Massive Commercial Center Planned Near Everest

A development with hotels, restaurants, a museum and more is in the works for a Tibetan town en route to Everest Base Camp.

The tiny Tibetan town has several names, and at least one of them is going to become a household one. Located near the border with Nepal at an altitude just over 14,000 feet, Old Tingri - also called Gangkar Town or Gangga Town - is en route to Everest Base Camp on the Chinese side.

Recently the local regional sports bureau announced plans to create a center in the township that will cater to adventurers and visitors with hotels, restaurants, a mountaineering museum, transportation, medical facilities, and a base for search-and-rescue operations, China Daily reported.

Reading headlines about this initially freaked me out. Just great, I thought sarcastically, a huge commercial development around Everest. The famed mountain continues claiming lives, including those of experienced climbers. Garbage and dead bodies pile up. Earthquakes and climate change keep wreaking havoc in the region. But the plans for a new commercial center deserve a closer look instead of a knee-jerk reaction.

Everest has two extremely different sides. The better-known Nepal side has been plagued by corruption, mismanagement, and safety issues, Bloomberg View columnist Adam Minter pointed out. Those problems ushered in overcrowded conditions and inexperienced climbers. On the Tibetan side, China has restrictions about who can climb as well as a liaison system for managing climbers and their waste, Minter continued. What it lacks: basic amenities.

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Currently the high-altitude town is better known for its stunning mountain views of the Himalayas than its accommodations.

"Skip Old Tingri if you can...otherwise you're stuck here," an older review of the main hotel in town on Trip Advisor reads. Additional reviews said things like "don't even think about it," "awful," and "drive on." Tales of cold or nonexistent water, dirty rooms and a communal toilet abounded although one visitor last year offered some perspective: "Please don't denigrate these people, they did the best they could and I am eternally grateful."

Earlier this year a Tibetan tour guide responding to a question about hotels wrote online, "Yes, of course, there are hotels in Old Tingri, but not much. At the same time, the hotel accommodation is also of very poor condition." At best, the rooms, beds and toilets won't be clean. Instead, he suggested that visitors go to other areas that offer nicer places to stay.

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"Building a mountaineering center is a smart move," 29-year-old climber Tsering Ngodrup told China Daily. "Many climbers are not confident in planning expeditions in the mountains [in Tibet] because there is a lack of basic services."

Construction on the massive commercial center in Old Tingri is slated to start next year and be completed by 2019, according to China Daily. The price tag: approximately $14.7 million. Whether the Chinese will be able to draw more tourists to their side of the mountain in an environmentally responsible and safe way remains to be seen. If the views are any indication, we'll be able to see what happens from miles away.

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