Monday, April 5, 2010
The Changing Face of Trekking in Nepal
Between Nepal’s first trekking group, led by Bill Tilman in 1950 to Everest Base Camp, and my first trek there in 1972, very few trekkers visited Nepal, and most of them trekked independent of any trekking company and stayed in local tea houses. Beginning in the 1980s, trekking exploded in Nepal and the number of trekkers soon exceeded 100,000 per year. By the mid-1990s, the Annapurna region alone was getting over 100,000 trekkers.
Then came the crucial year of 2001. On June 1, the Royal Massacre occurred in Kathmandu, resulting in the death of most of Nepal’s royal family in their own palace. A few months later came 9/11 and the resultant downturn in overseas travel by Americans. Around this same time the US State Department issued a travel warning to Americans planning to visit Nepal, stating that all but essential travel be avoided, due to an ongoing civil war fomented by a Maoist insurgency. Americans went from top of the heap to out of the top ten in tourist visits to Nepal almost overnight.
With the arrival of some semblance of democracy and stability in 2007, trekking in Nepal is once again on the increase, including amongst Americans. As we prepare to jump back in to the world of Nepal trekking again, several changes are evident. In the ever-popular Everest region, tented trekking is virtually unheard of anymore, due primarily to the abundance of comfortable upscale lodges and hotels. Flight delays in and out of Lukla, gateway to the Everest region, are now rare. Comfort and efficiency have improved.
One item that has not improved is Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. Once charming in a medieval sort of way, and synonymous with remoteness and adventure, today’s Kathmandu is a noisy, overcrowded, smog-filled city. While its ancient sites still bear a visit, extended stays are not recommended for your health, both physical and mental. We’ve even taken to starting our Mustang trek with an immediate connection on arrival in Kathmandu to the much more relaxing mountain bazaar town of Pokhara. Such is progress.
Tented trekking is alive and well in the more remote areas where tea houses don’t exist or are unsuitable for health and comfort, such as the Manaslu region and east Nepal toward Kangchenjunga. These areas are now free of Maoist activity, and life is returning to normal.
Above The Clouds