The occasional accession of Nepal to the tourism bucket lists that some famed travel magazines publish at different times adds to the excitement and hopes of both travelers and hosts. Travelers intrinsically intend to get best out of what their valued holiday time has to offer from their predefined destination choice and holidaying mode. In the case of mountain tourism in Nepal, the idyllic white mountain landscape and its majestic upstanding has always been a lure to international and even domestic travelers as a destination. Nevertheless, the stocking and auditing of tourism resources plus identification of constrictions for further development of the industry- a selling policy agenda among political parties especially ahead of election, in and between switching governments, tourism marketeers and stakeholders is, not under the purview of this article. This article simply aims to weigh on the evolutionary process that the mountain ecotourism in Nepal is heading onto amid the growth of international trekkers and domestic revelers in the region.
Nepal as a trekking destination
People’s restlessness to see as much of this planet has never been more thanks to the information technology and advancement in all three modes of transportation–air, land and sea. International arrivals to Nepal began along with the tourism spree that shot up international stayovers after the World War II. As historical data shows, the incremental international stayover to Nepal was even ahead of most other Asian nations in terms of time it began, and numbers visited by within a short span of decade. The first successful ascent of Mt. Everest has led to the craze of idiosyncratic mountaineering enthusiasts ever since. For others, just the glare of the snowclad mountains right next to their trekking hills is something more than once in a lifetime experience. This appealing imagination of touring uphills and around mountains if not summiting them, has been historically so inviting that people from western rich countries, perhaps out of stressful cosmopolitan life, sought to ‘escape’ into this rugged mountain terrain, trudging for weeks or even months with some porters hired to carry necessities. ‘Tents would have been set up at the village we ended up by the day with the help of the porters and dinners prepared at the camps,’ said a 78-year-old nostalgic British repeat trekker, this author encountered on the way, in exhausted tone. This routine journey continued along the beautifully-maintained and mostly stone-paved village trails to the complete peace and tranquility of the trekkers. This was a complete bliss for naturist ecotourists.
Trails to road and camps to hotels: a transition
The development dream of native citizens to add to quality of life is something a modern democratic government should not and can not avoid. The fair share of this dream, since the inception of bulldozer spree brought upon after democratic government back in 1990 could not leave this ecologically sensitive zone alone. Poorly-planned or unplanned at most places, and reckless village access roads were the norms in the name of development as elsewhere in the country. The scenes become heart-wrenching when you see the centuries old, beautifully stone-paved trails of cultural, historic and touristic importance being trashed out by bulldozed dusty roads. Modernity is ugly when it overrides the historic heritage and cultural pride. The hedonistic trekkers have tramped leisurely on the serenity even at a place where a gentle nudge would be enough to roll them down the cliff. One could hear some murmur on how being misled from the peaceful trail to align with the superseding roadway was to their disgust. This is not the way the trekkers intend to submerge themselves and ‘escape’ out into the captivating paradise of nature through the trail. Upon this author’s curiosity, one of the villagers replied ‘We need road to reach to our village, tourism has nothing to do with us, it’s only for some less than 10 percent.’ With this reply a bundle of concerns, including that of not being opportune and left behind of far-flying tourism board, were spilled over. The villagers however, are right in a way. The only question is why not the midway? Why the planners and other stakeholders were so dumb to wreck the centuries old precious historic and cultural heritage and not plan a road through places whereby the trails would be intact?
The other transformative change is booming of guest houses and inns in the villages along the trekking routes with modern ambience adding job opportunities for some. Gone are the days where the trekkers had to set up camps on the way. A trekker can book an accommodation where s/he intends to spend the night and day in. Some local produces are consumed and as a result farming is encouraged to reduce tourism leakages. It is however, still a question whether the involvement of some moneyed people from the community into this business, and other out of the board, keep the community integrity maintained so far, intact. What is in plan of all the agencies concerned to bring the fair share of tourism in the community to all its members, is a matter of concern.
Tourism in communities is touted as more sustainable, given its members have equal participation in it. A sense of place in community, adorned with past heritage and tradition is a vital tourism resource apart from environmental attraction. In the above case, it is rich in both. The local aspirations of improved accessibility and development at the cost of niche tourism resources mentioned above should be rejected outright. Sooner or later roads to human settlements like in Ghandruk village and Ghorepani will add to the development of the place and make lives easier for locals but settlements like such themselves, should not be linked with roads one to other except their linkages with core access roads like Nayapul or other market points, in such fragile trekking routes to avoid riding on top, to the woes of trekkers, animals and birds alike and even to the best interests of the hosts who will be affected most by the cutting of stayovers by visitors if allowed to ride from settlement to settlement.