Despite Covid-19, climbers are back on Everest
Namche Bazar, the gateway to Mt Everest, is currently abuzz with climbers and trekkers as they prepare to head towards Base Camp after the pandemic closed Nepal’s tourism for a year.
The narrow stone-paved streets of this township at 3,500m are once more filled with trekkers and climbers from all over the world, spending a day or two acclimatising before they head up the trail.
The start of the season has not been very lucky. Thick smoke from forest fires have disrupted flights to Lukla, and the haze has blown up to Pheriche at 4,300m, blurring views of Ama Dablam and Everest along the way.
Many spend their day hiking up to the Everest View Hotel in Syangboche and back to their lodgings to get used to the altitude.
Nepal's smoky mountains, Nepali Times
Total tourist numbers in Nepal dropped from over 1.1 million in 2019 to fewer than 230,000 last year --- and most of them arrived before the lockdown January-March. This year, the last three months have seen only 35,000 tourists.
But with the start of the spring climbing season, there has been an uptick in the number of climbers and trekkers to the Khumbu.
So far, 167 international climbers have got permits to climb Everest, with 39 climbers on Lhotse and 23 on Nuptse. All of them, as well as high altitude guides and support staff, will be sharing Base Camp on the Khumbu Glacier, which is bustling with activity again as it prepares to host 700 people.
Despite the slow start to the season, Namche Bazar is emerging from its enforced closure. Sonam Norbu runs a shop for climbers and trekkers in one of the stone-paved alleys of the town.
"It has been only 20 days since we opened up. Most people here actually closed their shops and went down to Kathmandu during the Covid crisis," he says.
Nepal tourism may take 5 years to recover, Nepali Times
Because of the amenities it provides, Namche is a resting destination for most climbers and trekkers on the Everest Trail. Even as some climbers head up the Khumbu Icefall, other climbers who are booked on the mountains are still arriving.
This has been attributed to the massive confusion around Nepal’s Covid-19 quarantine and testing rules Last month, the Ministry of Tourism finally allowed visa on arrival, and lifted quarantine restrictions for those who had been vaccinated.
Even though the numbers of trekkers is picking up, Namche locals say it is much quieter than previous years. Lodge and restaurant owners here are worried about the second wave as well as the wildfire affecting arrivals.
Nepal has been recording its worst-ever pollution levels in history, with the AQI index constantly hitting the 'hazardous' mark for consecutive weeks now.
For those like Sonam Norbu, the resurgence of tourism is hope of a revival of the region’s paralysed economy.
Read also: “Survive 2020, revive in 2021 and thrive in 2022”, Alisha Sijapati