Tag Archives: Area

Annapurna Conservation Area: Some Thoughts on Tourism, Resources and the People

 

For a country roughly 1/67th the size of the US, Nepal packs a big punch, in natural resources at least. It has one of the largest water resources in the world, second only to Brazil, and the water runoff from the Himalayas flows down for miles as rivers and waterfalls, eventually turning into a water source for rivers in India, Bangladesh and other South Asian countries. For Nepal this extensive natural resource provides them with what would be perceived to many as an obvious source of renewable energy. And for the most part this is true; however Nepal’s strategic location as the faucet for South Asia means it must balance its diplomatic interests by ensuring they do not dry up their neighbour’s riverbeds with the creation of energy plants while ensuring the country can provide enough energy to meet the growing demand of its population. Moreover, it must balance its response to the country’s energy demand while ensuring its modernisation does not drive away one of Nepal’s largest incomes: tourism.

 

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A quick look at Nepal and it is easy to see why travellers flock to the country. It’s capital, Kathmandu, has the densest collection of UNESCO World Heritage sites with seven large monuments packed within a 15km radius. Large tracks of the Himalayas are protected as conservation areas, wildlife or hunting reserves, or national parks, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars it makes just in mountaineers attempting to summit Everest each year is a sizeable bolster to its economy and workforce. In addition to this, thousands of trekkers, rafters and climbers use Nepal’s mountains as an expansive playground for extreme sports (myself included). On top of all of this, it also boasts Chitwan National Park, another UNESCO World Heritage site, the only place in the world where visitors can have the chance of spotting a Bengal tiger as well as a rhinoceros.

 

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One of the most popular treks in Nepal is to Poon Hill, in the Annapurna Conservation Area. My group and I walked for five days from Laxmi to Ghudruk, and it was apparent even within that short space of time there was an abundance of life wherever we went. Electric blue butterflies the size of your hand fluttered on oversized blooming hibiscus flowers, rocks resembling blocks of silver sparkled in the light of water run-off from the proliferate amount of waterfalls in the area; and the villages, each unique to their particular mountainous region, with cultures and religions pre-dating Buddhism, appeared as though they had been preserved to an extent from the mass development and encroachment of modern life that was pervasive in Kathmandu.

 

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However it is just these people that the balance of development of renewable energy resources, conservation and tourism affect most. For many of these villages that reside in the Himalayas, electricity is offered for only limited hours a day. Alternative natural resources like timber or other wood for burning in stoves is limited due to conservation restrictions, meaning that the restricted allowance they are given is mostly used for tourists. Other amenities such as hot showers cost extra or are simply unavailable.

 

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For people that constantly invite tourists into their homes and spend their available resources on them, do they not deserve some of the basic amenities that people worldwide expect to use on a daily basis? But on the other hand, would visitors still flock to this region if it was kitted out with extensive hot shower units, tumble dryers and stoves, at the sacrifice of the Annapurna Conservation Area’s natural beauty?

Obviously the answer lies in between utilising the natural renewable energy resources in the area in a way that doesn’t detract or harm the local ecosystem of the region, but exactly how feasible is this? Should Nepal wait until innovations in renewable energy make it possible to do this, or will the waiting cause the country to miss its opportunity to take advantage of its status as an emerging market and grow into a world power others can take as an example? More importantly, how long will the Nepalese people be excluded from the basic amenities that other countries take for granted on a daily basis, and how will this affect their future?

What are your thoughts and ideas?

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Day 2 of Trekking in Annapurna: Tikhedunga to Ghorepani

Overnight, the clouds rolled in and by morning the surrounding mountains were enveloped in a dense white mist. Despite staring pointedly at the trail we would be trekking up that day it was impossible to gain a clear view of its path as it zigzagged up the sheer side of the cliff.

Still, the cool weather was a joyous welcome for some of our group, who were nursing hangovers after last night’s celebrations. Tenderly strapping on their boots, we all sat down together for a carb-loading breakfast session, before heading up into the misty clouds.

One of the scariest things when trekking in Nepal was crossing the bridges. Usually my fear of heights is reserved for airplanes, but crossing a wire bridge that wobbled beneath your feet with the sound of rapids crashing below is enough to put some sense into your head. On the bright side though we crossed so many of these bridges, including rickety, dilapidated wooden bridges, that within the first day I managed to quash my fear.

 

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Over the next several hours, we climbed up flights of stairs, each more steep than the other. Constructed from great slabs of rock hewn into the mountainside, their uneven size and slipperiness from the mist meant every lunge up the next step required concentration to stop ourselves slipping and falling down the mountainside. Which was difficult, given the beauty scenery that was unfolding beneath us.

Pausing for a breath, we all turned and looked down; the myriad of waterfalls and rapids twisted and turned below, creating an elegance normally found in cursive writing. The villages we passed through earlier could still be seen, the bright blues and whites of the buildings’ tin roofs clashing with the dark green mountains and rice paddy fields surrounding them, in a way that was pleasing to the eye. And the air; each breath was brisk and clean, like a deep intake on a cold winter’s day, the kind that chills your lungs and spreads to your toes but makes you feel purified and restored on the inside.

 

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Our efforts climbing up the hill all morning was rewarded with a lunch of soup and Dal Bhat at a hilltop restaurant. We were now firmly up in the clouds; any views were enjoyed earlier that morning were clouded over, bringing a chill on everyone as we ate. Presently a pack of three dogs and a cat trotted over to investigate, and hopefully glean a few morsels from us.

Open hilltops soon transformed into dense, dark green jungle, with foliage so thick only slivers of light managed to penetrate the blanket of leaves that had descended above us. The misty clouds continued to creep in however, giving the surroundings an eerie atmosphere. Tree roots and long beige vines twisted and contorted with one another into monstrous shapes, and the chirps of birds, which had been a constant background noise all morning, fell silent. Only the draping of ragged prayer flags, aged through the years by the adverse weather of the mountains, discerned to us that we were on the trail.

 

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After trudging along for several hours in hushed, whispered conversation, our group stopped as the trail came to a halt in front of a stone platform. A slab of rock bearing rings of various brown hues, along with designs in pink and yellow paint, was placed in the middle, while small stacks of stones were haphazardly placed around the platform. Falling silent, we stopped and looked at the scene in mild curiosity, as if waiting for its meaning to suddenly appear. Peering left and right, it seemed no one was around to ask, and with the light fading we continued our march on to Ghorepani.

 

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The next monument we came across featured a large grey tablet propped up on a stone platform. Runes were scribbled across the entire face of the stone in a language indiscernible to everyone, and this time we asked Narendra as to their meaning without hesitation.

“It’s hard to translate into English, but for some people you see, the people that live in these mountains they believe the gods, and urm, I guess you could call them spirits, live here,” Narendra explained.

“They believe they live in these mountains, and if you are crossing through and want a blessing or to give thanks, that you should bring prayer flags, or stack rocks around what you would call a shrine, for a blessing. Just to let them know you’re here.”

Looking around, with clouds of mist lazily circling around the twisted branches, and the shadows and greenery mixing together in the surroundings to create a murky backdrop, it was easy to see how people could believe gods and spirits inhabited these forests. A few of us scrambled around, looking for rocks to stack, and after some hasty building we moved on, eager to reach Ghorepani.

 

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A blue and white arch announced our arrival to the small village of Ghorepani, but our rest stop was still a distance away.

“Our teahouse has the best views of the mountains, the extra distance is worth it, “ Narendra promised.

Climbing up the last steep stairs of the day with the rest of Ghorepani below us, we turned and wandered around the large viewing platform and entrance to the teahouse. Gazing uneasily at the surrounding landscape encased in clouds, it seemed my dream of looking at the Himalayas would be dashed. Keeping my fingers crossed for better weather tomorrow, we brushed the dirt off of our boots and entered the teahouse.

While Narendra might have been wrong about the views, he was definitely correct about the teahouse. In the centre sat a wood burning oven, puffing out heat and emitting the pleasant scent of burning wood. Clothes were draped on hangers along the roof of the stove, and the brightly lit communal area, complete with a myriad of benches and chairs, gave the place a cheery, homely atmosphere.

A short while later and everyone was lounged around the stove or dining table, playing card games and chatting animately while cupping steaming mugs of coffee and tea. Narendra came and sat with us all, and after a short interval announced a group meeting.

“Right everyone, we need to be up and ready at the crack of dawn tomorrow. Yes yes, I know, it’s early, but we will get the best sunrise views of the Himalayan range, and enough time at Poon Hill.”

On that note everyone turned to one another, with grins from ear to ear, and eyes bright with excitement. A rumble of clouds alerted us to the gathering storm outside, and we watched as dark grey clouds loomed over the horizon, and turned around with uneasy looks tempering our excitement for tomorrow.

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I spent 12 days on Earthbound Expeditions’ Nepal Mountain and Tiger Tour, with our guide Narendra Timalsina, whom I would highly recommend. For more information about the tour, please click here.

I spent one night at the Nice View Point Lodge in Ghorepani, altitude 2850M, which I would also highly recommend. 

 

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Day 1: Trekking from Pokhara to Laxmi

 

We had been walking for several hours, but my enthusiasm had yet to die down. Like many others, I had spent years dreaming of visiting Nepal, only my visions of mountainous scenery were met with an altogether different scene when I exited Kathmandu airport. While the first few days in Nepal were met with a little trepidation that the entire country would match the hectic traffic and pollution of Kathmandu, the subsequent drive to Pokhara and our eventual stopping point allayed my fears. Instead, I spied from my window waterfalls thundering down gorges, with mountains in the purest shades of green towering over them. Rice paddy fields were hewn into the side of the cliff, as though they were a series of stairs that could tumble down the side at any moment. Lorries bedecked in every colour imaginable with tassels and other decorations normally reserved for ball gowns chugged past.

 

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Safe to say, by the time we had reached our starting point, I was bouncing on the spot in my eagerness to get hiking. And while I was revving to hike up the mountains, my pace had slowed considerably to stop and take photos of every waterfall and flower I saw. It was exactly this eagerness, and that of my fellow hikers, that our group’s guide Narendra was trying to tame.

 

“Guys, save your camera battery, there is scenery much better than this further up the mountains! Plus, we’re close to our lunch spot….” he called out. The promise of food and unimaginably breathtaking scenery instantly focused our efforts, and within a short interval we made it to our spot.

 

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One of the things travel companies forget to tell visitors to Nepal is the abundance of oxen and yak that inhabit the Himalayas. Every settlement we trekked through contained several, and near the end of our first day we happened across our first yak/oxen. This being the first time myself and several of our group had seen one, we leaned in closer to the fence to take a photo.

“Ahh no, I wouldn’t get to close to them. These aren’t like cows, they’re vicious, they attack humans and have been known to kill people, ” Narendra explained, and proceeded to tell all of us a story of one of his fellow guides who ventured too close to an ox, only to be chased down the path by it. Just as Narendra was mimicking his friend jumping in the air as the ox’s horns pricked his bum, the oxen standing before us let out a hoarse cough, turned to us with a wide stare and propped his ears up, as if to hear the punchline. Chuckling, we continued down the path, lest we suffered the same fate as Narendra’s friend.

 

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After a refreshing dip in a nearby waterfall, which was deceptively fast and caused several of us to fall over (myself multiple times, erasing any gracefulness I might have had) our group settled around a large table on the front porch of the Laxmi Guesthouse, drinking Everest beer, listening to music and chatting frequently, stopping only to watch the odd horse or group of pack mules wander past. With nightfall descending we joined our sherpas and Narendra inside, where we all sang and danced to Nepalese music; despite everyone’s best efforts no one could beat Narendra’s ‘chicken dance’.

After a third round of drinks Narenda warned us, “Make sure you don’t drink too much, you’ve all got a hard day tomorrow, and the last thing you want when climbing those stairs is a hangover!”

The thought of dragging ourselves up a never-ending series of steps up the mountainside while acclimatising to the altitude was warning enough for us. Well, most of us, as we found out the next morning.

 

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I spent 12 days on Earthbound Expeditions’ Nepal Mountain and Tiger Tour, with our guide Narendra Timalsina, whom I would highly recommend. For more information about the tour, please click here.

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