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Tourism and other businesses still suffering 2 years after devastating quake in Nepal

Apr 27 2017 | 09:08 pm

Kathmandu: It has just been two years since Bishnu Shrestha opened the “Hotel Small Heaven” in the Tatopani area which borders China, with the hotel targeting traders involved in Nepal-China trade and tourists when the deadly earthquake struck Nepal on April 25, 2015.

Since the quake, the Tatopani-Khasa (Zhangmu) border point, which was the main trade route for inland bilateral trade between the two countries, has remained closed, leaving Shrestha’s business in dire straits.

The closure of the border point has severely hurt businesses which used to depend on the cross-border movement of goods and people, such as local hotels and restaurants, shops, business people carrying goods, and loaders among others.

“The traders and the Indian tourists were our main customers,” said Shrestha, recalling how his 28-room hotel used to be bustling with Indian tourists. “From May to September, Indian tourists used to fill the hotel rooms here,” he said.

He added that Nepalese traders involved in trade with China and those who used to visit the area to take a bath at a hot pond (Tatopani) believed to cure many ailments, also used to stay in hotels there.

Following the closure of the border two years ago, Shrestha rarely has customers stay in his hotel. Yet he has kept the hotel open, hoping that the border point will open one day.

With his cash flow largely stopped due to a lack of patronage, Shrestha is struggling to repay the bank loans taken to build the hotel.

Shrestha borrowed 7 million Nepalese Rupees (67,515 U.S. dollars) from banks to build the hotel at a cost of 40 million Nepalese rupees (385,802 U.S. dollars). “I have been paying the interest only but with much difficulty,” said Shrestha, who had to abandon his other business of importing Chinese readymade garments following the closure of the border point.

After hearing that China is developing infrastructure in the Nyalam area near Zhangmu to reopen the border, Shrestha is hopeful that his hotel business will survive. Nepalese officials also believe that the Tatopani border point will reopen after China completes the infrastructure development at Nyalam.

There are about a dozen hotels in the bordering areas and most of them are in sorry state following the closure of the border two years ago, according to Sindhupalchowk Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a group of district-based business people.

Not only the hotels, hundreds of container loaders and drivers have also lost their jobs due to the closure of the border point, according to Nimfunju Sherpa, senior vice-president of Sindhupalchowk Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Sherpa himself sold most of the containers he had owned following the closure of the border. “I had over two dozen containers but sold around half of them,” he said.

“I use these to import goods through Rasuwagadhi, the only operating border point on the western side of Tatopanni to do business with China, as well as for the delivery of goods brought via sea from southern border points,” said Sherpa.

Sherpa, who also owns a wholesale electronics shop and a clothes store, now imports most of his goods from China by sea via Kolkata, India.

It takes between 45 and 60 days for Nepalese traders to import goods via sea from Guangzhou, compared to 15-20 days it used to take when importing through Tatopani.

According to traders, although the Rasuwagadhi-Geelong trade route has been operational for land based trade, it is not as easy to import goods through this route as it is through Tatopani-Zhangmu because of poor road conditions along the border.

There are also some restrictions on Nepalese traders entering China.

“I used to import most of the goods from China through Tatopani, but now I have been importing most of the goods by sea,” said Bishnu Gwachha, who owns a kitchenware shop in the Bhaktapur district of Kathmandu.

Importing goods by sea costs more, both in terms of time and finance, but Gwachha sees few alternatives.

“I also incurred losses after the goods I was trying to import got stuck at Zhangmu for six months after the earthquake,” he said, adding that both Nepalese traders and Chinese business people have suffered losses due to the closure of the Tatopani border point.



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