Call to scrap Upper Mustang tourist fee

Premium permit fees are keeping tourists away from the trans-Himalayan district, impacting on the local economy


When Nepal opened up for trekking and mountaineering, it restricted foreigners from travelling to trans-Himalayan districts like Mustang and Dolpo because of the cultural sensitivity and limited ecological carrying capacity of the land.

Later in 1992, they were opened up, but unlike other trekking areas visitors had to pay the Annapurna Conservatioon Area Project (ACAP) $500 for 10 days and an additional $50 per day for any extra duration. 

Since then, Nepal has become a federal republic and there is now a highway connecting Pokhara to Jomsom and Lo Manthang right up to the Chinese border, and locals say it does not make sense to charge such high fees anymore, saying it is impacting on the local economy.

“The permit fee for the restricted areas is too high and we would get a lot more tourists and raise local incomes if it was revoked,” argues Tashi Norbu Gurung, the elected chair of Lo Manthang Rural Municipality. “This is severely affecting our livelihoods and businesses.”

With support from local residents, hoteliers and village councils, Gurung along with the chairs of adjoining rural municipalities recently submitted a petition to Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Home Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha, Chief Minister of Gandaki Province Surendra Pandey and Minister of Forest and Environment Birendra Kumar Mahato to remove Upper Mustang from the list of restricted areas.

Most of the fee goes to ACAP, and local municipalities complain that they do not really benefit from the extra charges on tourists. 

Says Rinjin Gurung of the Waragung Muktikshetra Rural Municpality: “Because these are at present restricted areas, tourists cannot easily access them, and this has affected us all negatively.

Of the total 71,707 tourists who visited Mustang in 2022/23, only 3,388 visited Upper Mustang, paying the ACAP premium fee. Trekking traffic to the region has been climbing to nearly pre-Covid levels with more than 3,000 tourists in the first nine months of 2023. The number of Nepali visitors to the region has also grown exponentially, with most travelling by motorcycle or jeep from Pokhara.

“It is important that we set up fees and create a system that is appropriate for tourists of all classes and economic status,” says Vikal Sherchan member of the Gandaki Provincial Assembly. Indeed, there is fear that opening up Upper Mustang to mass tourism can lead to some of the negative effects seen in other parts of Nepal with unregulated building, high costs, theft of antiquities and an impact on the region’s fragile ecology.

Upper Mustang in Nepal’s trans-Himalaya is a major tourist attraction with arid and desolate mountain landscapes, ancient Tibetan culture with monasteries and chortens and places of historical importance. In fact, in a lot of ways Mustang is geologically, culturally and linguistically closer to Tibet than Nepal.

Many visitors to Mustang are also Hindu and Budhist pilgrims who come worship at the Muktinath shrine. Trekkers often traverse the Thorung La pass from Manang to Mustang, for which they do not have to pay the extra ACAP fee. 

New high-end hotels have now come up in Jomsom, Lo Manthang and along the trail in between. Some of the investors in these hotels feel lifting the premium fee will increase the footfall in Upper Mustang.

Adapted from RSS

Read also: Comings and goings in Mustang, Shrijan Pandey