A few weeks back we reported on a story that involved mountaineer-of-the-moment Nims Purja and a massive Kuwaiti flag that was draped over the summit of Ama Dablam. Purja and his new expedition guiding company helped a team of Kuwaiti nationals carry the flag — which was 100 meters in length and 30 meters wide — to the top of the mountain where it was unfurled, much to the dismay of onlooker, bot in person and from afar. For the Nepalis, Ama Dablam is seen as being a sacred mountain, so the act was deemed as being offensive, while others condemned the stunt for being in poor taste or even failing to adhere to the rules of Leave No Trace. But now it seems that there is even more reason to be upset with Purja and his team over this display, as it appears that he pocket money that was meant to pay for permits and governmental administrative fees.
ExWeb, citing the MyRepublica website, is reporting that Purja was paid $8890 by the Kuwaiti team to purchase permits and to ensure that all the administrative details were handled. That included getting a second permit for filming the flag while it was in place on Ama Dablam, which involved using drones to capture high altitude images. Unfortunately, it appears that he never even applied for those permits, meaning the entire operation went down without governmental approval and with Purja likely pocketing the cash.
The entire affair has launched an investigation by the Ministry of Tourism, which has also seized the flag in question as evidence. Part of Purja’s agreement with the Kuwaiti climbing team was that he would bring the flag back down the mountain and return it to them so it could be displayed back home. For now however, that isn’t happening either while Nepali officials sort out the situation.
According to the Republica newspaper, which obtained an invoice from Purja’s Elite Himalayan Adventures company, the Kuwaitis were charged a total of $224,468.67 for the entire expedition. That’s a hefty sum to say the least, but getting the massive flag, which reportedly weighed more than 150 kg (330 pounds), to the summit was no small feat either. Those fees covered the entire team living on the mountain for several weeks, logistical expenses, guides, and so on. Presumably they also included fees for the climbing permits as well.
This is not a great look for Purja, who has been riding a wave of good will following the completion of his Project Possible expedition. That adventure sent him off on one of the most impressive feats of mountaineering in recent memory, summiting all 14 8000-meter peaks in a little over six months. Now, he’s launched Elite Himalayan Adventures to capitalize on his fame and climbing expertise. [Edit: See comment below. The company was apparently founded last year] This expedition to Ama Dablam was suppose to be his coming out party and his first real commercial guiding experience. Instead, it has turned into a PR nightmare and left Nims looking like he is just as corrupt and greedy as many of the other expedition guides that operate in Nepal, a country that is known for its corruption and greed.
When this story first broke I covered it as news, but found some of the online outrage to be a little overblown. Since Nims and the team cleaned up after themselves and were only on the summit for about an hour, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. But as more layers of this onion are peeled away, it becomes more difficult to justify it in any way. Particularly as Purja comes across looking like he was attempting to avoid paying the proper fees and using the proper channels. Hopefully this isn’t a sign of things to come from him and his company, as he is quickly tainting his own image and squandering a lot of goodwill.
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