Updated 22nd August 2012 (see bottom of article for latest updates)
In September 2012 Nepal will ban all solo trekking in Nepal
Yes the headline looks set to become true. According to TAAN (Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal) who’ve indicated confirmation from the Ministry of Home Affairs you will no longer be able to trek independently in Nepal from September 2012 onwards. All solo trekking in Nepal will be banned.
About 4 months ago I received details from a friend listing out the latest official government trekking fees and changes. Additional government taxes were being added to certain routes. I called him straight away to confirm. I was told there was more coming.
Last week this news broke from TAAN. Being “Nepal” it’s taken this long just to get an official confirmation.
What’s unconfirmed are reports surrounding the exact additional costs that will have to be endured by solo trekkers
Why has Nepal banned independent or solo trekking?
“Officially” the reason stems as a way to protect independent trekkers alone in the mountains of Nepal.
Quote: “Recent murder of a Belgian trekker in Langtang National Park along with some other cases of disappearance of trekkers have created negative image of Nepal in international market, according to Lamsal.Rana Bahadur Khadka, first vice-president of TAAN, said the new policy decision means all trekkers will have to take the service of government registered trekking agencies.” (TAAN source)
They also go on to mention that this will increase the cost of solo trekking in Nepal by $10 per day to all FIT’s (Free Independent Trekkers).
“The Ministry of Home Affairs had taken the decision earlier this month following mounting pressure from tourism entrepreneurs, diplomatic missions and kin of missing tourists” (TAAN)
Initially rumors said that this $10 a day was an additional fee to every solo trekker in Nepal. However it now seems that this is what TAAN says a porter will cost under this scheme and not a new fee.
While the Ministry of Home Affairs has been mentioned, as of yet there has been no official announcement or confirmation from the Ministry of Tourism.
So is the “unofficial” reason for banning solo trekking in Nepal really about making more money by making it mandatory to take a TAAN registered porter/guide or is it to protect trekkers?
Is it really that dangerous to go solo trekking in Nepal?
First and foremost the outright banning of independent trekking in Nepal is based on protecting trekkers and Nepal’s international trekking image due to a recent murder and recent disappearances of trekkers.
The raw reality is that ever since I’ve known about Nepal I’ve heard about trekkers going missing for days, disappearing for good or dying due to injury, exposure or unknown causes. There’s no difference between people going missing ten years ago compared to today other than news spreads faster today.
When I first went trekking in Nepal (2007) Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree had several threads on people who had gone “missing while trekking”. I was also a little concerned before going trekking.
The primary reason I was concerned was due to Maoist harassment of trekkers. This was a time when they would stop you and demand an outright bribe of 1000 rupees to let you pass. Indeed as I was trekking a Swiss man was badly beaten by Maoists for not paying during the same trek route. So yes I was concerned. Then again, this was politically motivated and not due to just “trekking alone in Nepal”.
Other incidents were linked to people wandering off the trails, falling into ravines and simply never being found again.
Generally speaking 2011/2012 was and is no different. Yes there was the tragic brutal killing of Debbie Maveau this year. That’s one killing. I won’t go into stats of safe places on earth vs big cities etc. As deplorable as this murder was it’s a single incident in the year with no evidence to support robbery, sexual assault or the reason why it even occurred.
Why do people go missing or die when trekking in Nepal?
Still wondering why people go missing in Nepal? There are obviously many sub-equations to this. In my experience both in trekking, reading, listening and hearing from others close to the heart of the situation it generally boils down to the following in order of probability.
Experience & curiosity mixed with bad luck: People with no prior trekking experience head off alone. While many treks are well-marked out the curious will often go off the beaten path once in a while to explore things. A loose rock, deep ravine, broken tree branch, overcrowded small trail, domestic along with wild animal incidents and all manner of natural elements could result in someone losing their footing, falling, hitting their head, twisting an ankle and so on. The result is they are out in the open, off the beaten path, exposed to the elements and perish.
The challenger (or mutton head trekker): This is the trekker who is either over-confident, egotistical, naive or simply too gung-ho. Much like the above they set themselves challenges that are either off the beaten path or involve quick side trips to accomplish something they might think no one else has. The results can be much the same as the above.
Bad things do happen: Lastly bad things do happen. Like anywhere in the world there are some people who are either bad, mentally unstable, desperate or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Muggings, rapes and murders happen everywhere in the world. Nepal is no different and neither are its mountains. In general the Nepalese people are wonderfully peaceful and gentle. There will be exceptions and there are also a lot more than Nepalese people wandering around the mountains of Nepal.
How do the trekking guides and agencies feel about this?
I’ve asked a few independent guides and agencies on their thoughts about this. The common answer is:
“We can’t do anything about it!”
“It’s just the big people making more money.”
When I asked if it would improve or worsen their businesses there was a fifty-fifty split. Many feel like the Nepalese government & TAAN have been re-routing trekking profits and tourist figures for the past few years.
One does need to keep in mind that big Nepalese trekking agencies who bring in trekkers from abroad don’t feel as threatened by this. Why? Most of their profitable clientage are in the form of groups not solo trekkers. Note: not all, but most.
Will a ban on solo trekking effect tourism?
Officially there was an 18%+ increase in tourism during 2011. Unofficially local agencies, restaurants and guest houses have seen a decline in numbers. Why? According to local business associations tourist numbers are down due to officially injected sponsored package tours.
The Nepalese government have been actively seeking package tours and bookings during “Nepal’s Year of Tourism 2011”. Incentives to a few select tour operators ensured that package tours from China, Korea, Taiwan and India were offered exclusively to a few agencies with ties to government bodies or their “friends”.
The increased numbers resulted in a select few agencies utilized by the government getting access to these tourists as they were shuttled between select treks, tourist souvenir shops, hotels, trekking guest houses and even restaurants. Local businesses generally saw a dramatic decline in business during this period.
Sadly most of the people I speak to about this ban on independent trekking feel they are powerless. In a country where there’s an ever revolving government that hasn’t even been able to create a constitution in over 5 years they feel their voices are instantly lost in a corrupt bureaucratic quagmire.
Current official fees for solo trekkers in Nepal
TIMS card (Trekkers Management Information System) was introduced a number of years ago. It’s a one-off payment that ensured a computerized database entry of each trekkers personal details in the event they got lost and to prevent illegal trekking agencies from working. $20 for solo trekkers vs $10 for group trekkers. Interestingly this system has been earning a lot of money for some, yet still losing money for others (Himalayan Times: source)
Conservation fees are issued based on the area you are trekking to maintain the ecology of the area and environmental impact.
National park fees for each of the main trekking areas are also applicable.
Minimum FIT fee of $10 per day for mandatory guide/porter. What’s not clear is if the fee is what TAAN thinks a porter/guide costs or if it’s a fee for a single independent person or independent group. Nor is it clear if solo couples or independent groups are subject to a FIT porter/guide.
Lastly let’s not forget our visa fees which mount to $40 for 30 days.
This is no small money: As a solo independent trekker I refute Mr. Anjan Thapa (treasurer of TAAN) who when mentioning the $10 per day additional fee for solo trekkers said –
Quote: “This is a very nominal amount and it won´t affect tourist arrivals,”
Mr. Thapa, $10 a day is a lot of money and it’s grossly incorrect if that’s what you think an additional guide or porter costs. Surely you should know this as TAAN has stated previously that a porter should be about $15 per day while guide/porters are $20, more again for licensed guides ($25+). Shame your TAAN website pages that did have such content & information are constantly going blank but at least your office answers the phone. (P.S. your forum doesn’t work either)
You may also want to consult with TAAN’s CEO Danja Ram Pand who has stated that the new fee is between $10-15 for a certified porter/guide (AFP/Yahoo source).
What your $10-15 gets you: Mr. Pand also reveals that the FIT porter/guides will all have undertaken 6 months training which includes orientation training as well as emergency procedures to support travelers. He also hints they will be multi-lingual!
Sound’s like great stuff. But I honestly can’t imagine this costing a solo trekker only $10-$15 per day. If it does, I’m quite sure this fee will not cover their accommodation nor food – unlike current guide/porter fees.
Either way it’s not an nominal amount.
Let’s look at a case scenario with this additional mandatory porter/guide :
For a solo trek to Everest Base Camp with a mandatory FIT porter/guide at $15 per for 12 days the additional cost will be $180.
Now let’s look at the Annapurna circuit a longer popular trek these days. Let’s say I want to do it in 18 days.
FIT porter guide $15 x 18 days = $270 in additional costs.
Keep in mind that’s not including permits, conservation fees or entry fees.
As an independent trekker maybe I enjoyed the Annapurna region so much that on the way back I want to take another 8 days and go to Annapurna Base camp. Well Mr. Thapa, that’ll cost me another $120 on top of everything else on the circuit. Mounting to a grand total of $390 of additional expenses.
Mr. Thapa, you just lost another trekker to Nepal because in no way is that “a very nominal amount”.\
And still we don’t know if the $10-15 per day will include accommodation and food for this mandatory guide/porter.
For the record if I was to solo trek again in Nepal I would be taking my own porter to help carry camera equipment so it’s not just about extra expensive. My personal angst is at no longer having the freedom to trek alone if I so choose.
Protecting trekkers or making more money from trekkers?
There are in fact many things that irritate me about all this. Having read an official document sent to trekking agencies a few months ago advising them of new government fees for certain treks to this outright banning of solo trekking and yet mandatory $10-15 per day porter guides from TAAN’s registry. The reality is it all simply stinks of trying to squeeze as much money out of people visiting Nepal as humanly possible.
Sadly much like this alleged package tour tourism numbers fiasco this banning on solo trekking seems more about funneling money back into certain pockets than anything else. What’s next? Will we have to stay at TAAN registered tea houses on trekking routes?
Nepal was once a country that embraced independent travel
Aside from the usual “tourist prices” we’ve all put up with over the years Nepal was still a great country to explore.
Today Nepal imposes tourist fees on everything from walking in many public squares, visiting several places of worship and now to trek any of the beautiful mountains alone.
People often wince and laugh when mentioning the subject of “golden age of travel”.
Come September any hint of golden age independent travel in Nepal will be gone if this is confirmed. What’s left will be group tours for anyone who has the money to pay for them and join the crowd.
Or you’ll simply have to cough up the money to pay for an extra guide/ porter to tag along with you for $10-15 per day.
If you were a conspiracist you might even add there seems to be a push to take package tours rather than solo trekking which goes in line with the alleged tourism numbers game and the certain elite companies who get exclusive access to these tourists.
And here’s an additional crunch. The CEO of TAAN is quoted as saying that this measure will also:
“minimize illegal trekking agencies operated by foreigners.” (AFP/Yahoo source)
Let the debates on who pays Nepalese guides and porters better or worse on that one begin!
The future of solo trekking in Nepal
Again, TAAN is publicly acknowledging this yet so far there has been no official announcement from the Ministry of Tourism. Already independent trekkers around the world and outdoor magazines are writing about this outright travesty.
“Tourists traveling to any trekking destination will have to take at least a support staff (porter or guide) with them from September.” – TAAN
TAAN have said this is happening. Yet it’s still not officially clear what is happening other than solo trekking in Nepal is being banned. Confirmation is needed on if the $10-15 per day includes food and lodging for a porter/guide or not. Are independent groups required to take a porter/guide as well? What about couples?
For all the talk and confirmation of implementing a national ban on solo trekking in Nepal there desperately needs to be some officially confirmed written facts coming jointly from TAAN, The Ministry for Tourism and The Ministry of Home Affairs.
However, no matter the outcry it will be a steep battle to overturn such a ruling in regards to the banning of independent trekking in Nepal. Certain trekking agencies will likely prosper while we in the minority that are independent trekkers will lose out in what was once one of the greatest countries on earth for independent trekking and travel.
Update 19th August 2012
TAAN just released a statement stating that:
“The government has decided to put the decision to ban solo trekking in Nepal on hold until further notice”
This comes as welcome news and a huge sigh of relief. We can hope that someone in the Nepalese government saw the disastrous consequences that a ban on solo trekking in Nepal would create. We can also only assume they made this decision in part from the negative publicity and outcry from articles like this and the many others that appeared admonishing such a ban. Either way it’s good to see this outcome.
Hopefully it will remain free to trek solo in Nepal. With efforts being put into improving the trekking experience for visitors by other rational means.
As a sub-note: trekking permit fees were just increased in Nepal.
This is an additional feature article about the banning of independent trekking in Nepal – it will be updated as more of this news breaks or is confirmed.
Interested in going to Nepal for trekking? Read my free guides: » What to expect when trekking in Nepal » Everything you need to know about Everest Base Camp » list of popular treks in Nepal with maps & » how to hire a guide in Nepal.