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By Subhasish Chakraborty
Perhaps after the capital city of Kathmandu, Mount Everest is Nepal’s second most popular tourist landmark. From a distance, Mount Everest looks pristine, rising out of the Himalayas like a monument to nature’s power. It is only up close that the evidence of man’s neglect can be seen.
The South Co, holds the key for mountaineers determined to climb Mount Everest. It is the launching pad from which all the expeditions make their way up to the summit. Considered the most hostile place on planet earth, it is 26,000 feet above sea level, lashed by 100 to 140 mph winds and frozen by temperatures running below minus 40 to 100 degree Celsius.
Over the years, it has come to enjoy the dubious distinction of having become the world’s highest graveyard. Strewn with garbage and dead bodies of unfortunate climbers, mountaineers dread having to camp there today. Santosh Yadav, the Indian woman mountaineer who enjoys the distinction of having climbed the Everest a number of times has this to say – “ I spent the night resting my head against a rock which was jutting into the tent. Imagine my horror when I woke up in the morning to find that it was not a rock but a dead body”.
Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbed Everest in the year 1953. Then it seemed to be a feat. Today anyone could do it. It is quite common to find 300 people from 15 teams simultaneously camped at the Everest Base Camp. The figures of climbers are rising. Two people climbed the summit in 1970, ten in 1980, but with the advancement of technology, as many as 72 had conquered the Everest in the year 1990. By May of 2012, three climbers died on the descent due to the delay and traffic getting back to their base.
The most disturbing fact is that with the increase in the number of successful climbers, there has also been a corresponding rise in mortality figures. Today the number of deaths per annum has crossed the 150 mark. The reason for this sharp increase according to Sir Edmund Hillary I is that one can conquer Everest with the state of the art equipments which includes Titanium bottles, packed power bars and Gatorade for nourishment. The climbers wear six layers of space age thermal clothing, designed to give protection from temperatures upto minus 30 to 40 degree Celsius. What is more, each climber has a hand held radio set for the progress of the expedition through satellites and computers. The climbers can call home and even send E-mails from the summit.
A majority of the climbers tend to blame the weather for the high number of causalities, but apparently this is not the case. According to Sir Edmund Hillary, “A storm does not strike out of the blue. There is sufficient warning, which if heeded, can prevent tragedy”. In today’s age of instant communication, such information is not hard to come by.
Another fact worth noting is that summit climb must be made as early as possible since the weather in this region tends to deteriorate by afternoon. Today, summit attempts take place even in the afternoon. According to Sonam Gyaltgen – “ Fischer and his climbers reached the summit after 2 P.M. and Rob Hall and his climbers reached their summit after 3 P.M. when the winds had reached hurricane velocity and a wintry storm was howling in all its fury.
As part of the Sustainable Tourism agenda, it is imperative to clean up the mess so that one of the world’s greatest natural wonders can be restored to its pristine glory. For many years, mountaineers worldwide have been clamoring that Government of Nepal pass a law making it mandatory for expeditions to bring down the bodies of dead climbers. The Everest experience also has lessons with regard to mankind’s forays into virgin territories like the Antarctica and the unexplored realms of outer space, which are also getting cluttered with debris of our civilization.
Below, I quote the observation of Sir Edmund Hillary, a few month’s prior to his passing away in January 11, 2008, on the sorry state of affairs on Mount Everest–
“ Those of us who climbed Everest in the early days were the lucky ones. We had to defeat the problems ourselves. When we stood on the summit we had only our good friends for company.These conditions can only be renewed by limiting the number of expeditions on the mountain at any one time. Governments must put safety ahead of financial profit. Only then will the challenge and joy of climbing Mount Everest return. A golden rule, which is being flouted, is one of gradual acclimatization. But with climbers not having much time at their disposal, they want to reach the summit in the shortest possible time. From a test of endurance, discipline and skill, the climb has been transformed into a battle of modern technology”.
He further goes on to quote that – “I can hardly imagine myself climbing Everest in the present scenario. I remember vividly the time spent on South Col and my climb to the summit on May 29, 1965.It was 9 A.M. when I stood on the summit. I took a long wheeling look from the highest point on earth. There was Makalu, Lhotse, Nuptse and Kanchenjunga looming large on the horizon and many other peaks far below us. I gazed north towards the Tibetan plateau and south towards the plains of India. The view was unforgettable. Of all the emotions, which surged through me, the most dominant one was of humility and sadness. Having climbed the highest peak hereafter there would be nothing higher to climb since all roads would necessarily lead downwards”.
During his last years, Sir Edmund Hillary was dead against the annual increase in the number of expeditions and the commercialization of the climb, which has had sad consequences for many of those wishing to reach the summit. During his lifetime, Sir Edmund Hillary was vehemently drawing the attention of the environmentalists and pointing out one critical area of neglect, which is care for ones environment. Now with Everest already becoming a junkyard as well as a graveyard, a lot of combined effort and co-operation will be needed to clean up the mess. And once cleaned, a restricted and environment friendly climb up the summit is the only way out to preserve one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. And this where a Sustainable Tourism policy will prove to be a step in the right direction.
by Subhasish Chakraborty
Nepal – A country of amazing extremes, with a total land area of 147,181 sq.kms. is bordered by China in the North and by India in the South, West and East. The landmass is divided into three geographical zones – the high Himalayas, the mid Himalayas or Mountainsus Region with long terraced slopes leading to fertile valleys and the flat sub-tropical Terai region.
The high Himalayan region extends in the North from West to East at an altitude of 4000 meters to 8848 meters. The world famous peaks of Mt.Everest (8848 m), Kanchenjunga (8586 m), Makalu (7463 m), Dhaulagiri (8167 m), Annapurna (8091 m) and many more dominate the formidable range of eternal snows. The mid Himalayas consist of mountain ranges varying in height from 1525 meters to 4877 meters. Below these ranges lies the Churia range at 610 meters to 1524 meters. Fertile valleys of various widths and altitudes lie between these mountain and hill ranges. The southern belt stretches East-West with a width 26 to 32 Kms. and a maximum elevation of about 305 meters.
Several major rivers, tributaries and streams flow south originating from the glaciers, snow fed lakes and high Himalayas of the North. The major rivers are the Seti, Karnali, Gandaki and the Koshi.
Nepal experiences four seasons – Spring (March – May), Summer (June – August), Autumn (September – November) and Winter (December – February). Rainfall is widespread during the southwest monsoon period from June-August with the eastern part receiving maximum rainfall. In the winter season, the western part receives a larger share of rainfall. The period from October to May is generally dry in most parts of the country.
Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, is full of shrines, temples, palaces, palace squares and ageless sculptures that are now an integral part of Kathmandu city. Amazingly, Kathmandu cityis the only city in the world with as many as seven World Heritage Sites (Cultural) located within a distance of 20 Kms. radius. Being in Kathmandu is like walking through the pages of history. It is a stupendous city in its own right. In Nepal, tourism is the most important industry after agriculture and contributes substantially to the the quality of life of her people. As a socio-economic activity, tourism touches the life of every Nepali citizen in one way or the other trying to revitalize the tourism industry through Sustainable & Value Based Tourism.
Relevance of Sustainable Tourism in Nepal:
Tourists worldwide demand higher quality products, services and real life experiences during their holidays and while they do not necessarily seek luxury, they do crave for pleasant surroundings usually at a reasonable price. The essential ingredient of this new type of tourism package is not transport and accommodation but the organization of recreation, which alone can enrich the tourism experience by allowing greater integration with the holiday destination. In other words, Value Based Tourism, where the key factors are quality products, excellence in service (human relations), fully involve all the citizens in tourism and obtain the maximum yield from it to benefit the country, its people, business partners and visitors.
Though the idea sounds very simple, it is in fact a lot complex to make it practically viable at the grassroots level. A lot of research and meticulous planning is required. Not only that, the entire marketing strategy as well as professionals engaged in marketing Value Based Tourism products need to be perfectly oriented and trained since herein they do not necessarily sell features but the actual benefits accrued from the tourism phenomenon.
Benefits of Sustainable Tourism in Nepal:
A list of benefits that would accrue from Sustainable Tourism in Nepal is mentioned below –
(1) people of Nepal, the common man on the street and particularly the youths on whom the future of Nepal lies. Innovative Sustainable Tourism products like Snow Leopard Treks, Ethnological Tours, Flora & Fauna Tours or for that matter Wet Land Bird Watching Tours means that the best people to don the mantle of Sustainable Tourism professionals would be the indigenous local people themselves. Since they are the people who know their surroundings, recruitment would take place from amongst the local populace, which would go a long way in redressing the acute unemployment problems that the youths of Nepal are faced with today.
(2) Nepal’s share in the world tourism market in terms of revenue earnings could increase substantially since Value Based Tourism products are experience oriented and the duration of visit is definitely longer than the run-of-the-mill packages. For example, the soothing effect of Yoga cannot be realized by a mere one session of activity. It has to go on at least for a week and it is only then that the person starts experiencing the benefits. Thus, Value Based Tourism would make visitors to extend their stay in Nepal, which means more visitor spending and more hard currency earned by Nepal.
(3) Nepal is a landlocked country where Adventure Tourism has flourished but this rise in popularity of Adventure Tourism has placed undue pressure on the natural and cultural environment in a lot of strategic tourist zones like the Annapurna region where environmental degradation has occurred.
Through Sustainable & Value Based Tourism, the National Parks and Conservation areas can be brought under the ambit of tourism by including the local people to take part in the tourism phenomenon. Such areas provide a unique setting where natural resources like the flora and fauna are best utilized for recreational purposes without any damages to the environment with the corresponding revenues earned through tourism being re-spent on National Parks and conservation area management.
(4) Another relevance of Sustainable Tourism in Nepal is the fact that this kind of tourism generally attract persons who are tolerant and even interested in experiencing small scale local or vernacular accommodation (Tharu tribal settlement for example) that are built of indigenous materials, thus keeping the ecological and cultural balance of the region in tact.
(5) Eco-Tourism and Green Tourism does figure prominently in the World Tourism Organization, UNDP and PATA’s priority list of agendas and they are committed towards developing such concepts through monetary benefits, research, planning, training and orientation which Nepal could exploit for the furtherance of Sustainable and Value Based Tourism.
(6) Countries like Japan and Germany are important sources of tourist generating countries for Nepal. Also, Nepal figures in the priority list of countries for German economic co-operation. According to Dr. Woolf Donner, former President of the German-Nepal Friendship Association – “Nepal is one of the countries chosen for German economic co-operation. Nepal’s commitment towards spreading the concept of Sustainable and Value Based Tourism thus, would go a long way in seeking financial aid and assistance from friendly nations at very liberal terms and conditions”.
(7) Last but not the least, there will be better awareness of Nepal as a destination for the discerning international traveler.
Balancing Casino Culture With Sustainable & Value Based Tourism:
Significantly enough, Nepal is best known for its casinos and holds a special charm for the honeymooners. Every year during the peak tourist season (March, October and November), people flock to the Kathmandu valley from all over the world. Nepal is a favorite destination for Indians and Indians also form the largest visitors in terms of numbers to the valley.
Some of the outstanding hospitality properties in the valley like the Soaltee, Yak & Yeti,Annapurna and Everest each year comes up with scintillating packages to pamper the honeymooners and leisure tourists and to say the least are treated royally with an exciting range of services and incentives.
To trace back the history of Casino / Pleasure Tourism in Kathmandu valley, one has to go back to the 60’s decade when the so called “Hippies” or the “Flower Children” as they are popularly referred to, made a beeline for Nepal to satiate their huge appetites for fun, pleasure and recreation. Add to it the fact that the Soaltee, which was launched by the Oberoi group – a magnificent property by any standard, threw open the concept of Casinos in the high Himalayas and it was an instant hit with the visitors that gave them a sense of de-ja-vu.
With the passage of time,casino outlets were also opened by the other 5 Star properties, all of which meant that Kathmandu became the center stage for indulging in electrifying fun and leisure where one could play baccarat, roulette and blackjacks, all night long.
In fact even today, Nepal is perceived as a moderately prized Casino destination by the prospective international traveler. Awareness about other aspects of Nepal as a destination is low.In order to bring about a harmony, Casino Tourism should be comprehensively merged with Sustainable Tourism, which will enable Nepal to make the most out of its rare natural and cultural resources. Switzerland has done it long back and Nepal too can take a leaf out of the great Swiss example.
A one-dimensional approach towards projecting a destination for a considerable period of time has its own pitfalls and there is a constant threat of the concerned destination being sold out and giving way to newer tourist destinations and thereby loosing its market share. Also, it is a fact that the lifestyle and the entire concept of recreation is increasingly taking a different turn worldwide. Twenty years back it was high society lifestyle and luxury. Today it is environment, socio-cultural issues and concepts like Green Tourism, Nature Based Holidays, Yoga, Ethnological Tours, Community Tours etc… which people in the advanced countries are interested in.
The trend is increasingly towards organized recreation, which is nature based with components of real experiences and more activity oriented. Visitors today seek transformation and a transcending experience. This is only to be expected and not at all surprising since science has unraveled before mankind the simple truths of human life like never before. What is more, technology and satellites have facilitated the dissemination of the facts of science to the common man.
One has also to take into consideration the fact that Tourism is an all encompassing activity and it has to involve the common man and make him aware of what Tourism is all about. What are the benefits of Tourism in terms of financial, social and educational aspects? In order to reach out to the common man, Sustainable & Value Based Tourism is the only way out for a developing country like Nepal. Any country, which already has a strong Tourism identity, has to spread the gospel of tourism to the villages where there is more authentic innocence, rather than the cities, which in an Asian perspective is rather Dickensian. Nepal with some of the world’s highest villages along with the fact that there are as many as 40 ethnic groups and 70 spoken languages in itself deserves some merit and attention from a purely Tourism point of view.It is a very complex world that we live in and probably about time that we explore great human possibilities in some of the highest villages of the world where technology hasn’t yet arrived. But, to achieve this, there has to be a fine balance between the two kinds of tourism – Casino Tourism and Sustainable Tourism. One simply can’t overhaul the other.