Feature: Quake widows in Nepal earn living through tourism
This year's spring trekking season has been particularly busy for 28-year-old Tashi Tamang.
For the first time in her life, Tashi has been operating a hotel in Langtang village serving trekkers from various countries and local porters.
On some days, she does not even get enough time to have lunch until 4:00 p.m. in her stone-carved, newly constructed hotel, which is called "Flavor Guest House."
Having lost five members of her family including her husband in the devastating earthquake in 2015, Tashi has found a means of livelihood from the hotel business, thanks to booming tourism in the region.
Today, Tashi is the sole breadwinner of her three-member family and her life is gearing up to hold a promising future for her two children.
Dressed in a traditional Tamang black skirt and a purple jacket with scarf on her head to protect from the cold, Tashi said her life had been turned upside down by the earthquake.
"I lost my husband, my 2-year-old baby son, a loving mother-in-law and my own father and mother. I had never imagined that nature could be so cruel," she exclaimed.
Tashi's husband was a trekking guide and was at his own home with his family members on April 25, 2015, when the quake shattered the Himalayan nation killing nearly 9,000 people.
Tashi survived the disaster as she was five hours walking distance away from her village, on her way to the capital city to see off her two children prior to their new academic session.
Her two children, aged eight and nine, study at a private boarding school in Kathmandu under the financial support of a foreign couple, who were once the client of her departed husband.
"My youngest son had hardly started uttering the word mother and he is gone forever," Tashi said with tearful eyes, adding, "I am left alone with many struggles and huge responsibilities."
Over 300 people including 80 foreign trekkers and 10 army personnel had lost their lives in the Langtang region alone in an earthquake-triggered avalanche.
Most of the local residents lost their lives in the same place as they all gathered to attend a traditional funeral ritual of the Tamang community called "Ghewa."
Langtang, located to the central-north of the capital city Kathmandu, is one of the most popular trekking destinations among foreign trekkers.
The valley is renowned for its snow-capped Himalayan peaks, lakes, flora and fauna and the rich culture of the local inhabitants, including the Tamangs and Sherpas, whose culture resembles that of Tibet.
Different global travel magazines along with The New York Times have featured the Langtang region as one of the "must visit" places in 2017.
The whole Langtang village, which looks deserted today, was swept away by the disaster, with only rocks and stones, small artificial ponds and the remains of houses and kitchen utensils. Big prayer flags have been erected by the family members in the same locations where their houses were once located.
Following the earthquake, all the survivors were airlifted to the capital city where they stayed for up to six months together in a Buddhist monastery, before heading back to their own land to start their lives again from zero.
A new settlement of two dozen houses has been formed just a few meters away from the old Langtang village. There are plenty of stone and wooden guest houses and tea-shops run by quake survivors, widows and orphans to cater to the growing numbers of trekkers.
Dawa Kyalmu, 40, has had a similar experience to Tashi.
She lost her husband Cheng Tamang, who ran a bakery for 15 years, in the earthquake. Over the past year, she has been running the "Friendly Family Guest House" in Langtang, while her three children stay in nearby town with the support of an NGO.
A foreign organization supported her in constructing the four-room building and a separate kitchen.
"I am running this hotel alone and this is my source of income now. There were less tourists in 2016, but this year, the flow is high. The income supports the education of my children," Kyalmu told Xinhua, while preparing lunch in the kitchen for a group of foreign trekkers.
By serving a typical Nepali lunch and dinner, cold drinks, noodles and biscuits, she could earn up to Rs. 10,000 a day (about 100 U.S. dollars) in April, the most popular tourism season after autumn.
In 2016, foreign tourist arrivals to Nepal jumped almost 40 percent to 753,002.
Langtang is the third most popular trekking destination in Nepal after Annapurna and the Chomolangma region. According to the Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN), more than 12,000 tourists used to visit the Langtang National Park every year before the quake and the number is expected to be similar this year.
Although April 25 marked the second anniversary of the deadly quake, the locals of the Langtang region are preparing to mark anniversaries of the funerals of their family members next week only, as per their religious calendar. They are collecting money to organize a mass puja to pray in and to honor all of the names of the deceased.
Karmu Tamang, who lost her 27-year-old son in the avalanche, runs a hotel in Lama village.
Distributing free water and cold drinks to trekkers and passersby, Karmu told Xinhua, "By the grace of God, my hotel makes good money. I am distributing a portion of my earnings in the name of my deceased son, so that he can rest in peace easily.