KATHMANDU, AUG 12 – The government has planned to build a motorable road linking Jiri with Surkhe village located at a distance of a two-hour walk from Lukla, the gateway to the Everest region. Tourism Ministry officials said that the construction of the 100-km road would be started during this fiscal year.
Travel trade entrepreneurs have long been urging the government to build a road linking the Everest region due to the costs and unpredictability of flight services. Trekkers and mountaineers headed for Everest usually fly into Lukla’s Tenzing-Hillary airport where the trail starts. Lukla is situated at an elevation of 2,860 m.
“The government has earmarked funds for the project, and the construction will begin by this fiscal year,” said Purna Chandra Bhattarai, joint secretary at the ministry. “The road is expected to facilitate tourism and transportation of cargo.”
The road from Jiri to Surkhe will pass through Salleri. Surkhe lies at an elevation of 2,289 m and a distance of 22 km from Salleri.
The Khumbu or Everest region is the most expensive place in the country as all supplies have to be flown in. A cylinder of LPG costs Rs 10,000 and a cup of tea more than Rs 250. Air freight from Kathmandu to Lukla costs Rs 150 per kg.
Apart from the costs, the unpredictable weather means that flight schedules can go haywire. Hundreds of tourists are stranded at Lukla airport annually as planes cannot come in due to bad weather and high winds. Tourists are forced to return to Kathmandu by helicopter by paying up to US$ 500 per person.
In November 2011, more than 3,000 tourists were stranded in Lukla due to adverse weather conditions that halted flights from Kathmandu for six consecutive days. The problem recurs annually in the region.
According to Ang Tshering Sherpa, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA), tour operators have asked the government to extend the planned road up to Chaurikharka, 2 km from Surkhe which is a small place.
“A road to Surkhe or Chaurikharka will make travel more convenient for tourists and locals,” Sherpa said, adding that tourist flow to the region would increase drastically once the road was completed. “The road will also help to bring down market prices as goods can be trucked in for around Rs 10 per kg, which is a drastic change compared to the Rs 150 per kg charged by airlines.”
The Jiri-Everest base camp route retraces the footsteps of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa in their historic expedition to Everest which climaxed with the first ascent of the peak on May 29, 1953.
Lukla airport was built in 1964 by the Himalayan Trust created by Hillary. The objective of the airport at that time was to ease transportation of supplies to the region. Before the airport was built, people used to take the Jiri trail to reach Everest base camp. Jiri to Surkhe is a 9-day trek.
As the gateway to Everest, Lukla attracts hundreds of foreign trekkers during the spring and autumn seasons. Spring is particularly busy with mountaineers. More than 35,000 tourists visit the Sagarmatha National Park annually.