Nepal bans unguided trekking expeditions for foreigners

By Sangam Prasain

Kathmandu, Apr 1 (EFE).- Nepal has banned solo mountaineering and trekking expeditions without a local guided from Saturday, triggering criticism in some regions of the country over curbing the tourists’ freedom of movement.

The Nepal Tourism Board has made it mandatory to hire a guide in Nepal’s national parks, mountains and nature conservation areas in order to “ensure trekkers’ safety and also to create employment,” the body’s director Mani Raj Lamichhane told EFE.

The norm, already in place for climbers aiming to scale Mt Everest alone for a few years, was welcomed by private tour and trek operators in the country as they hope it would boost employment in a country severely hit by Covid restrictions in recent past.

Nilhari Bastola, president of the Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal, told EFE that the mandatory guide provision could provide new jobs for around 40,000 Nepalis.

“It will not create much of a financial burden to trekkers as for a day-long trek, the guide’s fee ranges from $25 to $50, depending on the distance,” he insisted.

According to the guideline, not complying with the rule would invite a fine of 12,000 Nepali rupees ($92) for the tourists and 10,000 rupees for operators offering treks without a guide in these areas.

Apart from generating employment, the measure also aims to prevent trekkers from getting lost or hurt in the mountains.

Chandra Kishore Shah, an inspector with the Nepal Tourist Police, told EFE that around a dozen trekkers go missing in the country every year.

Although most of them are found later, “3-4 foreigners go missing annually on different trekking routes” where they are s often disoriented and lost in challenging and unknown territory, he added.

“Most of the trekkers are not adequately prepared to deal with high altitude sickness. If they don’t have support guides, they die,” Shah said, citing the example of Lee Myungkap, a South Korean tourist who died of altitude sickness in the Everest region last year, among others.

At the time of the interview, the tourist police was searching for five missing trekkers from South Korea, India, Israel, Jordan and Malaysia.

However, the norm has triggered opposition from local authorities in the Everest region.

The rural municipality of Khumbu Pasang Lhamu, which includes Mt Everest, has insisted on not implementing the norm.

So far, the local guidelines only recommend hiring a guide for local trekking expeditions without making it mandatory, according to Mohan Prasad Chapagain, the chief administrative officer of the municipality.

Another local official told EFE that the decision restricted the free movement of trekkers.

“Trekkers come to Nepal for adventure and it’s their right to walk freely. We oppose this decision,” said Laxman Adhikari, the chairman of Khumbu Pasang Lhamu municipality’s ward no. 4.

Nepal received as many as 300,000 trekkers and mountaineers every year before the Covid-19 pandemic, including around 55,000 in the Everest region, as per official data.

The most popular climbing and trekking routes include Mt Annapurna (central), which attracts a high number of enthusiasts eager to practice mountaineering at a relatively low cost. EFE


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