Maoist activity, an overview of the post-monsoon season. Maoist rebels fighting against Nepal’s constitutional monarchy have been earning quite a lot of money by extorting funds from groups of climbers and trekkers. Not all groups have met this problem, but many have. The rates vary from one area to another, but the standard rate seems to be $15-$20 per foreigner. Expeditions going anywhere in Nepal, except in the Khumbu north of the Lukla airfield, must budget for these “donations” to the Maoist cause.
The Khumbu region above Lukla is totally free of Maoists. Very probably one important reason for this is the tireless efforts of Sir Edmund Hillary over four decades to make a better life for the people there, through his construction of numerous schools and health facilities, and the Lukla airfield, which gives easy access to trekking and climbing groups. He has also showed continuing support for those schools, hospitals, and health posts. Khumbu residents make up a community that is close-knit, relatively prosperous, and well educated, so for them the Maoist championing of the underdog has no appeal.
However, elsewhere in the east, on the route to the Makalu area, this autumn’s Danish expedition going to the recently-opened Tutse (Peak 6) found a banner across the trail at Sedua village reading, “Welcome to you, Makalu base camp. Entry tax for Maoist Party.” Its fixed-price list was: Rs 5,000 (roughly $70) per tourist, Rs 1,000 per guide, Rs 500 per Sherpa cook, Rs 100 per kitchen boy, and Rs 50 per porter. Farther east, a French team going into the Kangchenjunga region for Gimmigela Chuli (The Twins), was also stopped and “taxed.” But a Jannu expedition went so fast past Sedua that they escaped without having to pay the tax.
On the very popular trekking route north from Pokhara to the south side of the Annapurna range, the office buildings of the Annapurna Conservation Area have been taken over by the rebels, forcing conservation staff to suspend their work. An Italian expedition to Annapurna III was charged Rs 1,000 per foreigner but nothing for their Sherpas and other Nepalese staff. On the equally well frequented trail around the Annapurna massif, Maoists are seen in strength on the west side just south of the Kali Gandaki village of Marpha. They are collecting the same amount in the Marshyangdi Valley on the east side of the massif at Ngadi village, just north of the road-head town of Besisahar, where teams going to the north side of the Annapurna range leave their buses.
Much farther west, the French on their way to climb Raksha Urai had to stop at Chainpur village and wait for two days while two of their Nepalese staff went down a valley to meet the local Maoist leader. They were forced to pay the tariff demanded in his area. The team’s trekking agent asked the team not to disclose how much they were forced to pay: trekking agents don’t like discussions on this topic. The team members were told that if the climbers had been American, British, or Japanese, they would not have been allowed to continue on their way.
Elizabeth Hawley, Nepal