Nepal's Mountain Man
Sustainable and value based tourism in Nepal
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 Mountainous 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.
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 city is 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 upliftment of 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 and it is in the fitness of things that Nepal, as a nation should resolve to revitalize her Tourism industry through Sustainable & Value Based Tourism.
I consider myself fortunate to have been able to serve the cause of Nepaleese Tourism and promoting the concept of Sustainable Tourism in the late 90’s from Delhi and last year by a stroke of luck, one of my childhood school buddy from Tezpur, located in the remote North Eastern state of Assam, called me up and informed me about the meteoric rise of Ang Tshering Lama, as one of Nepal’s most renowned mountaineer and high-altitude trekking expedition organizer.
After a flurry of phone calls and lots of E-mail exchanges, I just couldn’t say “No” when Ang Tshering requested me to come on a visit to Nepal and see for myself the state of affairs in this Himalayan wonderland.
We grew up together in a boarding school – (Carmel Residential School) in the quaint Assamese town of Tezpur and Ang Tshering was always fond of the outdoors, so much so that he would give studies the miss and go out and play Cricket, Football and bring a lot of laurels for the school.
Post Matriculation (1988), I shifted base to Delhi for furthering my education and lost touch with Ang Tshering and other school buddies. No wonder, it was such an emotional few minutes after I landed in Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan Airport by an evening flight from Delhi and Ang was there to receive me.
After spending a couple of days leisurely and doing some sightseeing in and around Kathmandu city, accompanied by Ang, it was time to be engrossed in the business of Sustainable Tourism in Nepal and how best to make the Sustainable Tourism agenda a success.
Leaving behind Kathmandu’s impressive heritage and warm Himalayan hospitality, Ang decided to embark on a trek to the Everest Base Camp with me so that I could experience firsthand the state of affairs in the high Himalayas.
However, with the news of inclement weather being flashed on the TV, we decided not take any undue risk and instead opted for a helicopter trip to the Everest Base Camp. No sooner did we tie up our seat belts and with the helicopter attaining height, the scene below of the city of Kathmandu seemed to be like a fairytale land draped with temples and pagodas. Sooner, more surprises awaited us as the helicopter whizzed past the Kathmandu valley and the magical sight of the bewildering array of some of the highest mountain peaks of the world flashed before our naked eyes.
Ang was seating next to me and he knew I was having the ride of my life and with my adrenalin pumping, he calmed me down with all his wits and requested me to remain unruffled, which was easier said than done for a first-timer like me on his maiden flight to the Everest Base Camp.
After a thrilling half-an-hour’s flight, we reached the high Himalayan town of Lukla and the first brush of the mountain air that hit me as I disembarked from the helicopter was bone chilling. Being someone from the plains of India, exposed to scorching summer months, Ang knew I would be facing problems and provided me with a weather-proof jacket. Once we checked in at the specialty tent, I saw in utter disbelief my own image on the mirror and with the jacket on, I already looked like a sturdy “Mountain Man”.
After an impromptu lunch, we decided to have a short nap inside the tent, before we ventured outdoors. Outside, a hurricane-like wind was blowing and from the tiny hole in my otherwise sophisticated tent, a group of cherubic young ones were playing hide-and-seek, while the womenfolk were busy cooking food in the traditional wood-fired mud ovens. For someone like me, it was unbelievable how in spite of such harsh weather conditions, people could still survive and sustain themselves at such great mountain heights.
I was told by Ang that Lukla basically is a tiny Sherpa village located at an awesome height of 9500 feet above sea level. Practically perched on Dudh-Koshi, Lukla is a trekker’s paradise and is a popular starting point of treks to Mt.Everest.
Here in Lukla, every lodge and tent owner knows Ang Tshering Lama’s name. He is very popular in this part of Nepal and has conducted countless high-altitude expeditions for over a decade.
There are lots of tented accommodations available here in Lukla and not everybody comes to conquer Mt.Everest., although the number of Everest aspirants are sizeable, as I was to discover for myself during my numerous mountain walks with Ang for company.
Nepal is a mountaineer’s paradise. Right from the days of the advent of modern tourism in the 60’s decade, Nepal has beckoned trekkers from the world over. The focal point of attraction that lures the discerning trekkers to trek in Nepal is its majestic and awesome peaks, blessed as it is with eight of the world’s highest peaks nestled in the lap of Nepal Himalayas.
But according to Ang, it’s not just the heights that lure the trekkers to Nepal and that there is a whole lot more at stake, like – some of the world’s most challenging waterways, a region with one of the richest bio-diversities anywhere in the world, unparalleled National Parks and Game Sanctuaries and above all a diverse population with a great array of culture, tradition, folklore and festivals where trekkers can bask in the fun and excitement thousands of miles away from their hometown in some of the most rugged mountain landscapes.
In one of our trips to the Everest National Park, I befriended Nick Hamilton from faraway Philadelphia who had just completed a daunting but rejuvenating Himalayan Pilgrimage Trek to the Tyangboche Gompa located in the Khumbu Himalayas of Nepal. According to Nick – “ Located at such stupendous heights, I came across unforgettably beautiful villages and in addition the trails were also less crowded and the people were very friendly. I experienced the monastic life and participated in the Buddhistic ritual performances. The concept of reincarnation was especially very enlightening and elevating”.
The Everest National Park can be visited throughout the year and it extends to all of 1148 Sq. Kms. of wilderness inviting you. As the very name suggests, the park includes the highest peak of the world – Mt.Everest and several other impressive Himalayan peaks challenging mankind to conquer them. The Everest National Park has been declared as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.
What overwhelmed me most was the sheer richness of the flora and fauna of the Everest region. Vegetation includes Pine, Hemlock, Fir, Juniper, Birch, Rhododendron, Alpine Plants bare rock and off course snow, lots of snow.
Wild animals include the Himalayan Thar, Serow, Goral etc… The rare and elusive Snow Leopard too has been sighted in this region. Quite a challenge ! Ain’t it?
But, yes, you have nothing to fear in spite of trekking at such stupendous heights and I can vouch for the local Sherpas whom you meet along the trail who would only be too happy to treat you as an honored guest at each place you decide to pitch your tent.
After having spent 3 Days, I had a running nose and light fever. Although Ang was pretty enthusiastic, he would take me to the awesome Shey Phuksundo National Park that harbors one of the world’s largest habitats of the elusive Snow Leopard, Blue Sheep, Wolf and other rare wildlife species. Since I was showing signs of altitude sickness, we decided to cancel our trip to Shey Phuksundo National Park.
However, back in our comfortable tent, Ang provided me with his laptop and inserted a CD on Shey Phuksundo National Park, which was simply awesome. Better known as the Hidden Valley of Crystal Mountain, the Shey Phuksundo National Park is less than a week’s trek and takes you nearer to one of the most desolate places on earth – the Tibetan plateau as it dips into Nepal. Thus, you get to enjoy a slice of Tibetan landscape, culture and lifestyle even while being in Nepal. Anyway, I hope I will enjoy better luck next time I visit Nepal.
Mt. Everest – Cleaning Up the Mess:
Back in Kathmandu as we sat by the cozy fireplace at Ang’s modest home, he was a touch emotional for the sorry state of affairs in Nepal’s high altitude trekking and mountaineering sector. For instance - 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.
According to Ang, this region today 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. 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; and the number keeps on increasing every year.
The most disturbing fact according to Ang 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 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.
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 Ang – “ 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.
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.
For further information on high altitude trekking expeditions and mountaineering in Nepal, please feel free to get in touch with :
Angs Himalayan Adventures
P.O. Box 1384,