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Solo trek ban rumour has tourists worried

AUG 27 - Andre Suykens, a Belgian national, is planning to visit Nepal this November for the winter. However, a recent report in a Belgian newspaper has the 60-year-old worried. From September onwards, foreign travellers will not be permitted to go alone into the mountains and will be required to take along a guide or a porter, claimed the report. Suykens, who will be visiting Nepal for the fourth time, has written to the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) to figure out if this is actually the case.

Niel Smit, another regular tourist from Africa, said people who appreciate nature the most are often those who cannot afford a guide. “Imposing this rule would take away the possibility for many hikers to experience your beautiful mountains. Furthermore, true adventurers will no longer be able to explore your country at their own freedom,” he said in an email to the NTB.

The NTB, including a large section of the travel and trade industry, has been receiving a flurry of inquiries over the recent news that the Nepal government had banned solo trekking from September 1 onwards.

On July 21, the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN) informed mediapersons that the government has “banned” free independent travellers (FIT) in the Langtang National Park after two trekkers went missing in the past three years.

The TAAN claimed the decision would be enforced by the Ministry of Home Affairs from July 3 following a request from the District Security Committee, Rasuwa. The ministry said that considering the rise in the number of crimes in trekking regions, it was mulling over enforcing a mandatory guide or a porter rule from September 1 but needs approval from the Tourism Ministry to make the provision legal.

Interestingly, Home and Tourism officials expressed surprised over the news report as they said there was no directive banning solo treks, even in the Langtang region. “We have not conducted any discussion on this issue and the ministry has not issued any policy enforcing a ban on solo trekking, even in the Langtang region,” said Shankar Prasad Koirala, spokesperson at the Home Ministry. “It was only a rumour.”

The Tourism Ministry, issuing a press release, clarified that it had not issued any directive to any tourism organisation to enforce a mandatory guide or porter requirement for solo trekkers. “We were compelled to issue the clarification as the ministry has not issued any directives or provisions requiring guides for solo foreign trekkers,” said Tourism Secretary Yagya Prasad Gautam. He said that the news was a hoax attempt.

On August 17, the Tourism Ministry issued a notice stating that it had not enforced any provision and was holding discussions with stakeholders on making trekking in Nepal safer. Subsequently, the TAAN, through its website, said that the government had decided to put the decision to ban solo trekking in Nepal on hold until further notice.

However, TAAN President Mahendra Singh Thapa claimed that the decision to ban solo trekking in Langtang had been made by the Home Ministry and circulated through the Tourism Ministry. He said that the TAAN had written directives from the Home.

Emphasising the need to enforce a compulsory guide rule for solo trekkers, Thapa said that although crime rates in trekking regions were not alarming, the increasing number of incidents should be a cause of alarm for the government. “We have been requesting the government that solo trekkers be accompanied by guides because if such incidents increase, it could tarnish the country’s image,” said Thapa.

The NTB retorted that the TAAN was playing games in order to compel the government to enforce the mandatory provision, thus hurting the tourism industry itself by limiting tourists’ freedom.

However, considering the number of crimes and missing tourists in trekking areas, the issue has become increasingly worrisome. In June, a 23-year-old Belgian hiker, Debbie Maveau, was found dead near the Langtang Park. She had been on a six-day hike to Gosainkunda. Two years ago, Aubrey Caroline Sacco, a student from the University of Colorado, had disappeared in the same area, according to the TAAN.

In December 2008, Julian Wynne, a British tourist trekking solo in the Everest region, went missing. In 2006, police found the body of Kristina Kovacevic, a German trekker, in Solukhumbhu after going missing.

While some tourists may complain of the restriction on their freedom, others claim that the mandatory provision will make trekking safer. For Patricia Wynne, mother of Julian Wynne, it would be a good for the Nepal government to enforce such rules.

In an email to the Post, Wynne wrote, “If guides were compulsory three years ago my son would probably be with us today”.

Posted on: 2012-08-28 08:27

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