New Roads Bring Change And Danger To Nepal

Posted by on Jun 09, 2012 | Comments Off on New Roads Bring Change And Danger To Nepal


Nepal used to be the country where everybody walked, from schoolchildren in flip-flops and barefoot porters, to well-shod foreigners like me.

From my seat on the bus, I was more worried about preserving life than changing it.

I was travelling on the most notorious new road, which forces its way up the Kali Gandaki valley, in the west of Nepal.

This is the deepest gorge in the world… and I seemed to be falling into it.

Since the former Maoist rebels formed a government in 2008, however, and started reaching out across the Tibetan border to the Chinese, scores of new roads have been blasted and bulldozed across the Himalayas.

They are transforming the landscape and the lives of the people who live in it.

Absent tourists:


This road was certainly a borderline case. For the British trek leader Ann Foulkes, the journey was “11 of the worst hours of my life”.

It was not just the danger that bothered her but the desecration.

“I cried when I saw what they’d done to the valley,” she admitted.

The Kali Gandaki trek used to be one of the most celebrated walks in the world.

Pilgrims would toil up to the shrine of Muktinath to pay homage at the natural gas flame there and the holy spring that trickles beneath it. Triumphant hikers would stride down as they concluded the Annapurna Circuit which encircles the vast Himalayan massif at Nepal’s heart.

It may yet find its backroads become its escape route from historical domination by India – as long as it can maintain its historic new roads that is.

When we came to a waterfall, and a bridge hanging on one strut, even the fatalistic Nepalese passengers got out and walked – bags of apples and all.

No one seemed too worried. Walking was something they were used to. And until someone fixes the Himalayas, they will likely stay used to it for a good while yet.

How to listen to Fr

Tourists were choosing Everest Base Camp, he complained, or other remote regions without roads. “Who flies thousands of miles,” he asked me, “to walk beside a highway?”

Other local entrepreneurs were having better luck.

Orchards flourish in the gorge’s upper reaches, and almost every passenger on my bus clutched a bag of apples. More, bigger bags, lashed to the roof, were bound for India.

In Tatopani, a village with hot springs that used to be a honeypot for tired trekkers, I spoke to a pony-tailed guesthouse owner, Bhuwan Ganchan.

 Perhaps Nepal will lose some of the trekkers who support its economy, but it might yet trade its way out of poverty instead.

The greatest transformation, however, is taking place at the far, northern end of the Kali Gandaki road.

The sensitive border with Chinese Tibet is still closed to tourists but every day tractors and four-wheel-drive vehicles bring trailer-loads of Chinese goods.

Now, Indian pilgrims were taking what they called the “Muktinath Express” – a piggy-back ride on the back of a motorbike – right up to the shrine.




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