The Nepalese government has imposed a nationwide ban on solo trekkers, forcing those who want to hike through the stunningly wild regions to either hire an authorized guide or travel in a group.
The new regulation is expected to come into force on April 1.
Situated between the giants of India and China, the mainly isolated Himalayan nation has a wide range of geographical features, from lush plains and subalpine forests to majestic highlands, and is home to eight of the ten tallest mountains in the world.
The remoteness and inaccessibility of the country, which has retained its enigmatic ancient culture and beautiful natural environment, is what attracts explorers from around the world, many of whom plan to backpack their way through the breathtakingly remote terrain.
Although the trekking sector is one of the most important contributors to the country’s tourism-based economy, the cost of conducting search-and-rescue operations when individual trekkers become lost or stuck can be extremely costly.
“When you are traveling solo, in case of emergencies, there is no one to help you,” Mani R. Lamichhane, Director of the Nepal Tourism Board, told CNN. “It is fine if they are traveling in the cities, but in the remote mountains, the infrastructure is not adequate.” He added, “When tourists go missing or they are found dead, even the government cannot track them because they have taken remote routes.”
Unlicensed tour operators and guides, Lamichhane said, have also begun to cause problems. These companies do not pay taxes because they are not registered with or authorized by the government to operate. He claims that in this way they are robbing legitimate local Nepalis their jobs.
“There have been some cases where the trekking association has been requesting us to stop these unauthorized trekking operations. This has been a demand from tourism associations for a long time,” he said.
According to Ian Taylor, owner of a reputable trekking company with a long history in Nepal, the new rules are reasonable. In his opinion, these precautions are now unfortunately necessary as more and more people undertake challenging climbs and excursions in the region.
“Things have drastically changed in the region over the years,” he said. “You used to see only experienced hikers and climbers in the region, many of them traveling without guides, and they were completely self-sufficient.”
He continued, “However, now, there are far greater numbers of people traveling in the region and more of them are tourists, not trekkers. They are not self-sufficient in the outdoors and therefore need the assistance of experienced guides.”
Taylor explained that the Nepalese government simply does not have the resources to independently review each visa application, although a blanket ban on solo adventures may not be the answer some enthusiasts would advocate.
“As a person who loves the mountains and visiting the mountain regions of the world, it is extremely disappointing that it has come to this,” he admitted. “Never do we want to see people’s access to the mountains restricted. However, the situation in Nepal is very unique, and changes do need to be made,” he said.