Mount Everest is one of the mountains on the crest of the Great Himalayas region which lies on the edge of both Nepal and China. It’s the world’s tallest mountain above sea level, reaching an altitude of 8,848 metres. Mount Everest remains to be one of the deadliest mountains in the world, due to its extreme temperature and altitude. Many climbers around the world have tried to reach the top but failed, some even lost their lives, however, this doesn't stop mountaineers from all around the world to try to conquer this “King of the mountains”, as a result, it affects Nepal’s tourism as well as the lives of Nepalese people drastically, but are there any consequences of having so many tourists?
In order to understand how tourism in Nepal changed over time, it is crucial to know how climbing in Nepal affects its economy and tourism industries both positively and negatively, as well as the way it helps, pushes the economic, environmental and social factors of Nepal. By the end of 2017, there were over 4,800 people summited Mount Everest for a total of 8,306 summits, but at the same time, 288 people have died to attempt to reach the top on all routes. Based on the evaluation in the past years, just under 1000 people attempt to climb Everest each year and less than 500 climbers manage to reach the top, that includes local Sherpas, mountaineering guides, clients, and even professional climbers.
A lot of people liked to climb from the Nepal side instead of the Chinese side since most of them believed it is easier, and while the success rate is higher when climbing the Nepal route, the death rate is consequently higher as well. To people who never climbed before, they probably think that those who climb Mount Everest is crazy, but yet someone as crazy as Jordan Romero, manages to climb to the top when he was just 13 years of age, so what exactly are their motivations for such an insane expedition? Guides and mountaineering services play a huge role in attracting different mountaineers to climb Mount Everest, Billi Bierling has been working for the Himalayan Database for 14 years, he said that the mountains seem to provide mountaineers with what they seek and give them something else, namely fame and adoration.
With mountaineering services getting better and better, it seems obvious why even people with little climbing experience would dare to conquer high altitude mountains such as Everest, a famous mountaineer in Hong Kong named John Tsang once described today’s mountaineering service as “Luxury” compared to what was offered over a decade ago, nowadays, there are huts and hotels setted up throughout the trail to the EBC, allowing tourists to stop at any time to rest, also, mountaineering services now recruit more Sherpas to accompany each member, which made the success rate of reaching mountain summits in Nepal increased drastically.
Furthermore, author Gülnur Tumbat also stated that people often climb high peaks such as Everest so that they could escape the “contraptions”, and “stresses” of daily life in the city, essentially what mountaineers would call “An escape from reality”. From a mountaineer’s point of view, Professor Joe Arvai, a professional ice climber once said “I’m driven by new experiences that test my own limits.”, mountaineers often climb peaks to seek new heights, either to prove themselves or to gain popularity. On the other hand, although there are a lot of mountaineers that only climb for fame, the study proves that the desire for adventures varies between everyone, some believe climbing allows them to learn from nature, describing mountaineering as a “Metaphor of Life”.
Moreover, many tourists come to Nepal every year only to visit the Base Camp of Everest (EBC), since the trails are relatively easier and it does not require any technical skills, as such, a lot of Sherpas decided to be a trekking guide since the climbing risk is significantly less than being a porter on Everest. This can be further proven by documentaries filmed at Everest Base Camp, comparing 2017 to 2009, it is pretty obvious that more and more people are coming to climb Mount Everest, even though some might not even have the level of fitness or technical skills to do so. Ever since Edmund Hillary became the first to climb Mount Everest, many followed his footsteps and even created businesses to take climbers to the highest point on Earth.
This eventually became one of the major source of business in Nepal, Khumbu, in north-eastern Nepal, is a bustling region that earns millions of dollars a year from hundreds of expeditions. Although Nepal still remained to be a poor country, tourism plays a huge role in Nepal’s economy. For example, Adventure Consultant and Mountain Madness are one of the more famous companies which take customers to climb mountains all over the world including Mount Everest. Sherpas are a group of natives who mostly live among the mountains, they became guides and porters to help international mountaineers get to the top of the mountains, some say Sherpas are earning nearly ten times the average Nepalese wage.
Many are able to send their children to the best schools, which they will most likely to be aspired to start their own businesses or to become doctors, engineers, etc. During an interview, Tenzing Dorje Sherpa mentioned most sherpas only climb in order to earn money, as money plays a vital role in Nepalese Culture. At the same time, some sherpas such as Yangzi Sherpa climb so that she might complete his father’s dream of climbing the mountains. In just the climbing season alone from March to May, the population of the Khumbu region at the base of Mount Everest range from around 40,000 to 700,000, if everyone paid around $35,000, the Sherpas would have sufficient earning to support his/ her family.
This creates attractive job opportunities for Nepalese workers, therefore thousands of Nepalis would migrate to Kathmandu for tourism-related employment. Unfortunately, even though Sherpas have quite an income during climbing seasons, after those months, a lot of them go back to their family and farm for a living, therefore most of them tried to make as much money as possible during the climbing seasons so that even though their farming business were not so successful, they still have enough money to last them for a few months. While Sherpas are undeniably richer than most of the Nepalis, the tourism influence in Nepal has led to a rich and poor disparity in the country and the wealth gap in Nepal is continuously widening.
Nearly 8 million Nepalis who lives in poverty have shorter lifespans, partly due to being excluded in receiving government hospital care, furthermore, research on Nepali children shows that a poor Nepali child is three times more likely to die before the five years old than a “rich” child, especially in undeveloped area that’s far away from major cities. Research shows that around 30% of the physical money in Nepal actually came from black markets, the money was created through corruption, illegal investments, illegal foreign trading, etc. Only approximately 10% of the money in the country belongs to normal Nepalis, which is not enough to build sufficient infrastructures or the level of wealth seen in many countries.
There was a study conducted by a consortium of development organizations during the beginning of 2019, that revealed the richest 10% of Nepalis actually earn three times more than the poorest 40% of the population, or in other words, more than 26 times as much wealth as the poorest. The study also shows that the reason for such inequality was because of the highly unequal distribution of land among the population, which could be devastating for Sherpas since most of them rely on farming during the non-climbing seasons. Approximately 7% of the wealthiest households own around one third of the country's agricultural land, and 29% of the population don't even have land to begin with.
Luckily, this situation is very slowly improving in the rural regions as the Nepal government now start to promote organizing tours or mountaineering expeditions in less developed regions, one example being Mera Peak, which is a mountain quite far from cities, yet it attracts mountaineers due to its relatively low difficulties, John TSANG’s mountaineering expedition company Alpine Adventure Travel started targeting at remote mountains such as Mera Peak since those mountains are usually less polluted. The tourism industry is the largest industry and the greatest source of foreign exchange in Nepal. With Nepal having eight of the ten tallest mountains on the planet, it is a hotspot for climbers, rock climbers and tourist who seek outdoor adventures. More than 700,000 foreigners descend on the country every year.
The Hindu and Buddhist heritage of Nepal and its unique seasonal climate are also strong attractions for tourists coming from around the world, which significantly boosts Nepal’s economic growth over the past decades. The optimum time for climbing Mount Everest is between the beginning of April and the end of May, since the weather is most optimal for climbing, and the storms are less frequent, as such, tourists and climbers pile up the 8848 meters high mountain. Starting off from the beginning of the 1960s, the GDP of Nepal grew from 508 million to 24 billion, which is mostly thanks to the increasing amount of tourists visiting different heritages and mountain ranges, in just the 2016, the tourism sector of Nepal supported over 400,000 jobs, which is around 3% of the total employment, in which international travel has generated nearly 40% of the tourism GDP, which is significantly more than what’s been generated a decade ago.
The Nepal governments are also committed to achieving the goal of bringing up to two million foreign tourists annually by 2020. Unfortunately, due to a severe earthquake that occurred in April of 2015, not only does it led to a devastation across Nepal, and many people died or lost their home, that has also led to Nepal’s tourism activities decrease drastically for the following two years, therefore not much money can be obtained to recover from the destruction, John TSANG was there when the earthquake and avalanche strikes, he was lucky to survive since his tents are placed at the opposite side of where the avalanche hits, following the tragedy, he and a group of Hong Kongers decided to raise money for the reconstruction of some of the Nepalis home, and help pay for workers so that some of the Nepalese living there could at least have a home to stay in, “It was truly a countrywide catastrophe, I was very fortunate that the avalanche did not hit us, but many of my sherpas friends’ home were destroyed by the earthquake.” said John.
Consequently, this proves that natural disasters also play a large role in affecting Nepal’s economy. In addition, the country is attempting to mark 2020 as ‘Visit Nepal Year’, this campaign is already underway and hopefully could create a momentum in the tourism industry for the next couple of years. Therefore, it’s safe to say that the economy of Nepal is heavily dependent on tourism activities and that it helps generate more job opportunities for local Nepalis, improving the lifestyle of them. Although it brings huge economic income to Nepal, Ralf Dujmovits, a 51-year-old German who is one of the world's most experienced mountaineers, said: 'People nowadays treat the mountain as if it was a piece of sporting apparatus. It really makes my soul ache.'
Global warming alone has affected Everest's famous glacier, where a portion of it has retreated as much as 4.8 kilometres in the past two decades. If the glaciers continue to recede, it could cause severe flooding which will endanger the local Sherpas. Furthermore, the air pollution and traffic jams of Kathmandu are among the worst in the world, the cities are chaotic, and the rural population remains isolated from the main cities. No matter if it’s water pollution or wastes pollution, Mount Everest is considered as one of the most polluted mountains in the world. Ever since the first journey to Mount Everest, an speculated ten tons of rubbish have accumulated on the trails.
John Tsang recently went to Everest again in 2018 and realized that there’s severe overcrowding on the trails to EBC. In 2014, climbers were told they need to bring back eight kilograms of rubbish if they wanted to climb the mountain, in order to ensure that the mountain is suitable for optimal climbing conditions, however, challenges remain for clearing wastes left behind, mainly the disposable water bottles and food cans. Luckily, environmental protection groups such as the Kathmandu Environmental Education Project are hard at work on teaching climbers about low environmental impact trekking. Besides rubbish left strewn on the mountain, mountaineers who died are often left on Everest unless their companion requested otherwise, which further illustrates the negative side of having so much tourist, especially when the climbing season was just limited to two months.
As an outdoor enthusiast, although tourism can bring economic development to Nepal, however, we should not undermine the consequences of having too many tourists, notably, mountain pollution. No matter if it’s the tallest mountain of Hong Kong, or the tallest mountain in the world, environmental awareness should not be oversight and must be raised in order to prevent mountain pollution. In conclusion, through evaluating how tourism changed in Nepal for the past decades, it shows that climbers often want to seek new heights by climbing tall and famous mountains such as Mount Everest, it creates an ecosystem between the tourists and Nepal’s economy, while guides and tour guides from Nepal help mountaineers to reach the top of the mountain, mountaineers at the same time will provide income for Nepalese citizens.
Although tourism in Nepal significantly boost its economic development and provide more job opportunities for Nepalese citizens, I strongly believe that the government should establish more rules regarding the environmental pollution that tourism brings. As an enthusiast of mountaineering, although tourism can bring economic growth to poor countries, we should not forget that sometimes more tourist doesn't mean better, there are a lot of consequences of too many tourists, most notably, mountain pollution, it is seen everywhere in both Nepal and Hong Kong. No matter if it’s the tallest mountain of Hong Kong, or the tallest mountain in the world, environmental awareness should not be oversight and must be raised in order to prevent further mountain pollution which may result in the loss of what’s so courageously given to us by mother nature.
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