The Khumbu region, home to the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest, was not usually crowded with hikers and tourists during winter. However, the situation now is different from the past. Despite the off-season, there was a good presence of foreign and domestic tourists in Khumbu region even in mid-winter.
During the last week of December and the beginning of January, there were many trekkers who came to Everest Base Camp (EBC). Experts said that this is seen as an indicator to changes in the climate of this region.
In the past, the Himalayan region, covered with snow in winter, used to look white and bright but it is not so this time. Shrubs are very less in the high mountains and Himalayan areas; the Himalayan areas are desolate when the snow melts.
In general, trekking to EBC and climbing Everest itself are the attractions here. The favorable time to visit the destination is mostly known from Falgun to Jestha and Bhadra to Kartik. But Ashar-Shrawan and Mangsir to Magh are considered as off-seasons. Though folk of trekkers are there during these months as well and enthusiasm of the trekkers was not reduced by their long walk and struggle. This trend indicates the adjustment of the tourist to the changing climate.
According to the information provided by Everest National Park and National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Department, Kathmandu, the total number of visiting tourists and trekkers in December last year was 1350; among which 440 Nepalese, 292 from SAARC countries and 618 other foreign nationals.
Similarly, in January a total number of 341 – 65 Nepalese, 28 from SAARC countries and 248 other foreign tourists reached the Everest region. In February among 611 tourists -144 Nepalese, 185 from SAARC countries, and 282 other foreign tourists were in the region.
This year, a total number of 4065 tourists visited in December -674 Nepalese, 307 from SAARC countries and 3,084 other foreign tourists. According to data, 455 Nepalese, 279 from SAARC countries and 1186 from other foreign countries totaling 1,920 people went to the area in January. However, the complete figure for February is not available. Most of the Khumbu region is occupied by Everest National Park. More people seem to be traveling to the area in the offseason this year than last year. However, all may not reach the base camp.
It can be seen that the influx of tourists has also had a positive impact on business and economic activities. Until a few years ago, there were very few local businesses in the Khumbu region. But now, considerable economic activities in the region even in the off-season are resulting in easy access of food and accommodation for the visitors.
Even in the off-season, two to three daily flights from various airlines from Kathmandu to Lukla are being operated if the climate is visible and favorable. Air travel is the best option to go from Kathmandu to Lukla. But in the off-season, the flights are fewer.
The locals said that there was no snow this year and weather was generally not as cold as before. The mountains looked like black heads with fallen hats.
Ekdatta Simkhada, a resident of Gorkha, who has been working as a tourist guide for 15 years said, ‘he has felt the seasonal change in the EBC area. He feels a little different each year.’ He continued, ‘during the beginning years while I was here with tourists, mountains were bright, white and spectacular and it was difficult to be here in this period. Trekking routes are changing every year. These changes seen in this area are due to the increasing temperature and it is causing climate change.’
Dr. Rijan Bhakta Kayastha, a glacier expert who has been engaging in research in Everest region for the past 28 years said that even the Khumbu region has not been untouched by climate change. Due to climate change, the temperature of the world is increasing and Nepal is not an exception. According to the report by the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, as shown by data from 1971 to 2014, the maximum temperature has been increased by 0.056 degrees every year, he said.
According to Dr. Kayastha the mountains are appearing black due to the increment in the temperature. He added ‘The EBC is situated on top of the ice which is melting every year. If it keeps on melting in the same way, the base camp is required to move from its current location’. The increase in temperature has resulted in an increased amount of rain. In that case, the black mountains are visible as the snow melts along with the glaciers. The future effect of climate change is a matter of concern. The two main effects have already been seen, he said.
There is no snow in the places where it used to be, and the size of glaciers are getting smaller. Due to this, the glaciers may break off in a few years, he mentioned. But he also informed that it is possible to reduce the water level of the glacial lakes. Dr. Kayastha notified that the water level of two glacial lakes has been reduced. He argued that after reducing the water level, in the case of a glacial lake outbrust, there will be less damage in the lower part.
Ama Dablam Mountain captured by Barsha Shah
In order to reduce the impact of climate change, we need to reduce the greenhouse gas emission which requires an integrated global effort, Kayastha said. He stated that Nepal’s role in greenhouse gas emissions in the world is negligible, however, it is facing problems. In such a context, Nepal should be able to present the data and raise the issues precisely to the world forum like climate conferences expressing the need of financial and technical support to mitigate the troublesome.
Chairman of Khumbu Pasanglamu Rural Municipality, Mingma Chirig Sherpa said that the snow in the mountains is decreasing and there is an abnormal process of absence of snowfall. He said that a number of lakes are being increased in the Khumbu area than before and the trekking routes are also altering every season. The world should pay attention to the impact of the world’s highest mountain Mount Everest. We alone with the limited budget of the village municipality cannot do anything on this matter. However, we are trying to find out what can be done, said the ward chair Sherpa. But he complained that the central government did not pay attention to this problem.
Sherpa has further stated that hidden underground pond have also been seen in this area lately which seem small in surface but are deep. ‘The government has not been able to do anything about the changing situation here. How has climate change affected this region? The mountains and the lifestyle of people here can be center for research. But the federal government is completely ignoring all these matters’, said the ward chair Sherpa.
He expressed concern that the weather is changing. ‘It hasn’t snowed yet. The flights are landing that is why the number of visitors increased. Even though it’s the offseason, people are still coming. Earlier it used to snow and it was difficult to trek. In other words, the weather system has changed since then,” said Sherpa, the ward chair.
On the other hand, Dr. Buddhisagar Paudel, head of the climate change management division under the Ministry of Forestry and Environment, said that protecting the mountains is the government’s priority. ‘We are working on how to reduce the impact of climate change in the Himalayan region or the Everest region. In a conference like COP, there is no discussion about separate mountains. So things may not be raised as effectively as they should be. But it cannot be said that the government is not working on this matter. The government is working, he said.
According to Dr. Paudel, the Nepal government is working together with national and international organizations and agencies that are working in the field of climate change. He added that the government has put the issue of mountains in its policies and programs emphasizing that the government is working on this issue. He further stated that the local people may not be informed of these efforts.
However, he admitted that though the government is working on the issue, output is not convincing, adding “currently, we are preparing for the Everest Dialogue.”
Though there had been some preparation in this regard, the main event was halted due to COVID-19 Pandemic. Now, we are preparing to conduct it, but the date is not finalized yet, Joint Secretary Dr. Paudel said.
‘Climate change is not only Nepal’s problem, but the global problem. The government of Nepal is making all endeavors in this regard. In order to protect Mt. Everest, the government and all concerned agencies together with international cooperation are needed’, mentioned Dr. Paudel.