Nepal stood at the pinnacle of its tourism success in 2019, with approximately 1.2 million tourists arriving for various purposes, making a robust and flourishing industry. The momentum was promising, and the government even announced an ambitious Visit Nepal campaign for 2020. [1]

However, as the global pandemic unfolded in 2020, the tourism sector bore the brunt of the crisis, leading to an 87% plunge in tourist arrivals in 2021 compared to the peak year of 2019. The ambitious plans for the Visit Nepal campaign got overshadowed by the plethora of challenges posed by the pandemic, and the abrupt halt in tourist arrivals created a major economic downturn, impacting the livelihoods of many who relied on the industry. On the flip side, the forced break offered a respite to the environment, providing a much-needed break from the constant influx of over a million tourists annually.

While the economic challenges were undeniable, the lull in tourism became an unintended environmental boon. The mountains and valleys, previously burdened with the constant degradation of mass tourism, experienced a period of healing.  The break allowed for the re-assessment of the environmental impact and highlighted the need for a more sustainable approach in the tourism sector.

By 2022 as global tourism showed signs of recovery, Nepal too, experienced a positive indication with more than 600,000 tourists arriving, signifying a gradual rebound.  But this recovery poses a challenge- how to address the shortcomings of unplanned touristic development and minimize environmental impact. [2]

Efforts have been made to steer tourism towards more sustainable practices. The Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC), for instance, actively monitors and manages the waste generated by climbers ascending Mt. Everest, Mt. Lhotse, and Mt. Nuptse. Expedition teams are mandated to collect and submit all generated garbage to SPCC representatives at Everest Base Camp. [3]

Furthermore, SPCC enforces the 8 kg garbage rule, requiring climbers above Everest Base Camp to bring back at least 8 kgs of waste, which is then delivered to a waste management facility at Namche. Similar waste management policies, such as Leave No Trace principles and Carry In Carry Out, are in place for popular trekking destinations like the Annapurna Circuit. [3]

Despite commendable efforts in safeguarding destinations, lesser-known spots remain neglected. Hiking and trekking areas in and around Kathmandu Valley are marred by litter, hindering the once pristine trails with discarded plastic bottles and wrappers. At a micro level, it is imperative for travelers and locals alike to act and conserve the beauty of these overlooked destinations.

Addressing this issue, Dharma Adventures recently conducted a program involving hiking and cleaning up litter at Jamacho Gumba, a popular day-hiking destination near Kathmandu. The 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) trail typically takes 2-3 hours to complete, providing breathtaking panoramic views of the Kathmandu valley and its surroundings. Unfortunately, the trail's increasing popularity has resulted in littering, disrupting the peaceful walking experience.

Through collective efforts, our team collected five bags of trash. Although the immediate impact may not be readily apparent, this initiative holds significant importance. The aspiration is that these actions will motivate an ongoing dedication to safeguarding the allure of Nepal's trails, emphasizing that responsible tourism is the key to a sustainable and vibrant future.

References:

[1] Nepal Tourism Statistics 2019 by Ministry of Culture, Tourism & Civil Aviation

[2] Nepal Tourism Statistics 2022 by Ministry of Culture, Tourism & Civil Aviation

[3] Annual Report 2018, Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC)

Sustainable Solid Waste Management in Mountain Areas by World Bank

Thesis on Solid Waste Management in Sagarmatha National Park by Eva Posch, Eco Himal

Solid Waste Management in Nepal- Current Status and Policy Recommendations by Asian Development Bank