Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Tourism, Change, and Continuity in the Mount Everest Region, Nepal

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Tourism, Change, and Continuity in the Mount Everest Region, Nepal

Article excerpt

THE high Himalayan regions of Nepal have become the foremost center of mountaineering and trekking in Asia. Small-scale adventure tourism links this once relatively remote part of the world with the global economy and provides new opportunities for economic development. The change is most strikingly evident in the Mount Everest region, where the prosperity of the Sherpas contrasts sharply with the living standards of nearby peoples who have not become involved in tourism. Various adverse effects of tourism on the local society and environment have been widely reported, and one consequence was the establishment of Sagarmatha (Mount Everest) National Park in 1976. Although tourism has transformed land and life in the Mount Everest region in some ways, many reports have exaggerated the severity of the effects of tourism and have underestimated Sherpa adaptiveness, ingenuity, and cultural resiliency. This article examines how tourism has become a source of local economic development in the Mount Everest region and the effects of this economic change on local landuse, environment, and culture. The observations presented here are based on extensive interviews with local residents, religious and political leaders, national-park administrators, managers of trekking agencies, tourist guides, and tourists during more than three and a half years of fieldwork conducted on eight research expeditions between 1982 and 1992. SHERPA SETTLEMENT AND SUBSISTENCE

Sherpas inhabit much of the high- and middle-altitude section of northeastern Nepal. The Mount Everest region, locally known as Khumbu, is the most famous of these many different Sherpa-settled regions. This 1,100-square-kilometer area at the headwaters of the Dudh Kosi is the home of approximately 3,000 Sherpas. Here on the Tibetan border Sherpas have established eight villages and more than eighty seasonally occupied herding and secondary agricultural settlements in the rugged mountain terrain near the foot of Mount Everest. The lowest of these main villages, Nauje, is situated at 3,400 meters. Herding settlements extend as high as 5,000 meters.

Khumbu Sherpa patterns of subsistence agropastoralism and trans-Himalayan trade differ markedly not only from the economic practices of neighboring, lower-altitude Sherpa groups but also from those of nearby Tibetans. Khumbu landuse focuses on production of a few varieties of crops and livestock suited for high altitudes; in the twentieth century it has been based especially on the cultivation of potatoes and buckwheat and on the herding of yak, cattle, and yak-cattle crossbreeds (Furer-Haimendorf 1975; Brower 1991b; Stevens 1993). Until the mid-1960s virtually all Khumbu families also conducted annual trading expeditions. Some went as far as the urban centers of Tibet and northern India, but most, through small-scale barter with Sherpa and Rai residents of the lower Dudh Kosi watershed, exchanged Tibetan salt and wool for lower-altitude-grown rice, maize, millet, and wheat. That trade network was undermined during the 1960s by Chinese policies in Tibet and was largely supplanted by the development of a regional cash-based periodic market system in the Dudh Kosi region. Since 1965 Khumbu Sherpas have supplemented local subsistence crop production with lower-altitude-grown grains and other foodstuffs purchased at a weekly outdoor market in Nauje. The cash for the transactions comes almost entirely from tourism income. Tourism employment and entrepreneurial enterprises have supplanted trade as an essential facet of household subsistence strategies and as a main component of the regional economy (Furer-Haimendorf 1975; Stevens 1993).

TOURISM PATTERNS

The Mount Everest region was long remote from the main pathways of international tourism. The first Europeans and Americans entered the area only in 1950 (Tilman 1952), and until 1964 only mountaineering expeditions were allowed to visit the region. As recently as 1971 Khumbu hosted scarcely a thousand visitors. …

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