Nepal is hopeful that even if tourists don't come here for the cultural experience, they will at least come to climb our mountains

The Department of Tourism (DoT) has called on interested candidates to apply for the mountain guide license in a bid to better regulate mountaineering activities and enhance climbing professionalism.

Eligible guides can submit their applications beginning Sunday, March 14. With the new provision, only those with government licenses will be allowed to accompany a climbing team to the mountains. Hitherto, the government had also recognised mountain guides recommended by the Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA). Those without a government license will only be treated as high-altitude porters from now on. Since Nepal opened up to the outside world for mountaineering, dozens of foreign expeditions, involving hundreds of climbers, make their assault on the peaks of Nepal every year, the most popular being Mount Everest. They employ Nepali mountain guides, mostly the Sherpas, to help them summit the peaks. With so many expeditions and members involved, it is only right that they hire experienced guides to minimise the risks involved, hence the government's new directive.

The government doesn't have exact records of the number of mountain guides in the country, but it is estimated to be in the range of 2,000. Thus, the new provision will help the government identify the exact number of mountain guides in the country while also benefitting the guides should they have the opportunity to accompany an expedition in a foreign country. In January this year, a team of Sherpas made mountaineering history when they made the first ever winter ascent of the treacherous Mount K2 in the Karakoram massif in Pakistan.

The Nepali climbers, who came from three different expeditions, scaled the world's second highest peak at 8,611 metres, the only mountain among the 14 eight-thousanders that had not been summited in winter. Getting a mountain guide licence should not be difficult, as anyone with a climbing record will be provided with one. Others will require certificates of completion of a course and training.

Mountaineering fetches huge revenue for the country and provides seasonal employment to thousands of people, including mountain guides and porters, in the mountains. The coronavirus pandemic that began with the start of 2020 dealt a devastating blow to the tourism industry, including mountaineering, with foreign visitors unable to come here due to the lockdowns enforced in their countries and in Nepal. However, Nepal is now open for business, and all are hopeful that even if tourists don't come here for the cultural experience, they will at least come to climb our mountains. In 2019, the government had issued permits to 44 teams to climb Everest, and 660 climbers, including Nepali mountain guides, had reached the summit of the 8,848-m peak during the spring mountaineering season, creating a traffic jam near the top towards the end of May. Entrepreneurs are optimistic there could be climbers close to the 2019 figure this year as the northern side of Everest is still closed to expeditions. Hence, Nepal's Icefall doctors" are already at Everest Base Camp to head for the mountain to build routes for the climbers who have started trickling into the country.

Fertiliser crisis

Every year Nepali farmers face a shortage of chemical fertilisers when they need them the most, during the paddy and wheat plantation seasons.

During the last monsoon, the farmers could not get enough fertiliser during paddy plantation due to the contractors' failure to deliver it on time. The Ministry of Agriculture revoked the contracts with the two private contractors and also seized their deposit amounts for their failure to deliver the fertiliser within the deadline set.

Now, the first consignment of 3,400 tons of urea fertiliser has arrived from Bangladesh at the Birgunj and Biratnagar-based warehouses of the government-owned Agriculture Inputs Company Ltd (AICL). But the fertiliser arrived only after the wheat plantation season has already passed. Earlier, Nepal had sought to borrow 50,000 metric tons of fertiliser from Bangladesh. But Bangladesh asked Nepal to purchase the fertilizer instead of borrowing. Fertiliser shortage is a perennial problem faced by the country.

Instead of importing chemical fertilisers by spending billions of rupees every year, Nepal needs to find an alternative to resolve this crisis once and for all by setting up its own fertiliser plant.

A version of this article appears in the print on March 12, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.