Life & Leisure

Nepal Himalayas set to welcome first climbers in 6 months

By Sangam Prasain

Kathmandu, Sep 22 (efe-epa).- Lhakpa Nuru Sherpa, 29, has begun to acclimatize at the foot of Mount Everest in preparation for climbing Mount Baruntse in October for the first expedition in Nepal since the beginning of the pandemic and the subsequent closure in March.

This time, however, Nuru and the five members of his team will not guide foreign climbers but will be part of the “Nepal Tourism Recovery Expedition 2020”, which seeks to show the world that Nepalese guides and Himalayas are ready to receive tourists.

For now, Everest Base Camp will not look as crowded as it used to be with a few tents popping and yaks carrying cargo along the treacherous mountain roads.

“We are happy. We are back to the mountains,” Nuru of Khumjung, a tiny town along the route to Everest base camp, told EFE.

Nuru, the 9th time climber of Everest, said mountains looked like a ghost town all this while.

“For people like us, climbing is everything. It’s risky but it’s my job. We don’t have an alternative,” he said.

Nepal closed its borders and confined its population in March to prevent the coronavirus pandemic from spreading,

The ban caused huge economic losses not only as permit fees for the government but a complete decline of income for hiking agencies, sherpa guides, porters, and support staff.

Tshiring Sherpa, chairman of Asian Trekking, the agency organizing the first expedition after the lockdown, said the objective was to spread a positive message that despite the pandemic, the Himalayas, and the people of Nepal were waiting to welcome the visitors from around the world.

Last week, the Nepalese government also approved the arrival of foreign tourists from Oct. 17 for mountaineering or hiking after the country resumed international flights from Sep. 1.

As a security measure, tourists will have to present negative PCR tests carried out a maximum of 72 hours before they arrive in the country.

With the spring climbing season already lost, which runs from March to May and tends to attract more mountaineers to climb Everest, hopes are now set on autumn that normally welcomes a third of the 1.2 million tourists visiting Nepal every year.

“Though late, the decision has cheered the trekking and mountaineering industry,” Mingma Sherpa, the managing director of Seven Summit Trek, one of the country’s largest expedition companies, told EFE.

The virus outbreak and subsequent lockdown measures rendered tens of thousands of employees in airlines, hotels, and restaurants jobless. The most affected people have been in the remote mountain region that mostly depends on tourism earnings.

“We (the sherpas) are broke,” laments Nuru.

To revive the sector, the Nepal tourism authority issued the first climbing permit to six Nepalese mountaineers, officially opening the mountain tourism for the first time after six months of closure.

The government has also allowed a chartered flight for a team of Bahrain royal princes who plan to climb two peaks this autumn as part of their preparation to climb Everest in spring 2021.

Meera Acharya, director at the Department of Tourism, the agency that issues permits, told EFE that the authorities wanted “to overcome this deteriorating situation” as soon as possible after “a painful” period for all.

The Himalayan nation, home to eight of the 14 tallest mountains in the world, including Mount Everest, earns about $4.73 million a year in permit fees from climbers and employs tens of thousands of workers.

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