TIME Nepal

Nepal is Changing the Everest Climbing Route Because of Avalanche Fears

Everest Base Camp site on Khumbu Glacier
Whitworth Images—Getty Images/Moment RF Everest Base Camp site on Khumbu Glacier

Mountaineers must now avoid the notorious Khumbu Icefall

Increased fears of avalanches on Everest have prompted officials in Nepal to change the route mountaineers use to scale the world’s tallest mountain.

Starting from next month, the BBC reports, climbers will no longer be allowed on the daunting Khumbu Icefall – a treacherous stretch just above Base Camp, full of crevasses and ice towers, that was the site of the mountain’s deadliest disaster, when an avalanche last year killed 16.

Mountaineers will now climb a more central route after leaving Base Camp. It will bypass the Icefall but will be longer and more difficult.

“We think the risk of avalanche in the left part of the Khumbu Icefall is growing and we are moving the route to the center, where there is almost no such danger,” said Ang Dorji Sherpa, chairman of the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee — a group originally set up to control waste management at Base Camp but which has since taken on a much wider role.

Last year’s fatal avalanche sparked a boycott by Sherpa climbers demanding better wages and working conditions. It has not been uncommon for a porter to climb through the Khumbu Icefall 30 to 40 times a season.

[BBC]

TIME Nepal

Nepalese Passports Are Going to Feature a Third Gender Option

NEPAL-POLITICS-ELECTION-HOMOSEXUALITY
Prakash Mathema — AFP/Getty Images Nepalese transgendered performers pose for photographs backstage in Kathmandu on November 2, 2013.

The long-awaited move follows a Supreme Court ruling in 2007 recognizing a third gender

Nepal announced plans this week to issue passports that will allow citizens of the Himalayan nation to identify as a member of a third gender on their travel documents if they wish.

“We have changed the passport regulations and will add a third category of gender for those people who do not want to be identified as male or female,” Lok Bahadur Thapa, chief of the government’s passport department, told Reuters.

The decision comes after a 2007 Supreme Court ruling in the country ordered authorities to amend legislation to include a third gender.

South Asia nations appear to be ahead of the curve regarding the right to identify as third gender on official documents. Court decisions in Pakistan in 2009 and India in 2014 both cleared the way for people who identify as being of indeterminate gender to do so formally.

[Reuters]

TIME Nepal

The World’s Largest Animal Slaughter Festival Has Begun in Nepal

A herder sits inside an enclosure for buffalos awaiting sacrifice on the eve of the sacrificial ceremony for the "Gadhimai Mela" festival in Bariyapur
Navesh Chitrakar—Reuters A herder sits inside an enclosure for buffalos awaiting sacrifice on the eve of the sacrificial ceremony for the "Gadhimai Mela" festival in Bariyapur Nov. 27, 2014

The animal sacrifices are part of a festival for Gadhimai, a Hindu goddess

The largest mass animal sacrifice in the world commenced in Nepal on Friday despite pressure from activists.

“It is very festive here, everyone is excited,” said Mangal Chaudhary, the head priest at the slaughter site at a small village near the border with India, according to Al-Jazeera.

The Gadhimai festival, named after the Hindu goddess to whom the sacrifice is made, features the slitting of animals’ throats ranging from buffalo to rats over two days. Chicken and goat meat are then distributed to the masses, while buffalo hides are auctioned after dumping their heads in a large pit.

The previous festival in 2009 reportedly saw about 300,000 animals slaughtered, while Indian news channel CNN-IBN reports that this year that number is up to 500,000.

TIME India

Indian PM Modi Announces New Business Visas for SAARC Nations

NEPAL-SAARC
PRAKASH MATHEMA—AFP/Getty Images Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) walks on his arrival at Tribhuvan International Airport to attend the 18th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Kathmandu on November 25, 2014.

Business visas for the eight member states will be granted for three to five years

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a step towards boosting regional trade across South Asia on Wednesday, announcing a provision for business visas of three to five years for all South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) member countries.

During his speech at the SAARC Summit in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu, Modi lamented that trade between the eight member countries of the international grouping comprises less than 5% of the region’s global trade.

“How much have we done in SAARC to turn our natural wealth into shared prosperity, or our borders into bridgeheads to a shared future?” Modi asked those in attendance.

Other major issues referred to by Modi included a SAARC satellite to be launched in 2016 as well as greater coordination in fields like health care and higher education.

The SAARC was formed in 1985 by India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives, with Afghanistan granted membership in 2007. The regional grouping has been criticized for its lack of direction and failure to achieve concrete results, and Modi acknowledged this while urging his counterparts to move beyond mere lip service.

“When we speak of SAARC, we usually hear two reactions — cynicism and skepticism,” he said. “This, sadly, is in a region throbbing with the optimism of our youth.”

The two-day summit has also been abuzz with discussion about the contentious relationship between India and Pakistan, whose bilateral dialogue has stalled amid conflicts on their border. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is the only leader who Modi will not meet one-on-one during the two-day gathering, Indian newspaper The Hindu reported.

Both leaders spoke about the need for peace and security in their respective speeches, which happened to fall on the sixth anniversary of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks that India accuses Pakistan of engineering.

“Let us work together to fulfill the pledge we have taken to combat terrorism and trans-national crimes,” said Modi; Sharif said Pakistan was “committed to a dispute-Free South Asia.”

But soon after the speeches concluded, Pakistan reportedly vetoed three agreements for increased road, rail and energy links put forth by India, making it apparent that regional integration remains an uphill task.

TIME fun

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TIME Nepal

Death Toll in Nepal Blizzards Rises to 40 as Authorities Wind Down Search

The body of a victim is moved from an ambulance to the morgue after it was brought back from Annapurna Region in Kathmandu
Navesh Chitrakar—Reuters The body of a victim is moved from an ambulance to the morgue after it was brought back from Annapurna Region in Kathmandu October 17, 2014.

More than 600 people have been rescued, but a few locals are still reportedly missing

Nepalese authorities are being thwarted in their hunt for more survivors of the Himalayan snowstorms that have killed at least 40 people over the past week.

After minor avalanches hampered the search for stranded climbers Monday, Keshav Pandey, of the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal, admitted, “After this we can only hope that those who are missing will establish contact with us or their families,” Reuters reports.

Some 600 people have been rescued so far by the Nepalese army and other groups. Pandey believes it unlikely any more tourists are missing but said that some local porters and guides had not yet been traced.

Casualties from the blizzards, which took place unexpectedly during peak trekking season and are said to have been triggered by a cyclone that hit eastern India the previous week, included trekkers from Israel, Japan, Canada, Poland and Slovakia along with several locals.

Baburam Bhandari, chief of Nepal’s Mustang district on the Annapurna mountain circuit where the blizzards hit, told Reuters that army rescuers dug out the body of another Israeli tourist on Monday.

This is the second major disaster this year in Nepal, which is home to eight of the world’s 10 highest mountains. (Annapurna ranks in 10th place.) Sixteen local guides lost their lives this April in an avalanche on the world’s tallest peak, Mount Everest.

Nepalese Tourism Minister Dipak Amatya said he would do everything possible to ensure that the country never again encountered a tragedy of this nature. “There is no point blaming the hostile weather for the disaster,” Amatya said.

[Reuters]

TIME Nepal

More Than 20 Dead, Dozens Remain Missing as Blizzards Batter Himalayas

Nepal Avalanche
AP In this photo provided by the Nepalese army, soldiers carry an avalanche victim before he is airlifted in Thorong La pass area, in Nepal, on Oct. 15, 2014

Four Canadians, three Israelis reportedly among the deceased, authorities still searching for some 85 missing persons

The effects of Cyclone Hudhud, which battered India’s east coast over the weekend, are being felt further north, as resultant blizzards in neighboring Nepal’s Annapurna region killed at least 20 people on Wednesday.

Officials said that nine locals, three Polish nationals, three Israelis and one Vietnamese were killed in the region’s Mustang district, according to the Indian Express. Four Canadians and an Indian also lost their lives in the neighboring district of Manang, and the search for nearly 85 others reported missing is being focused on the Thorang pass that connects the two areas.

Reuters reported that the Nepalis killed were a group of yak herders and that the search for hikers, which was called off Wednesday night local time owing to bad light and weather, resumed on Thursday morning. “One army helicopter has already left for the site and more helicopters will be pressed into service later,” said Mustang district Governor Baburam Bhandari.

This week’s disaster, which took place during Nepal’s peak trekking season, marks a bad year for the country’s tourism industry. Several Sherpa guides lost their lives in an avalanche at the base of Mount Everest in April, the worst accident in the history of the world’s tallest mountain. CNN reports that many Sherpas refused to go back up Everest after the incident, and as many as six trekking companies canceled their 2014 expeditions.

Kathmandu-based Adventure Mountain Explore Treks and Expedition are still heading out while exercising a great deal of caution and restraint in all situations.

Tika Regmi, who heads the company’s trekking and mountaineering department, says all his guides are advised to stay put during a natural disaster, or immediately descent if safe. “But some guides and Sherpas feel they need to listen to the customers’ wishes,” he tells TIME. According to Regmi, there are foreign trekkers who feel getting their money’s worth is most important and will press on despite adverse conditions. “But no amount of money is more valuable than their lives,” he says.

Three Adventure Mountain guides are currently at a guesthouse with their clients, and Regmi says it was their reading of the situation that saved their lives. Another company, whom he did not wish to name, pressed on and now has several groups missing. “It’s a natural disaster so no one can control,” he says. “We can only control our people and our guides.”

Regmi has already started receiving emails with requests for cancellations. He says the danger should pass within a week as the weather improves, but does worry about the long-term impact of these incidents.

“I’m sure it’s not a good message for people who are coming from all over the world,” he says.

TIME Photos

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TIME Nepal

Nepal’s Impoverished Kidney Village, Where Organs Come Cheap

Man Bahadur Tamang, 51, who sold his kidney for 64,000 Nepalese rupees ($727) due to poverty, shows the incision scar from the operation, at his home in Kavre
© Navesh Chitrakar / Reuters—REUTERS Man Bahadur Tamang, 51, who sold his kidney for 64,000 Nepalese rupees ($727) due to poverty, shows the incision scar from the operation at his home in Kavre on Sept. 4, 2012.

In the mud-brick village of Hokshe, desperate Nepalese have been persuaded, or tricked, into selling a precious kidney for a pittance

In 2002, Kenam Tamang was duped into parting with a kidney by his own son-in-law. The ruse was a simple one, sweetened by the lure of work and a steady income – something he had been bereft of for too long. The two would leave their village of Hokshe in the Himalayan foothills east of Kathmandu, cut a line south and cross the border into India. Several days later, they would arrive in the southern coastal city of Chennai, ending a migratory passage that hundreds of thousands of Nepalese laborers had plied before them.

He hung around in Chennai for a month before being introduced to a group of Indian men — friends of his son-in-law who would arrange the work, he was told. “But one night, I heard them talking about kidney, but could not understand the whole conversation properly, which was in Hindi. And the next day, I was escorted to the hospital, where I was told that they are taking out my kidney.” Kenam, 48 at the time, turned to his son-in-law. “He said I will get a good amount for the kidney and there will not be any health complications. He even said that it would grow back.”

Hokshe is a cluster of mud-brick homes, flanked by fields of corn, sitting high up in the hills that circle Kathmandu. The arterial roads heading west from the village serve as tributaries that feed the capital with an ever fluid labor force made up of young and old, men and women, who see little point in staying at home to farm small patches of land for less than $2 a day. But the village carries a dark secret: of the 75 households in one ward alone, almost all have at least one member who has sold a kidney. Some, like Kenam, are duped into doing so; others are only too willing. From the days of the early ’90s, when the first villager was approached by brokers with the attractive offer of more than a year’s wages in return for an organ, the trade has taken on almost fad-like proportions.

Kumari Sapkota, 42, stands outside her home in Ward 3 of Hokshe. Her hands and clothes are caked in a chalky mud from working the field of corn below the house. If the money was right, she would willingly sell her kidney. Her only hesitancy is that all too often, the fee offered by brokers rarely gets delivered; either that, or sellers find that by the time they resume their lives in Hokshe, much of it has been spent on travel and medicine. That was the fate of Kenam. After being reassured by his son-in-law, he agreed to undergo the operation for $700. The cash was handed over in full, but three months later, as the bus wound its way back up the hill to Hokshe, only $100 was left. The two of them had spent the intervening time in Kathmandu, where the fee was whittled away. “Some money was used for dieting and medicine to be used soon after the operation, while my son-in-law spent money on alcohol,” he laments.

The story of Ganesh Bahadur Damai, 40, from nearby Jyamdi village, echoes Kenam’s search for better-paid work in India — that is, until he found himself drunk in a room in Bangalore with a group of strangers. “I was given an injection which made me unconscious for 24 hours. When I awoke, I was in a hospital bed. They had taken my kidney.” Three months later he arrived back in Kathmandu, where he was handed a mere $150, with which he bought a small plot of land. People living with one kidney should have its function assessed annually. But, he says, “I have no money to go for a health checkup.”

Stories like this don’t deter Kumari, nor the seemingly dozens of other villagers here who see opportunities in the organ trade. Her husband is a kidney down, as is the friend who works the field of corn with her. One man, Krishna, says his brother-in-law and two other relatives have sold theirs. He tried four times, but all were unsuccessful — on one occasion, the recipient of his kidney died just before he arrived for a pre-op checkup in Kathmandu. Frustrated, he won’t try again. But others are only too keen.

One 19-year-old mother is actively looking for a buyer, but recent crackdowns by Nepalese police have taken out many of the middlemen. “If you know someone [a broker], tell him to come here!” she says, laughing. Her reason is blunt, and a sharp reminder that the money they’ll receive isn’t for indulgence, but for far more pressing concerns. “I can get one lakh [$1,000] for a kidney. My son’s future will be secure.” As the conversation winds on, and more women come up from the field, it becomes clear that the international kidney trade that feeds clinics across the subcontinent and beyond has a bountiful source in Hokshe.

“Hokshe is an example of how people can [be exploited],” says Dr. Rishi Raj Kafle, executive director of the National Kidney Center in Kathmandu. “These villagers see people who haven’t died and think, Why not?”

Back in the village, the sharp whiff of locally brewed moonshine that comes off the breath of many locals — even those who, with one kidney, really shouldn’t be drinking very much at all — points also to a lack of understanding about the health implications. That isn’t surprising. Every villager TIME spoke to was illiterate and would struggle to learn about or comprehend the side effects of a nephrectomy, which can include high blood pressure and reduced function in, or even failure of, the remaining kidney.

The emergence of a legal donor system, in which relatives of patients who require a new kidney can trade theirs for $2,000 of government money, has reduced the numbers of Nepalese traveling to India for operations. Police have also clamped down on the rackets that prey on villages like Hokshe, and in May they arrested 15 traders in a sting operation. But Dr. Kafle fears there could be many more Hokshes across Nepal, even though the only people who seem to be making money are the traders. “I’ve not found a single person who sold their kidney who is rich,” he says.

TIME Nepal

Climbers Start Leaving Everest As Sherpas Threaten to Strike

Mount Everest on Oct. 27, 2011.
Kevin Frayer—AP Mount Everest seen in 2011.

Some foreign mountaineers looking to ascend the world's highest peak in Nepal are divided between staying and going as Sherpas demand better compensation and improved safety conditions following a recent avalanche that killed 16 local guides

Some would-be Mount Everest climbers are packing up and heading home as some Sherpas threaten to strike after a deadly avalanche, the BBC reports.

The Sherpas, locals who do the heavy-lifting for foreign climbers seeking to make the treacherous ascent, are demanding better financial treatment and improved safety conditions in the wake of a disaster that killed 16 of their colleagues.

Top Nepalese tourism officials are attempting to negotiate with the Sherpas in an effort to save this year’s climbing season. The Everest climb is all but impossible for foreign visitors without the help, knowledge and labor of the experienced Sherpas, who currently make from $3,000 to $6,000 each season. The country’s tourism ministry expressed hope that the talks between the Sherpas and the Nepalese government might salvage at least some of the season, which generates about $3.3 million annually for Nepal in climbing fees alone.

More than 300 foreign climbers were set to scale Everest’s peak this year. However, last week’s fatal accident caused many to head home over concerns for their own safety regardless of the Sherpas’ threats to strike.

[BBC and Independent]

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