"It's not the number of trekkers that worries us, it's their behaviour"
What makes the King Mahendra Trust different from other NGOs working in the field of nature conservation?
The Trust is the only non-governmental organisation which has been established through an Act of Parliament. It is guided by an independent, autonomous board of trustees. We are self-sustaining.
Our approach is also different, as is evident in projects like the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP), which is the only protected area run by an NGO. We also run a research centre at Chitwan.
One of the major functions of the trust is to advise the government. So why did you give in on the Mustang issue?
We were critical about opening up Mustang to trekkers because we were concerned about the food and energy security of the people of the region. But the government decided to go ahead with it.
Why are conservationists so opposed to trekking?
It's not just the numbers which worry us, it's also their behaviour. It is outrageous to see a campfire in Sagarmatha. There is also fuelwood consumption.
But don't trekkers contribute to the local economy?
Studies have shown that porters contributed more to the local economy than trekkers. Out of every dollar spent by a trekker, only seven to eight cents reaches the local people. The rest goes to the trekking agencies in Kathmandu and Pokhara.
Can't anything be done about this?
It is a question of educating the educated. The same people, who would not dream of leaving garbage on the Alps, come to Nepal as tourists and leave waste lying around. There is also exploitation. Tourists find food and labour cheap in Nepal, yet they haggle over every rupee. I sometimes wonder if they ever stop to think what they could get for as much in their own countries.
We have found that the individual tourist is easier to control than big groups. But then everyone loves big groups. So though larger groups cause more damage to the fragile ecosystem, very little is being done to monitor the size of the groups.