Tag Archives: Himalayas

How to Really Help Nepal

Annapurna Nepal River

With the endless images of collapsed buildings, reports of lost heritage sites and the varying statistics and numbers of lives lost, injured or missing, it can be difficult to compute, and easy to feel unable to help those in Nepal from thousands of miles away. And with the various aftershocks hitting the country, it looks like things are only going to get worse before they get better. Continue reading

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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 3 of Trekking in the Annapurna Conservation Area: Ghorepani, Poon Hill and Macchupuchare and Tadapani

 

Thunder crashed violently outside, causing the window to shake and jolt me out of my sleep. Checking the clock, 4:30am, I peered outside into the grey gloom as raindrops pelted the window like bullets and the trees swayed precariously in the wind. My hopes sank as I stared at the torrential storm outside, silently wishing it would die down soon. Determined not to let it get me down, I struggled in the dark to yank on my hiking clothes and boots and made my way downstairs, where a few others had also congregated.

“Unfortunately the weather is too bad for us to leave on time; we will need to wait awhile and hope it clears up. For now, I don’t know whether we will be able to make it to Poon Hill now, but the best thing to do for now is catch up on some sleep, and as soon as I think it’s safe to go outside I’ll let everyone know,” Narendra said.

My hopes sank a little lower as I resignedly trudged back to bed, praying to myself that the weather would clear up in a couple of hours as I snuggled under the sheets.

 

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Two hours later I stood outside, my prayers and wishes answered as I gazed up at the cloudy skyline of the Himalaya range. Although they were still partially shrouded in cloud, it was possible to discern the outline of the different mountains and their peaks. Although images of the Himalyan range of littered everywhere, from stores to street vendors and tourist agencies in Kathmandu, none of it prepares you for the actual enormity and expanse of the mountains. It wasn’t enough to simply look at them from a particular point; they stretched so far into the distance, that one had to walk  along in order just to catch a glimpse as the range continued to stretch further in the distance. My eyes scanned each and every ridge, in efforts to memorise it in my head, when a yelp on the ground below dragged my attention away.

“Oomphf!” down below, a young man that had spent the night camped in a tent slipped in a puddle, half of his side covered in mud. An entire school group had spent the night camped through the storm; by morning, their neon orange triangular tents had been blown into misshapen, feeble positions that forced the students to drag themselves out by their elbows. Watching as a thin line of them stomped and trudged through the mud to the toilets, it was amusing to watch as them as they stopped suddenly, their angry mutterings over their misfortunes the night before momentarily subsided as they stopped to appreciate the panoramic views laid out before them. Following their gaze upwards, I resumed my long fixation at the mountains until Narendra’s voice called us to begin our trek up the mountains.

 

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Any morose I might have felt at not reaching Poon Hill vanished as we reached the hilltop; with the weather rapidly clearing, every crag and overhang on the mountains were  clearly visible. Earlier Narendra had broken the news to us that our late start due to the weather meant a detour up Poon Hill was impossible; but he promised to take us up another hill just along our path that had equally good views of the Himalaya range. True to his word, we scrambled to the top and exchanged excited words with one another, as well as other groups and out porters. Tangles of prayer flags billowed as the wind blew fiercely, and yellow, white and purple wildflowers dotted the hillside below. Undulating mounds of green were crowded against one another on one side of the hill, whilst on the opposite side snow-capped peaks pierced through the stubborn remains of clouds from last night’s storm.

For what felt like hours we sat and stared at the mountains, appreciating how varied the landscape was in such a small pocket of the world.

 

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Eventually, after much goading and promises of more stunning scenery below, Narendra managed to convince our group to head down the hill and once again through the dense layer of trees. Just before I entered the forest, I turned around quickly for one last glance at the Himalayas before they slipped from view.

Once again, Nerendra’s hype had lived up to his promise. Small waterfalls tumbled off the nearby cliffs, eventually diverting into small droplets that fell off the petals of purple wildflowers that were rooted into the side of the cliff. Rapids and small stacks of stones, offerings to the various spirits that dwelled there, skirted along our neighbouring path, and shafts of sunlight dazzled brilliantly against the fresh, invigorating backdrop of foliage as we climbed down the never-ending stairs. Every few metres we stopped, taking photos or simply admiring and appreciating the sunshine that had been absent from the morning and night before. Soon the path began to rise again as we left the forest and another flight of steep stone staircases led up the mountain.

 

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“Narendra!” someone from our group gasped in between breaths, “I thought you said earlier that the rest of the trail today would be flat!”

 

“But this is flat, it’s Nepali flat! A little bit up, a little bit down!” Narendra exclaimed, while making snaking movements with his hands. With laughter all round, we continued to huff and puff up the mountain, wondering and discussing what other alternative Nepalese definitions existed.

Entering a clearing at the top of the staircase we all shuffled into the centre and suddenly, the Himalayas reappeared into view. Nearby was our accommodation, which although very basic, provided us with the best views of Macchupuchare, or Fishtail Mountain.  It is believed this mountain to be particularly sacred to the god Shiva, and as a result it is forbidden for mountaineers to summit or climb it.

With the sun out full blaze, everyone quickly assembled onto the front yard, the porters playing a Nepalese board game, Narendra flitting about and chatting to everyone and the rest drinking beer, playing cards and taking photos., occasionally stopping to admire the towering backdrop of the Himalayas. As the day drew to a close and we moved inside, Narendra organised a group huddle and explained, “Tomorrow morning, you will get the best sunrise views of the mountains, so make sure you’re up early, say 4:30am, if you want to take photos. I’ll be up to knock on doors if you like!”

Excited at the prospect of sunrise views, we all made note to rise early, and then resumed our babble around the table over steaming portions of dinner as the sun slipped from view.

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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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