Nepal’s high season for tourism — October to December — is about to start, and the lodge owners, restaurant staff and tourist guides were excited.
Shivalaya boasts mountains, a gushing river, a campsite, a tourist information centre and clean lodges, which also provide mountain guides and porters. It is also the gateway to a relatively new hiking trail up the Himalayan Mountains called Numbur Cheese Circuit (NCC: named after the 6959-metre Numburchili peak and for the yak cheese produced in the area).
Taking 14 to 16 days to complete, the trek begins in Shivalaya, which is also the first stop on the 25-day trek to the Sagarmatha (Mt Everest) Base Camp, and provides a shorter route to the popular Namche Bazar in the Everest region. The NCC is part of a project called Employment and Peace-building through Local Economic Development (EmPLED) initiated in 2007 by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in partnership with the Nepal government. It aims to channel the tourist influx towards small locally run businesses that provide sustainable local employment, offering tourists unexplored trails, a chance to visit shops that sell indigenous products, and a taste of local life through the home-stay programme.
“The home-stay programme allows visitors to experience the rural Nepali household's life and the local community's culture,” says Rokat Basnet, chairman of the NCC Tourism Development Centre (NCCTDC) and one of the key people behind the new trekking route. The ILO and government have handed over responsibility to NCCTDC to promote the route.
Under the home-stay programme, tourists lodge with the homeowners’ family. The owners are not restaurateurs; their main source of living is farming or animal rearing. But their homes double as lodges for trekkers who want to stay with them after a hard day of hiking.
So far, 11 households in five villages on the circuit offer home-stay lodges. In 2009, the ILO trained one person in each of these households on cooking and housekeeping. There are plans to involve more families and places.
Extend economic growth to rural areas“These local economic development initiatives are niche in Nepal because they promote inclusive economic growth,” says Gerard McCarthy, ILO Chief Technical Advisor for EmPLED (Local Economic Development unit).
These initiatives come after the formal end of a decade-long Maoist insurgency in 2006 which stalled growth, and led many youths to leave for foreign lands to find employment. The initiatives are helping the people of rural places like Ramechhap tap local potential and provide an opportunity for sustainable development.
“Before the new trekking route opened, we did not see any foreign tourists making it this way,” says Nabarj Khadka of Lekali Trekking and Guest House in Garjang, the first stop on NCC after beginning a trek in Shivalaya. Some 25 to 30 foreign tourists have stayed at his lodge in the last two years.
The NCC is the result of a joint effort involving locals of the region, government officials from the district, businessmen (hoteliers and traders) and the ILO, which provided two foreign consultants to find a feasible route in 2009.
Basnet says the “virgin” route offers the breathtaking natural beauty of snow-capped Himalayan peaks, including Numburchuli, which is nearly 7,000 metres above sea level and the tallest in the circuit, and a view of glaciers closest to Kathmandu. Other attractions include alpine vegetation, the snow leopard, red panda, rhododendron flowers in the spring and summer, and yak cheese.
One of those trekkers is Richard Wallas, a writer and photographer from Rapid City, South Dakota in the United States. In his fourth trip to this Himalayan country, Wallas stayed for seven days at home-stay lodging in Khahare. “The experience was great,” he says. “It was one of the best things to do in Nepal.”
By Damakant Jayshi / Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS) Asia-Pacific