Kathmandu yet to see Dashain travel rushMany people cite reduced incomes due to the pandemic as the reason for cancelling their annual holiday journeys home.
Kopila Ghimire used to get excited about Dashain holidays weeks before the festival began. She would clean her room and go shopping to buy new clothes for her parents and two siblings who live in Khotang.
But this year her mood is different. Ghatasthapana, the beginning of a 10-day Dashain festival, is less than a week away, and Ghimire is not feeling the festive joy.
Unlike in the past years, the 25-year-old is not going home to celebrate Dashain with her family this time.
“I have been living in Kathmandu for the past ten years, and this is the first time I am not going to my village,” said Ghimire, who is from Rawa Besi Rural Municipality-4 of Khotang.
She says she doesn’t have any relatives in Kathmandu to celebrate the festival with.
“I am not leaving this time because our finances are not good and I need to set aside over Rs 50,000 if I decide to go home,” said Ghimire, who lost her job at a private firm after the authorities imposed Covid-19 prohibitory orders in April.
“I remained jobless for a few months and used up the little savings I had. I have joined a new job only recently. Since it’s a new job, I am not allowed to take a long Dashain holiday,” said Ghimire, who lives in a rented room at Kalanki.
Ghimire is sad that she will be missing Dashain Tika with her family this year. To cheer herself up, she says she plans to indulge herself by shopping.
Anita Khanal, 40, of Samakhusi, her husband and their two sons also won’t be visiting their hometown in Lamjung this year to cut the Dashain expenses.
“We have decided to invite my mother-in-law to Kathmandu for Dashain Tika, because that way we will be able to save money,” said Khanal, who runs a stationery shop with her husband.
She said by deciding not to visit their hometown this time, the family would be saving over Rs60,000.
“That is a huge amount of money for people like us,” said Khanal.
Khanal said cancelling Dashain travel is going to cut her family’s expenses, as their income has suffered heavily due to the lockdowns. Last year, too, the Khanals didn’t go home for the festival because of the pandemic.
“It’s true our whole family loves to go to the village, because Dashain in the village is really different. If things get better next year, we will definitely go,” she said.
Although the government opened pre-Dashain ticket booking on September 27, bus operators say their counters are mostly empty and very few people have booked tickets.
“We have set up 11 more counters for Dashain ticket booking besides the 32 existing ones, but most of them are empty,” said Sunil Kunwar, general manager of Lhotse Multipurpose Private Limited which operates the New Bus Park in Gongabu.
Kunwar said only around 4,500 people have booked their bus tickets in the last five days. Earlier, the bus park used to be crowded with people coming to book tickets.
“Last year we didn’t open ticket booking for Dashain because of Covid-19, but in earlier years, we would sell more tickets in a single day than what we have sold in five days this year,” said Kunwar.
Only 250 long-route buses are operating from the Bus Park these days. Before the pandemic, 400 to 600 buses would leave Kathmandu Valley daily carrying passengers to their full capacity.
Saroj Sitaula, general secretary at the Federation of Nepalese National Transport Entrepreneurs, said opening ticket booking for Dashain was unnecessary.
“The government forced us to start booking tickets for Dashain even though there aren’t many people leaving the Valley. Also the highways and roads—sections of the Prithvi Highway and Daunne section of the East-West Highway—have been damaged by rains but the government is not concerned about repairing them,” said Sitaula.
He further said many students and parents are already in their home villages due to the second wave of Covid-19. “Also those who are in Kathmandu are not leaving because they might not have enough funds to celebrate the festival lavishly,” said Sitaula.
Superintendent of Police Sanjeev Sharma Das, who is also the spokesperson of the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division, told the Post on Friday that passenger departures have not increased.
“Until now, the flow of passengers at New Bus Park has not increased markedly, but Ghatasthapana is still a week away, so we are not sure if more people will be leaving the Valley after the festival starts,” said Das. He also said many people are now travelling in private vehicles fearing Covid infection and this could be one of the reasons for the reduced rush for bus tickets.
However, the Capital’s major business districts such as Bhotahiti, New Road, Ason, New Baneshwar and Koteshwar have been seeing big crowds of Dashain shoppers.
Das also said many people heading for their home districts are worried about possible lockdown. “Everyday a lot of people have been asking us whether the government is imposing another lockdown after Dashain. Although the government doesn’t have such a plan, many people are not leaving the Valley fearing a lockdown,” said Das.
According to the Division, on average 35,000 to 36,000 people are leaving the Valley and around the same number are entering every day from various entry points. A high-ranking Nepal Police official on condition of anonymity said the District Administration Office’s Thursday’s notice has created panic among the public as it has ordered people to avoid gatherings, meetings, processions and fairs.
“People’s reduced incomes and fear of infection could be the reasons for reduced festive spending and fewer people leaving the Valley,” said the official.