The construction of the first motorable road linking the Everest region is planned to be completed in two years. Dubbed Everest Highway, it has reached Taksindu and will be extended across the Dudh Koshi River by the end of this fiscal year, said Nepali Congress lawmaker Bal Bahadur KC on Thursday.
In the last fiscal year, the government started building a 22-km road from Salleri, the district headquarters of Solukhumbu, to Surkhe village, a two-hour walk from Lukla where there is an airport that serves as the gateway to the Everest region.
Khumbu locals have urged the government to extend the planned road to Chaurikharka, which lies 2 km from Surkhe. Surkhe lies at an elevation of 2,289 m.
The road is expected to help ease transportation of supplies from urban centres to the mountain region. As per the government’s long-term plan, a 100-km motorable road will be built linking Salleri and Jiri.
“Khumbu tourism will not have to rely on air services only. A motor road will provide an alternative access,” said KC, a Constituent Assembly member from Solukhumbu. He assured the people of Khumbu that they would be able to travel by motor vehicle in the region within two years. “However, there are some groups who do not want the Everest region to have a road connection.”
The route from Jiri to Everest Base Camp retraces the footsteps of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa in their historic expedition to Everest which climaxed with the first ascent of the peak on May 29, 1953.
Lukla airport was built in 1964 by the Himalayan Trust created by Hillary. The objective of the airport at that time was to ease transportation of supplies to the region. Before the airport was built, people used to take the Jiri trail to reach Everest Base Camp. Jiri to Surkhe is a nine-day trek.
Khumbu locals have long been urging the government to build a road linking the Everest region due to the costs and unpredictability of flight services. Trekkers and mountaineers headed for Everest usually fly into Lukla’s Tenzing-Hillary airport where the trail starts. Lukla is situated at an elevation of 2,860 m.
The Khumbu or Everest region is the most expensive place in the country as all supplies have to be flown in. A cylinder of LPG costs Rs10,000 and a cup of tea more than Rs250. A one-way plane ticket for a tourist is priced at $159 and air freight from Kathmandu to Lukla costs Rs150 per kg.
The planned road is expected to bring down market prices as goods can be trucked in for around Rs10 per kg, which is a drastic change compared to the rates charged by airlines. Apart from the costs, the unpredictable weather means that flight schedules can go haywire. Hundreds of tourists are stranded at Lukla airport annually as planes cannot come in due to bad weather and high winds. In such situations, tourists are forced to return to Kathmandu by helicopter by paying up to $500 per person.
In November 2011, more than 3,000 tourists were stranded in Lukla due to adverse weather conditions that halted flights from Kathmandu for six consecutive days. The problem recurs annually in the region.
Pasang Dawa Sherpa, a local of Khumjung, said that the construction of the motorable road in the Khumbu region should be expedited. He added that after the April 25 earthquake, people had started reconstructing their houses, and they were being forced to pay Rs8,000 for a bag of cement against the usual market price of Rs900.
As the gateway to Everest , Lukla attracts hundreds of foreign trekkers during the spring and autumn seasons.
Spring is particularly busy with mountaineers. More than 35,000 tourists visit the Sagarmatha National Park annually.
Everest ready to welcome tourists
More than 90 percent of the houses, lodges and hotels in the Everest region that were destroyed by the April 25 earthquake have been rebuilt, and the destination is ready to host tourists during the upcoming season that starts in mid-September, locals said Thursday. The Everest region receives throngs of mountaineers during the spring season (March-May), while the autumn season (September-November) is popular for trekking. “The earthquake had destroyed almost all the houses and lodges in Khumjung, Chaurikharka, Namche, Phakding and Kwangde. However, all the damaged structures were restored within a month after the earthquake,” said Pasang Dawa Sherpa, a local entrepreneur of Khumjung, speaking at an interaction in Kathmandu. He added that landslides had damaged two to four trekking routes, but their reconstruction was almost complete. “As we still have two months remaining for the upcoming tourist season to start, we will be fully ready to host visitors by then.” Nima Nuru Sherpa, a local of Namche Bazaar, said that 242 houses there, including hotels, had been damaged by the earthquake, and that a majority of them had been reconstructed. Sherpa said that landslides had damaged a small section of the trail at Thame which needs to be repaired. “However, it does not pose a safety risk.” In Chaurikharka, 99 percent of the hotels are back in business.