Mountain tourism in Nepal: Flashes of light in the dark

Sunrise at the Gokyo Valley
Sunrise at the Gokyo Valley

11. November – this date actually makes the carnival reveler’s heart beat faster. Traditionally on this day in my hometown Cologne the carnival time is rung in. The costumed carnival revelers sing, dance, swing and sway in the streets and public places, they also celebrate in the pubs – usually. This year everything is different. Because of the corona pandemic, all events have been canceled, the pubs remain closed, several hundred police officers check if the ban on assembly is being observed. In view of the still tense corona situation, hardly anybody should feel like celebrating anyway.

This certainly also applies to Nepal, where life is currently anything but normal. Today, the number of officially registered corona infections exceeded 200,000. 1,174 people have died of COVID-19 in the Himalayan state so far. And the number of unreported cases is likely to be high.

Nearly 1,900 tourists in October

Thamserku und Kangtega
The sixthousanders Thamserku (r.) and Kangtega (l.) in the Khumbu

Last year, on 11 November, I hiked with my daughter in the Everest region – as one of about 130,000 foreign tourists who, according to the Nepal Tourism Board, came to the Himalayan state that month alone. For comparison: Due to corona restrictions, from April to October 2020 in total only about 3,000 foreigners arrived in Nepal by plane, almost 1,900 of them in October. For almost a month now, the country has been open to mountain tourists again – with obligations such as an one-week hotel quarantine at the beginning of the stay.

Summit successes on the Ama Dablam

Only few expedition teams and trekking groups have come to Nepal so far. On Facebook, the Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) literally celebrates every single permit it issues for one of the mountains up to 6,500 meters – no matter how small the group of climbers is. The expedition permits for the country’s higher mountains, issued by the Nepalese Ministry of Tourism, can be counted on two hands.

Only at the 6,814-meter-high, Ama Dablam, several teams have gathered. Yesterday and today the first summit successes were reported from the shapely mountain near Mount Everest. The Nepalese expedition operator Seven Summit Treks announced to leave its base camp at Ama Dablam open until the third week of January. These are not yet rays of hope, at best flashes of light in the darkness of the current situation.

Hotels and lodges in Langtang closed

“I have seen only a few foreign trekkers in the Khumbu last month,” Ang Dorjee Sherpa, owner of the “A.D. Friendship Lodge” in Namche Bazaar, the main village of the Everest region, writes to me, adding that there were also a few Nepalese groups. “But whether it is going to continue or not, I do not know.”

Mahesh Kumar Budha

Mahesh Kumar Budha, head of the small agency Joy Treks in Kathmandu, is also concerned. “The mood among the expedition and trekking operators has been still hopeless in general,” says Mahesh. “A few companies such as Seven Summit Treks or Himalayan Guides are operating high profile expeditions. Otherwise the market has collapsed and of course there have been many bankruptcies.”

Mahesh points out that in the trekking region Langtang, located north of the capital Kathmandu, all hotels and lodges will be closed for the next few months to contain the corona pandemic. “And that is only the beginning. Management committees all over the country will take similar or even harder decisions for sure.”

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