POKHARA, Oct 16: A tragic incident in Gurja Himal of Myagdi district on Thursday claimed nine lives -- five South Koreans and four Nepalis. Authorities knew about the incident only after two days and it took another two days to retrieve all the bodies.
Tourism entrepreneurs say that the incident has laid bare the sorry state of communication infrastructures in adventure tourism sector. We have not been able to minimize risk whenever climbing parties face difficult situation due to lack of communication facilities, they added.
"Given our difficult topography, trekking and climbing groups should be in regular touch with the company that is handling their groups. But we do not have communication facilities beyond villages. The risk is always high as trekkers and mountaineers stay away from contact for many days," Sushil Raj Poudel, first vice president of Trekking Agencies' Association of Nepal (TAAN) Western Regional Association. "Sometimes adventure seekers die waiting for help or due to lack of timely treatment. Availability of effective communication facilities would have avoided such incidents."
The Gurja Himal mishap is just a representative incident. Three years ago around 50 trekkers and support staff lost their lives on the Annapurna Circuit due to snowstorm. After the tragic incident, concerned authorities realized the importance of communication facilities for adventure tourism sector. But nothing has been done to address the issue so far. Neither the government, nor tourism entrepreneurs seem to be concerned.
Trekkers pay fees under different headings. But they are still not getting even basic facility like communication. Foreign trekkers heading to Annapurna Region have to pay Annapurna Conservation Area permit fee as well as Trekkers' Information Management System (TIMS) fee. Trekking to restricted areas attract additional permit fee.
Talking to Republica, Bijaya KC, president of Union of Trekking Travels Rafting Workers Nepal (UNITRAV) for Gandaki Province, said that most of the trekking areas in Dhaulagiri region lack even basic communication facilities. "Most of the trekking areas of the country lack proper communication facilities. The only means of communication in those areas is satellite phone," he added.
Lakpa Sherpa, a member of the team that went to climb Gurja Himal said, said that the team was deprived of communication facility once it left the last village on the trail. "We feared something was wrong when a member of the team, which had left us as part of the summit plan, did not return to join us as per the plan," he said, adding: "Next day we went upward to take stock of the team. Only then we knew about the mishap."
"At least, we would have received information about the incident had there been even basic communication facilities. Some lives could have been saved," Sherpa said.