Nepal reopens border to overland visitors from IndiaNepal sealed the border with India in March 2020 with the coronavirus in full rampage, only allowing trucks carrying vital supplies to pass.
The first overland Indian tourists in one and a half years crossed into Nepal at the Raxaul-Birgunj border on Friday, as the country cautiously reopened to foreign visitors after the pandemic appeared to recede.
Nepal sealed the border with India in March 2020 with the coronavirus in full rampage, only allowing trucks carrying vital supplies to pass.
Local authorities unlocked the gates to vehicles bearing Indian number plates on Friday, permitting free movement of Indian tourists. Nepal and India share a 1,800-kilometre-long porous border.
The opening up followed a September 21 cabinet decision to allow cross-border tourism activities and trade.
Subsequently, on September 23, Nepal implemented a new travel protocol which eliminated the seven-day quarantine requirement and resumed issuing on-arrival visas to all vaccinated foreign travellers in a bid to bring its virus-ravaged tourism industry back to life.
Visitors should have received their last dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at least 14 full days prior to entering Nepal. Those who are not vaccinated or partially vaccinated will not get on-arrival visas. They have to get their entry permits from Nepali diplomatic missions, and also spend 10 days in quarantine in government-listed hotels.
The government has revised the travel protocol removing the mandatory provision for all travellers to undergo mandatory antigen or rapid antigen tests at immigration entry points.
On Friday, tourism entrepreneurs in Birgunj welcomed the first vehicle carrying Indian tourists.
“We have planned our holiday trip up to Hetauda,” said Anuj Sinha, one of the group of four sightseers who were the first to enter Nepal on Friday. He said they were thrilled by the warm welcome at the border.
Mayor of Birgunj Metropolitan City Vijay Kumar Sarawagi said he expected Indian tourist arrivals to increase since the restriction on vehicle movement has been removed.
“It will also reduce the difficulties of people of both countries who were prevented from travelling due to the Covid-19 pandemic."
Travel trade entrepreneurs had been urging local authorities to reopen the border for Indian tourists for a long time.
“Indian tourists are a big contributor to Nepal’s tourism,” said Hari Panta, president of the Hotel and Tourism Entrepreneurs Association in Birgunj.
“Until we make it easier for Indian tourists to visit Nepal, the industry will not recover. After prolonged pressure, the administration has finally given permission for Indian vehicles to enter Nepal. This is a welcome move.”
Harihar Poudel, chief of the Birgunj Customs Office, said they had allowed Indian passenger vehicles to enter Nepal following the cabinet decision. “The tourists, however, need to follow all health safety protocols as stated in the travel protocol.”
Indian nationals arriving in Nepal through land border points need to submit a Covid-19 negative report (RT-PCR, Gene Expert, True NAAT or WHO accredited test) obtained within 72 hours of departure from the first port of embarkation or within 72 hours if entering Nepal by land.
They are required to produce a printed copy of the international traveller online arrival form, obtained after online registration at www.ccmc.gov.np, to ensure arrival permission.
Travel and tourism businesses, which accounted for around 8 percent of the country's gross domestic product and provided more than 1.05 million jobs directly and indirectly in pre-Covid times, were the hardest hit after travel restrictions came into force in late March last year.
Nepal received 33,680 Indian tourists by air in the first eight months of 2021, according to the Department of Tourism. There is no data of Indians crossing land border points. According to the statistics, Indian arrivals started to recover from January and February when 4,028 and 4,763 visitors respectively entered the country.
The figure jumped to 7,658 in March as the government reopened the country to foreign travellers in spring in the hope of lifting up the economy and employment by reviving tourism.
As a result, a sharp growth in arrivals was observed in April with 13,202 Indian visitors entering Nepal.
After the second Covid-19 wave hit Nepal in April, the country slid into a devastating crisis with the authorities enforcing strict lockdown measures. Nepal imposed a second lockdown on April 29. Consequently, the number of Indian visitors plummeted to 580 in May and 359 in June.
About two months later, the restrictions were relaxed gradually, and since September 1, almost everything has been allowed to reopen.
India is Nepal’s top tourist source market. Nepal received 1.17 million tourists via air and land routes in 2019, with Indians accounting for 209,611 arrivals.