A photo of an overcrowded Mt Everest went viral in 2019. Photo courtesy of @nimsdai Project Possible.
If there’s one picture of Mount Everest you remember, it is likely a viral image of a serpentine line of climbers waiting for their turn to reach the summit. But that may be the last of its kind after Nepal introduced earlier this month to prevent “filming, taking pictures or recording videos of things other than the expedition or mountaineering of the expedition team or team members.”
The new rule is actually a clearer, reworded version of existing guidelines intended to protect the “security and reputation” of Nepal. But it goes further, just as the country gears up to welcome climbers again a year after the COVID-19 pandemic halted last year’s season. “Climbers are free to take photos and videos of their expedition and team members, but they cannot take photos and videos of other things that may cause controversy and hurt national integrity and social harmony,” Mira Acharya, director with the Department of Tourism, told VICE World News.“In the past many climbers have told us that they were unaware of the rules so we had to excuse their violations. By issuing this notice, we’re making sure that expedition teams, operators and members are informed of rules and regulations before they start their expedition.”The government can ban anyone found violating tourism strictures from entering the country for up to five years or from mountaineering in Nepal for ten years. Home to the world’s eight highest mountains, Nepal is one of the top destinations for climbing enthusiasts. In 2019, the government earned $5.07 million in revenues from the issuance of climbing permits, of which Everest alone accounted for $4.05 million. While the government has justified the new protocols on grounds of better management of expeditations, critics believe that it is an attempt to control negative publicity after the viral photo of the traffic snarl at the top of the mountain.
The 2019 image taken by record-smashing climber Nirmal Purja was carried by news outlets worldwide and triggered a debate on overcrowding on Mt Everest, and whether the government was possibly prioritizing profit over climbers’ safety. The day the photo was taken, a record 223 climbers reached the summit, the highest to date. That year also recorded the highest number of deaths—10—on Everest. Earlier this year, Nepali authorities were caught off guard by an Indian news broadcast showing footage from Everest. In the clip, the anchor can be seen flying over the peak in a helicopter, and making arguments for India’s claim on the world’s highest mountain. The anchor later apologised after Nepalis criticised his claims. It was also revealed later that he had not obtained permission to film in the region. “Both these incidents along with a few others have forced the department to be more proactive when it comes to controlling content emerging out of Everest,” said journalist Sangam Prasain, who covers tourism and business for the Kathmandu Post. “Which is why they’re taking the effort to announce these rules this year even though they have been existing for many years.”The rule is drawing flak by the climbing community for its impracticality and for the alleged failure of the government to focus on more important issues.
“This decision once again paints the Nepal government in a negative light,” said Ang Chiring Sherpa, former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association. “How do they plan to control what image or video people take at a time when most people have cell phones and access to social media.”Sherpa said the government announced similar rules banning the distribution of photos and videos of others without consent back in 2008 ahead of the Beijing Olympics. “At the time there were some talks about cancelling all expeditions from the Nepal side to avoid any controversy on the mountain as the Olympic flame was being carried to the top of Everest from the Chinese side,” Sherpa said. “We requested the Nepal government to instead come up with rules that would allow us to carry on with our expeditions, and that’s what happened.”Follow VICE World News on Twitter.