Mountaineering in Nepal : Balancing between commercialization and rationalization

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Dilli Raman Dhakal  

As defined by Wikipedia, “Mountaineering is the set of activities that involves ascending mountains. Mountaineering-related activities include traditional outdoor climbing, hiking, skiing, and traversing via ferrates, or protected the climbing route. Indoor climbing, sport climbing, and bouldering are usually considered mountaineering as well”. Nepal occupies a unique geographical and topographical place on earth with its magnificent natural features. There are around 1300 mountain peaks including 8 of the world’s highest mountains. Thus far 326 peaks are open for mountaineering.

The spring season mountaineering has started in Nepal. Till 15 April 2019 the Dept of Tourism has given permission to 78 expedition teams comprising of 692 members. Most permissions were issued for Mount Everest or Sagarmatha followed by Lhotse, Amadablam and other peaks.  Mainly there are two seasons, spring and autumn when mountaineers aspire to climb high mountains and permissions are issued accordingly.  If compared to the prior figures, the number of teams and climbers permitted this year is much higher for the spring season. So, may the case for the year 2019.

Mountains are the lifelines for Nepal. The tourism business has immensely helped contributing nation’s economy and development pace. Activities like expedition and trekking have brought a drastic upliftment in the lives of mountain people in particular. Basically, Sherpa communities are the pioneer in expedition business. Sherpa’s knowledge, skill, expertise, and bravery for climbing mountains are well known and have been appreciated all over. Of late, there are signs of positive changes observed with the involvement of other communities venturing into mountaineering activities. Nepalis at the foot of Mount Everest, Solukhumbu, and neighboring areas, have defeated poverty by receiving professional and amateur mountaineers, trekkers, travelers, and tourists, but in the meantime have also posed harsh environmental challenges to the mountain eco-system.

Taking into account the blessed geographical posture of the country, the tourism sector is and will remain the perennial economic activity forever. Thus, to move out of the box, Nepal should carefully review how to use and take advantage of mountaineering. Should we continue with granting more and more permission to the expedition team and ignore other fundamental issues? How are things affected by garbage piles, dead bodies and environmental impacts around mountains and beyond?  The policy makers, tourism entrepreneurs, locals and environmentalists must think with cool head how the mountains can be used rationally. Commercialization of mountains, in the long run, will be detrimental to environmental and various other aspects. It’s a known fact that global warming has badly affected the whole world and mountains are terribly affected. During my own lifetime, I have seen the worst effects caused by global warming in our mountains. I could see snow from my home much below to present level around the Annapurna range. Now the snow level has gone up and up towards the peak turning most below parts into black. It’s a very bad sign. I had seen and observed in Ruwenzori Mountain in Uganda and Kilimanjaro mountains in Tanzania. People living around Ruwenzori Mountain had informed me that the snow level has receded at a greater pace limiting it to the peaks. So was informed by Arusha people in Tanzania about Kilimanjaro Mountains.

Uncontrolled  garbage, poop, plastic, beer  cans, water bottles, noodle wrappers, and various other items and equipment carried by expedition and trekking teams left rampantly has adversely affected the pristine mountain eco-system in Nepal.  It should be noted here that the local residents are equally responsible for ruining the whole eco-system in Nepal. Uncontrolled and unplanned garbage is a serious issue along trekking routes and all over Nepal but here we are talking about the source, the water source that flows down the valley reaches to the sea. When the source is filthy and contaminated, the bad effects downstream are even worst. If not checked and properly manage this menace, the succeeding generation will tremendously suffer.

Recently I read somewhere that one government Official was boasting for collecting 450 million as royalty for granting permission to expedition team during this spring season. When I went through the royalty collection figure, on an average Nepal is receiving over Rs 1100 million/ year. However, this amount doesn’t include other indirect expenses made by the expedition teams. A study is needed to reach closer to the financial gain made by Nepal by selling permissions to the teams; however, my rough estimate is that Nepal gains around 1700 million/year in total, inclusive of royalty by commercializing our pristine and majestic mountains. Is this a big amount we should be happy with or there are many other rational ways to limit the crowd but gain more by diversifying mountaineering activities? Nepal and China alone can’t protect mountains from global warming but can drastically reduce the bad impact by strictly putting legal provisions and implementation systems in place.  It’s welcome news that China has imposed strictest requirements for climbers. No Chinese nationals will be given permission unless they have summited an 8,000-meter peak before attempting Mount Everest from Tibet, side. For 2019, China will only issue 300 climbing permits to Mount Everest.  And, more importantly, China will place temporary toilets on the climbing route to manage poop and bring back to the base for proper disposal. Also Chinese are working collecting dead bodies along the climbing routes.

The mountains are the magical gift of nature and nature has entrusted us to harness benefits without harming her beauty. We have shared responsibilities together with China to protect, preserve and conserve Himalayan environment. It’s an opportune time to learn from China and other countries and reform our mountaineering and tourism policies that are eco-friendly and sustainable.

The other key aspects to be considered are managing the crowd, managing biodegradable and non-degradable garbage, managing human waste, collecting dead bodies and enforcing legal instruments to systematize mountaineering business. Commercialization is transient and damaging as well.  a rational, eco-friendly, pro-people and the pro-business path is must to protect, preserve and promote tourism in the country.

I think it’s appropriate here to conclude with the most relevant words of wisdom of 4th century B.C. Taoist philosopher Hsuen Tzu:

“You glorify nature and meditate on her:

Why not domesticate her and regulate her?

You obey nature and sing her praise:

Why not control her course and use it?

You look on the seasons with reverence and await them:

Why not respond to them by seasonal activities?

You depend on things and marvel at them:

Why not unfold your own activity and transform them?

You meditate on what makes a thing a thing:

Why not so order things that you may not waste them?


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