Mount Everest's appeal grows despite violent unrest in Nepal

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The Independent Online

Mount Everest has maintained its magnetism for mountaineers, with foreign climbers continuing to take on the world's highest mountain despite violent political unrest in Nepal since February.

Mount Everest has maintained its magnetism for mountaineers, with foreign climbers continuing to take on the world's highest mountain despite violent political unrest in Nepal since February.

While tourism figures for the rest of the country have dropped sharply since King Gyanendra seized extra powers and declared a state of emergency earlier this year, the number of people trying to reach the summit of Everest has gone up.

The tourism ministry in Kathmandu said yesterday that it had issued 19 permits to foreign expeditions planning to climb Everest this season, up from 13 last year.

"The attraction of Mount Everest is growing among foreign climbers, who are not afraid of the current situation in the country," Shankar Prasad Pandey of the ministry said.

Tourists account for about 4 per cent of Nepal's gross domestic product. But the political problems since February have severely damaged the industry. The number of visitors has fallen 32 per cent to 53,170 over the past three months, down from 78,206 last year.

Travel advisories in the UK, Europe and America warn tourists against booking holidays in Nepal for fear of a Maoist insurgency and the government-enforced state of emergency.

The Nepalese will be relieved that their country's natural attractions outweigh the political difficulties, at least in the eyes of mountaineers. So far this year, 53 expeditions have been given permission to climb 19 peaks, which compares well with last year's figure of 58 for the entire climbing season between March and May.

It is perhaps unsurprising that serious mountaineers are not heeding warnings and heading to Nepal regardless of the insurgency, which has claimed about 11,000 lives since it began in 1996. Omnipresent risk is taken for granted in the 29,035ft climb up to Mount Everest's summit - 185 climbers have died on its slopes while trying to achieve one of the great goals in mountaineering.

The mountain has been scaled by 1,581 people from 65 countries since it was first conquered by the New Zealander Edmund Hillary and the Nepali Tenzing Norgay in 1953.

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