Thursday, 8 March 2018

January 2018 Newsletter

Last October OTWT went into Upper Mustang, a wonderful and very remote area of northern Nepal. However with all the local development taking place this area is rapidly engaging with the outside world and slowly but surely some of the mystique will disappear. My advice would be to go sooner rather than later if you want to witness the old Kingdom as it was. This image is of the last staging post, Tangge, before hitting the long and wild trekking days back down to Jomsom.

Well another year has come to an end. I hope you all enjoyed the last 12 months as much as we have here in Nepal. This season has been a busy one for us with 25 groups coming and going and enjoying their time here, completing treks from Everest in the east through to Mustang in the west.

Mountain News UpdateAutumn is not the big expedition season as most mountaineers try for their summits in the spring season however this has not stopped the Ministry from continuing to come up with yet more and discriminatory rules regarding Everest. It was reported in the Himalayan Times that there is now a total ban on people who are completely blind and double amputees, as well as those proven medically unfit for climbing. The Nepal Government has also announced that it now bans solo climbers from scaling its mountains, including Mount Everest, in a bid to reduce accidents. The fall-out is already happening on social media!

Nepal is also spending billions on trying to survey Everest to confirm the actually height.

Last season Pemba Dorje Sherpa allegedly climbed Everest in eight hours, ten minutes. However a joint bench of Justices; Cholendra Shumsher, JB Rana and Dambar Bahadur Shahi issued a statement overturning the government’s decision to recognise this achievement, saying Pemba Dorje Sherpa of Rolwaling, Dolakha, failed to produce substantial proof to authenticate his claim and as a result he will be stripped of his Guinness World Record. Many Sherpas have already gone on record as saying it is humanly impossible to climb Everest in that time.

For the first time the International Federation of Mountain Guides held their conference in Kathmandu. At least 65 participants from 24 member countries attended the assembly, with over 100 Asian delegates from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Mongolia and Pakistan also joining the conference. A great event!

The National Geographic Explorer Sung Taek Hong mounted an expedition to the South Face of Lhotse this Autumn season, however due to inclement ‘winter’ conditions and low temperatures he had to withdraw from the mountain on the 20th November. The legendary mountaineer Hans Kammerlander was also back in Nepal but he also had to abandon his bid to attempt to climb Manaslu. Tragically the well know Russian extreme sports personality, Valery Rozov was killed while attempting to wind-suit fly from the summit of Ama Dablam in November.
The remote Danphe Sail (in the foreground), Dolpa, but despite the appearance
the mountain is not straight forward as both easy looking ridges are in China!
On a ‘closer to home note’ my old friend Paulo Grobel from France led a 12 man expedition to Dolpa and successfully climbed Danphe Sail, the mountain we tried in 2016. Well done Paulo.. but now you’re off my Christmas Card list!! Another interesting development late in 2017 revolves around the two Indian climbers who allegedly climbed Everest and then falsified their summit photos using Photoshop. The Ministry of Culture Tourism and Civil Aviation invested their claim and imposed a climbing ban on the couple and also cancelled their certificates. The Ministry has recently announced that it is to reopen the case for further investigation. A smell of something funny here as it was that very same Ministry who carried out the investigation in the first place!
Dawa Yangzum Sherpa, Nepal's only female IFMGA guide
A team of Nepali guides succeeded in making the first winter ascent of Langdung in December. The peak was named Rpimutse in 1955 by the British Gaurishankar Massive Expedition Himalaya Survey team, but the peak is now known as Langdung 6357m. The team consisted of Dawa Yangzum Sherpa (27), Dawa Gyalje Sherpa (38) and Pasang Kidar Sherpa (35). Since then Dawa, the 27-year-old woman from the Rolwaling Valley has created history in the mountaineering world by becoming Nepal’s first female international mountain guide.

Meantime in the last few days of 2017 the Spanish mountaineer Alex Txikon (36) has returned to Nepal along with Muhammad Ali Sadpara to attempt Everest without supplemental oxygen this winter. This is his seventh winter expedition without supplemental oxygen.

Tourism News
It is officially reported that Nepal has received over 750,000 visitors this year that is an increase on last year. As I have mentioned in our previous newsletter Kathmandu can boast 4,000 new hotel rooms as part of the revitalising of the tourism program post earthquake but this ‘accommodation development’ is not being reflected in the trekking areas.

Manaslu has received the biggest boost for increased tourist numbers this year with over 22,000 permits having been issued, whereas it is said both the Annapurna and Everest trekker numbers are remaining constant. One very critical development is that to accommodate the increase in numbers several well known lodges have now erected ‘permanent’ camping ‘bed spaces’. While these are very comfortable and well equipped not every trekker who has booked for a ‘Lodge’ style trek will be happy with these arrangements. Nepal has always said it wants to hit the 1,000,000 tourists in 2018, and this now seems within reach, however, things will have to radically improve or we have the possibility of shooting ourselves in the foot. Having said all that there are still hundreds of really off the wall treks that can be undertaken where other trekkers will be hard to find!

The ‘Main News’ this quarter – the General Election

In Nepal, as it is an unusual event everything comes to a grinding halt at election time. To be eligible to vote all Nepali citizens must return to the village of birth, they can’t vote in Kathmandu unless that is their registered ‘permanent’ address. As nearly all Nepalese have a political streak this basically means a mass exodus from the city, a couple of days to travel home, a day to vote and then another week, or more, to wait for the outcome and then either celebrations or commiserations. Only then will citizens think of returning back to Kathmandu. In short, hotels, shops and other large establishments are short staffed and all menus are cut down as the catering staff are away. To make matters worse in 2017 the government suddenly announced that a certain day was a national holiday, the announcement only happened the day before, thus throwing everything into chaos.

Many people raise questions about, ‘Why has it taken so long to hold an election? And ‘Why is it all so complicated?’ To clearly understand the state of the nation and the politics one must consider the ‘developmental’ starting point which in historical terms was not that long ago.
The History of Nepal – in a Nutshell
Nepal as it was perceived pre 1700, the area on the Kathmandu Valley and its Kingdom
Pre 1750, the mid eighteenth century, Nepal was a country known mainly as the area designated as what we now refer to as the Kathmandu Valley. However in reality the country consisted of over sixty ethnic groups and sub-groups all having their own languages, traditions, festivals, kingdoms and kings. From the mid eighteenth century the Gokha King, Prithvi Narayan Shah began his unification process and went about conquering and expanding into other ethnic realms. The ruling Malla dynasty in Kathmandu feared the growing power of the Gorkha army and sort support from the East India Company who sent 2400 soldiers to Nepal in 1767. However the British were not adapt at fighting in the hilly regions of south Nepal and suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of only 120 Gorkha soldiers, during the battle most of the British contingent of arms and munitions were captured and later used in future Gorkha wars.

Eventually Prithvi Shah captured the Valley Kingdoms and with this ended the Malla Dynasty and from then began the reign of the Shah Dynasty. This was a time when, surrounded by India and its British task-masters to the west, south and east and with the Tibetans to the north Nepal flexed its muscles in an era of expansionism.

From 1780 under Gorkha leadership the Nepalese began to push their borders to the west and to the east. In doing so, in 1806, it encroached unacceptably on and invaded an area now known as Himachal Pradesh and also areas in Sikkim, part of the British East Indian Company territory and consequently part of the British Empire. Skirmishes were also taking place long other lengths of the Indian-Nepalese border resulting in the Nepalese eventually controlling an area that stretched from the Garhwal Kingdom in the west, including Shimla, through to the Teesta River in the east, the territory under the control of Sikkim which included the community of Darjeeling. This situation was not acceptable to the British and the two countries entered into the two-year Anglo–Nepalese War which began in 1814.
The extent to which the Nepalese borders were stretched by around 1805
By December 1815 the two countries had signed the Treaty of Sugauli which was eventually ratified in March 1816 bring the war to an end. The treaty established the boundary line of Nepal and called for territorial concessions in which some of the territories controlled by Nepal would be given to British India. Under the treaty, about one-third of Nepalese controlled territory was lost including all the territories that the King of Nepal had won in wars during the previous 25 years including the Kumaon and Garhwal Kingdoms in the west and Sikkim in the east.

In general, life went on but the borders of Nepal were closed with the monarchy fearing invasion by the British. During the next 150 years the Nepalese Kings gained power and tightened their grip on the Nepal Kingdom.
The new seven zones on modern Nepal

Between 1960 and 1990 there started the first move to establishing a democracy. Initially in the form of the Panchayat system of self-governance that was historically prevalent in other south Asian regions at the time. By 1990 ‘The People's Movement’ or Jana Andolan emerged as a multiparty movement and brought an end to the absolute monarchy and the thus the beginning of the constitutional process. The movement was marked by unity between the various political parties. Not only did various Communist parties group together in the United Left Front, but they also cooperated with parties such as Nepali Congress (the King’s Party). One result of this unity was the formation of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist, the UML party).

In 2001 the Nepalese Royal Massacre occurred at a house on the grounds of the Narayanhity Royal Palace, the residency of the Nepalese monarchy. Ten members of the family were killed during a party, the monthly reunion dinner of the royal family in the house. The dead included King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya. Later, upon his father's death, Prince Dipendra became King of Nepal while still in a coma, however he died in the hospital three days after the massacre without ever recovering from his comma. At that point in time Birendra's brother Gyanendra became king after the massacre and the death of King Dipendra. His imposition of direct rule in 2005 provoked a protest movement unifying the Maoist insurgency and pro-democracy activists. He was eventually forced to restore Nepal's House of Representatives, which in 2007 adopted an interim constitution greatly restricting the powers of the Nepalese monarchy. Following a Constitutional election, the Nepalese Constituent Assembly formally abolished the kingdom in its first session on 28 May 2008, declaring the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal in its place.

Since 2007, when Nepal’s first Interim Constitutional Assembly announced it would abandon the Monarchy in 2008, Nepal held a second Constitutional Assembly election in 2013. There were subsequently many legal wrangles between the parties during which time many amendments were written into the Constitution. The main stumbling blocks were the key issues regarding the system of governance, judicial system and federation issues referring to the number, name and areas of the Federal States to be created within modern Nepal. The constitution could not be finalized and promulgated by the due date of the 22nd January 2015.

This virtually brings us up to date with the 2017 Legislative elections being held over two phases on the 26th November and 7th December 2017 to elect the 275 members of the fourth House of Representatives, the lower house of the Federal Parliament of Nepal. The election was held alongside the first provincial elections for the seven provincial assemblies. The new parliament will elect the Prime Minister, who must ordinarily command the support of an absolute majority of its members in order to form a new government.

The result of these elections place the UML as the biggest party with a strong majority to form the government followed in to second place by the Nepali Congress Party and then the Maoist Kendra. The UML have been in power in more recent times and with this result it is hoped that there will be more positive development as a result of continuity and also that the party system will now polarise as a three party system as opposed to a multi-party system.

It almost seems like reinventing the political wheel – in 1780 Nepal was unified, now in 2017 (onwards) it will be ‘federalised’ into seven zones!
Rapid Development, but is there planning?
Flying into Kathmandu these days makes you wonder just when the city will stop expanding. From the air there still seems plenty of tree covered hills and open spaces, however, once you get on the ground you seem to have difficulty in finding such places.

I moved to Nepal in 2005 and in 2012 we started to build our house in Dhapasi.
In the valley below our house, green fields and few houses
At that time the area we found was fairly un-developed and surrounded by fields, terraces and agricultural land. The thought of it ever being built on was difficult to imagine the land drops down from below our house and then disappeared off into a small valley below Shivapuri to the north.

At the head of the valley was a small tree covered ridge, with a small path that we use to take the dogs for a walk along. One day we noticed that the trees were being felled, then a JCB moved in and the ridge was flattened and used to infill the valley to the southern side.

Then a small road appeared resulting in what is locally referred to as ‘planning’ (for house construction), now there’s a misuse of the word if ever there was one! Still the agricultural land had not been touched. However, another year went by and agricultural buildings sprang up, then tracks to link those buildings to the main road in our area. Today 5-years on and the landscape has totally changed. It is difficult to look at some of the new buildings and to guess as to their use, but in the fullness of time all will no doubt be revealed.

Kathmandu is an old lake basin consequently the bed of the valley consists of sediment and fine glacial silt, not the best to build on but certainly the sandy hills provide excellent building material for which there is a great demand within the city.
Now no green fields and new houses with the wooded hillside rapidly disappearing 
The images above indicate the environmental change that has occurred within 5 years. In image 1 the tree-covered hill indicated by the tip prayer flag pole, is in image 3 the open caste sand quarry. The large grey building to the lower left of image 1 is the same building featured in the central left section of image 2.

Sadly this rapid development is not necessarily being planned or done with consideration for the environment or other residents or habitation.

A lot of building work is taking place outside the valley and in many cases the new constructions pay little attention to local or ethnic architectural norms. It’s all very sad, I have no objection to development but in some cases throwing the baby out with the bathwater is a bit too much and it’s only in the future that people will realise what they have lost.

At least being on the top of the hill the new development can’t take our sky-line views away from us.
A Vehicle free Thamel
After a few failed attempts the Thamel authorities seem to have eventually won this round. In October the first of the Traffic Police trucks rolled into Thamel loaded with `Vehicle Free Zone’ signs.
These were placed at strategic road junctions and the new rules were enforced by the traffic police themselves. Now the road from Thamel Chowk to the Kathmandu Guest House and up as far as Sam’s Bar is traffic free meaning that pedestrians can basically walk around the centre of Thamel without the fear of getting run over. People are stopping to look in shop windows, gathering for a chat and generally enjoying the ‘safe’ aspect of the area. Certainly the tourists give this new initiative the thumbs up and in general so do the shop keepers and hoteliers. Even though the main tourist season has now finished the police are maintaining the traffic free zones. Long may it last!

New breed of trekking guides
When trekking started back in the early-mid 1960s the trekking guides were hill people who had an eye to escape the poverty trap. Now in 2018 trek leading is a professional career move and there are many younger people undergoing training and assessment with the aim of developing their careers, staying in Nepal and supporting their families. Many of this new breed of guides are female. This last year we have used several female guides and porters and with great success. Now we are actually receiving requests from trekking groups asking for female leaders.

With the aim of providing more opportunities for female guides we are planning an all FEMALE expedition to Island Peak 6189m this autumn (2018). The group size will be a maximum of ten with five female guides. Among all the trekking peaks in Nepal, Island Peak is the most popular as it is suitable for all novice climbers and experienced trekkers. It offers an exhilarating climbing experience beyond simply ‘trekking’. This trip will include a hike to Everest base camp as part of the acclimatisation process. Island Peak is physically demanding but not technically challenging and is graded as Alpine PD+. The Peak is situated right under the south face of Lhotse, which seems so close that you could simply step across to the neighbouring 8000m peak which is the second peak along the Everest ridge.

We also specialise in running ‘private’ treks as opposed to open fixed departure treks so if you have any specific areas you wish to visit, whether using lodges or as camping treks then please contact us for advice, costs or assistance in planning your trip to Nepal. We’re always happy to provide advice.

For further details please contact us at either ian or
Since October trekkers (foreigners) have been charged 2000 NRs by the Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural Municipality to enter the Khumbu region and it has so far collected 44 million NRs in tourist entry fees.
The Municipality collected Rs 28.25 million from 14,100 tourists in October, Rs 13.35 million from 6,676 in November, and Rs 3.1 million from 1,554 tourists in December.

Although the tourist season is wrapping up, tourists are still entering the region at a constant rate, which hovers around 100 per day.

Despite local entrepreneurs’ strong opposition to the collection of the entry fee, the policy has continued. The Trekkers’ Information Management System (TIMS) card issued by the Department of Tourism (DoT) does not substitute for the entrance fee.

“The rural municipality has exercised its rights to collect and allocate tourist revenue as suggested in the constitution, as the funds collected previously were not used for tourism development of the region,” said Nim Dorje Sherpa, chairperson of Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural Municipality. Sherpa has said that the funds now collected will be used for tourism promotion of the region. The amount collected is set to be used to improve and construct the trail between Lukla and Everest Base Camp along with increasing other tourist infrastructure in the region.

I hope this is all done in the best possible taste or it will damage rather than improve the trekking and mountaineering industry!
Wishing all family, friends and colleagues a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year.

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