As the 10th edition of Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon organized by Himalaya Expeditions successfully concluded at Namche Bazaar on Tuesday, Nabin Khatiwada of Republica had a telephonic conversation with Bikram Pandey, the president of the organizing company. Excerpts:
How did you conceive this event?
It has an interesting story. We (Nepal) were marking the Mount Everest Golden Jubilee Celebration in 2003. I was the vice-president of Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) then. The government had formed a national committee and I had represented NMA in the committee, where I got the duty of event management. Then, I started brainstorming and came up with the idea of organizing a marathon. Then the committee decided to organize a marathon from the Everest Base Camp on May 19, 2003. We had named it Everest Marathon in the beginning.
When we were at Namche Bazaar to organize the event, we met Tashi Tenzing, a grandson of Tenzing Norgay Sherpa. We requested him to be our chief guest and he accepted it.
During his speech, he proposed to name the event after Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary, the first persons to scale Everest and everybody praised the idea. This is how we started the Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon 10 years ago.
What motivates you to conduct the event every year?
As a tourism entrepreneur, I wanted to spread positive message about Nepal to foreigners.
When we organized the event in 2003, conflict was on. International media were reporting only negative things about Nepal and tourism business was suffering. I thought organizing an international event could send out a positive message internationally.
When we were organizing the event for the first time, we fortunately met a senior fellow from BBC at the base camp. He was with a British team that was in Nepal for the Golden Jubilee Celebration. He covered the marathon for the first time and the other international and national media gave the event a wide coverage.
I was interested to continue the event. I discussed it with various associations, agencies and institutions but budget was a constraint.
At the end, Himalaya Expeditions decided to continue the event.
It was tough for us to conduct the first few editions but the marathon steadily gained popularity and we are doing well now.
What is your experience of the last 10 editions?
I always listened to the suggestions from locals, government agencies, experts to take the event forward. I was never looking for magical success. I invested major portion myself to conduct the event but always tried to make it a participatory event.
How do you manage an event with such a huge participation?
I am a tourism entrepreneur and a businessman but I am a Nepali first.
I could have organized the marathon with big promotional investment and inviting experts and technical manpower from Europe, America or India. However, I preferred local experts.
More than 100 foreigners participated this year. If the success continues, we will register 300 foreigners in the next edition.
Few years back a visually-impaired person also took part in the marathon. I think it was only because we assured his family of his safety.
What is the impact of the event on tourism at large?
The marathon is progressing gradually. In tourism business, we cannot sit comfortably basking on short-term succcess. We have to keep on exploring new ideas.
The marathon has helped business in Everest area flourish. Earlier, hotels and restaurants in the Everest area closed by May 5 every year. Now, the tourist season in the area continues till June 5 because of the marathon.
We want to organize such events also to help local people generate income. Local people should be the major beneficiaries of such events.
Do you have any other programs of similar type?
Yes, we do. Such events not only promote sports but also contribute to the development of tourism.
We are organizing Annapurna Marathon bi-annually in memory of Dr Harka Bahadur Gurung, the first tourism expert of the country and Maurice Herzog, the first person to scale Mt Annapurna who also became the first person to scale peaks over 8,000 meters on June 3, 1950. We had organized its first edition last year and we will organize the next edition on June 3, 2013.
Likewise, we will organize the First Buddhist Marathon in Lumbini on December 5, 2012 to promote Lumbini. This event is being held on the initiative of the Thai ambassador to Nepal, as he was impressed after witnessing the last edition of Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon.