18 April, 2015
Attn: Mr Deepak Chandra Amatya
The Hon. Minster for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation
Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation
Singha Durbar, Kathmandu, Nepal
Dear Mr Deepak Chandra
Improving the safety of the Annapurna Circuit
We are writing to you as avid trekkers and very supportive tourists of Nepal, having spent the last two months living in Kathmandu as volunteers, and one month trekking the Annapurna Circuit.
Firstly, we want to say how much we enjoyed our trekking adventure through the Annapurna region. This is a magnificent walk and everyday greeted us with different and awe-inspiring scenery. We appreciated the side trails in order to avoid the roads, but also appreciated the connection the road has given to various towns and villages along the way. We checked in regularly at the ACAP offices and found them regularly placed along the route. We are experienced hikers and completed many tracks in NZ and Tasmania; however, this is our first mountaineering experience.
We are aware of the saddening disaster that happened on the Annapurna Circuit in October 2014 where over 80 people died, including many Nepalese guides, as well as tourists from places such as Israel and NZ. We are also aware of the avalanche that happened on Mt Everest in April 2014 resulting in the tragic deaths of Sherpas, porters and climbers from overseas. These stories remain in people’s memories and we do not want these disasters to prevent people from experiencing the beauty of the Himalayas and supporting the tourism of Nepal.
We completed the pass from Thorong Phedi on Friday 4th of April 2015 and wanted to provide some feedback on the support and safety we encountered along the Annapurna Circuit, particularly at Thorong La. The day we completed the pass started with blue skies but quickly changed at 10am when we reached Thorong La. We descended into cloud, then falling snow, and quickly lost visibility about half way down the mountain towards the next town. Fortunately we had read about the confusing cross roads in the path down the mountain in a guide book so took the right path. We then could not see the poles as they were very far apart and we could only see about 10-20m in front of us. We followed foot prints as well as we could until they became confusing. We resorted to calling out and a Nepalese guide responded and led us down the mountain with his two clients.
Having completed some reading, we found out that the government of Nepal and the Nepal Tourism Ministry had promised improved safety on the track but these are yet to be implemented. We wanted to provide some suggestions that would aid the safety of people such as ourselves completing the circuit and to encourage trekkers to continue visiting these beautiful mountains:
GOVERNMENT PROMISE October 2014:
“The Prime Minister of Nepal, Sushil Koirala, called the loss of life “extremely tragic at a time when worldwide weather updates are available every second”, and said that weather warning systems would be improved.” This is yet to be implemented.
- It was very difficult to gain any weather advice along the way. We understand that weather is hard to predict, but some guidance would be useful. We gained more useful guidance from our poorly-sourced weather updates while using Wi-Fi than from ACAP offices or tea-houses situated close to the pass.
- Display a weather update for the day at Thorong Phedi and High Camp. These lodges could contact an ACAP office which can access Wi-Fi and display the weather forecast for the trekkers.
- Pay them a small wage for delivering this service.
NEPAL TOURISM MINISTRY PROMISE October 2014:
October 2014: “The Nepal Tourism Ministry said that the incident “has taught us a lesson”, and that more emergency shelters and better weather tracking and communication were needed to avert future tragedies. Newly proposed procedures and regulations include a trekker’s registry, checkpoints, GPS tracking units and mandatory use of trained local guide.”
Guides: Many trekkers travel without a guide. While the government may accuse tourists of ‘being cheap’ (The Guardian, 17 Oct 2014), many trekkers prefer to travel alone finding the presence hindering their independence or they enjoy the process of figuring out the route.
- Allow the option of travelling without a guide (as many will continue to do so), but in order to provide safety over Thorong La, hire, say, 10 guides a day who leave every 30 minutes – 1 hour from High Camp. Trekkers can join one of the groups and this just guarantees many more guides on the mountain in case of extreme conditions and provides guides with more regular work.
- This would also adhere to the Nepal Tourism Ministry decision to include mandatory use of trained local guides while still giving some freedom to trekkers.
Shelters: Apparently there are two shelters on the descent from the pass. We were unable to locate these shelters. In worse conditions, this could lead to a very dangerous situation.
- Make the shelters more obvious so they can be found in lower visibility.
Marker Poles: These are very far apart and hard to see in low visibility such as fog and snow conditions.
- Include more marker poles that are spaced closer together so if visibility is low, trekkers can still make out the path.
- Include an arrow on the top of the poles so that direction is clear.
- Include signposts where there are confusing intersections along the way.
Check Points: There are no ACAP check-in posts between Manang and Muktinah despite this being the most dangerous part of the trek. We found only two TIMS check points along the way (Jomsom and Birethanti which are both after the Pass). There was no record of when we began, and hardly any trekkers finish at Birethanti, so there is no record of where and when they finish.
- At Thorong Phedi and High Camp have trekkers register their name and ACAP/TIMS number.
- At the tea-house at the Pass have trekkers also register their name and ACAP/TIMS number so there is a record of whether trekkers made it this far in case of danger on the descent.
- Encourage tea houses to record the names of the trekkers staying with them so that there is some record of the travel of the trekkers. This is a simple way to have a second record.
- Combine TIMS and ACAP check points as it seemed unnecessary to have both.
Cost: We paid 2000R to get the permit for completing the Annapurna Circuit and 2000R for the TIMS registration.
- Increase the price (for overseas trekkers only) to cover the costs of the items listed in this letter. The price at the moment is very reasonable for a magnificent trek!
Information: We found it very difficult to gain accurate recent information regarding appropriate gear to carry in various trekking seasons (e.g. April vs. October), how much money would be needed for each day and other helpful information to help us be safe and prepared trekkers.
- Provide up to date and regular updates on the TIMS and ACAP websites, including weather, and ensure that this is disseminated to all of the check points on a daily basis.
We thoroughly enjoyed the Annapurna Circuit and will be encouraging many of our friends to do the same. We would love to see this walk continue to be completed by many trekkers and trust that these suggestions may be helpful as you continue to improve the safety of the track.
Thank you for taking the time to consider the information included in this letter. We would also love to hear back from you so please feel free to contact us via email.
Mishal Smith (New Zealand) & Rob Smith (Australia)