It is quite unclear why our government, tourism stakeholders are reluctant to promote the fact that Nepal alone is home to 14 mountains above 8,000 metres.
--BY JINESH SINDURAKAR
For a long time, the lofty mountains in Nepal have been attracting foreigners to visit the small South Asian country to experience the majestic peaks. It was in 1950, after the establishment of democracy.
In the first section of this article, information about our mountains, their number and brief information about the 14 mountains above 8,000m are given.
Now, the second section of the article deals with the purpose of tourist visits with the contribution of mountains in our tourism economy. In 2019, a total royalty of Rs 686 million was collected by the Department of Tourism (DoT) under the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) and Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA). Out of the total amount of the royalty, 90 percent was collected from the mountains of Province 1 and 8.45 percent from the mountains of Gandaki Province.
In 2018, DoT and NMA collected a total royalty of Rs 5,801 million. Out of the total amount of royalty, 90 percent was collected from the mountains of Province 1 and 9 percent from the mountains of Gandaki Province.
In 2017, of the total amount of royalties, Province No. 1 contributed 85 percent while it was 13.4 percent for the Gandaki Province.
As per table 4, Province 1 stands first in the collecting of royalties from 2017 followed by Gandaki Pradesh. Province 1 has collected revenuesof Rs 440.3 million, Rs 522.4 million and Rs 620.3 million in 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively. Similarly, Gandaki Province collected revenues ofRs 69.1 million, Rs 50.6 million and Rs 58 million in 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively. Among the seven provinces of Nepal, Province 1 has the highest number of mountains followed by Gandaki Province, Bagmati Province, Karnali Province and Sudurpaschim Province.
Analysing the data given above, it seems that earnings made from mountaineering by Province 1 areat a satisfactory level. Gandaki Province can also be taken as being on the right track, but earnings from Bagmati, Karnali and Sudupaschim provinces are at the lowest. Lack of infrastructure along with the lack of informative, promotional materials about the mountains, awareness among the local people are some of the reasons why Bagmati, Karnali and Sudurpaschim provinces have not been able to attract mountaineers.
If we look at the purpose of visit, then we find the number of tourists coming to Nepal for a holiday and leisure is high. As per table 6, the number of people coming to Nepal for pilgrimage is the second highest among the visitors followed by mountaineering and trekking. In 2015, the number of tourists was very low in mountaineering and trekking due to the earthquake and economic blockade, but tourists of the Others* group sharply increased. The reason for the increment is not clearly mentioned in the report of MoCTCA. However, it can be assumed that the increment of visitors that year can be connected to humanitarian purposes related to post-quake recovery and rehabilitation. The number of mountaineers and trekkers started to increase in the following years and reached up to 171,937, but still remained in third position.
According to table 6, the total number of tourists from 2015-2019 stands at 46, 02,458 and among them 491,986 (11 percent) visited Nepal for mountaineering and trekking purposes only. In the last five years also, the number of tourists coming Nepal for holiday/pleasure activities holds the highest portion i.e. 66 percent followed by pilgrimage (14 percent).
The number of mountaineers and trekkers are placed in one group in the report of MoCTCA. It would be better if they were separated, which will give us the exact calculation of trekkers and mountaineers.
In the table shown above, the gross earnings generated from tourism and mountaineering sector is given. Mountaineering earned Rs 335.70 million in 2016, whereas in total tourism earned Rs 41,765.4 million. The portion of earnings from mountaineering sector shows an increasing trend as shown in the table. We can find the increment in revenue of mountaineering is not at the satisfactory level if we analyse till 2019. Although mountaineering shares third position in total earnings from tourism, the impact it leaves at the local level is very important to consider. It is believed that one mountaineer creates employment for at least four people, so we can easily calculate the number of people that will benefit from mountaineering. Since mountaineering is regarded as the sector having the capacity togenerate high returnswith low investment. If the government pays attention to building more local infrastructures in the mountain area like safe and clean accommodation managed with organic or local food, walkable tracks and produces skilled human resources, then tourists will definitely be attracted to mountaineering.
Another finding from the analysis is that the contribution of mountaineering to the national tourism earnings remains minimum. Despite having the largest number of mountains above 8,000 metres in the world, it still needs to work harder for mountain tourism to prove its valuable presence in the tourism sector. It is quite unclear why our government, tourism stakeholders are reluctant to promote the fact that Nepal alone is home to 14 mountains above 8,000metres. We are always focused on the eight mountains above 8000m only, whereas the first table shows that climbing permitshad also been issued forthe other six peaks above 8,000metres (Kanchenjunga Central, Kanchenjungha South, Yalung Khang, Yalung Khang West, Lhotse Sar and Lhotse Middle).
Mountaineers resort to information available intravel websites and blogs, reports, and promotional materials of MoCTCA and the Nepal Tourism Board for the basic information of these peaks before they start their expeditions. Nevertheless, we lack sufficient and reliable information about these peaks due to which visitors have to depend on other sources for information. Yalung Khang West, 8077 metres, the only peak above 8,000metres, still remains unconquered, but an official declaration of DoT is yet to be implemented.
Some of the alpine clubs argue that Yalung Khang is not a separate peak, but mountain experts of Nepal regard it as a separate peak. Therefore, MoCTCA and NMA should lobby for that at the meeting of The International Mountaineering Federation (Union of International Alpine Association-UIAA) and The Asian Alpine Association (Union of Asian Alpine Association -UAAA) so that world mountain community takes Yalung Khang as a separate peak.
Nepal has high potential with its scenic beauty, biodiversity, cultural dimensions and water resources. But we are sandwiched between two giants of the world. Our geographical location does not permit us to compete with them in trade and the industrial sector, but we can compete with them in the tourism sector. Development of local infrastructure in the mountain regions of all the provinces, promotion of all the opened mountains at the national and international level, opening of restricted areas, easy access to nearest points of all the mountains with the back-up of accommodation, communication, transportation, skill human resources will help the equitable development of all the mountain regions.
Similarly, simplification in mountaineering policy, provision of liaison officer, taxation policy and permit issuance procedure are a must for the increased development of mountain tourism. Competitive royalty rates to climb mountains, proper management of waste produced during mountaineering, quick rescue management and flexible policy for communication means for mountaineering are also some of the factors that need to be considered if we want to promote mountains of all the provinces. It will eventually increase the contribution of mountaineering to the country’s foreign earnings made by the overall tourism sector.
Sindurakar is former Chief Administrative Officer of Nepal Mountaineering Association.