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Tough slog in the Khumbu


NAVIN SINGH KHADKA in NAMCHE BAJAR


Pencilling strike days into their calendars is the first step that Khumbu tourism operators take these days to prepare their clients' itineraries. The idea is to get the trekkers in Kathmandu when the streets are protest-free and them arrange to send them here or the Annapurnas.

With trekkers' arrivals dropping in the past two months operators are wondering when normal days might return. First the Maoists' blockade sparked massive cancellations and now the seven parties' general strike is the talk of the town.

Then there was the case of the Polish Esperanto trekkers who were extorted by Maoists near Jiri, but the wire services flashed worldwide: 'TREKKERS KIDNAPPED IN LUKLA'. That one erroneous reports by Kathmandu-based journalists may have done more damage to the spring trekking season than all the bandas put together.
"Many groups cancelled visits and that meant we did not have any loads to carry," says Arjun Rai, a 19-year-old porter who moves to the region from Khotang District every trekking season. "And now we hear about the parties' strike and god knows how many jobs that will cost," he adds.

That concern echoes repeatedly here. "Thinking that business would pick up, we invested quite some money to expand our lodge," says Nawang Sherpa of Khumbu lodge, which hosted former US President Jimmy Carter during his Everest trek in 1985 and hopes to do so again when he comes this month. "But, things appear to be quite depressing-I hope it will improve next season."

Figures back up the anecdotal evidence. Last year the entrance gate at Sagarmatha National Park recorded about 2,400 trekkers in March. This year they haven't even counted 1,000 and January and February saw similar drops. In the 1990s, more than 25,000 trekkers and climbers visited the Everest region, making it second only to Annapurna.

Yeti Airlines, the major carrier to Lukla has cut its flights by 20 percent this year instead of adding more as it usually does in spring. "We do see erosion in arrivals," says the airlines' executive director Vijay Shrestha. "There has been significant growth in terms of access and aircraft operators but the amount of business is decreasing because of fewer trekkers.

Trekking Agents Association of Nepal President Deepak Mahat says his business has plummeted 80 percent. "This spring season has been the worst for me-it has never been like this," he told us. "Our groups are arriving only from the third week of April and that is only because there are so far no protests scheduled then."


LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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