugauli Treaty.

If they are allowed to reside there, the possibility of cross-border crimes and smuggling cannot be ruled out. Both Nepal and India must hold talks to stop the illegal occupation of the international border in the best interest of both the countries. If they are really landless people, both the governments should settle them in their respective territories.