An interview with Danduraj Ghimire, Director General of Department of Tourism

2019-07-01, Kathmandu

Travreport spoke to Danduraj Ghimire, Director General of the Department of Tourism, to discuss the new provision envisioned by the government and efforts being made to clean-up Everest and key issues related to backlash regarding mountaineering in Nepal.

Every year, hundreds of climbers, Sherpas, and high altitude porters make their way to Everest, leaving behind tonnes of both biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste, including empty oxygen canisters, kitchen waste, beer bottles and faecal matter.

Global warming leads to melting glaciers revealing rubbish which has gathered over decades of mountaineering by climbers who pay little attention to the ugly footprint they leave behind.

A major ‘Everest clean up’ campaign which hoped to clean up Everest by collecting and bringing back tonnes of garbage from the world’s highest peak began on April 14 this year.

The 45-day ‘Everest Cleaning Campaign’ led by Solukhumbu district’s Khumbu Pasang Lhamu rural municipality is one of Nepal’s most ambitious clean-up projects for Everest which has acquired notoriety as the ‘world’s highest dump’. The 12-member garbage retrieval expedition has just come down to Namche Bazaar after spending one month on Everest and brought down nearly 11 tonnes of garbage as well as four bodies of dead climbers that had emerged from the thawing ice.

In this context, Travreport spoke to Danduraj Ghimire, Director General of the Department of Tourism, who has spent almost 29 years in the government, to discuss the new provision envisioned by the government and efforts being made to clean-up Everest and key issues related to backlash regarding mountaineering. Excerpts: 

How did the government fail to control trash management in the region to an extent where a separate team had to be deployed to clean up after people? How was this huge operation managed?

We have failed to treat the world around us in a respectful and sustainable way. We’ve been littering our world heritage sites everywhere. It is of utmost importance to convey the message that heritage sites are not only a country’s property, a sense of responsibility should be on everyone. 

The Nepal Army had been planning to conduct a ‘Safa Himal Abiyan’ this year hence they gave us their full support by mobilising their manpower and resources like helicopters. The Nepal Army even helped to collect private sponsors like the Coco-cola, Bottler’s Nepal, Tara air and others.

The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Ministry of Environment, Nepal Army, Nepal Mountaineering Association, Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee(SPCC), Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural Municipality and Nepal Tourism Board had agreed to actively take part in the campaign. Though it’s a voluntary campaign, it ran like a joint venture of helping hands ranging from Coca-Cola Company to the World Wildlife Fund, as well as private businesses and financial institutions like Prabhu Bank, Nabil Bank, NMB bank et cetera.

The SPCC also helped to gather 12 sherpas, eight of whom went up to the mountains and four stayed in the basecamp. The army, locals and Sherpas helped in the collection.

How was the trash collected and what has been done to manage wastes?  

The strong team sent by the government spent about six weeks scouring for litter from base Camp 1 to Camp 4 — nearly 8,000 mt up — scraping together empty cans, bottles, plastic and discarded climbing gear.

Aluminium ladders and cans collected from Everest may find a second life as pots and pans. The bags of trash were flown by army helicopters to Kathmandu, or trucked down along winding mountain roads before being handed over to a recycling company, Blue Waste to Value, in a ceremony to mark World Environment Day.

The weather was not favourable even during the collection. Only from May 15 -17  we could ascend but the weather degraded and we had to call our team down. The Sherpas again went up from May 21-24 and they collected all the exposed trash up till Camp 3. However even the bagged trash couldn’t be brought down from the South Col as the weather degraded again. We are planning to bring it down. 11 tonnes of trash, all non-degradable was collected and sent for recycling in total. Usually there is a big volume of metal, aluminium, glass and heavy and light metal which can be easily recycled.

Expedition members said the trash was worse than usual because there has been no clean up since the 2015 earthquake and the 2014 avalanche on the Ice Fall. Many expeditions at higher camps after both disasters had to make a quick descent and abandon their climbs, leaving most of their gear behind.

Though we call it a successful mission, more rubbish still needs to be collected. Some is covered by snow and only is exposed when temperatures rise.

Why do you think there is a lack of responsible tourism even in areas like the Everest? What can be done to ensure responsible tourism?

This cleaning campaign was not just for this year. This is a backlog of the 60 years of expedition history. Also we’ve only been able to collect only the exposed waste.

People from all around the world go there. While some people are sensitive enough there are others who just care about their own expedition and personal achievement.      

The people who set out to climb Everest spend months training, acclimatising, trekking and spend a hefty amount in fees to the government. So it should be simple to get them to pick up after themselves, shouldn’t it? There are some who cling to their belongings until the last moment and even bring back more waste from their sheer morality and conscience. But when people are struggling to carry themselves they lose their sense of morality that they should bring their trash down. Also, there are people who actually die. Over 300 people have died on Everest. Who will bring their belongings down?

To manage this issue of mounting garbage, the Nepali Government in 2014 imposed a deposit of USD 4,000 at the commencement of the expedition, which would be returned only if the group descended with 18 pounds of trash. This, unfortunately didn’t work, the trash continues to soil the face of this majestic mountain. We tell them in the briefing to bring down everything you carry, but that doesn’t work either.

We could however screen everything the expeditioners take up and have a proper tagging system. To know what we can do and what really is feasible in the region a ‘Study Team’ has been assembled. The team aims to recognise loopholes in the system. We have high hopes from the team and there are still more regulations to be made.

Instead of imposing penalties and briefing experienced on the do’s and don’ts, they should develop a sense of what is wrong and what is right.

On the brink of VNY 2020, Nepal is calling for more and more tourists. Looking at the ‘traffic jam’ on Everest how do you think Nepal should manage the surplus of incoming tourists?

To talk about the ‘traffic jam’ on Everest there has been a lot of misleading and unwarranted claims. This season Nepal granted expedition permits to a record 381 climbers, just nine more than 2017. Nine more climbers doesn’t cause a jam.

Long queues have been reported near the summit of Mount Everest as a record number of climbers ascended the mountain in May. Due to short periods of fine weather, the traffic on the routes had been higher than expected. What was supposed to be a journey of 381 people through a period of a month had to be restricted to a few days due to the ‘weather window’, as we call it.

May is the best time of the year to summit, but even then there are only a few days when it is clear enough and the winds are mild enough to make an attempt at the top.

Everybody thinks we issued too many permits this year but it’s not the case. Only from May 15-16 the weather was clear enough to ascend, then due to bad weather conditions all ascends were halted. Then in a period of four days, from May 21-24 everybody had to either go up or come down. This is why there was a pressure for everybody to go up. Had the weather not been bad the distribution would have been thinner. The picture was taken on a very unfortunate moment. May 23 and 24 had a lot of pressure due to weather not because of more permits. 

We also don’t have a system of turning down people who have followed all regulations and then come all the way here. The government is not inclined to change the number of permits. If you really want to limit the number of climbers why not  just end all expeditions on our holy mountain, but we can’t do that, can we? The problem wasn’t the number of people, it was distribution.

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