KATHMANDU - Nepal intends to distribute free mobile SIM cards to trekkers travelling alone to remote corners of the country, to address safety concerns and aid any rescue efforts, an official said Thursday.
Tens of thousands of independent trekkers arrive in the Himalayan nation every year, with the majority travelling through the scenic Annapurna, Langtang and Khumbu regions.
Recent reports about missing hikers prompted the government to launch the new initiative, which will see officials distribute mandatory SIM cards to all solo trekkers when they apply for required entry permits.
"We hope to start distributing free SIM cards within a month," said Sharad Pradhan, spokesman of the national Nepal Tourism Board.
"The cards will allow us to trace the location of missing trekkers, so we can get them help in a timely fashion," Pradhan told AFP.
He said plans were also underway to develop an easy to recall emergency number that stranded travellers could contact in case they needed urgent help.
A 39-year-old German tourist, Ümit Aslim, was reported missing last month while on a five-day trek along the Annapurna circuit.
Last November, a 23-year-old Australian, Matthew Allpress, was listed as a missing person when he lost contact with his family back home while trekking through the same region.
Trekking groups in Nepal are required to travel with a guide, however, it has never been compulsory for independent hikers.
A rash of assaults on foreign travellers in 2012 led to US Embassy and British Foreign Office warnings against trekking alone, in a blow to the impoverished country's key tourism sector.