In the backdrop of coronavirus pandemic, the Nepal government on March 14 had stopped issuing on-arrival tourist visas as a precautionary measure to combat COVID-19.
Apart from suspending visas, the government also shut all of its peaks including the world's highest peak, Mount Everest. As a result, there won't be any climbing permits for spring expeditions on any of the mountain peaks between March and May.
A 24-year-old Mumbai resident was also scheduled to attempt Mount Everest summit this year. But just like others, the mountaineer was caught by surprise when he received the news.
"A few days ago, I was talking to my sherpa guide and expedition organisation about the event. We were really excited to start and I was sure of flying to Nepal on April 1," said Harshvardhan Joshi, native of Vasai Road in Palghar district.
"The very next morning I woke up, over 50 messages related to expedition's suspension popped-up on my phone. My first reaction was like 'why is everyone panicking?' But then I read some news articles where it showed that Nepal has banned Everest-climbing and all tourist visas. It made me contact my expedition organiser immediately," Joshi told The Free Press Journal.
Though his tour guide assured him that the money will be carried forward for the next year, Joshi said this peculiar problem will likely put burden on some of the mountaineers.
“It takes around Rs 30 lakh for an expedition and some advance payment has already been done. I have full faith in my trip organisers and no one could have been able to predict this scenario.
But all I can do for now is to focus on training and discipline for the 2021 summit.”
In a telephonic conversation with Rishi Bhandari, treasurer of Expedition Operator's Association of Nepal, FPJ managed to get a few insights of the situation.
"Everyone expected the summit to go on as usual, but when government came with its decision to suspend tourism, it was a real shock for operators and the entire tourism industry," said Bhandari.
The operators have been receiving continuous calls from the clients who are seeking refund, but Bhandari said they are not in the condition to refund them since pre-arrangements for clients' transportation, oxygen cylinders, food, dining and tents were already made.
Bhandari, 38, who himself had 14 clients; eight for Mount Everest and six for Lhotse (fourth highest mountain peek) has assured his clients to carry forward the fees for next year without charging extra money. Bhandari said there are chances of over 1 lakh people facing unemployment during the stipulated period and the tourism ban could cost the Himalayan country around $4.4 million this year.
Over 80 Indians were to participate in the expedition this year after 84 showed up at Mount Everest last year, making it a highest figure ever sent by a particular nation.