When I get the inevitable question about the place on this planet I’ve liked the most in my travels, I always answer the impossible with some kind of hedging answer. When I look back on the greatest adventures though, my three-week Annapurna Circuit trek in Nepal was a highlight for sure, as superlative as the height of its mountains.
Unfortunately, the fondness I feel is twinged with sadness. I know the experience I had then is not possible now. Roads now creep further up the mountains in the formerly pedestrian-only areas, bringing more noise, more disposable products, more machinery. Then the Maoist separatists started getting aggressive with tourists, increasing the danger in a formerly super-safe region.
The safety situation improved after the power-sharing peace accords, though the country still doesn’t really have a functioning government. Unfortunately though, that same quasi-government recently announced a heavy-handed, odious tax on independent trekkers and added a requirement that they hire a local as a porter or guide. For most independent hikers, the two new mandatory fees would essentially double the cost of completing the circuit.
The spin on why they added this tax and hiring requirement was laughable. Officially it was touted as something to deal with “violent incidents,” though this Telegraph story had to go back to 2010 to find one before a bizarre one-off death that happened to a lone trekker in June. Will paying a tax keep a lone crazy away? Will having a skinny porter along help a 200-pound German with metal walking sticks defend himself better?
The sad part is, the people that would be hurt most by this are the ones who live off independent trekkers. The lodging and restaurant owners, the trailside tea houses. The porters and guides are hired from the valley and many of the tour companies are paying group rates or camping, skipping the local businesses altogether.
This part really made me cringe:
“The new policy will involve an additional fee of $10 per day for Free Individual Trekkers (FIT), which Anjan Thapa, treasurer of TAAN has called, “a very nominal amount which won’t effect tourist arrivals.”
Yeah, right. Charging backpackers $10 a day on a hiking trip where they usually spend less than $20 a day, on a hike that can take three weeks, will not put off anyone. No, not at all, because we’re all so rich anyway. Right?
Thankfully, someone stepped in and at least delayed the plan. On the TAAN site it now says the decision is “on hold until further notice.”
So for now, Nepal has proven it’s just the Lindsay Lohan of destinations, not the Amy Winehouse. Comfort in small victories.
If you want to vent your opinion on the subject, here’s the official government tourism site with contact info.