Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Coming to Nepal During Monsoon-Landslides?

People ask me about coming to Nepal during the summer time in regard to landslides. I’ve never really heard much complaining because everyone who comes here seems to be so excited about being here. My concern is usually for the weather patterns in the Kathmandu Valley, which is usually quite manageable. Sometimes it rains all night or all day, but most of the time it rains for ten minutes or so at a time if it's a heavy downpour. That usually means it's tea time. I just duck into a local tea spot and make the most of it. Other times everyone just huddles under the eaves. It usually doesn't take long to let up enough for everyone to move on.

“Landslides can be triggered by earthquakes, volcanic activity, changes in groundwater, a disturbance or change of slope. Intense rainfall over a short period of time tends to trigger shallow, fast-moving mud and debris flows. Slow, steady rainfall over a long period of time may trigger deeper, slow-moving landslides. Different materials behave differently, too, ” according to TechMediaNetwork. http://www.livescience.com/32373-what-is-a-landslide.html Certainly mountainous terrain such as these photos show give you an indication of why landslides could occur; there is nothing to hold the soil.

Cattle and other animals on the trail should be approached with extreme caution.

The US and Canada have some huge landslides as does any country where they have mountainous terrain. Volcanoes, earthquakes and monsoons all contribute to this problem and because Nepal has one of the biggest differences in elevation, 70 meter in the Terai to Mt. Everest at over 8,800 meters, its ideal terrain for landslides. Not only do the vast changes in elevation contribute to the problem, lack of infrastructure and the heavy rains of the monsoon make matters much worse in Nepal. Additionally, we have the usual deforestation issues, some strip mining for brick production, a growing human population, etc. that also can contribute. Fortunately, the Nepali government earns enough from tourism that they are making an effort to keep Nepal beautiful. Be careful to follow all the environmental laws while you are trekking. They are really serious about them.

A few months ago a couple of tourist friends went to Eastern Nepal. They were both horrified as they looked out the public bus window to the terrain below. Not only are landslides a possible danger for those riding on buses, but riding on public buses is an act of bravery in itself. They are notorious for breaking down or going over the cliffs. I suggest inspecting the bus before you get on. Check the tires and overall condition. There are many buses leaving everyday so you never have to accept the first bus you see. Some look to be older than the majority of passengers while others. Many buses were not luxury from the start, but for the same price you can choose a much newer bus with high-back seats and extra leg room. Seriously, if you are taking the public bus instead of a ‘tourist’ bus you will need to do the best you can to get a well maintained, newer, higher end bus.
Yes, this is a goat on the bus.

Notice these seats. This bus would be very uncomfortable.

If you come to Nepal during the summer months you will need to be aware of the landslide issue. When you are ready to go outside the valley for your trekking you should check the weather and make sure it isn’t a heavy rain climate system. If you use a trekking company you should hold your ground and be sure to synchronize your trek to the weather pattern. If you need to wait a day or two to start the trek, so be it. Do not allow the trekking company’s need to earn money to manipulate you into doing a trek if the weather looks like it will make landslides more likely. 

Just because it’s monsoon it doesn’t mean a landslide is all that likely, but if it is during the heart of the monsoon, with nothing but clouds and rain for several days it makes landslides much more likely. There are only about 30 landslides likely in Nepal each year, so you should be proactive so as not to encounter one.Try this link from Nepal: A Tourist's Manual:

Thanks to Sven Shuster, Germany, for the photos. 

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