Nepal was closed to foreigners under the autocratic Rana Regime until 1951. The beginning of tourism in Nepal can be pointed to the first ever successful ascent of the mighty Mt. Everest on 29th May, 1953 by Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary. Initially the majority of the tourists were Americans who were of the retirement age.
In 1955, Nepal issued its first tourist visa on persistent request by Boris Lissanevitch. The legendary Russian hotelier pleaded to the then crown prince Mahendra to allow Thomas Cook & Son Ltd. to send tourists to Nepal. He even convinced a group of 20 tourists who were mostly females, to travel from Calcutta into Nepal.
The first tourists to come through were 10 Americans and 2 Brazilians. They stayed at the famous Royal Hotel, the first tourist standard hotel, started by Boris himself. The same year a private airline named ‘Himalaya Airways’ also started operations which was again a big boon to Nepal Tourism.
In 1956, National Planning Council on Tourism set up the first five year plan on tourism. The plan stated that ‘travel profession’ was an important tool to popularize Nepal and earn foreign currency.
In 1957, The Nepal Transportation Department was set up which paved the way for civil aviation. The same year, National Tourist Development board also came into existence. Royal Nepal Airlines Corporation (RNAC), now known as Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC), started its operation the following year in 1958. By 1959, Nepal became a member of International Union of Official Travel Organization, with a plan to develop tourism in Nepal. This plan was created by George Lebrec, a French national.
The year 1965 showed a 40% increase in the arrival of tourists. The following years in late 60’s drew in a new breed of tourists – ‘The Hippies’.
The Hippie Trail – Road to Kathmandu
During the late 1960s the hippie trail started to take off. Almost 50% of the tourists were aged between 16 to 30 and followed a radical and liberal anti-war philosophy along with “mind-exploring” activities that involved experimentations with sex, drugs, religion. One of their major reasons to come Kathmandu was hashish was legal at the time.
The Hippie Trail was a tour taken by these hippies in the 1960s and 1970s from Europe/America to Asia, mainly India and Nepal. Their objective was to discover their inner-self and for this reason they wanted to stay away from their home as long as possible. They took the cheapest form of transportation like buses, trains and also hitchhiking. Hippie trail shows a popular route from Europe via parts of Asia to India and Nepal. Most of them would start their journey from Istanbul (Turkey) and ending it in Goa (India) or Kathmandu (Nepal).
With the establishment of the Drug Enforcement Administration in 1973, hashish transaction was considered illegal. The hippie trail (new big thing) came to an end in 1979. With the Islamic revolution in Iran and the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, they closed the overland route to western travelers.
During 1975 – 1991, Nepal was the hot spot for holiday makers, adventure seekers and cultural tourists. The tourist count increased from 100,000 to 300,000 in a year. In 1998 Nepal celebrated “Visit Nepal 98” to strengthen Nepal tourism.
There was a fall in Nepal tourism with the hijacking of an Indian Airlines Plane from Tribhuwan International Airport on 24th December 1999. 2001 saw one of the worst events in Nepal – The royal massacre, in which our beloved King His Highness Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev and his entire family were mysteriously murdered.
Nepal tourism despite having a longer history has really developed since 1950s.Tourism has now emerged as a major contributor to the country’s economy. Figures released by the Ministry of Culture, Tourism & Civil Aviation show that the number of tourists has increased from 602,855 in 2010 – 2011 to 803,092 in 2011 – 2012. With the world’s largest mountain range ‘the Himalayas’, the tallest peak, Mt. Everest, and many areas of untouched nature to offer Nepal attracts many tourists, trekkers and climbers and has become one of the hottest destinations for tourism.
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