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Nepal's government has just announced a nationwide ban on solo trekkers, now requiring travelers looking to hike across its stunning remote landscapes to hire an officially licensed guide or go with a group.
The new policy arrives five years after the South Asian country began prohibiting foreign mountaineers from attempting to scale Mount Everest without a sanctioned escort. The regulatory change is set to take effect on April 1.
The largely isolated Himalayan nation, nestled between giants India and China, boasts great geographic diversity, from fertile plains and subalpine forests to majestic highlands, and is home to eight of the world's 10 tallest mountains.
It is the country's very isolation and inaccessibility-which has well preserved its mystifying ancient culture and pristine natural surroundings-that so appeals to adventurers from around the globe, many of whom aim to backpack their way through its stunningly remote countryside.
Although the trekking industry is one of the largest contributors to the tourism-reliant country's economy, the expense of running search-and-rescue missions when solo hikers become lost or stuck can be extremely burdensome.
"When you are traveling solo, in case of emergencies, there is no one to help you," Mani R. Lamichhane, Director of the Nepal Tourism Board, told CNN. "It is fine if they are traveling in the cities, but in the remote mountains, the infrastructure is not adequate." He added, "When tourists go missing or they are found dead, even the government cannot track them because they have taken remote routes."
Lamichhane explained that unlicensed guides and tour companies have also begun to cause problems. Such outfits operate without government registration or authorization and therefore don't pay taxes. In doing so, he argues, they take jobs away from legitimate local Nepalis.
"There have been some cases where the trekking association has been requesting us to stop these unauthorized trekking operations. This has been a demand from tourism associations for a long time," he said.
Ian Taylor, who owns a reputable trekking company with a longstanding presence in Nepal, told CNN he believes the new regulations make sense. He affirmed that such measures have, unfortunately, become necessary, as more and more tourists attempt difficult climbs and expeditions in the region.
"Things have drastically changed in the region over the years," he said. "You used to see only experienced hikers and climbers in the region, many of them traveling without guides, and they were completely self-sufficient."
He continued, "However, now, there are far greater numbers of people traveling in the region and more of them are tourists, not trekkers. They are not self-sufficient in the outdoors and therefore need the assistance of experienced guides."
While a blanket ban on solo adventuring may not be the solution some enthusiasts would support, Taylor explained that the Nepali government simply doesn't have the resources to thoroughly vet every single visa applicant separately.
"As a person who loves the mountains and visiting the mountain regions of the world, it is extremely disappointing that it has come to this," he admitted. "Never do we want to see people's access to the mountains restricted. However, the situation in Nepal is very unique, and changes do need to be made."
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Laurie Baratti is a San Diego-based journalist whose work has previously appeared in publications like TravelAge West, SPACE,...
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