There is need for serious discussion with all the major stakeholders to implement such a decision having links with international organisations like the IFMGA and Union International Alpine Association (UIAA). DoT being the guardian of the whole tourism sector is expected to play a neutral role in solving this simple issue

Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) and Nepal National Mountain Guide Association (NN- MGA) began conducting Aspirant and Mountain Guide Course in 2002 recognised by the International Federation of Mountain Guide Associations (IFM- GA). Nepal became the second nation in Asia after Japan to get affiliated with the IFMGA in 2012, and till now, 70 IFMGA mountain guides have been produced in Nepal.

Procedure to become a mountain guide starts with an entrance exam of three days conducted by the NN- MGA in December in Langtang, or Rolwaling area.

The candidate should have completed the Basic and Advance Mountaineering Course, successfully climbed any four peaks managed by the NMA and with the experience of two camps of any peak above 7,000m. Participants are interviewed about their experience in climbing and are required to give a test on rock climbing, glacier, technical ice climbing and mixed terrain test.

After passing the entrance exam, participants can attend the Aspirant Guide Course of 47 days divided into three components.

The first component, generally conducted for 23 days in the winter season on alpine terrain of 4000m–5800m, deals with fundamental techniques of alpine rock, ice and mixed craft. The second component of 19 days has rock and theory modules and is conducted in summer at an altitude of below 4000m.

In the final component of five days, the participants will have knowledge and theory on snow and mixed modules, technique to lead clients on mountains and manage them for their safety. The final component is conducted in early autumn, also on alpine terrain.

Active involvement of two years in mountaineering after completing all the three components of Aspirant Guide Course makes candidates eligible for the final stage of the training to become an IFMGA mountain guide. The course of 15 days is conducted in winter at 4000m-6000m on different alpine terrain.

NMA distributes black, blue and red book for high altitude workers upon the recommendation of a registered trekking company.

Any worker interested to work in mountaineering or trekking can apply for the black book entitled as Senior Support Climber (SSC).

After three years of work experience, an SSC can apply for the blue book titled as Support Climber (SC).

Then, again the SC become eligible for the red book after three years and is called a Sirdar. A candidate having completed the Basic Mountaineering Course and Advance Mountaineering Course can apply directly for the blue book and red book respectively.

Recently, the Department of Tourism (DoT) decided to issue mountain guide license to those mountaineers having completed mountain guide training abroad and recognised by the CTEVT or the completion of level 4 mountaineering training of CTEVT, or red book holder of NMA. This decision labels a red book holder and IFMGA mountain guide as being the same and brings serious division between the two.

We cannot ignore the experience, contribution and endeavour of mountain workers for the present condition of our mountain tourism in the global platform.

The attempt of the DoT to distribute identity cards to the mountain workers and make them mandatory for mountaineering is quite appreciative.

But lack of attention by the DoT to the qualification of an IFMGA has created confusion among the tourism professionals, mountaineers and IFMGA guides.

It takes a minimum of five years and an investment of approximately Rs 1.5 million to become an IFMGA mountain guide.

They even need to undergo a refresher course every three years to update their skills. Comparatively, for a minimum amount, any mountaineer can now get a red book within six years.

Course module, teaching technique and required expenses to become an IFM- GA mountain guide is incomparable with red book holder. Foreign expedition operators are hiring Nepali IFMGAs to lead or guide their mountaineering activity, which was not previously the case. Nepali IFM- GA guides, who are working in restaurants or driving a cab in European countries during the off season, are now leading expedition groups there, creating alternate sources of income.

The financial investment of the NMA for this course is the income generated from peaks, which, in turn, is DoT's royalty. Up to now, approximately Rs 7 crores have been invested for the production of mountain guides in Nepal. Its decision to recognise red book holders as mountain guides raises questions about all the efforts of the DoT, NMA and NNMGA to produce mountain guides in Nepal.

Even though the current issue of mountain guide license is to be managed inside Nepal, it could create confusion when these mountain guides who hold red books visit abroad. The capacity and skill of such mountain guides regarding safety, rescue, and mountain technique remain untested and can become a major reason for accidents on the mountains.

There is a separate criteria, course and qualification to become a qualified mountain guide. All the alpine clubs, mountaineering community, mountaineers can question why the government could not differentiate between a red book holder and a mountain guide.

There is need for serious discussion with all the major stakeholders to implement such a decision having links with international organisations like the IFM- GA and Union International Alpine Association (UIAA). DoT being the guardian of the whole tourism sector is expected to play a neutral role in solving this simple issue. It seems the DoT has been misguided, and the decision was taken without considering the possible reaction from international organisations on this issue.

The DoT must reconsider its decision and seek an alternate solution for labelling Nepali IFMGA mountain guides and red book holder as the same.

Sindurakar is former Chief Administrative Officer of NMA

A version of this article appears in the print on April 6, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.