The 2015 earthquake that hit Nepal badly damaged its tourism industry
The country's tourism sector is rebuilding with a focus on sustainability and heritage
It’s been nearly two years since one of Nepal’s major fault lines sparked the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that claimed at least 8,000 lives and many of the Himalayan nation’s historic monuments.
Yet the damage is still being felt.
Online hotel reviews in Nepal are plagued by complaints of disruption by rebuilding work. Most of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites shattered during the quake remain in ruins.
And in 2015, tourist arrivals to the country were down by 30%, the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) tells CNN.
But positives have emerged. As Nepal slowly rebuilds its tourism industry, it’s doing so with a new emphasis on safe architecture, sustainability and heritage, says Sudhan Subedi, press officer for the NTB.
“People today are more concerned about their heritage,” he tells CNN. “They are newly conscious about building codes and architecturally they are making stronger structures.”
Here, CNN highlights five boutique hotels helping to build a new responsible era in Nepalese tourism.
Dwarika’s Hotel, Kathmandu
Dwarika's Hotel Kathmandu
Often described as a “living museum,” this family-run five-star hotel has become a savior of Newari crafts and architecture, dating back to the ancient Malla dynasty (1201-1769), as the Kathmandu valley tears down old buildings in its hurry to modernize.
In the 1970s, founder Dwarika Das Shrestha built the luxurious Dwarika’s Hotel in the redbrick style of the valley’s Durbar Square palaces, and incorporated into the design salvaged Newari wooden carvings, using them as window frames, floorboards, and even an elevator cabin.
Today, Dwarika’s Hotel claims to boast the world’s largest private collection of wooden carvings.
The hotel’s mission has become newly important since the earthquake, which destroyed countless Newari temples and artworks.
Its on-site wood workshop teaches young craftsmen the now rare ancient skill of Newari carving, returns old pieces to their former glory and is helping restoration efforts at the Kathmandu Valley palaces.
Dwarika’s Hotel, 459 Battisputali, Kathmandu, Nepal; +977 1447 9488.
Swotha Traditional Homes, Patan
Swotha Traditional Homes in Patan
The old Newari-style homes on the fringes of Patan’s Durbar Square are being rapidly replaced by new buildings.
In 2011, a group of architect friends founded Swotha Traditional Homes, preserving a 70-year-old traditional building by turning it into a heritage hotel.
When the 2015 earthquake hit, Swotha – just 100 meters from some of the worst devastation – withstood the quake with minor injuries, due to sound structural planning, the owners tell CNN.
The building’s original wooden beams and layout have been retained, with modern luxuries such as Wi-Fi, hot water and a great restaurant added. To safeguard against Kathmandu’s notorious power cuts, the building’s design incorporates solar power and rainwater harvesting.
Swotha Traditional Homes, Patan 44600, Nepal; +977 1555 1184.
The Pavilions Himalaya, Pokhara
The Pavillions Himalaya
This stylish five-star eco resort was opened in November 2015 by Dutch-Scotsman Douglas Maclagan – who has spent the past 25 years working on social projects in Nepal – on land once attached to his farmhouse in Pokhara.
The property is entirely self-sustainable.
Maclagan tells CNN that “massive tanks” under the resort’s 16 villas harvest rainwater, which is then cleaned and fed to sinks and showers. After being used, this “grey water” is treated and used to flush toilets. “Then we use that ‘black water’ to create our own bio-gas. That gas cooks our food.”
The hotel also has an organic farm – home to buffaloes, goats, chicken and sometimes boars, as well as vegetable patches – which supplies the hotel restaurant.
The majority of employees are from the local village, and 70% of the hotel’s profits will fund projects for disadvantaged children.
The Pavilions Himalaya, Ward No. 25, Chisapani, Pokhara 33700, Nepal; +977 975-6008117.
Barahi Jungle Lodge, Chitwan
Barahi Jungle Lodge
In 2009, the Nepalese government controversially ordered all resorts operating within Chitwan National Park – home to one of the world’s largest Bengal tiger populations, and rare rhinoceros – to exit the park to assist wildlife conservation efforts.
After the final eviction deadline in 2012, Barahi Jungle Lodge upped sticks to the wider Chitwan area and reinvented itself as an eco-lodge; in 2015 it was rated by the Travel Operators for Tigers as “outstanding” in sustainability.
The resort doesn’t serve drinking water in plastic bottles, runs outreach programs with the local Tharu tribe and has planted 5,500 indigenous plants, including seasonal fruits which guests are encouraged to pluck and eat.
None of this has come at the expense of luxury.
All 18 huts in the resort’s 13 hectares of pristine forest have a view of the Rapti River and national park, as well as a private balcony and access to the biggest swimming pool in Chitwan.
Barahi Jungle Lodge, Megauli, 97761, Nepal; +977 1442 9820.
Heritage Hotel, Bhaktapur
Heritage Hotel Bhaktapur
A deep bow to Nepali tradition, the 25-room Heritage Hotel bills itself as the first luxury hotel in Bhaktapur, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the hardest hit of the Kathmandu Valley’s three Durbar Squares in the 2015 earthquake.
The vision of owner Prakas Mohan Dhaubhadel, nearly all furniture in this hotel is a salvaged antique – the 75-year-old carved window frames were pulled from a bonfire while the 400-year-old stone flooring was rescued from the rubble of a destroyed royal palace.
The hotel also pays scouts to lookout for discarded antiques.
Heritage Hotel, Bhaktapur Rd, Bhaktapur 21164, Nepal; +977 1661 1628.