To quote the great Yogi Berra it’s “like deja vu all over again”. While reading Alan Arnette’s Everest 2009 page, I came across his link to this story over at the Telegraph that reports that China has shut down all foreign access to Tibet once again this year.
The article says that on Wednesday, the Chinese Tourism Ministry contacted tourist agencies who were booking travel to Tibet and told them to cancel trips “for the foreseeable future”. One tour operator is quoted as saying that he expects the ban on travel will continue for “at least the next couple of months.” You may recall that China closed down Tibet last year as well, in the wake of several demonstrations, that turned violent at times.
And what is prompting the Chinese to close the border again this year? Well, March 10th marks the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama going into exile, and more protests are expected. The Telegraph says that tensions there have already begun to rise, with some Tibetans already protesting and 24 people reportedly arrested.
Of course, what this means to climbers who were planning on going to Everest’s North Side remains to be seen. There were some indications that guide services were planning on light activity on that side of the mountain, but it was never very clear if it would be open at all. At least two climbers were planning on making a traverse of the mountain as well, climbing the South Side from Nepal and after reaching the summit, going down the North Face into Tibet. Those plans may be in jeopardy at this point, but we’ll have to wait and see.
The other distressing element to this story is that tourism is a big part of the Tibetan economy, and without the money coming in from visitors, many of the people there will be unable to make a living. Things have actually been tight since last year’s crack down, and this will make it all the more challenging. It remains to be seen if this will be an extended shutdown, but from the sounds of things, it is quite grim. One thing is for sure, a lot of teams climbing on the South Side will be breathing a sigh of relief that they hadn’t counted on the North being open this year.
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