When tourism entrepreneur Ang Tshiring Sherpa passed away, several media published reports along with a photo of another tourism entrepreneur with the same name who was the former President of Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA). Despite being a well-known name, many could neither find a photo of Ang Tshiring Sherpa nor could they recognise him. The reason was his style, hard work and active contribution to tourism from behind but rarely visible in public or seeking recognition.
Shortly after that, certain Nepali vested media went on reporting about a "Yeti scandal". There was hardly a day that these media houses did not run headlines without mentioning the scandal. However, the person related to the “group” mentioned by the media did not appear anywhere to refute such news reports.
Tourism entrepreneur Ang Tshiring Sherpa and then Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Rabindra Prasad Adhikari lost their lives in a helicopter crash in Pathibara, Taplejung district, on March 9, 2019. Lakhpa Sonam Sherpa, who runs dozens of companies, including Thamserku Trekking — the leading trekking agency in Nepal — is a senior member of the family and elder brother of Late Ang Tshiring Sherpa.
Even though "Yeti Group" as an entity as such does not exist and has never been registered with the Office of the Company Registrar, in the interview, he opined that there were still some leaders, middlemen and media houses with the belief that Sherpas should not rise above the level of porters. He made it clear that his family are victims and the target of such people.
Sherpa spoke openly about the challenges and his relationship with former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli.
Why have you not refuted these things in the media, why were you so mysterious and never seen?
I am not mysterious. I am an entrepreneur who has risen from an ordinary village to a place where we can contribute to the country. I don't like to talk in the media. Probably because I did not use the media, my family and I became victims of the media.
Today, I am giving this interview to Nepal Press and this is the first public interview I have given in my life. This is also the first time that I have to say something about how we are being made victims. I will gradually dispel these illusions, and how certain brokers are investing in the media and politicians to eliminate national industrialists like us.
It is not just me, also my brother late Ang Tshiring Sherpa was not in the habit of giving interviews or talking to the media about things we didn't have and talking out of place just to get attention and create discussions without working hard to achieve things.
Why did you remain silent when so many accusations were being made? Yeti group is also accused of being responsible for the NCP division?
We did not want to speak, and we were made the victim. But now I am forced to speak. What have we done for this country? How did we get to where we are today? We will talk about these things in detail.
Today, my family is the victim of certain vested media. Our companies are all different. Some media wrote serial stories saying that Yeti Group did this and that, they should go to the Company Registrar and understand whether there is such a group or not. So far, we have not registered any such company as Yeti Group.
However, now that these media houses have created this brand, we ourselves are now thinking that so many companies should now be registered as a group.
Since there is so much discussion about this group, how exactly did it all start?
We came from Solukhumbu about 35 years ago. Sherpas are known as porters. All three of us including my brothers started to do something in the tourism industry.
Today, we have provided direct employment to 2800 people. We knew the pain of the people of the mountains. We run the hotel system in a way that teaches people to venture out as hotels are needed everywhere.
We opened 8 hotels in the Everest area. There are 5 in Manang. Five are in the process of being opened in Mustang. There are 7 in Annapurna. We have invested in the Himalayan region, because the state has done nothing there. Let the living standard of the people of the Himalayan region rise. After we invested in the mountain region, the people there have employment. Local produce found a market.
Then we opened Yeti Airlines, exactly 23 years ago on this day. So with many aircraft we have not only done business. We have been providing services in Karnali from the very beginning even at a loss. Does the private sector trade at a loss?
However, we don’t see this only as a loss. We are providing services in remote areas because if we don't do this, tourism will not flourish and develop there.
Once a tourist enters Nepal, he gets the service of our company till he returns home. Thus, we have invested in infrastructure such as travel, trekking, mountaineering, hotels, and airlines.
When there was no epidemic, I was on a plane traveling for 6 months in a year. Searching for tourists in different countries, I went everywhere to do marketing. Because without marketing, there is no quality tourism
There are allegations that you had the government in your hands and built infrastructure on state property and government lands?
For us businessmen, the leaders of all political parties are the same. We have a good relationship with everyone. We will work no matter which government comes to power. We have not received additional assistance from the government and our business is not one to take advantage of additional assistance from the government. It is not our business to do business with government money. And how can we take the government in our hands?
As far as government land is concerned, I am confused and amazed at how this issue has been manipulated and made so big. We have built infrastructure on some of the lands of Nepal Trust. We have got those lands through competition by completing the tender process. After entering the process, the one who promises the most will get it,
Let's talk about the case of Durbar Marg itself, which was made a big issue. Seven companies participated when Nepal Trust invited tenders. There were 3 choices. When leased for 30 years, we offered to pay Rs 1.5 billion in rent. The second company offered Rs 620 million and the third party proposed Rs 220 million. We were the highest bidder. So in fact it was my misfortune to bid such a huge amount. But that’s fine because the money went to the state treasury.
Today you can buy land in Durbar Marg for Rs 1.5 billion.
We invested and have even laid tiles on the sidewalk. But no one will see it. Yet, we are accused of capturing government land when we paid the highest amount through competition.
What is the reason KP Oli has helped you so much?
The reason we had a good relationship with KP Oli was because he was open to listening and listened to us carefully. There are other leaders who do not do so as they see Sherpas only as potters. With him, we got to share our thoughts.
Other than that, neither have we given him any extra help, nor taken any additional benefit from him. One thing he did was make my eldest daughter an ambassador.
My daughter is capable herself; I didn't ask him to do so. Maybe he did it because she is the daughter of Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, she gave him that responsibility. Since UML and Pasang Lhamu are emotionally connected. And I am grateful to him for that.
There were up to four headlines a day. From the meeting of the CPN (Maoist) to the parliament and the roads, the government was attacked with the name Yeti Group. What were you thinking at that time?
Against our family, they wrote a story of a teleseries for 6 months. For the first week or so, I was scared. If the flames were not to be extinguished now, it seemed as if we would have to return to our home village again.
But as made-up stories were highlighted, we stopped caring. Instead when there was nothing on the day, we wondered what happened today!
I actually started to enjoy reading my own stories.
They politicized everything which is the reason I am here today talking to you. I want to talk openly and inform future generations about what we have done in history, why and how we were attacked, and what kind of people we actually are.
What is the reason for such an action against you? Who did it?
There is some political reason for this. In the internal dispute of the then CPN (Maoist), we were pulled into the politics. We have also heard business groups being involved.
Many leaders openly spoke out against the law passed by the parliament. We have to reveal the facts in details as they tried to deceive us in front of the people by showing us as frauds, instead of hard working people who contribute to the state, they portrayed us as evaders. Those who invest abroad attacked us using the media and leaders.
In fact, it is a battle between the middlemen and the national capitalists. By investing in the country, creating jobs here, paying billions of rupees to the state, we were made victims.
Why would they take revenge on you?
It could be frustration; jealousy and ego about also the mind-set that how did a Sherpa's son from a small village make such progress? How did he build an empire in the tourism industry?
They became jealous. The mentality that Sherpas are just porters, they should not be allowed to run the country's industry may have come in play as well.
Certain people who earn profit by importing goods from abroad, and sell them to the people, have captured politics and media. They do not allow productive, employment-oriented and prosperous industries to operate. Hence the reason we have become their first target.
Now that the KP Oli government has collapsed, you have become weak, haven't you?
We have nothing to do with change of government. The government has no investment in my business which is tourism business. This is not a government-funded business. If the government makes a good policy, tourists will come and that benefit is available not only to us but to all.
After the death of your brother the attack on Yeti started. Does it seem like a coincidence or not?
My brother Ang Tshiring used to be close to Congress leaders. That was his company. I met KP Oli and Madhav Nepal and had a good relationship with everyone. My brother was more capable than me in speaking and dealing with everyone.
For some years now, I have been sitting in the backseat and moving my brother forward. Now it seems that the group that attacked our family must have had some plan in it. They must have thought his brother is dead, and he has no one. But we have become stronger with such attacks.
When international flights were started by Himalaya Airlines, you are being attacked. Now we have also heard that Nepal Airlines is going to go to Yeti?
Our family felt that only Nepal Airlines was not sufficient to help the tourism industry and we needed international flights, and the country needed alternative airlines for tourism. So we decided to run international flights with tourists coming from our own company.
In the beginning, we partnered with Air Arabia and launched FlyYeti.com. But our company faced a lot of loss. So, I took the initiative to align with Indigo but it was also not successful.
Things started out when we talked to the Chinese and then we operated Himalaya Airlines. Now, we have four Airbuses and there are two others.
Now as far as Nepal Airlines is concerned, let's compare them and us. We bought an Airbus 320 for 50 million. The same aircraft was bought by Nepal Airlines for 105 million. The Airbus 320 that can carry 280 passengers bought by Nepal Airlines now carries only 180 passengers.
We have 4 big aircrafts, they have the same number. While we have 400 employees, Nepal Airlines has 1600 employees. Now you tell me, have we been bitten by a mad dog to take charge of such a company?
To convert Nepal Airlines into a company, you can also participate?
I am announcing today through you and Nepal Press that I do not need Nepal Airlines, whether they let me buy shares or give it to me to run for free. They are saying that I have an interest in it but I am announcing openly that I do not even want it for free.
There is no other company in the world as delicate as this. Let's compare Nepal Airlines with a history of 70 years and Himalaya Airlines that was built 4 years ago. I have made Himalaya airlines as good as Nepal Airlines, so why would I want that company?
Maybe there want to emotionally blackmail me by spreading rumours on how Yeti is taking over Nepal Airlines.
How can Nepal Airlines be improved? What is your suggestion?
The one who needs the suggestion should be the one asking. As it is the flag bearer of the country, it is important to protect it even if it is taken under a company model. They need someone like Shesh Gale as their chairman. Let's sell the shares to 2.5 million non-resident Nepalis and this organization will survive.
What about allegations on how people from Yeti Group are board members of Nepal Airlines?
If a Sherpa is appointed anywhere, these people will make up some kind of story. When Yanjom Sherpa was appointed at Nepal Trust; someone wrote that she is my younger sister. She is from Taplejung, I am from Solukhumbu. Now, you can understand how far they are willing to go.
People said Phurba Galgen Sherpa and Ishwori Poudel from Yeti have been appointed at the board of Nepal Airlines. But the truth is we do not have any relationship with them. Now, things like this do not bother me, I am able to digest all such propaganda.
You are considered a pioneer in Nepal's tourism industry. How long do you think it will take us to recover from the aftermath of COVID?
It will take at least three to four years. The world has been devastated, and different countries have now begun to move. And now we should not delay as well.
The situation is not as difficult as it was before. As most of the people are vaccinated, the tourism industry is now booming. Even in our case, almost everyone in Khumbu, the main tourist area, has been vaccinated.
Manang, Mustang and Annapurna have also been vaccinated. Even in Pokhara and Kathmandu, the tourist hotspots have gotten their vaccination.
Now the main thing needed is that the government remove the quarantine system immediately, it will be easier for us to bring tourists. But even after that it may take three to four months for things to go smoothly as we have our own process. We need to inform our clients about government policies. And to come to Nepal, they also have to make various preparations. Therefore, I request not to delay in giving the message that the quarantine has been removed.
Does this mean that the government is not helping the tourism industry to stay afloat?
Why is the government not interested, I'm surprised! No foreigner comes to Nepal to stay in quarantine. Even with the quarantine is removed; it will take us more than 3 years to revive the tourism industry.
People who have been vaccinated with a single vaccine no longer need to be quarantined. The demand for recent PCR and antigen testing can be done at the airport.
If the government cannot do so, nurses from the private sector can be placed at 6-7 counters for testing tourists and can be given immediate reports with no hassle. Assistance can also be obtained from the private sector.
Your company is the one who attracts the most tourists, how interested are tourists to come to Nepal right now?
Tourists are asking us about Nepal. But until the government makes a decision, Nepal will remain in the red zone in the eyes of other countries. Tourists visiting a red zone country do not have insurance coverage.
No one will come to visit at risk without insurance coverage. Some may come but the mainstay of our tourism is trekking and mountaineering. And they will not come as long as the situation is not safe.
Trekking brings revenue to the country, provides employment and relief to the people from villages. We can bring in tourists if the government only removes quarantine.
Is the tourism industry of other countries fully open?
It has opened in many countries including Europe. Tourists are being facilitated according to their protocol.
A country like Nepal, which has a lot of potential in tourism, should take the initiative itself. The government has to take the initiative, but it does not even listen to businessmen like us. There is no place to share the experiences of people like us who have lived in this industry for so long. If the government becomes a little serious about the tourism industry, no one else in the world can compete with Nepal.
We have some many mountains that are above 8,000 m and there are a huge numbers of them which are above 7,000? The government itself has not been able to measure them.
Even today, the country with so much potential has not been able to attract as many tourists as Bhutan, which has a population of 0.5 million.
In the tourism industry the government has no contribution at all. If the policies are good, this will only benefit our own country.
Many small entrepreneurs have already closed down. What is the current state of Thamserku?
Due to the pandemic business is ruined, we have lost billions.
Thamserku has had zero business for 2 years. And if the situation persists for more than a year, we will not be able to sustain it. Right now, we are keeping half of the staff at home and making half of them work, they are taking turns.