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Nepal allows ‘royal’ Himalayan expedition

DIGEST-ENG-01-09-2020-Nepal

In a surprise move, the Nepal government has decided to allow a Bahraini Royal Guard expedition to climb a Himalayan mountain in September, even though tourists are not yet permitted into the country because of Covid-19 restrictions.

An 18-member Bahrain military expedition from the Royal Guard commanded by Sheikh Nasser Bin Hamad Al Khalifa has been given the coveted permission to climb Mt Manaslu in the central Nepal Himalaya, an 8,163m high peak that is the world’s eighth highest.

Before that, the expedition has also been allowed to acclimatise on Mt Lobuje East (6,119m) in the Everest region. The expedition is preparing to climb Mt Everest in the 2021 spring season. The Bahrainis will arrive on a charter flight on 15 September, stay a week in quarantine and helicopter out to the Khumbu for acclimatisation and fly from there directly to Manaslu Base Camp.

The permission comes as a surprise because the royal Bahraini expedition has been given permission when there were 30 other major mountaineering expeditions booked on Himalayan peaks, as well as hundreds of trekking groups, which had been waiting to hear about the status of their permits.

The year has been a washout for tourism and trekking in Nepal after expeditions that were already preparing to climb Mt Everest and other Himalayan peaks were told to get off the mountains after Nepal announced its Covid-19 lockdown on 24 March. Many trekking groups in remote parts of Nepal also had to hurriedly get back to Kathmandu to catch the last flights out.

However, travel trade sources said that some of the expeditions had already cancelled their plans because of flight issues as well as the surge of the pandemic in Nepal itself. 

The Nepal government took the decision on Sunday at a Cabinet meeting after the tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai presented the proposal about the Bahraini expedition, which will also include three Britons. It is unclear why this expedition was allowed when others have not, but the fact that there are 40,000 Nepali workers in Bahrain, and 6,000 left for that country last year may have played a part.

Bahrain’s Sheikh Nasser is said to be donating ‘food supplies including rice’ to the Sherpas and their families who have lost their livelihood because of the Covid-19 lockdown, according to a Bahraini news report. The expedition will be handled in Nepal by Seven Summit Treks.

Nepal Ambassador to Bahrain Padam Sundas is quoted in The Daily Tribune in Manama as saying: “It is immense pleasure to learn that under the patronage of His Highness Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Royal Guard team is donating edibles to the Sherpas.”

Mingma Sherpa of Seven Summits Treks also told the paper:  “After receiving news of the kind gesture from HH Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa to donate the food supplies from the Royal Guard team to the Sherpas, we consider Bahrainis our brothers.”

Announcing the Cabinet decision, Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada said that the expedition will have to follow Nepal’s quarantine rules. This has opened the possibility of the Ministry of Tourism announcing the safety protocols for opening limited trekking in Nepal this year.

Limited international flights are being allowed from 1 September, however, not for inbound foreigners yet. All Nepalis, diplomats and their families are required to have mandatory PCR negative tests before boarding and will have to stay in home quarantine for a week on arrival. 

If and when tourists are also allowed in, they will have to stay for a week in a quarantine hotel in Kathmandu.