Projects in Rational Tourism Development
Thom Sanger at Tashi Lapsta Pass
Tashi Lapsta (Trashi Lapsta)
The pass between Khumbu and Rolwaling
Tashi Lapsta is one of the most feared passes in Nepal... which is saying a lot! Unlike Lamjura Pass (between Kenji and Junbesi, on the trail from Jiri to Khumbu), the pass is not simply a long hike uphill. Jamie MacGuinness (Trekking in the Everest Region) and Bill O'Connor (The Trekking Peaks of Nepal) both describe it as suitable for alpinists, and even Sir Edmund Hillary made some chilling remarks about it. The pass is long, high, exposed to bad weather, and ... Well, this is what MacGuinness says about it:
Despite the dotted line marking the route on many trekking maps, the Tashi Labtsa (5755m/18,881 ft) is a mountaineering challenge not a teahouse trekking route. It's far more dangerous than the Kongma La, Tsho La or Annapurna's Thorong La...
It would be insane to try to cross the Tashi Laptsa by yourself. Several climbers have disappeared while alone in this area. Crevasses are a real danger and there are some areas in the icefall that may need an abseil...
Access to the pass involves passing areas of frequent rockfall so an early morning start is best. In the early morning the rocks may still be frozen in place but as the sun hits them they expand, loosen and come thundering down. On a winter's day things might be stable but on a warm October afternoon it's like Russian roulette. It's said by the Sherpas that Lama Sange Dorje crossed this pass and the name Tashi Labtsa bestows a certain protection on travellers.
The cost-benefit analysis
Tashi Lapsta is a central asset and a central liability in the history and development of Rolwaling. The difficulty of the pass is what made Rolwaling a sanctuary for refugees, and contibuted to its special status a "sacred valley." It has also been cited as a justification for the official limbo in which Rolwaling remains, neither closed nor open to tourism. It is an impediment to trade and to trekkers bound for Khumbu, and it is also a world-class adventure opportunity. It is one of the reasons for Rolwaling's relative lack of tourist facilities, since groups crossing the pass must be fully equipped with tents and camping gear and therefore do not have to rely on local hospitality at lower elevations, and also an opportunity for development that should eventually turn Beding into something of a Chamonix.
Only full-bore mountain expeditions and also "trekking peak" groups are -- officially -- permitted to enter Rolwaling. At one time a trekking permit was also required, as it was in Khumbu, Langtang, and Annapurna, but that requirement has been dropped. The situation now is very complicated, so we will review the facts as they stood last year, piece by piece.
The permit situation
- The trekking peak permit is theoretically required for those wishing to climb Pachermo (6273 m) or Ramdung (5430m); Tashi Lapsta is not a trekking peak, so such permits are not given for the pass itself.
- The trekking peak permit must be arranged through a registered trekking agency. These, supposedly, are responsible for the safety of their clients, and, supposedly, must have insurance, which, supposedly, means that they must take proper safety precautions: guide and equipment must be provided. Since the peaks, like the pass, require camping, tents and food must be brought along - by porters. That means the trekker must be accompanied by an entire circus (normally three or four trekking agency employees per client)... and consequently has no particular need for any local services or supplies at all.
- The trekking peak permit costs $300 or $350, depending on whether the peak is Class A or Class B. The basic fee covers 10 trekkers, and may be supernumerated at $10 per person for larger groups. The trekking agency normally charges an additional $50 per person "service fee" for arranging the permit. The permit is, theoretically, good for thirty days.
- Enforcement of the permit requirement is supposed to occur at a single checkpost in Simigaon. A police officer -- or someone with police authority -- used to check permits as trekkers passed by his house on the trail... if he noticed them, or if they sought him out. However, during the GLOF mitigation project at Tsho Rolpa, that officer was relocated to the project site, and no permits were checked. We were told that his presence was required at the site because of the use of dynamite. After the camp was shut down for the winter, the officer was withdrawn altogether, apparently relocated to Singati, and the explanation was that because of the threat of Maoist terrorists (not particularly in Rolwaling, but everywhere in Nepal), remote outposts were closed and policemen transferred to safer locations. So, to our knowledge, there was no permit enforcement last year and there are no plans to reinstitute it. There is no checkpoint now on the Thame (Khumbu) side of the valley, although there may be one just north -- in order to control traffic to Nangpa La and Tibet.
- The function of the permit checkpoint has never gone beyond turning back trekkers approaching from downvalley (Dolakha or Barabise and Kathmandu) without permits. That is, trekkers approaching from the Khumbu side are not stopped, as there is nothing the officer could do: he certainly would not want to sent trekkers back over the pass to Khumbu!
- The attitude of the Central Immigration Office, which controls visas and trekking permits for those places still requiring them, is very pragmatic; they explicitly tell would-be trekkers who want to visit Rolwaling and are not interested in climbing any peak at all to get a trekking peak permit anyway.
- The people of Rolwaling have repeatedly requested that the government remove the trekking peak requirement, and this may occur at any moment: the government is obviously interested in removing obstacles to making more money, and this one is a no-brainer. The trekking peak money goes to the Nepal Mountaineering Association (not the government), so there is no direct interest in maintaining that comparative trickle of revenue. Furthermore, the trekking permit has proved an unenforceable burden for the government. This government clearly wishes to streamline paperwork and remove aggravations that make life difficult to tourists -- as long as there is no direct cost to the government. And then there is a parity issue: why should Rolwaling Sherpas be deprived the economic opportunties that have been so profitable for their neighbors and family in other valleys?
Tashi Lapsta can be approached from either the east or the west. From the west, trekkers can drop in on Simigaon from the ridge that separates Barabise, the trailhead on the Nepal-Tibet Friendship Road, from Tamba Kosi (also called -- confusingly, since nearly every river penetrating from Tibet has the same name -- the Bhote Kosi); or they can come up the Tamba from Dolakha, a dead-end that forks off the Swiss-built road to Jiri at Charikhot.
Up to Simigaon, accommodations are a cinch. The trail is also well-marked. Simigaon itself has several lodges, including a large hotel being built by the Austrian agency Eco-Himal, but not yet opened for trade. (They intend to use it for some time as a hospitality skills training school.)
After Simigaon, there is a long stretch till Beding, the next serious village. For three hours, the trail meanders around and up and down through a thick forest; there is at least one juncture where it wass not clear which way to go, as of last year, but indications have appeared. These small white arrows with black wording were installed by the Tsho Rolpa project as guides for their porters, and are only in Nepali script. Other arrows and scratched X's (indicating trails NOT to take) are put in by trekkers and guides. Be aware, however, that the trail may change, as there are several tributary streams to be crossed and the condition of bridges is not constant.
About three hours from Simigaon is a clearing by the river. Drongkhang has at least a couple teahouses, VERY receptive to trekkers. Excellent food, medium okay accommodations (clean mats, rugs, but no beds as such -- get used to it!)
From Drongkhang it is another three or four hours to Beding, which is spread out in several clusters. The upper cluster, at the monastery, had no marked teahouses when we were there, but there are many households ANXIOUS for your business. We stayed with several of them, and they do know how to take care of trekkers' needs.
Na, an hour or so upstream from Beding, also has some teahouse wannabe's, even one that was marked. After that, you're on your own until the first tiny village on the other side of the pass. There is an engineering camp at Tsho Rolpa, but don't count on their hospitality. They might not be there when you pass through, and anyway they are working on the GLOF mitigation project, not catering to tourists.
From Namche, there are fewer options. Thame is about three hours up the valley to the northwest of Namche. There are four or five places to stay there. The next stop is strictly from hunger... one downscale teashop, then a "low camp" and a "high camp"... and up and over. A lot depends on the time of year, the condition of the trail, and the conditioning of the trekkers.
MORE COMING SOON!
Bridges 99: The Tashi Lapsta Caper
the approach from High Camp on the Khumbu side
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