A new circular from The Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India regarding the opening up of 24 peaks for trekking/mountaineering in Sikkim, has created an outrage in the state as one of them is the mighty Kanchendzonga. People from all walks of life in Sikkim have come forward to vent their anger against the central government for issuing such diktat without proper consultation with the stakeholders.
But the reality is far from different – Kanchendzonga is summited every year.
Standing tall at 8,598 meters, it is the third highest mountain peak in the world. It lies between Nepal and Sikkim with three of the five peaks (Main, Central, and South) directly on the border, and the remaining two (West and Kangbachen) in Nepal’s Taplejung District.
Contrary to the popular belief that Kanchendzonga is a virgin peak, people summit the mountain every season. There are three main approaches to summit the holy mountain, the north-east face, the north face and the south face. While the north-east face lies in Sikkim and the route is currently banned by the state government, expeditions to summit the mountain from the north face and the south face that remains in Nepal, are organised every season.
The mountain is worshipped by the people of Sikkim as a guardian deity. A similar case of outrage occurred in early 2000 when the erstwhile government granted permission to an Austrian delegation to summit the mountain. The Austrians embarked on the journey to summit the mountain from the perilous North-East face but they turned back 10 metres short of the top, on request by the state government to not hurt the sentiments of the Buddhist community of Sikkim.
The Indian government needs to diplomatically pressurise the Nepalese government to stop expeditions to the sacred peak to preserve the sanctity of the guardian deity of the state of Sikkim. But there is an economic cost attached to it. The 45 days expedition to summit the mountain from Nepal costs an individual a hefty $20,000 (14 Lakh rupees). As most of the climbers are foreigners, it adds to the Foreign Exchange (FOREX) reserves of Nepal.
An alternative would be that the Indian Government can help develop mountaineering in other peaks of the Himalayan range which borders the two countries. It would greatly aid in bringing quality tourism to both countries, something that is lacking in the state of Sikkim.
By Abhinay Bhandari. The author can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org
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