Megalith to Chorten Speak up for the Khas

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Tourism Act

Climbing permits for Nepali summits are issued at two different places. The NMA has jurisdiction over 18 peaks and is concerned with only these so-called 'trekking' or non-expedition peaks. The rest are dealt

with by the MoT, which does not have resources or the manpower necessary to keepathoroughcheckonwhatgoesonhigh up in the mountains.

Legislation to address climbing without permission does exist in Nepal and despite the erroneous language it uses, manages to convey the message. The Tourism Act, 2035, states unequivocally: "No any mountaineering expedition team shall be entitled to climb any Himalayan-Peaks without permission under this Act." Failure to comply can result in various penalties on which, too, the Act is clear. But enforcement is another matter1 altogether.

The MoT relies on external sources for information on climbs that take place in contravention to the rules. There was just one complaint the Ministry received in all of 1994 and even that was not acted upon on the grounds that further information requested was not forthcoming. The NMA is equally hapless. Having no legal authority, the Association cannot take any

action against clandestine climbers without the involvement of Ministries of Tourism and Home, neither of which seem to have the interest or manpower.

To go back to the Tourism Act provisions, it seems important to define the term "Himalayan peak": does it include high spurs of the Mahabharat range, are high and distinctive ridge-tops such as Lhotse Shar to be considered independent summits or appendages of the main peak? The Act obviously refers to the snow mountains that range the northern part of Nepal, but the fact that the regulations do not state explicitly what constitutes a Himalchuti creates a problem for climbers and allows flexibility to those agencies who do not mind cutting comers.

The grey definition also makes it possible for trekking agencies in Kathmand u and their partners abroad to sell climbs to lesser peaks which are not on the permitted list. Unfortunately for one of them, Interna­tional Trekkers of Kathmandu, the furore that followed the Pisang accident of last November forced the authorities to engage ina closer reading of the Actand follow it up with a penalty. The agency has been barred from any mountaineering activity for a period of two years, an action that some industry analysts believe is unfair given that "everybody does it". Meanwhile, the ba n o n Intemat ion al Trekkers does not seem to have made an impression on its peer agencies, whoseitinerariesstillfeaturesuch peaks to be climbed without permission while on trek.

It is not only 'closed' peaks that are being climbed on the sly. The 6183-metre-high Imja Tse (Island Peak) in the Khumbu is one such peak that sees over 15 groups every season attempting it without permission.There are known attempts even on the higher peaks, such as Cho Oyu (8201m), whose "tourist route" up from Nangpa La has been known to attract

May/June 1995 WMAL

itinerant climbers. Even on Chomolongma, there have been reports of lone alpinists piggy-backing on fixed ropes of large expeditions and bivouacking on well-stocked camps up the mountain. However, there are no reports of succ­essful climbs of Sagarmatha by such illegal climbers.

Aesthetics vs. Morality

Why does illegal climbing take place after all? One reason is the savings in fees and on the bureaucratic hassles involved. The royalties charged—for example, the U$ 150 to U$ 300 charged by the NMA—may seem a pittance to an organised trekking group,, but could be a hefty sum for a backpacking alpine-style climber. The free spirit that is the genuine mountaineer obvio usly di slikes the shackles placed on his ability to climb a peak, and he may deliberately set about evading the regulations. From a purely aesthetical (not moral) stand point, whether a Himalayan peak is climbed with permission or without does not make that much of a difference.

Most illegal climbing in Nepal takes place along the popular trekking routes, viz., the Annapurna circuit, the Langtang and and Khumbu valleys. It is easy to go about one's business quietly in these areas amidst the hundreds of trekkers swarming the trails. It i s possible to reach an impromptu decision to climb in Khumbu, for Namche Bazaar's climbing bazaar offers climbing gear of the same range and quality found at any outfitters in Chamonix. Lending a helping hand arc mountain guides and trek operators without whose complicity it would be quite difficult to climb a Hima­layan peak, however small.

The interest in enf ore in g the regu lation is mainly that of the host country, for the lost income that clandestine climbing represents. It is therefore in Nepal's interest that illegal climbing be checked. The NMA alone, it is estimated, loses more than NRs 5 million annually from unauthorised climbing of the peaks at its command. By the same reckoning, the central exchequer is losing many more millions of rupees from all the peaks that are being climbed without permission.

In this perspective, one would assume that serious steps would be taken to prevent

illegal climbs. Predictably enough, this is not the case. No one even knows where to begin.

Question of Virginity

Another issue thrown up by illegal climbing—which almost by definition is undocumented—is whether or not to believe that the "virgin peaks" are really untrodden. Given the hundreds of peaks available in Nepal, and the inability of the authorities to check what the adventurous climbers do oncetheyareintheHighHimaland beyond the range of the base camp-based liaison officers, it is quite likely that many more "virgin peaks" have been climbed than even the climbing world knows of.

Those who climb a virgin peak are not likely to turn up at the NMA or MoT to register their feat. Those who would want to come again to the Nepal Himalaya might not even own up to their triumphs in one of the world's many mountain­eering journals. Besides, the Nepali authorities certainly do not have the ability nor the interest in perusing the world's these journals to maintain an updated list of illegally climbed peaks. The problem here is not only that of the Nepali Government: climbers in years will obviously attempt newly-opened peaks believed to be unclimbed, whereas the summits might already have been violated.

The different organisations concerned with climbing in Nepal do not seem to view the matter seriously apart from pointing fingers at each other. The MoT places blame on unscrupulous trekking agents; the established agencies see small-time operators and individual tour leaders as the culprits; the NMA perceives both trekking companies and the MoT responsible—the Ministry for not setting out dearly-defined rules and trekking companies for looking at the regulations in ways that best suit their interests.

However, as the theoretical protector of Nepal's mountaineering trade, NMA cannot shirk its responsibility so easily, especially because it and the Trekking Agents Association of Nepal (TAAN) share a close, almost incestuous, relationship. The NMA should, at the very least, be able to keep a check on what itineraries

are being sold by trekking agents. Amid all this passing of the buck, the main issue of how to stop unauthorised climbing is being forgotten.

The NMA did make an attempt at monitoring back in 1991 by placing a representativeeachinManangand Namche Bazaar but the operation floundered within a year. It proved impossible to confirm that a climb had taken place once the climbers had descended. The Association is once again said to be thinking of a similar operation, this time with two person teams which can act as a roving patrol.

There are other method s that have been suggested to check illegal climbing. One is to mobilise the local administrative bodies such as village development committees with the incentive that they receive part of the finerealised from those caught climbing without permission. Another is that national park personnel be utilised, since many peaks fallwithintheboundariesofoneparkorthe other. Meanwhile, trekkers entering the country need to be notified about Nepal's mountaineering regulations, for many might forgo illegal climbs if only they knew what their agencies were putting them up to. Permits can also be issued, say at Namche Bazaar, Kyanjin Gomba, Manang and Jomosom, albeit at a higher rate than what they cost in Kathmandu, so that those who get the climbing bug while on a trek will have a way out rather than having to make an illegal bid.

Stricter rules and serious enforcement of them are also being advocated, Sardars could forfeit their NMA registration if found taking part in illegal climbs. Trekking companies could losetheir licence altogether instead of only having to suffer temporary suspensions. However, rules will not solve the problem if they are impractical. Many trekkers climb peaks illegally just because they involve mere side trips from the main trail and can be done with equipment on hand.

Making permits unnecessary for peaks such as Thorung Rion the Annapurna trek, which is being climbed allthe time anyway, should not be much to Nepal's loss. After all why make criminals of climbers if it can be helped?

HIMAL May/June 1995


Abominably Yours,

Instead of whining on and on about how the Indian plague killed tourism in the Subcontinent, it is time the region's planners came up with innovative ways to boost the visitor industry. Take the total eclipse of the sun that will traverse the Ganga basin east to west in October. Where is our forward-looking strategy? We should be blitzing prospective tourists in Europe and Japan with catchy commer­cials that go: "See The Taj Mahal in Eclipse", or "Fly Delhi-Calcutta In Total Darkness, Only On Indian Airlines".

In the Himalaya, the eclipse will only be partial, but it will still be quite a show as the sun suddenly dims from 220 volts to 110. Here in the Upper Barun, scientists are planning to study the effect of solar brownout on the gliding ability of the Himalayan chough. German geologists will observe temperature change in glacial lakes during eclipses. In Chitwan, resear­chers are preparing to monitor how mating behaviour of rhinos adjusts to solar darkness.

If the scientists are so engaged, why is the tourism trade lagging? There is still time to plan for the First Ascent of Mt. Everest Via The Southeast Pillar Without Oxygen And Without Sherpas During A Solar Eclipse, not to mention the Around Annapurna Penumbra Trek, which should have many takers. Nepal's unique flag is ideal as promotional material, with the moon from the upper triangle occluding the sun below.

The selling point about total eclipses, of course, is their timing. There won't be another one to cast a shadow over the Taj Mahal in quite such a fashion till the year 2353 or thereabouts, by which time most of our great-grandchildren will have gone on to be reincarnated as Sandflies or Thermophilic Bacteria, depending on how they behave themselves. The rarity of total solar eclipses also limits their potential for tourism promotion.

Sex, on the other hand, has a certain timeless quality to it, and sex sells. As a region, we have not done enough to promote Sex Tourism. Befoie politically correct readers dash off angry letters to my editor recommending that he gag his ab(ominab)le columnist, let me hasten to

add: this is not a suggestion to tum Connaught Place into a naughty place.

Seeing the contemporary squeamishness and taboos on sex in the Subcontinent, it is hard to believe that we were once the world's Sex Superpower. No one else in world history had been as obsessed with The Birds and The Bees as the Subcontinentals of the last millennium, not even birds and bees. South Asia's glorious tradition of wanton lust has shrunk to a tiny speck of its former self. Today, India is to Sex what Portugal is to Colonialism.

While pne cannot help but observe a certain contradiction between the copulation taboo and the population boom, a serious scientific study is needed to explore the correlation between sex, economic development and political stability. Recent studies have linked social decline and joblessness to the rise of fascism in Europe and of white anti-government militants in the American heartland. An idle mind, it seems, is the fundamentalist's workshop. Similarly, could it be argued that sexual suppression leads restless South Asian males to seek other onanistic avenues to dissipate energy: razing shrines, burning buses and calling bandhs?

We have historical records to prove that the explosion of erotic art between the years 800 to 1200 was also a time of extraordinary social harmony and cohesion. There was less crime, prostitution was unnecessary, wars were rare, and there was no censorship. As Shri Rajneesh re-discovered a thousand years later, sexual intercourse as a source of pleasure and mode for procreation is the most tangible manifestation of the existence of the Supreme Being. Sex also made people tolerant.

Sexiness used to be right up there on a pedestal with godliness. Hindu philosophers like Vatsayayan wrote tomes on sex—including the world's oldest and bestselling lovemaking manual. Kings commissioned elaborate temples of love that have survived monsoons and vandals to this day. Voluptuous
sandstone apsaras guard divinities engaged in foreplay, their bodies tangled in formidable feats of sexua] acrobatics. From a gender perspective, here are women as equal partners and not just submissive pleasure-givers.

So what happened to this rich heritage, huh? Somewhere along the way, the role of women became subordinate, and sex became power play.

But all is not lost. We see today the birth of India's Second Sexual Revolution. Aided and abetted by satellite television, promiscuity is once again sweeping the land from Kanya Kumari to Kailash. Nikki Bedi and Imran Khan are the new role models as the channels borrow and mix the Old East with the New West.
Catching up with the times, the Subcontinent's tourism operators must gear up to market the region's historical erotica. A series of sex tourism itineraries will have to be developed for the foreign tourist. The Tantric Tour can take the traveller from the architectural relics of Khajuraho to the Tibeto-Nepali temple art where Tantra reached its climax. The Kamasutra Special can explore the emergence of erotica in religion, incorporating a train tour of the main temples of love in the plains.

Better still, let the SAARC governments give up all this SAPTA business and join in a cooperative programme to take advantage of the upcoming October eclipse as occasion to launch the South Asia Lovers' Paradise Tour Package (SALPTP). After all, darkness and love-making evolved together.

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