Parks Beyond Borders: It's All In A Name At World's Highest, Newest National Park; Thai Parks Cope With Bikinis, Higher Fees

China names world's highest national park—Qomolangma National Park—that includes Mount Everest, but renames the mountain after the Tibetan "Mother Goddess of the Earth." The peak is also spelled Chomolungma. Photo by Pavel Novak.

World's Highest National Park "Named"

According to the Xinhua News Agency, the highest national park in the world opened last Friday, October 26th, in “China's Tibet.”

Datelined “Lhasa,” the story on xinhuanet.com described the 30,000 square-mile, 78,000 square kilometer Qomolangma National Park as situated at the border of China and Nepal, covering six counties of the Xigaze Prefecture in “China's Tibet Autonomous Region.” The site is a “central news service-oriented website ... organ of the central government.”

In the West, Qomolangma, or Chomolungma, is most often referred to as Mount Everest, named in 1865 by Andrew Waugh, the British Surveyor General of India, arguing that “with the plethora of local names, it would be difficult to favour one name over all others. So, he decided that Peak XV should be named after George Everest, his predecessor as Surveyor General,” says Wikipedia.

Waugh, who had retained local names for some summits, such as Dhauligiri, was stymied in the search for a local tag for “Everest” by Tibet’s and Nepal’s exclusion of foreigners where the Tibetan name had long been Chomolungma. That name had indeed appeared on a 1733 map published in Paris, but Waugh went his way.

With the formal naming of the world’s highest national park—China seems intent on changing that. Qomolangma and Chomolungma mean “Mother Goddess of the Earth” in Tibetan.

The People’s Daily, says, “Though the Chinese marked the location of Mount Qomolangma, the world's highest peak, on their map more than 280 years ago, Westerners today continue to refer to the peak as Mount Everest, rather than Tibetans’ Goddess Qomolangma, the peak's original name. It is time, say scholars and Tibetans, for the world to rectify the error made by the British colonialists over a century ago.”

The site quotes Gelek, a Tibetan scholar with China’s Tibetology Center in Beijing, as saying, “it is high time the Western world respect us Tibetans by recognizing the highest peak on earth in its Tibetan name.” (It goes without saying that the Tibetans also say their country is not part of China.)

The park “includes five mountain peaks with altitudes of more than 8,000 meters, such as Mount Qomolangma. More than 10 others are over 7,000 meters, according to Sun Yongping, deputy chief of the region's tourism bureau. The national park will be focused on the protection of the ecology and biodiversity and prevention from illegal resource exploitation or land use."

The Xinhua News Agency story says, “The parks are part of Tibetan efforts to turn the region into ‘an important world destination,’ which is also a target of the central government. As the world's highest peak, 8,848-meter-high Mount Qomolangma is favored by tourists from all over the world. This year, the zone has received more than 73,000 tourists.”

The area is “predominantly populated by ethnic Tibetans and prevailed by Buddhist culture,” says the park announcement article. “Apart from scenic sports, tourist destinations include Tibetan Buddhism heritage sites such as Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple and Zhaxi Lhunbo Monastery.”

Unlike some nations, where political attacks on national parks and budget cutting strategies seem to doubt the value of parks as important infrastructure that drives a tourism economy, China seems focused on the “nearly 300,000 people in the region ... employed in the tourism sector” and that “the number of tourists traveling to Tibet has been growing by an average of 30 percent annually in the past five years. Last year, more than 8.69 million people visited Tibet, bringing in tourism revenue of 9.7 billion yuan. Authorities aim to see 15 million tourists annually by 2015.”

The park is “Tibet's third national park following the Namtso National Park, which opened earlier this week and the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon National Park, which opened in 2010.” The latter park’s “Grand Canyon” name seems intent on borrowing, not changing, the cachet of another well-known park in the “Western world.”

Thai National Parks Ban Bikinis, Delay Fee Hike

Last week the Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plants Conservation said “female tourists should not strip down to bikini swimwear when visiting Erawan National Park ... to improve tourist safety and a respect for local culture.”

An article in TTR Weekly, which “covers travel trade news in the Mekong Region from Bangkok,” explained the move saying international travelers attracted to Erawan’s scenic waterfalls had become increasingly prone to wandering elsewhere in the park sans suitable duds.

The park department’s Wittaya Hongwiaengjan, said “the park is a ‘test venue’ to promote ‘appropriate dress.’" It is the second most popular venue after Khao Yai National Park, also a venue where foreigners sport bikinis or scanty swimwear at popular waterfalls.

He said the risks include those “from nature as there are plenty of crawling and flying insects that will bite exposed parts of the body, particularly the regions used for sitting. There are also other dangers such as sun burn or even sun stroke and during the rainy seasons there is an abundance of leeches.”

The article said the park’s director primarily attributed the problem to the “cultural shock” of “foreign women parading in their bikinis could be viewed as a kind of ‘sexual harassment.’ There are monks and children who visit the sites so foreigners should respect this fact.”

Erawan National Park will still permit tourists to “wear bikinis at spots where they can swim, but they needed to act appropriately on the way to and from waterfalls.” That includes “a vest and use a towel from waist down,” for women, and for men, “loose pants over their swimming trunks ...”

The article said the “major attraction of the park is Erawan Falls, a waterfall named after the erawan, the three-headed white elephant of Hindu mythology. The seven-tiered falls are said to resemble the erawan. There are also four caves in the park: Mi, Rua, Wang Bahdan, and Phartat.”

Founded in 1975, Erawan is Thailand’s 12th national park and is ranked fifth in visitation. “Around 400,000 tourists visit Erawan National Park annually. Of that, 250,000 are Thais and 150,000 are foreigners, particularly Russian tourists.”

Meanwhile, a controversial 150% fee hike proposed to start at twenty-nine popular Thai parks on October 1st has been delayed tilled January 1st, 2013 to give tourism interests time to voice concerns.

According to another article in TTR Weekly, “the Association of Thai Travel Agents as well as Thai Ecotourism and Adventure Travel Association submitted letters to the DNP as well as the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment demand a review.” The groups “complained that not enough advanced notice was given and that the department should have explained why it needed to make such hefty increases.”

On a practical level, the complainants said there had not been “enough time for tour operators to renegotiate rates with overseas partners that include" the cost of (higher) national park fees in packages.