Corona crisis in the Everest region: “As if the right hands had been cut”

In the Khumbu region

In Nepal too, life continues to stand still because of the Corona pandemic. The government extended the two-weeks-lasting “lockdown” in the Himalayan state until at least 15 April. Airplanes with “stranded” tourists continue to leave Nepal. Thus, the fourth and for the time being last return flight for German citizens is scheduled for Wednesday. The German embassy in Kathmandu appealed to German tourists and persons with health risks still in the country to take advantage of this opportunity. In case of illness or emergency, “only extremely limited help from the Nepalese health system” can be expected, the embassy wrote on Facebook

So far (as of 7 April, 4 pm CEST), only nine infections with the coronavirus have been registered in Nepal. However, this should not tempt one to underestimate the danger. After all, until yesterday, Monday, only 1,700 people were tested for the virus in the country. 

No alternative to lockdown

Ang Dorjee Sherpa in his lodge (in 2016)

“In my point of view, the conora lockdown is very good as here in the Khumbu region there is no proper hospital if anyone is infected,” Ang Dorjee Sherpa writes to me. “I feel that everyone’s health is wealth.” The 51-year-old runs the “AD Friendship Lodge” in Namche Bazaar, the district capital of the Everest region: “Everyone here depends on tourism. Many families are upset due to no earnings and tense where their children are in (the) city (of Kathmandu) for education.”

Hardly any financial reserves

Dorjee Sherpa in front of his lodge in Phakding

A ghostly silence also prevails in the other villages of the Khumbu area. “No more tourists, zero”, Dorjee Sherpa, who owns the “Buddha Lodge” in Phakding, writes to me. The village is located on the trekking route to Namche. Usually the hikers who want to reach Everest Base Camp spend their first night in the Khumbu area in Phakding. “It has been almost three weeks since I have had any guests. That applies for all the lodges here,” says the 55-year-old, who has scaled Mount Everest six times. “All treks and expeditions have been cancelled. The people here currently have no jobs.” I ask the Sherpa whether he has saved money which he can now live on for a while. “Not really”, Dorjee replies. 

“We are getting a huge problem”

Most people in the Khumbu live from hand to mouth and cannot build up financial reserves. The cancelation of the spring season hits them accordingly hard. “Every Sherpa and porter are nervous, as if (their) right hands had been cut because there is not any source of income for them,” Ang Dorjee writes from Namche. 

Mahesh Kumar Budha

This is confirmed by Mahesh Kumar Budha, head of the small agency “Joy Treks” in Kathmandu. “The lockdown means we have no work, we have no business. Sooner or later we will have no food, no drinks and no money to survive”, the 45-year-old, who has a wife and five children to feed, writes to me. “None of us can survive for more than a month or two without income. And there are no other optional jobs. So all of us are going to have a huge problem soon, I am sure.”

Hoping for season

Mahesh is hoping for bookings for the trekking season in summer and fall. Then he could use some of the advanced deposits from his clients to make ends meet during the lockdown. The lodge owners Dorjee Sherpa in Phakding and Ang Dorjee Sherpa in Namche Bazaar also dream that the Corona pandemic will soon be over and the trekking tourists will return to the Khumbu region next fall. “If there is a (steady) flow of trekkers we will have our income,” Ang Dorjee writes. “If unfortunately not, we must fear for our subsistence.”

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