03Dec2022

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Tag: Nepal Tourism Industry

OP-EDs and Columns

Book Review – Because there are Sherpas

– NISCHAL Dhungel, Non-Resident Fellow

The book review originally appeared in The Kathmandu Post on 17 September 2022. Please read the original article here.

“Why climb Everest?” a reporter asked George Mallory, who took part in the first three initial Everest expeditions. Mallory’s hilarious reply to this was, “Because it’s there!” What may have been Mallory’s instantaneous not-so-well-thought-of expression about why people pursue climbing may sound a little absurd and ambiguous, but it eventually became the three most famous words in the world of mountaineering.

For many climbers worldwide, the three-word prototype still holds true, but with a slight adaptation. For a random aspiring climber today, the answer to the same question asked before Mallory could be—“Because there are Sherpas!”

Let’s assume you have decided to climb Everest. Your finances are sorted, and you have a green signal from your family and doctor to pursue this extreme adventure. Your next existential question would be, “How will I get there?” Or better, put this question like this—“Who will take me there?” Who else but the Sherpas—an ethnic group that lives mainly in Nepal’s high mountains. Over the years, Sherpas have earned a reputation as the world’s strongest mountaineers. You may have read about them and their climbing prowess in the mountaineering literature, but how many of these stories have been from the Sherpas’ point of view? Very little. So far, the vast majority of the narratives around mountaineering, specifically Everest, have focused on the glories and achievements of western climbers, who acknowledge the contributions of Sherpas, but most limit it to expressions like— ‘I and seven other Sherpas climbed Everest’.

Well, not anymore! The mountaineering narratives have evolved and come of age. ‘SHERPA’, a book written by home-grown Nepali authors Pradeep Bashyal and Ankit Babu Adhikari, unravels stories of Sherpas unlike ever before. The book’s subtitle, “Stories of Life and Death from the Forgotten Guardians of Everest,” speaks for itself. The book not only focuses on summit feats by Sherpas but also provides a first-hand oral history of their existence and the struggles that go into achieving the most remarkable feat in today’s mountaineering landscape.

Speaking of the authors, Bashyal is a journalist, and Adhikari is a musician/songwriter. The book resonates with the authors’ backgrounds, as it has rich research-oriented journalistic storytelling and, at the same time, reads like a finely woven rhythm of one of Adhikari’s songs. The authors do not impose their opinions on the readers; instead, the book illustrates a story from Sherpa’s perspective, which feels more authentic.

‘Sherpa’ presents an evocative graphical representation that allows readers to become familiar with the villages (human settlements), mountain peaks and passes, airfields, monasteries, lakes, and rivers/streams that the Sherpas hold close to their hearts. Additionally, the book has two sections that are dedicated to intimate and people-centred images that showcase the area and the people featured in it.

Divided into 12 chapters, each chapter in the book portrays different stories that make the readers understand that Sherpas started in the mountaineering world as porters, chefs, weather experts, technicians, medics, climbers, etc. Today, many of them operate as internationally certified mountain guides, with a few leading some of the best mountaineering expedition companies in the world.

The book also presents the spiritual journey of Sherpas. For instance, there is a story of Phurba Tashi Sherpa, who summited Everest 21 times. After spending many adventurous years summiting mountains, Phurba Tashi suddenly quit mountaineering to live a quiet life with his wife and children. He is still considered one of the best mountaineers the world has ever seen, and there are people all over the world willing to climb alongside him. But it all means nothing to Phurba Tashi, for he has his own personal and spiritual reasons for quitting climbing. Another story of Kushang Sherpa, a Darjeeling native, details his spiritual journey, how he was sold in Bhutan’s labour market and emerged from it and ended up climbing Mount Everest from all its all three faces—north, south, and east.

The book provides unique insights about several generations of Sherpas and how they view mountaineering as a profession. From the outset, each chapter has its success and failure stories, be it taking clients to the different peaks of the world or rescuing climbers from the world’s highest mountains. Most importantly, this book takes a community immersion approach where authors explore the surroundings and interact with the characters to closely understand the daily lives of Sherpas, the history and culture that influenced their way of life, and how they interacted with the mountains.

The book showcases Sherpa women’s crucial role in caring for family, livestock, and hotel businesses while the men in the family head to the mountains during climbing seasons. The book also recognises the fact that Sherpa women form the backbone of the tourism industry high up in the mountains.

What’s more, the book also goes into detail in answering the common question, i.e., “What makes a Sherpa different from a normal human being?” is pretty fascinating, backed up by sociological-scientific evidence.

The book also reveals how many Sherpas have died on the mountains and that many of their families don’t get their bodies back. The book highlights that bringing down bodies from Everest is three times more expensive and arduous than simply climbing the mountain.

Given that mountaineering has become one of the most popular adventure sports, the authors have chosen to include the impact of climate change on Nepal’s fragile mountain ecosystem. Just like wind patterns and movements of ice blocks on the mountains keep changing, the book explains how a new generation of Sherpas have a different view of mountaineering, with many preferring to engage in other professions. I felt that the authors could have focused a little more on the future of the mountaineering industry, especially given how expensive climbing Everest has become. Additionally, I longed for some potential measures to tackle pertinent problems in this fast-changing mountainous realm.

The last section of the book, which I have rarely come across in other books, keeps track of all the significant events and records held by the people featured in the book. Since ‘Sherpa’ has numerous characters, keeping track of who’s who becomes challenging. Hence, the book’s final section brings all the individuals’ historical timelines, including the dates and places the interviews were taken.

At last, the authors’ phenomenal storytelling acumen shows dark and bright stories, which help readers understand that Sherpas have different mountains to climb daily. Not many books have been written covering the human aspect of the lives of Sherpas, and this book brings such stories to the forefront. There is no doubt that climbing is in Sherpas’ blood, be it daily struggles, climbing peaks, or dragging bodies and litter down from the high-range mountains.

The book has the potential to reach a larger global audience not just because it’s related to Nepal’s much-talked subject but has brilliantly portrayed a moving human side of people performing the world’s deadliest job.

SHERPA: Stories of Life and Death from the Forgotten Guardians of Everest

Authors: Pradeep Bashyal and Ankit Babu Adhikari

Publisher: Octopus Publishing Group Ltd./ Hachette, UK

Pages: 321

Rs 1120

Research Commentaries

NRC0016 – Visit Nepal 2020 – Have we managed to get our priorities straight?

Nirnaya Bhatta

Synopsis

Understandably, there is a national fixation on undertaking grand infrastructural projects, also reflected in the Joint Statement between Nepal and China released during the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit, in various sectors including those in the tourism sector. Although, basic infrastructure such as street lights, tourist hotlines, decentralized tourist help centres, reliable payment systems, wi-fi access in tourist areas, better safety arrangements for locals and tourists, should not be discounted in making Visit Nepal 2020 (VN2020) a success or a disappointment. Since time of essence to get things right before the year-long campaign commences in less than two months now, this commentary recommends 5 immediate interventions that would improve tourist’s overall experience in Nepal.

The third edition of a year-long tourism campaign

Visit Nepal 2020 (VN2020) is preceded by ‘Visit Nepal 1998 – A World of its Own’ and Nepal Tourism Year 2011. In 2018, 1,173,072 tourists visited Nepal and the daily average spending per tourist was USD 54. VN2020 aims to bring in 2 million tourists and increase the average spending per tourist per day to over USD 75.

Grand plans call for grand implementation too

The two following consideration could come handy to guide implementation. First, making sincere efforts to reduce ambiguity related with national plans among entities within the state apparatus. Sure, there is no well-defined path to neither planning nor implementation and governance is usually based on ballpark assumptions. During President Xi’s visit the entire state apparatus worked together to make it a success, and that it would be unfair to acknowledge these efforts. Similarly, given that numerous institutions- government entities and beyond- would be required to be mobilized for successful implementation, a top-down approach should be expected to do poorly.

A simple exercise for logical planning. Stakeholders that are responsible to plan and implement will benefit with the following simple exercise. They can ask themselves, “what are the basic things I would need while visiting a foreign country?” This question could be asked keeping in mind the journey that starts at the international airport through the entire trip.

Tourism infrastructure

What does tourism infrastructure really entail? It includes a “large number of services, necessary to meet the needs of tourists and increase satisfaction during their stay at the destination”. The relation between national infrastructure and tourism development has been clearly established. It is only logical that an improvement in national infrastructure increases the capacity of a country to cater to complex suite of needs that tourists expect to be taken care of.

To further understand what comprises tourism infrastructure, it is useful to refer to the numerous indicators that make up the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI). The TTCI is a global index that benchmarks the “competitiveness of 140 economies and measures the set of factors and policies that enable the sustainable development of the Travel & Tourism (T&T) sector”. The reason why major stakeholders planning and implementing the VN2020 should refer to the index as it would help them identify specific indicators from a vast range that need to be improved, given that the government has limited attention and resources.

Figure 1- Source (The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2019)

Policy considerations – 5 immediate interventions for Visit Nepal 2020

Since time of essence to get things right before the year-long campaign commences, this commentary focuses on 5 immediate interventions aimed at improving the tourist experience in Nepal. These interventions give high benefit-cost value. Meaning, they accrue large benefits when compared to the costs incurred. While the budget for F.Y. 2019/20 allocates NPR 22.68 billion and the National Tourism Strategy 2016-2025 identifies 11 special strategies to develop the tourism industry; it is crucial to immediately consider these five interventions.

  1. Ensuring a pleasant airport experience:

Lately, there have been noticeable progress with facilities at the international as well as domestic terminals at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu. Although, much is yet to be done given that the traffic at the airport is expected to increase. Apart from ensuring that a tourist’s VN2020 experience start with bitter events right after landing at the airport by unnecessary hassle at the immigration desk, mismanaged carriers, luggage claim mechanism, fraudulent transportation, unavailability of money exchange booths (given that it is rare that Nepali currency can be exchanged anywhere else!). It would also be practical to help tourists better understand what the country can offer by providing them with maps, and crucial directions, beyond the airport authorities have limited control over how things unfold.

  1. Improved security infrastructure for tourists:

Safety is a primary concern that travelers consider while determining their travel destinations. These considerations become more salient when families travel together. The least that the campaign can aim at doing is to make our guests feel secure. The concerned state authorities could run television campaigns on how tourists, and thus the tourism industry, help Nepal’s sagging economy and that it is the responsibility of each Nepali to be as hospitable as they can.

  1. Tourist hotlines and assistance centres:

Lately, one will find excellent response from traffic police call centres at 103. Similarly, the government should introduce a 24-hour dedicated tourism hotline. Further, assistance centres can be established in most tourist areas. This information could be announced at the airport itself and advertised all over the international airport areas.

  1. Transportation:

Car rental services in Nepal is still very immature, even compared with other South Asian countries. Cab drivers charge utterly arbitrary rates, especially if the customer is a foreigner. It is often said that locals don’t get a fair share of pay for service provided. This may be true, but there needs to be a fair arrangement where neither locals nor tourists feel exploited.

  1. Easier and safe payment mechanisms:

The recent ATM related scandals do expose the vulnerability of Nepal’s banking sector. Often foreigners are found to be afraid to use their international payment cards with local vendors. It would be a shame if such a mere inconvenience deters tourists from actually spending. It is the lack of basic facilities that either make or break a tourist’s experiences in a foreign country.

Conclusion

Nepal evokes an exotic imagination among global tourists that few countries do. Although, even a handful of mishaps can dampen Nepal’s image as an attractive tourist destination. In tourism, the intangible element of image plays an instrumental role.

Right before the official commencement of VN2020, this is the right time for an earnest evaluation of our capacity to cater to 2 million tourists. Further, it is useful to not just fixate on the VN2020, given that tourism competitiveness is a function of an overall infrastructural development in the long term. If services actually improve for the locals, it will inadvertently improve for the tourists too. Installing street lights, improving tourism security and the other aforementioned factors may look lesser grand for the government but will prove to be equally important in making VN2020 a success. The tagline of VN2020 is “Lifetime Experiences”. Why let minor inconveniences occurring due to lack of basic facilities translate to a lifetime bad experience to a tourist.

Reference

  1. Calderwood, L. U., & Soshkin, M. (2019). The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2019 – Travel and Tourism at a Tipping Point. World Economic Forum. Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-travel-tourism-competitiveness-report-2019
  2. Jovanovic, S., & Ilic, I. (2016). Infrastructure As an Important Determinant Of Tourism Development In The Countries Of Southeast Europe. EcoForum. Retrieved from http://www.ecoforumjournal.ro/index.php/eco/article/view/329
  3. Ministry of Finance, Government of Nepal. (May 29, 2019). Budget Speech of Fiscal Year 2019/20. Retrieved from https://mof.gov.np/uploads/document/file/budget_speech_website_20190619052055.pdf
  4. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Nepal. (Oct 13, 2019). Joint Statement Between Nepal and the People’s Republic of China. Retrieved from https://mofa.gov.np/joint-statement-between-nepal-and-the-peoples-republic-of-china-2/
  5. Prasain, S. (Jul 29, 2016). Nepal tourism sets goal to boost arrivals fivefold. The Kathmandu Post. Retrived from https://kathmandupost.com/money/2016/07/29/nepal-tourism-sets-goal-to-boost-arrivals-fivefold
  6. Pun, S. (March 5, 2019). Nepal Tourism Campaign #VisitNepal2020. The Spotlight Magazine. VOL 12 No.14, March 01, 2019 (Falgun. 17 2075). Retrieved from https://www.spotlightnepal.com/2019/03/05/nepal-tourism-campaign-visitnepal2020/
  7. Visit Nepal Year 2020 Secretariat. (August, 2019). VNY 2020 Update. Retrieved from https://2020.welcomenepal.com/pdf/Tabloid_VNY_Aug2019.pdf