Western climbers rush to Himalayan peaks as Nepal reboots tourism

·3-min read

Ukraine’s Antonina Samoilova unfurled her country’s flag on Mount Everest earlier this month as Nepal opened its mountains to foreign climbers and set up a new airport to boost its lifeline tourism business which went into deep freeze during the pandemic.

“Stand with Ukraine,” read the blue-and-yellow state flag which the 33-year-old unfurled at the summit of the 29,030-foot Everest, drawing the attention of international climbers on the world’s tallest peak.

“My main message for the climb was ... that Ukrainian people are still fighting for their freedom, for their future and we need help from all the sides,” added Samoilova later in Kathmandu.

She was the only Ukrainian who took on Mount Everest this year.

Ukraine had pushed Nepal to ban climbers from Russia until the end of the war in Eastern Europe but Kathmandu says it will issue permits to anyone following government rules.

“We have not changed our policy,” added Nepal Mountaineering Association President Santa Bir Lama as Nepal allowed climbers from 61 countries to scale 18 peaks to boost its money-spinning Himalayan tourism during the mainstay April-May spring season.

Mountain rush

As on 25 April, Nepal had handed out a total of 876 climbing permits including 306 special passes to scale Mount Everest during spring, marking an increase by 153 permits compared to the corresponding period last year.

It raked in 3.3 million euros in royalty from the expedition teams in Nepal, the government’s tourism department added.

Men and women from Austria, Britain, Canada, France, Germany and US were among those granted paid access to the Himalayas, officials said and added 14 of them were from Russia.

In 2020, Everest was shut down because of the Coronavirus pandemic that killed 12,000 Nepalese and infected nearly one million of the country’s 29 million people.

Among those who sparkled this year was 52-year-old Nepalese guide Kami Rita Sherpa as he scaled Everest for the 26th time to break his own world record set last year for the most climbs of the world’s most imposing peak.

“The important thing is that foreigners are now coming," added trek organiser Harikrishna Sharma in Kathmandu as he pointed to the number of Western footfalls in the tiny Himalayan nation wedged between India and China.

Some 150,000 tourists visited Nepal in 2012 but in sharp contrast it logged 50,000 arrivals in just the first three weeks of 2022 as Kathmandu lifted curbs on travel, offered visas on arrival and told visitors not to worry about vaccine mandates.

Spiritual flights

Earlier this month, Nepal also flagged off its second international airport and said regular passenger flights would resume on 12 June from the brand new facility built close to Lumbini, the revered birthplace of Lord Buddha.

The airport aims to provide connectivity to pilgrims mainly from countries such as Cambodia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India which are part of the so-called “Buddhist Circuit.”

“Once this airport comes into operation and airlines start operating flights, I hope the private sector here will take full advantage of it,” said Nepal Association of Tour and Travel president Krishna Prasad Adhikari.

“Lumbini will now become a tourist hub,” Adhikari added as India and Nepal unveiled a cross-border passenger train service and introduced an exclusive electronic wallet for Indian spenders in the erstwhile Hindu kingdom.

Nepal’s tourism industry, which employs 1.5 million people, accounts for three percent of the country’s GDP but experts say the figure at normal times could be as high as 11 percent of the country’s 31-billion-euro economy.

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