CLIMBING EN MASS ON EVEREST (Satis Shroff)

A member of an Everest expedition has Covid-19 at the Everest Base Camp. Meanwhile, 200 cremations a day in Varanasi, Modi’s India.

The Indian variant of corona has swapped over to Nepal. Nepal is fighting against the Indian mutant. The Nepalese doctors are surprised at how fast the cases of corona rise exponentially. People living in the western border to India are especially afflicted. There are 2,500 infections per day. If it spreads to Kathmandu the consequences will be terrible.

Tourism or Corona? Whereas the entire world is reeling under the corona pandemy, more than a dozen climbers from various nations want to conquer the 8848,86m Everest. The Bahrain Everest team is climbing in Nepal at the moment. It’s Spring now and the climbing season has begun in Nepal. The weather is wonderful.

An Everest-climbing clamp was issued last year, just before the climbing season began by the Nepalese government due to corona. India lies behind the USA as the country with the highest number of corona infection.

Nepal is one of the least developed countries according to the UNO and it needs the foreign exchange money very badly. This season 65 foreign women and 256 foreign males (bigger climbing ego) have received their climbing permits which $ 11,000 per head.

In the Spring of 2019 there was a traffic jam of climbers trying to reach Everest, extremely close to each other. 11 people died. Complaints were launched against the Nepalese government that it had allowed too many people who were not physically and mentally fit to climb Everest. This reminds me of what Jon Krakauer, US climber and book author, said about his climb: ‘Climbing Mt. Everest was the biggest mistake I’ve made in my life. I wish I’d never gone. I suffered for years of PTSD and still suffer from what happened. I’m glad I wrote a book about it. But, you know, if I could go back and relive my life, I would never have climbed Everest.’ He was a member of a tragic expeditionto the top of Mount Everest in 1996, one of the deadliest disasters in the history of climbing Everest. A candid recollection of the event was published in Outside magazine and, later, in the book Into Thin Air. By the end of the 1996 climbing season, fifteen people had died on the mountain, making it the deadliest single year in Everest history to that point. This has been exceeded by the sixteen deaths in the avalanche on Mount Everest in 2014. Another mishap was the 2015 tectonic earthquake avalanche in which nineteen people died. Krakauer has publicly criticized the commercialization of Mount Everest.

The complaints led the government based in Kathmandu to issue a series of climbing rules. One of the rules says one is allowed to take photographs (selfies) of oneself and one’s group — but not of other people on the mountain. An old rule which no one adheres to, according to the mountaineering chief Mira Acharya. If you don’t stick to this rule, you will be punished (sounds like a strict class teacher). However, in reality this is a rule that no one follows because in most photos there are always other people included. Why? Everest is crowded. An experienced mountaineer named Alan Arnette says: ‘Alpinists are obliged to take pictures of themselves when they want to receive a certificate of ascent. A photo is an evidence according to the Nepalese officials. But when you’re above, you’re seldom alone.’

Mass permits for climbing issued in Kathmandu has made this possible. The officials are bringing themselves in a hilarious position through the countless permits. Climbing agencies and lodges-cum-restaurants along the trail have been cropping up like mushrooms during the monsoon. These rules will not bring the necessary changes in the behavior of the foreign climbers. And who is to control in detail in those heights when there are so many people clambering on nylon ropes leading to the summit? Some expedition agencies have even spoken of isolating their climbing groups from the rest. This is impossible because the Sherpa helpers always go to visit their families before they go climbing for it could be their last ascent. You never know what dangers are to be met with in the Death Zone, in the White Out.

All visitors are expected to be vaccinated against corona or have a negative PCR-test. Meanwhile, according to a video posted by Nepal Times, Prime Minister Olli and Nepal’s politicians violate the health Standards and ignore the covid-19 guidelines. This is the height of ignorance on the part of Nepal’s leaders.

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THE COMMERCIALIZATION OF EVEREST

That the Himalayas an endangered world is a fact. The arguments to support this assumption is the melting of the Himalayan glaciers caused by climate change, the loss of customs and traditions in the Himalayas, the population migration of Nepalese to Kathmandu and other bigger cities in Nepal and the plains of India in search of a livelihood. What causes this is the march of western-oriented civilization in the form of knowledge and foreign trekkers and tourists. The Nepalese accept the new cultural and technological challenges in the society and country brought by the heavy influx of foreigners with mobiles and the advent of social media in this Himalayan country.

In Mustang and Annapurna regions we have the biggest apple plantations of the country which is a positive thing. In Ilam we’ve had the monoculture tea since ages ago introduced by the Brits, like in neighbouring hills of Darjeeling . The next hype are going to be kiwis.

The annual havocs caused by the monsoon rains are becoming increasingly dangerous. Denuded forest are the cause of erosion and consequently landslides. Harvests are lost in the process. Even the yaks are endangered and are falling back in numbers.

Cutting trees and foraging for firewood is a thing of the past for today the Nepalese heat with safer ovens and solar energy. Whereas the people in the Himalayan heights used to warm themselves with animal furs today they all wear synthetic blankets and cheap, synthetic thermos-jackets. The construction of roads have become a boon for farmers and their families in Nepal and Tibet and today they can take a bus to Kathmandu. This is progress in the Himalayas and you can drive along the Himalayan Trail right up to Lhasa in neighbouring Tibet (China). The Himalayas are no longer a formidable barrier. The Chinese have become world famous for constructing stable roads, fast trains and sea-ports around the world though the means to achieve this end is questionable. The revival of the new Silk Road is another engineering feat.

Gone are the days when the Norbulinka and Potola Palace were stormed by Mao’s hordes. Gone are also the days when you’d come across chortens, maneys and prayer flags along the modern roads. No prayer wheels and meditating monks and butter lamps on the Chinese side. On the Neplese side, prayers wheels, fluttering prayers flags in Tibetan script, and former Tibet refugees doing business, whole genertions of them. Some are in Dharamsala and some in Rikon (Switzerland) and speak perfect Schwyzer Deutsch and work in Swiss banks.

Namche Bazaar has grown big and the poor terraces of yesterday and now filled with lodges, hotels, restaurants and catering to the demands of the tourists with European and traditional cuisine, climbing gear and guides galore, just like in Grindelwald or Zermatt.

It’s heartening to note that the Buddhist people of Namche, Langtang, Helambu, Pokhara (mostly Gurungs) and Solokhumbu are doing well financially due to the climbing boom. The Himalayas have become a great source foreign exchange for the government, aside from the Gurkhas working as soldiers for foreign governments like: India, Britain, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Sultanat of Brunei and newly for France’s Foreign Legion.

Since 80 per cent of Nepal’s population are Hindus, it is the Bahuns and Chettris based in Kathmandu who run the agencies for climbing and trekking tourists, and who are the ones who actually make the big money. They have developed management skills and organize everything for the tourist’s delight, whether it’s helicopter rescues like in Canada and Switzerland, champagne breakfasts like in Paris. The poor porter along the trails who belong to the Tamang tribe are the ones who do the hard work of carrying heavy equipment, food, utensils, construction materials on their backs. Nothing has changed in all the years for these people. They still live from hand to mouth and have no education. The ablest men join the foreign armies, others work as menial construction workers in Nepal or in India. If they manage to pay contractors for Katar they can work as almost slaves with no rights and die in the process for the Arabs are arrogant slave-drivers. The women are still seduced by contractors and promised roles as stars in Bollywood but in the end land in Mumbai’s brothels.

I might be noted that when the decade long war in Nepal came to an end, the tribal people asked themselves who had led the revolution: leading the lists were Bahuns and Chettris, that is, upper caste Hindus. During the reign of the Shahs and the usurping Ranas, it was always the Bahuns and Chettris who were better off. The ethnic tribes were loyal but had no education and kept ‘in their place’ as soldiers and menial workers.

Nepal’s ethnic tribes, Gurungs, Magars, Limbus, Rais and Tamangs had nothing to say in national matters. For the British the ethnic people of Nepal were good sturdy elite soldiers (cannon fodder for the Brits in their many wars during the days of the Raj) who did win Victoria Crosses for Britain’s wars. During World War I (1914–1918) more than 200,000 Gurkhas served in the British Army, and suffered circa 20,000 casualties and receiving almost 2,000 gallantry awards. During the Second World War (1939–1945) over 110,000 men served in 40 Gurkha battalions in battles in the Western Desert, Italy, Greece, Malaya, Singapore and Burma. Nearly 30,000 Gurkhas were killed or wounded.

The Gorkhas won medals for distinction in battlefields in India’s war against the China and Pakistan. In the Sino-Indian War of 1962 along the Himalaya, an estimated 2,000 soldiers on the Indian side were killed. Of the 4,000 Indian Army POWs, an estimated 700 were Gorkha troops.

It is only in recent years that Gurkhas are allowed to stay on in Britain if they desire when the service is over. Until 2004 Gurkhas were not allowed to settle in the United Kingdom. The turnaround came after the government suffered its first big defeat last month by 21 votes, as 27 Labour rebels joined the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in demanding equal residency rights for all Gurkha soldiers.

But the Labour government under Tony Blair changed the rules so that Gurkhas who retired after 1997 would be allowed to settle in the UK, 1997 being the date when the Gurkha Brigade headquarters moved from Hong Kong to Britain.

The Gurkha Justice Campaign was a campaign for the rights of the Gurkhas in Britain and wanted the Gurkhas who fought for the UK to gain the same rights as their British and Commonwealth counterparts. Essentially the group wanted the law to be changed so that all Gurkhas who fought for the UK will gain a right of abode. Under previous legislation they only had a right of abode if they retired after 1997. They took their case to the high court, and had the support of a number of celebrities including perhaps most famously Joanna Lumley. The campaign eventually won the court case.

It took over 200 years for this small victory for Nepal’s tribal soldiers. A victory against the tremendous injustice on the part of MoD and former Brit governments.

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Satis Shroff: writes, lectures & sings. Awards: Heimatmedaille 2018, Neruda Award 2017, German Academic Exchange (DAAD) Prize.

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Satis Shroff

Satis Shroff

Satis Shroff: writes, lectures & sings. Awards: Heimatmedaille 2018, Neruda Award 2017, German Academic Exchange (DAAD) Prize.

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