Nepal’s New Trekking Rules
A Surprise Announcement of Nepal’s New Trekking Rules
March 2023: A joint announcement by the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), Trekking Agents Association of Nepal (TAAN), Nepal Association of Travel and Tour Agents (NATTA), the Trekking Guide’s Union and Trekking Porter’s Union sends shockwaves through the Himalayan trekking community – solo trekking is banned in all National Parks in Nepal from the 1st April, all foreigners must take a government-registered guide employed through a government-registered trekking company.
The announcement drew support (from trekking companies, guides and porters) and derision from trekkers and across the media. The rationale for the ban cited health and safety concerns for trekkers, which were largely refuted by statistics and then criticised as (yet) another blatant attempt to extract more money from foreign visitors without investing in higher quality tourism experiences.
April 2023: We are now two weeks into Nepal’s New Trekking Rules, or the ‘ban’ as it is know called – is it in force? What is actually happening on the ground? Nepal’s history of announcing new rules and then not enforcing them is, well, legendary.
It’s All About Money
A recent visitor to the Nepal Tourism Board to obtain a Trekkers Information Management System (TIMS) card was told that they should not bother with either the card nor a guide and just pay the fine, if caught. The fine of Nepal Rupees 12,000 (approx. US$92.00) would cover your TIMS card (NRs3,000) and a couple of days of wages for a junior guide… so the maths is on the side of the trekker, but why would the NTB be recommending this? For the simple reason that there is almost no one in the mountains to check if people have guides or not. A commission payment of NRs2,000 is the ‘motivation’ to have checkposts that could provide an income for someone. With a GDP of US$1,200 per capita, the prospect of collecting US$15 commission from every passing trekker is considered attractive…. but not attractive enough as yet, as there has been no rush of people wanting to be an inspector.
What if locals wanted to be inspectors? Maybe that would replace the lost income in places where independent solo trekking was permitted in the past, for example in Langtang and the Annapurnas? Talking to locals in these regions, they are still in shock and waiting to see what the impact is going to be, but trekker numbers are already going down. The Solu-Khumbu (Everest region) has countered the new rules with a statement that independent trekking is still allowed in the region, although a guide is recommended. There are already threats coming from the local Pasang Lhamu Gaon Palika (Solu-Khumbu regional council) that they plan to take the NTB and TAAN to court… both Langtang and Annapurna have indicated they would join or initiate their own lawsuits. Their argument is that the consortium of vested interests that made the new rules do not have the mandate to do so.
Maybe Maps are the Answer?
Meanwhile, TAAN have been trying to up the ante by extending the impact of Nepal’s New Trekking Rules by announcing ‘official trails’, which quite ironically, contain some routes that are rapidly being turned into roads. It would be a staggering lack of foresight to recommend that trekkers must have a guide employed by a trekking company to walk along a dusty road! The clarification statements that foreigners in or on vehicles do not need a guide for some routes has only added further to the general confusion.
So, for now, we sit in wait…. Waiting to hear is anyone has been fined, waiting to hear if there are inspection posts, waiting to hear if court cases will be brought… that’s Nepal.
As of today (13 April) there have no reports from any GHTers currently in the field that the new rules have affected them in any way… not a single check yet. But we are not resting – now we have updated all the maps with every known checkpost… just in case you want to know where they are 😉