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Annapurna Trekking Threatened by Road Building
Construction projects receive support but some urge for alternatives
Rup Narayan Dhakal (a2zruna)     Print Article 
Published 2007-05-11 11:47 (KST)   
As a mountainous country Nepal is suited to tourism, particularly for those interested in trekking and mountaineering. Though development itself is not a bad phenomenon, in recent years, Nepal's trekking areas have been facing the threat of road extension from different corners.

Dusty environment of Beni-Jomsom off road
©2007 Ram Gurung

Nepal is one of the world's top-ten trekking destinations, and the Annapurna Region, also known as the Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA), is now under threat of just such a road expansion. The ACA (7,629 sq. kilometers/ 4740 sq. miles) covers the area of 55 village development committees of five districts: Kaski, Lamjung, Myagdi, Manang and Mustang of Nepal.

The 215 kilometer (133 mile) long Annapurna circuit a.k.a. Round Annapurna of ACA is the most charming part of this area and it used to take a minimum of 22 days for trekkers to complete the whole round. But in recent times, according to Sanjiv Thapa, president of the trekking agencies' association of Nepal, western chapter Pokhara, it takes only 16 days to complete this round due to the expansion of rural roads in this area.

A passenger bus at Dhampus in ACA
©2007 Ram Gurung

The roads hamper the jungle, water springs, and local cultures as well as possibly inviting landslides. Nepal Tourism Board executive member Basu Dev Tripathi also said that the extension of the road was dangerous for that trekking area.

The road from Myagdi district headquarter Beni to Mustang district headquarter Jomsom (65 kilometers/ 40 miles) is now under construction. According to chief of construction Krishna Raya of the Nepal army, the construction will be completed within two years. Similarly, the road from Lamjung district headquarter Beshishahar to the Chame of Manang district headquarter (65 kilometers) is also now being built by the Nepal army.

Trekkers read the map of ACA
©2007 Ram Gurung

It is said that the road will reach Chame within a year. The vehicular movements from Pokhara to Beni and Dumre of Prithvi highway to Beshishahar have already been continuing for years. Trekkers used to walk where now vehicles are driven, and now most of them take the services of motorbikes and jeeps instead of trekking in the road areas.

Most of the parts of the road still to be built remain in the ACA and the Nepal army in particular is now active in this job. Besides these major two roads, villagers are building a number of rural roads within the area. Dhampus is an example, people from there have pulled the road from Pokhara. A few years ago, tourists had to allocate a minimum of two days to reach Dhampus from Pokhara.

Workers building Beni-Jomsom road.
©2007 Ram Gurung

A hotel owner Bhuwan Gauchan of Bhurung in the ACA said trekkers who want to walk and locals are facing the problem of dust due to the construction of off-roads and vehicular movements. "We are not opponents of road construction but we want alternatives," he said. "If we have no alternative, our business will collapse."

A tourism entrepreneur in the Annapurna Region, Anil Hirachan said that the government and the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) had to come up with some solution.

He suggests that new trekking routes should be explored in this region to avoid the threat of road extension. Anu Kumari Lama, a tourism officer in ACAP claims that her project is making plans to develop new routes in this region. According to her, the road is an opportunity to carry conservation and development together. The main circuit (round) of ACA starts from Lamjung and ends in Kaski. However there are dozens of other long and short trekking routes within this area.

Manang village, Gangapurna Lake and Mt. Gangapurna in ACA
©2007 Krishna Mani Baral

"There are directly involved some 5,000 employees in 1000 hotels, lodges and restaurants within the region," according to tourism expert Sudarshan Pradhan in this region. Thousands of tourism entrepreneurs, porters and tourist guides from outside the region are also involved in this ACA. Pradhan claims that roads are going to ruin all employment in this region. He suggests extending the airports in Mustang and Manang instead of building roads in this region.

"If there is peace, the nation can gain 2,220 million Nepali rupees (US$33,989,910) from 60,000 tourists annually," Pradhan calculates. Each tourist spends some 35,000 Nepali rupees (US$535). ACAP that issues the entry permit in ACA has got 120 million rupees (US$1,837,292) from the trekkers annually. According to ACAP, 37,901 tourists in 2006 and 76,407 tourists in 2000 visited this area.

Most of the villagers are not opposing the road construction. Some villagers claim that their villages will be like Darjeeling, Kashmir or Switzerland if the road arrives in their village. Seminars that are organized in the city area like Pokhara or Kathmandu could be organized in the lap of beautiful mountains and older trekkers also could enjoy that beauty if there is a road in the ACA, they said.

Workers busy in constructing the road from Beni to Jomsom.
©2007 Rup Narayan Dhakal

If one wishes to trek Upper Mustang, the price is US$700 for 10 days and US$70 for every extra day. Upper Mustang entry fees are collected by the Immigration Department of Nepal. Most of the tourism entrepreneurs have urged the reduction of all the entry fees, saying that the fees are higher than in the Everest Region of Nepal.

Scenic mountain views, cultural diversity, flora and fauna are the major attractions within the region.

One of the world's largest rhododendron forests is in Myagdi, the world's deepest gorge (6967 meters/ 22857 feet ) is at Kaligandki, Tilicho Lake, the highest lake in the world (4919 meters/ 16138 feet), is in Manang and there are abundant hot water springs.

Additionally, beautiful mountains like Annapurna I (8091 meters/ 26545 feet), Dhaulagiri (8167 meters/ 26794 feet), Machhapuchre a.k.a. Fishtail (6997 meters/ 22956 feet), the famous Muktinath Temple, decades old monasteries in Mustang and Mustangi King Jigmi Palbar Bista's palace in Lo-Manthang of Upper Mustang are also attractions in the ACA.

A Japanese tourist, Ms. Masayo Kiyota Dolan fascinated by the beauty of Himalayas when she visited this region told me. "I like Annapurna Region very much."

Trekking in Nepal started in the 1950s. Then the role of Gurkha soldiers in the British Army was very much appreciated because they promoted the Annapurna Region to their colleagues. Before that, famous Japanese monk and explorer Ekai Kawaguchi is considered to be the first tourist who visited the Mustang of Annapurna Region in 1899 while on his way to Tibet.

Tourism expert Jhalak Thapa of Pokhara and his friend Robert explored dozens of trekking routs in this region before the establishment of ACAP. French citizen Maurice Herzog with the company of Louis Lachenal, on June 3 1950 became the first person to climb a peak over 8000 meters (26,246 feet), climbing Annapurna I (8,091 meters/ 26545) of the Annapurna Region.

Swiss geographer and Nepal expert Tony Hagan also had a big role in promoting the Annapurna Region.

In the period of Nepal's decade long conflict Maoists used to collect "taxes," as they said, but now they have stopped this job in ACA.

"ACAP is preserving the region collaborating with the locals however the project is these days is not active as like before in the region," claim the tourism entrepreneurs. The project was established in 1986 and now is under the National Trust for Nature Conservation.

There are around 100,000 people living in the 420 habitats of this region. Gurung, Magar, Bhotia, Thakali, Manangis are the major ethnic groups and Marshyangdi, Kali Gandaki, Seti, Madi, Modi, Mardi are the major rivers in this region.

According to ACAP, there are 1226 species of plants, 102 mammals, 474 birds, 39 reptiles and 22 amphibians within the area.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Rup Narayan Dhakal

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