A junkyard in the sky

An average trekker uses as much firewood in a day as an average Nepali family would in a week.

By Vijayalakshmi Balakrishnan
Published: Monday 31 August 1992

"Traffic jam on Everest", read a startling headline in The Rising Nepal, Kathmandu's leading English daily. The report went on to say that 34 mountaineers were on the way to the peak following the same route and they would all be jostling their way to the top.

The headline, meanwhile, reawakened concern for Everest's fragile eco-system. For more than a decade, conservationists have been battling the tourism lobby to curb trekking in the Himalaya. They argued that of every dollar spent by a trekker in Nepal, only seven cents reached the local community, with the rest being pocketed by tourism agencies in Kathmandu and Pokhara. So far, the battles have all been won by those chasing the greenbacks.

Conservationists have frequently pointed out the average trekker is ignorant of the proper use of natural resources in the mountains. For instance, most trekking parties light up camp fires even though, as a conservationist noted wryly, "The fuelwood requirement of a trekker for a day would keep a Nepali family going for a week."

The Nepali government appears to be changing its line and has announced it will refuse permits to climb the Everest after 1994. This could solve the problem of human traffic jams on the peak but it does not end the trekking menace. Recently, the government opened up the Mustang area for trekking and, judging by the rush to the area, the government's steep trekking fee of US $500 does not seem to be deterring trekkers.

Green activists are switching their tactics and though continuing to oppose trekking publicly, their campaign is now focussed on enforcing a code of conduct for trekkers. The code lists rules concerning camping sites, fuel needs, handling disposable material, personal safety guidelines and sets down penalties for violations. Dubbing the code as an attempt to educate the educated, the conservationists do not appear to have any illusions on how successfully it can be enforced.

And in a moment of frustration, one of them said disgustedly, "These same people who would never dream of leaving a scrap of paper on the Alps, come here and dirty our mountains".

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