KATHMANDU (Reuters) - The number of climbing expeditions to Himalayan mountains, including Mount Everest, has risen since Nepal reduced off season climbing fees three months ago, officials said on Wednesday.
Nepal is home to hundreds of mountains of which 326 peaks including the 8,850 metre (29,035 feet) Mount Everest are open to foreign climbers throughout the year.
While hundreds of climbers pay anything between $500 and $25,000 to ascend some of the lofty peaks during the popular March-May climbing season, many mountains don’t see a single climber during the rest of the year.
Nepal announced a 50 percent cut in the climbing fees in August for the three-month autumn season starting in September as incentive to off-season climbers and boost tourism, hit by years of Maoist civil war and political unrest.
It also gave a 75 percent discount in fees for the winter which starts in December and continues through February the following year.
As a result the number of expeditions to different Himalayan peaks in Nepal during the Autumn season had increased to 145 this year, up from 84 in 2007, Tourism Ministry official Gyanendra Shrestha said.
Three expeditions went to Mount Everest this season compared with just one team last year, he said.
“The cut in royalty rates had a positive impact among the climbers,” Shrestha said. “More climbers have gone to our mountains this time.”
Climbers prefer spring for expeditions because they get more daylight and warmer weather.
Eight of the world’s 14 highest peaks that are above 8,000 metres including Mount Everest are in or on Nepal’s borders with China and India.
Analysts say tighter visa rules clamped by China that hosted the Olympics this year for foreign climbers in Tibet could have diverted mountaineers to Nepali peaks.
Officials say tourist arrivals in 2007 also jumped 27.1 percent to 360,000 as visitors began to return to the scenic nation after the Maoists declared a ceasefire in 2006.
Tourism accounts for about four percent of impoverished Nepal’s GDP.