--By Gaurav Aryal
Explore Nepal Group
The Explore Nepal Group has identified itself as a hospitality company that offers authentic and exotic Nepali lifestyle and flavour to its guests. The group through its two hotels, a wildlife camp and an eatery, serves the authentic flavours of Nepali lifestyle, food, hospitality and architecture. Kantipur Temple House at Jyatha, Kathmandu, Gaunghar in Bandipur, Koshi Tappu Wildlife Camp in Prakashpur of Koshi and Bhojan Griha at Dillibazar, Kathmandu serve these blends of Nepal.
When the first foundation stone of the group was laid, Bharat Basnet, founder of the group had envisioned developing all of the properties that match the Nepali way of living. He believes that tourists come to Nepal to see the rich cultural and natural heritages of Nepal than the modernity that they are accustomed to, in their home countries.
The group is currently employing 250 people in its various companies. And, Basnet says that employees working in the hotel have not received formal hotel management degrees but learnt by doing and through trainings.
Venture into Tourism
Basnet made his entry into the tourism industry in 1979 as an employee of Yeti Travels Pvt Ltd, one of the leading travel agencies of Nepal. Then, from 1981 to 1987, he worked at the Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge in Chitwan. He also travelled to USA and Germany in the late 80s. This journey into some of the most developed societies helped him peek into the western psyche and their perception about travelling the world.
Being a person who had seen the rich and diverse culture, tradition and natural beauty of Nepal, Basnet felt that these all could attract thousands of tourists every year. He was always keen in contributing to the conservation and promotion of the Nepali architecture, art and culture. So, the hotel projects that he developed followed the traditional Nepali design and structures. He believes that the Nepali natural and cultural opulence can be cashed in for the benefits of people as well as the economy at large.
It was in 1987, when he started a travel agency - The Explore Nepal – that works on both inbound and outbound tours. The company also offers adventure packages on mountain biking, rafting, kayaking, canoeing, trekking, wild life safaris and cultural tours among others. Along with Nepal, the company also offers packages in Tibet and Bhutan.
The second venture – Koshi Tappu Wildlife Camp - was established in 1993 in Prakashpur VDC of Koshi, near the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve. Basnet bought fallow land from locals and planted trees. He says that the area has become a sanctuary for bird watching. Along with starting a wildlife camp there, Basnet, under his initiative made the area plastic-bags-free. Similarly, he also invested in local health posts and schools to upgrade their services.
Living in Nepali Style
Basnet has witnessed the distinctiveness of Nepali architect and building styles loosing its charm in the nooks and narrow streets of rapidly expanding concrete jungle. “We are losing our identity in the rapid and haphazard urbanisation leading to both visual and environmental pollution,” says Basnet.
To provide a distinct flavour of Nepali hospitality, Basnet built Kantipur Temple House at Jyatha, Kathmandu. The hotel established in 1997 was later expanded with courtyards and gardens in the similar style replicating the ancient cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur. The construction of the hotel is done in such a way that it looks like it is built with woods and bricks. It follows the ancient Malla architecture. Similarly, decors and furnishings such as curtains, bed sheets, cutlery, table mats used in the hotel’s 48 rooms and restaurant are all bio-degradable and hand-made in Nepal. Basnet argues that use of local products and skills help the foreign currency earned in the tourism industry to be distributed among Nepalis.
Likewise, Gaunghar in Bandipur, Tanahu is built in the style replicating the local lifestyle. This hotel initially had 15 rooms but now, it has 29 rooms. Basnet shares that it is being expanded. The hotel also employs local people in the hotel and uses local organic produces for preparing authentic local as well as western cuisines. The hotel is built by restoring the old houses of local residents. Basnet says that a new building is under renovation for increasing its room capacity.
Bhojan Griha, a restaurant serving traditional, organic and ethnic cuisines is popular among both local and foreign clients. Established in 1998, the restaurant is in a 150 years old historic building. The restaurant in a neo-classical building that preserves intricate Nepali decor and serves the richness of Nepali cuisines and eating habits. Basnet says that the restaurant also shows what we eat and how healthy and balanced our food is.
Basnet is a believer of promoting Nepali products that will benefit Nepalis living in different parts of the country. So, for the last three years, Basnet is also running a project named Kheti Bazaar that purchases organic products produced in villages from farmers and sells to hotels and restaurants in Kathmandu. Hotels and restaurants under the group also use the same products. He has encouraged his younger generation to carry out some projects in Nepal though they are currently studying abroad.
Basnet had bought land in Bhaktapur and Pokhara with a vision to develop new ventures but he has now become hesitant to take risk and make large investments there. He feels that there is a severe lack of investment climate and the unhealthy competition going on in the hospitality industry makes it even more challenging to take risk.
Unfortunately, two projects – a resort in Chitwan and a hotel in Gorkha–were closed down during the insurgency period. This has cautionedBasnetfrom investing and taking risk in the industry. “The dream I have seen for the industry is very unlikely to be realised now. I am not discouraged but it is unfortunate that nobody is promoting the unique Nepali brands and authentic service offerings. It is missing in the entrepreneurs as well as in the government side,” he said expressing his dissatisfaction.
The Explore Nepal Group, under the initiative of Basnet has carried out various environmental campaigns. Basnet claims that his role has been pivotal in displacing Bikram Tempo from Kathmandu in the late 1990. Similarly, his company has carried out campaigns for cleaning heritage sites working closely with local people. He had also helped in establishing eco-clubs in schools. He says that these are some of the ways the income he has made through the tourism business is used for the benefits of the local community and the environment. Likewise, the group supports the Samata Sikshya Niketan, a school for underprivileged children. The companies under the group do not promote using plastic bags and encourages guests to bring their own water bottles by not selling bottled mineral water. The group has upgraded and renovated a stone spout at Dilli Bazar. Basnet says that his business has been established with an objective to bring changes in the lives of people through tourism.