Maoist encounters fall season commentary. There were encounters by two expeditions, one in the Kangchenjunga area in far eastern Nepal and the other in the west on their way to Putha Hiunchuli, which is sometimes called Dhaulagiri VII. These teams were stopped by armed Nepalis who may have been Maoist rebels fighting against the constitutional monarchy with the aim of replacing it with a “people’s republic,” or they may have been just bandits taking advantage of the well-known presence of Maoists in those areas.
The Putha Hiunchuli team of ten Austrians led by Gunther Mussnig were stopped when they were approaching their mountain from the north in late September at a village named Kakkot by about 25 local people whom Mussnig called “Maoist-friendly.” They refused to let the expedition enter their Kaya Khola (valley), where base camp would be established, unless they were paid Rs.100,000 (equal to about $1,280); when the Austrians refused, they were kept at Kakkot for a day and a half. They were not freed until Rs.67,000 were handed over.
In eastern Nepal, a predominantly Slovenian expedition for Ramtang Chang (called Chang Himal in the new list) (formerly known as Wedge Peak) and Kiratchuli (Tent Peak) near Kangchenjunga were similarly held up. Their leader, Gregor Kresal, and another member flew by helicopter to their base camp with the team’s funds while the other 10 members trekked toward the mountains from the Taplejung airfield. One day’s trek north of the airport at Chhiruwa village, they were stopped by four armed men who villagers thought probably were Maoists. The men said they knew the team had paid the Nepalese government $3,000 for their climbing permits, and demanded a payment of this sum plus their own “tax” on each member. The climbers explained that they had no money since all the funds had gone ahead by helicopter.
After being locked up in a small lodge for a short time, their captors reduced their demand to a total of only Rs. 8,000 ($103), but the team could not meet even this price. They were allowed to proceed on their way to base camp but were told they would have to pay on their return trek to Taplejung. This expense was avoided by the entire expedition’s chartering a helicopter out of the region from a village well north of the airfield. The cost of avoiding Taplejung by hiring a helicopter to Kathmandu was $6,500, whereas they would have had to spend only about $2,000-$2,500 to trek to the local airfield and fly by a scheduled fixed-wing flight from there.
These expeditions’ encounters were not the first by mountaineers in Nepal. The earlier ones occurred in the autumn of 2000 to a Spanish Manaslu team, and in the spring of this year to two Makalu expeditions, one Swiss and the other a joint Spanish-Italian party. No doubt they will not be the last, but it is most unlikely that any teams in the immediate Everest region will be affected, at least in the next few years.
Elizabeth Hawley, Nepal