By Sangam Prasain
Kathmandu, Oct 21 (efe-epa).- At a time when the Himalayas have been closed to mountaineers for more than seven months due to the coronavirus pandemic, Nepal opened its peaks to the prince of Bahrain and his million-dollar expedition.
Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa and the rest of the group, 15 Bahraini Royal Guards and three British nationals, successfully scaled Mount Manaslu, the eighth highest mountain in the world at 8,163 meters (26,782 feet), on Oct. 15, two days before the country officially opened for mountaineers around the world.
An extraordinary feat for common mortals but relatively routine in a country such as Nepal where more than 8,000 climbers scaled various peaks last year alone.
But the circumstances surrounding the expedition and the scale of the undertaking have little to do with what is considered “normal.”
Nepal had big plans for 2020, expecting to attract at least 2 million tourists – an increase of almost 66 percent compared to the previous year – most of them thanks to its crown jewel: Mount Everest.
But the arrival of the coronavirus forced the Nepalese government, as many others around the world, to close the country’s borders and impose restrictions to prevent the spread of the disease.
After more than seven months without foreign tourists, the country reopened Saturday after Al Khalifa and his team reached the top of Mount Manaslu, according to information from Nepal’s department of tourism.
The prince arrived on a private plane on Sep. 15 and, after spending a week in quarantine, began the process of acclimatization.
The expedition to Manaslu is part of his warm-up to climb Mount Everest in spring next year.
But if Nepal was not allowing tourists into the country, where did Al Khalifa’s expedition come from?
The Nepalese government has simply chosen to make an exception for the prince – and his money – at a time when the country’s tourism industry is going through one of its lowest moments.
Mingma Sherpa, managing director of Seven Summit Treks, the trekking agency that handled the royal expedition, told EFE that the prince of Bahrain ended up paying about $1.5 million for a month-long expedition, for which the group hired no less than 53 climbing guides.
“It was a royal expedition. The most high-profile expedition that we had ever handled,” explained Sherpa, adding that the expedition generated highly-paid jobs for at least 200 people directly.
“Indeed, it was a big boost for mountaineering workers who had lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
Al Khalifa’s goal is to scale the Mount Everest next year so Sherpa expects the money to keep pouring in.
“As they (the team) are sensitive with safety issues, we expect that they could hire 5 sherpa guides for each climber,” he said. “We expect they would spend at least $5 million or more for the Everest expedition.”
Foreigners typically pay $11,000 to obtain a permit to climb the world’s highest peak and between $40,000 and $90,000 for the entire expedition. In 2019, the Nepalese government earned $5.07 million in royalties from the issuance of climbing permits. Out of the total revenue, Everest accounted for $4.05 million.
Almost 500,000 people depend on tourism in Nepal for their livelihood. Out of those, at least 350,000 people in the trekking, mountaineering and hotels and restaurant industries have been rendered jobless this year due to the impact of COVID-19 on the tourism sector, Khum Bahadur Subedi, president of Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal, told EFE.
“As the government plans to gradually open the country’s tourism industry, we expect that the tourists will return to Nepal by the first quarter of next year,” he said. EFE-EPA