KATHMANDU, JUL 30 – The Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal (Taan) has resumed lobbying for a ban on solo or free independent trekkers due to safety concerns, and this time the government has taken kindly to its proposal.
Taan President Ramesh Dhamala said they planned to bar trekkers from setting off into the mountains without guides or porters by the beginning of 2015.
“We have requested the government to enforce the system, and it has agreed to our proposal in principle,” he said. The provision will ensure tourist safety and also stop agencies that have been operating illegally, he added. An estimated 40 percent of the total tourist arrivals to Nepal go walking in the Himalayan foothills for sightseeing.
Taan had proposed prohibiting trekking without guides or porters to the high-level committee formed to restructure the Nepal Tourism Board and manage the country’s tourism industry.
“We have been discussing the proposal of the private sector, and the government has taken it as a positive move,” said Madhusudan Burlakoti, chief of the Industry Division of the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation.
“The government believes that making guides mandatory for trekkers will increase employment and ensure the safety of foreign travellers.”
Burlakoti, however, said that it would take some time to enforce the system as various laws needed to be reviewed first. There are more than 10,000 professional tourist guides including porters in Nepal.
The apex body of the country’s trekking agencies had announced that solo trekkers would have to take along a guide from Sept 1, 2012 as per government orders. However, it was forced to backtrack after the Tourism Ministry said it had not issued any such directive.
The proposed system had drawn mixed reactions from trekkers then with some complaining that it was a restriction on their freedom and others welcoming it as it would make trekking safer.
Dhamala added that family members of missing trekkers had also been urging Taan to enforce the rule as soon as possible. “There has been increased crime on the trekking routes which has raised serious concern.”
A number of trekkers have gone missing in recent years. In June 2012, a 23-year-old Belgian hiker Debbie Maveau was found dead near Langtang National Park. She had gone on a six-day hike to Gosaikund. She was expected to return to Belgium on June 9.
Taan said that in 2010, Aubrey Caroline Sacco, a student at the University of Colorado, disappeared in the same area. In December 2008, Julian Wynne, a British tourist trekking solo in the Everest region, went missing. Similar incidents happened in the Everest region in 2011 and 2014.
In 2006, police found the body of Kristina Kovacevic, a German trekker who had been reported missing, in Solukhumbu.
Taan said that hiring a guide would increase the cost for solo travellers, but it would ensure their safety. Currently, only group trekkers are accompanied by guides, and only a few FITs (free independent trekkers) take along a guide or porters.