On 25 April 2015, a powerful earthquake of 7.8 magnitudes struck Nepal killing almost 9,000 people. Like with many other sectors, this tragedy also came as a tourism calamity for the country. Mountaineering expeditions including Mt Everest were cancelled. Nepal's tourism magnets of Kathmandu valley and its vicinities including Rasuwa's Langtang, Gorkha, the epicenter, among others, were almost paralyzed.
At the height of this natural disaster, Nepal was portrayed as an unsafe nation for world travelers. There was a message, through international media, that Nepal's tourism was crumbled with no safe places to travel to. But in fact, East Nepal was almost unaffected by the powerful quake and its repeated aftershocks. This led to the birth of the concept of 'Green East'.
Basudev Baral, a tourism activist, and entrepreneur from Dharan, a famous tourism city in East Nepal, coined the term. ''Earthquake was a disaster within central Nepal, but it did not affect much in the rest of the country'', remembered Basudev Baral, the tourism entrepreneur from Dharan, ''We capitalized the tragedy to boost tourism magnet of East Nepal, which was long neglected by Nepal's tourism authority as tourism was mainly promoted within Kathmandu, Pokhara, Lumbini and Chitwan.''
Baral and other tourism professionals turned towards adjoining Indian states of West Bengal and Sikkim to lure international tourists.
They embarked on a promotion journey to India on 8 August 2015. A 15-member team led by Sunsari Tourism Promotion Committee chair Shivaraj Shrestha travelled to Siliguri of West Bengal, Gangtok of Sikkim, and Darjeeling of West Bengal. They reached Siliguri on 8 August, Sikkim on 9 August, and Darjeeling on 11 August. They interacted with local tourism authorities and tourism professionals.
''What I felt unique about our tourism promotional journey to neighboring Indian states is that most of them did not know much about adjoining touristic areas of Nepal'', said Alina Magar, one of the members of the team. She added, ''They mostly talked about faraway tourism places like Kathmandu, Pokhara, Lumbini and Chitwan. We made presentations about some destinations in East Nepal they were impressed.''
Magar said some Indian travelers who had already been to Nepal complained about repeated hassles for Indian vehicles from both police and public.
East Nepal's team was on Indian soil after 100 days of Nepal's earthquake. Indian daily newspaper named 'The Statesman' had headlined 'Hit hard by April earthquake, Nepal turns to the east to revive the tourism industry.'' It wrote, ''As Nepal recently marked the 100th day of a devastating earthquake that struck some parts of the country including the capital city of Kathmandu, the government of the neighboring country has chalked out a comprehensive plan to revive the tourism industry.''
Concept of 'Green East' and 'East Nepal Travel Year 2017'
Basudev Baral said he coined the concept of 'Green East' mainly for two reasons. First, to start making package tours regionally, and second, to promote neglected tourism magnets of East Nepal.
''Tourism needs professionalism and for this destination, access, infrastructure, and people's participation are not enough. We need a standard travelling package. 'Green East' was a byproduct of these things for East Nepal'', said Baral. He stressed the importance of 'Green East' as it covers destinations from Sunsari to Ilam to Taplejung along the route of which almost all major destinations from plains, mid-hills, and Himalayas are included.
From Sunsari's Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve to Ilam's lush tea garden to Taplejung's Pathibhara and Himalayas, it includes many packages at one go, said Baral. ''We were encouraged by little growth of Indian travelers after our promotional tour'', said Baral, ''However, it was not satisfactory arrival as expected.''
Tourism professionals in 2015 had also planned about 'East Nepal Visit Year 2017'. Unfortunately, it did not happen mainly due to a lack of strong preparations by tourism professionals and adequate economic assurance by the sponsors and concerned governmental authority.
'Green East' for the post-pandemic tourism boom
Despite its inception in 2015, tourism entrepreneur Basudeb Baral says 'Green East' can be useful again in the aftermath of a pandemic.
''This concept of 'Green East' was born out of 2015 earthquake tragedy, and this can be utilized for post-pandemic tourism revival,'' said Baral. He added, ''We need this program again because it covers all major tourist destinations of Province 1. The black-topped roads and growing hotels add advantage to the future 'Green East' program when compared to 2015 when infrastructures and hotels were not developed much.''
According to Baral, 'Green East' is a tourism program to accommodate all destinations of East Nepal, which now boast of good infrastructure and accessibility. He said East Nepal's tourism is based on natural wonders like Sagarmatha and Makalu-Barun National Park, Kanchenjunga Conservation Area, Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, lush green tea gardens of Ilam, Bhedetar, Tamor, Arun, among others.
''We cannot arrange easy travel packages for travellers to all these areas. However, we can arrange where we do have good access and infrastructure for travelling. For this, we have 'Green East'', said Baral.
Tourism entrepreneurs like Baral are happy after Dharan local government has owned the ''Green East'' program to promote tourism in East Nepal. ''We are very serious about tourism activities, we have our own local tourism committee, we have published many travel booklets and have travelling materials online about Dharan and around'', said Kishor Thulung, the Deputy Co-coordinator of Dharan Tourism Promotion Committee.