Lockdown, one year later
Exactly one year ago, on March 23rd, Nepal went into lockdown and the tourists had to be quickly evacuated on repatriation flights. Today, tourism is showing signs of a rebound. The number of tourist arrivals, which had been nearly zero since March 2020, has slowly started picking up since January. But tourists are still rare in Kathmandu, even in Thamel, its famous backpackers area. A disaster for the Nepalese population. Over 1 million Nepalis are employed in the tourism sector, directly and indirectly. Lots of restaurants closed, hotels had to cut prices to survive, several trek agencies collapsed, souvenirs street vendors, rickshaw drivers, trek guides, and so many others didn't earn any money for months.
Dita has been a street vendor at Kathmandu's Durbar Square for 8 years. And it has been almost a year that she sells almost nothing. 'The Nepalese don't buy my necklaces and without tourists, I don't earn anything'. But Dita comes back every morning. Around 9am, she meets up with Sabir, also a jewelry seller, for ten years. They have their usual spot, right next to Krishna's temple, Chasin Dega, destroyed during the 2015 earthquake but now restored. Previously they had to pay about 4000 rupees a year to be allowed to sell on the site, one of the most touristic in Kathmandu. Not for the moment. Either way they couldn't. 'I buy the beads, the pendants, the decorations and create my own necklaces. I sell them between 800 and 1000 rupees (5-8€) to tourists, sometimes a little more. Which gives me between 50 and 200 rupees of profit per necklace. Before Covid, I used to sell several a day, but since then, nothing. I come every morning, until evening because there is no work anyway. Or it is extremely poorly paid.' A year ago there were still 60 sellers in Durbar Square. Only about 30 now persist. The others gave up.
But normal life resumes in Kathmandu. The absence of tourists remains the only visible trace of Covid, with the wearing of mask. But even, there's been a clear slackening in recent weeks, especially as soon as we deviate from the main tracks.