By K.N. Pandita
Located at a height of 11000 feet above sea level and encircled by the Himalayan Peaks, the plateau of Ladakh is fast becoming a much favorued and popular place for mountaineers all over the world. It is called the second roof of the world after Tibet. An unexpected boost in mountaineering expeditions of foreign adventurers has opened a new window on the economy of the region if the industry is properly handled. According to the in-charge of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, Leh, Sonam Wangyal, as many as 430 expeditions have visited the open zone areas of Ladakh till August. The number of expeditions has also increased from 297 last year to 430 this year. The number of expeditions has also increased from 297 last year to 430 this year.
Due to easy accessibility and a few regulations, Stok Kangri in the Zanskar Range and Mentok Kangri in the Korzok valley, among other peaks, have been popular with mountaineers. Stok Kangri is famous among the mountaineers for viewing Nanga Parbat, Mount Kailash and the Nun Kun peak. The chairman of the Adventure Tour Operators Association, Tsewang Mutup, said a total of 23 expeditions had been conducted till now in the restricted areas of Ladakh. However, three expeditions had visited the Karakorum Range in the Nubra valley.
A boost to foreign mountaineering expeditions has happened because firstly the Indian Mountaineering Foundation has, on the nod of the Defence and External Affairs Ministries, thrown open some more peaks to the mountaineers. Secondly the commutation is better facilitated today than what was available previously. However, the MEA and Tourism Ministry both have to accelerate their activity in giving wider publicity to expanded scope of mountaineering and tourism in Ladakh region. Tourism can become a component of mountaineering expeditions. A comprehensive plan for giving impetus to Ladakh Mountaineering has to be formulated with the participation of local mountaineers. The base camps for scaling the newly opened peaks will need to be provided with adequate infrastructure, camp accommodation, board and lodging facilities, equipment, medical facilities, guidance and scouting services etc. The number of direct daily air flights between New Delhi/Chandigarh/Srinagar/Mumbai and Ladakh shall have to be increased and streamlined. Security arrangements have to be made foolproof and there should be no laxities in making tourists observe the rules and regulations of mountaineering. The project of boring a tunnel in Zoji La should bee speeded up because the foreign tourists and mountaineers would love to enjoy the breath taking view of the entire region as one moves along the picturesque landscape. Ladakh’s overland link with other parts of the country through Himachal has also to be speeded up. It has to be remembered that still much of Ladakh remains undiscovered and mountaineering is one sector which could have the potential of changing the economy of the region provided necessary infrastructure is in place. There is also the need of further easing travel regulations for foreigners. Despite the opening of additional peaks with the grant of security clearance for mountaineering last year, Ladakh still remains the second unexplored place in the world. A suggestion from local mountaineering official is that there should be an equal number of Indians in the foreign expeditions and a liaison officer as the representative of the Indian government. The expenses of Indian members should be borne by the foreign expedition. Dr C Rangarajan, who headed an expert group on Jammu and Kashmir, has mentioned in his report about the scope of mountaineering in Ladakh. He has recommended the formulation of tourist-friendly policies to encourage tourism by reviewing various security restrictions. The time has come when Ladakh has to be on top.