Nepal’s Everest region tourism board row over ban on solo treks heats up

The dispute between the Everest region and Nepal’s tourism promotion body has come to a head over mandatory guides and trekking permits.

A day after the Nepal Tourism Board made trekking guides and permits mandatory on 44 trekking trails, including several in the Everest region, the Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural Municipality said it had no obligation to follow the board’s rule.

“It is not mandatory to hire a guide for trekking in the Everest area,” said a press statement from the village municipality under whose jurisdiction Everest falls. However, Nepalese tourists are not required to hire a guide and pay the trekking fee.

“This is music to my ears,” UK citizen Holly Stables commented on the village council’s Facebook post. “We arrive on April 11th and do the 3 passes! What a relief! Thank you Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Village Municipality.”

“It will be very interesting to see what happens with the conflict between the Travel Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN) and the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) on the one hand and the local officials from Solukhumbu on the other. At the heart of this debate seems to be different ideas about what federalism actually means in Nepal in practice,” Stephen Sepaniak said in an emailed comment to the Post.

“Under the new measures, many foreigners are likely to try to hire guides before arriving in Nepal and undertake shorter treks. Tours booked from abroad are often much more expensive, and much of this extra money is likely to go to TAAN-affiliated brokers and middlemen in Kathmandu, who charge additional fees to find potential foreign travelers with local guides.” Sepaniak said.

“Less money will flow to small operators of tea shops and other small businesses in protected areas – the very businesses that have allowed locals in places like the Everest region to become relatively well off – as foreigners are likely to make shorter treks and will have more of their accommodation pre-arranged by intermediaries in Kathmandu who will be the real beneficiaries of this new policy.’

Dhananjay Regmi, chief executive officer of the Nepal Tourism Board, told the Post that the new guidelines have already been implemented in key trekking areas.

“It is extremely irresponsible for the rural municipality in the Khumbu region not to follow suit,” Regmi said. “Many hikers traveling without guides have been lost or died due to terrain difficulties.”

“The village municipality must either take responsibility for the safety of tourists or else they don’t have the luxury of going against the new rule.”

Nilhari Bastola, president of Travel Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN), said the TIMS card will help in attracting quality tourists.

“Besides the safety of the tourists, it will be a decent source of income for the guides,” Bastola said. “It’s just ridiculous for a local authority to oppose the new provision.”

Mingma Chhiri Sherpa, chairman of the Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Village Municipality, said the updated version of the digital entry card for the Everest region, called the Trek Card, will be introduced from April 14.

The village municipality is the only one in the country that has implemented the card for free independent travelers (FIT).

The card can be easily obtained at the counter in Lukla for tourists coming by air and for tourists coming by land, they can get it at Jorsale, according to the village municipality.

Sagarmatha National Park charges 3,000 rupees per trek as the entrance fee to the national park and the village municipality charges 2,000 rupees for the trek card.

For SAARC nationals, the combined fee is Rs3,500—Rs2,000 for the trek card and Rs1,500 for the park entrance fee.

However, the clash has alarmed tourism entrepreneurs.

Pasang Sherpa, a tourism entrepreneur, said this has created uncertainty.

“What message are we trying to send internationally by collecting multiple fees from trackers? Which should tourists pay, TIMS or Trek Card?” Sherpa asked.

Amid objections from the village municipality, the Nepal Tourism Board last Friday adopted new guidelines for foreign tourists that prohibit foreign tourists from visiting Nepal’s national parks and protected areas without a guide or porter for the entire trip.

The new rules state that the government-registered trekking company will arrange the guides or porters.

The guidelines say foreign visitors must also obtain a TIMS card before trekking.

The new rule went into effect on Saturday.

The board said it introduced the guidelines for the safety of the trekkers and besides creating jobs for local residents.

According to the guidelines, a trekker found traveling on designated trekking trails without a guide or TIMS card faces a fine of Rs 12,000.

A trekking company that takes tourists on trips without a TIMS card will be fined Rs 10,000 per trek.

Officials of diplomatic missions and development partners and their families will be charged 500 rupees per TIMS card. Not necessarily if they are going on an official visit.

Once issued, the card will be valid for 90 days.

Industry insiders say the board brought the guidelines as per the lobby of the Association of Travel Agencies of Nepal. In 2012, the association tried to impose a one-tracker, one-driver system, but it later emerged that the government had not given it the green signal. It was immediately withdrawn.

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