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Nepal earthquake stirs debate on overcrowding and commercialisation of Everest

The deaths from avalanche at the Everest Base Camp have brought the spotlight back on over-commercialisation. The old debate will now be rekindled.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: May 03, 2015, 11.13 AM IST
There’s no mistaking the twinge of pain in his voice as Jamling Tenzing Norgay speaks on the phone from Kathmandu. Mention the series of avalanches that were set off on the world’s tallest mountain, Mount Everest, and on some of the peaks around by the deadly earthquake last Saturday, killing at least 19 climbers of different nationalities, and he remains silent for a few seconds. As a Sherpa mountaineer and mountain guide, Norgay’s sense of tragedy is palpable — what makes it even deeper is the family legacy; his father Sherpa Tenzing Norgay was the first summiteer of Mount Everest (along with Edmund Hillary) in 1953.

“We respect Mount Everest as a mother and a goddess — both in Hindu & Buddhist cultures. An earthquake is a natural calamity but there’s still a deep feeling of sadness,” says Norgay, who rushed to Kathmandu from Darjeeling, where he lives, to search for many of his family members who live in the villages around Everest Base Camp. There were 2,500-3,000 climbers and trekkers at the base camp last weekend, with over 35 teams, many of which were hoping to climb the mountain. “There were heavy losses of both lives and equipment. Many of the climbers had to be evacuated by helicopters from BC and Camp 1 and even higher elevations. However, the worst hit are the Sherpas with 14 of them killed,” adds Norgay.

In recent years, there has been a great deal of debate around the issue of overcrowding and commercialisation of the Everest with a huge number of hobby climbers or Everest ‘tourists’ flocking to Nepal to reach the highest point in the world. The recent deaths at the base camp following deadly avalanches will now rekindle the debate.

“While we in India can’t comment about Nepal’s internal tourism policy in allowing a large number of mountaineers to go to Everest every year, many of the casualties during the quake happened because inexperienced climbers didn’t know how to save themselves,” says wing commander Amit Chowdhury, vice president of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, who was expedition leader of the Indian Air Force expedition to Mt Everest in 2005. He adds that many veteran mountaineers are now giving Everest the miss and looking out for more challenging routes on other mountains. Mandip Singh Soin, mountaineer and founder and MD of adventure tour operator Ibex Expeditions, avers that the government of Nepal needs to seriously look into the issue of overcrowding on the slopes of Mt Everest and find solutions in creative ways so as not to lose out on tourism dollars which are very important for the economy. “Mountain tourism is not just important for Nepal but also sustains the huge community of Sherpas who provide the lifeline for all mountaineering activities,” says Soin.

He has given Everest the miss and instead climbed Mt Meru in the Gharwal Himalayas, which is one of the world’s toughest peaks, amongst others. Meanwhile, Gurgaon couple Sangeeta, 51, & Ankur Bahl, 54, have been through a harrowing time after Ankur was stranded at Camp 2 (21,000 feet) of Mt Everest along with other climbers from Madison Mountaineering. “But this was a natural calamity and won’t put me off the mountains. In fact, I will come back here again to climb Everest,” Bahl told ET Magazine from Lukla on the Everest trail after he was evacuated by helicopter. The Bahls have been on expeditions to Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa, Elbrus in Russia, Vinson in Antarctica, Aconcagua in South America and McKinley in North America. “Even though I spent a few terrible days awaiting news of my husband, I too intend to go and climb Everest soon. Achieving the famous Seven Summits is a dream for both of us,” Sangeeta said.

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