Indians with jobs or families abroad are using Kathmandu transit to go to countries like Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Hong Kong that have banned direct flights from India which is battered by a second wave.
Despite Nepal itself seeing a surge in Covid-19 cases and fatalities, and a week-long lockdown in New Delhi, neither India nor Nepal and destination countries have so far stopped the roundabout route.
This has led to a several-fold increase in air fares for the daily two flights between New Delhi and Kathmandu. While the 1 hour and 15 minute Kathmandu-Delhi flights cost Rs9,000 this week, Delhi-Kathmandu tickets are selling for up to Rs45,000.
“Yes, there is an increase in demand for tickets due to large numbers of Indian travelling to Kathmandu, so it is not possible to sell cheaper tickets,” admitted the Managing Director of Nepal Airlines Dim Prasad Poudel.
The number of Indians flying to Kathmandu from New Delhi has doubled in the past two months. There were 8,727 Indians arriving in Kathmandu from 1-18 April, while the number was only 4,763 in the whole of February.
Flights between New Delhi and Kathmandu were partially restored after India and Nepal had an ‘air bubble’ agreement, and the route is served by Air India and Nepal Airlines.
On 3 February, Saudi Arabia responded to the first signs of a resurgence of Covid-19 in India by stopping all direct flights from India and other affected countries. The Indian who come to Nepal spend two weeks in hotels in Kathmandu because of the Saudi requirement that passengers should not have been in India in the past two weeks.
Up to 400 Indian workers are leaving Kathmandu every day for Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Hong Kong and other countries after spending two weeks in Kathmandu hotels. Between 1-18 April, 5,250 Indian flew out of Kathmandu airport.
Indians wishing to travel to countries other than India from Kathmandu were required to have a no-objection letter from the Indian Embassy by Nepal Immigration, but from Tuesday, the requirement has been removed.
“We did this at the request of the Indian Embassy,” Immigration Department Sushil Baidya confirmed. There used to be long lines of Indians waiting outside the Indian Embassy in Lainchaur for the documents in the past weeks. Indian who have arrived in Kathmandu by road from India, however, still need the no-objection letter.
The increased numbers of Indians arriving and staying for two weeks has meant that Kathmandu’s budget hotels are currently packed.
“We have seen an increase in bookings in budget hotels, and occupancy is up even in 2 and 3 start hotels,” says Sajan Shakya of the Hotel Association of Nepal (HAN). “This is a relief for many establishments which had no guests for over one year.”
Nepal Airlines has now approached the Indian civil aviation authorities for permission to resume flights to Mumbai and Bengaluru. However, with the number of new Covid-19 cases in Indian reaching 300,000 a day, the carrier may have to rethink that plan.
“We might have to cut even the flights we have to Delhi because of the second wave in India,” Nepal Airlines spokesperson Raj Kumar Chhetri said.