EDITORIAL: Don’t ruin treks

While roads are needed for development, it is important to see that it does not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs

Imagine an autobahn from Lukla Airport to Everest Base Camp. Would it thrill visitors to the region with the world’s tallest mountain or cause dismay? Tourism entrepreneurs are concerned that the haphazard construction of motorable roads at the local levels in different parts of the country, with some passing through popular trekking regions, will kill the trekking business in Nepal. Trekking and mountaineering constitute the main attractions for 70 per cent of the visitors to this land of natural splendour, and if the beauty of the hinterlands is not allowed to stay pristine, it could very well ruin the trekking business.

The haphazard construction of roads increases the risk of deforestation and landslides, which will greatly impact the tourism business. Worse still, if settlement development in other parts of the country is any guide, it is only a matter of time before concrete buildings go up on either side of the motorable roads, giving rise to a concrete jungle.

Of particular concern is the destruction of the world-famous Annapurna Circuit, dubbed as one of the world’s 10 best trekking routes, which draws hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. With the construction of a north-south corridor to connect with the northern border, the route has not only got shortened but is also noisy and dusty due to the large number of vehicles that ply the road. If in the past it used to take 21 days to trek along this route from Besisahar to Naya Pul in Pokhara, which passes through Muktinath, Jomsom, Tatopani, Ghorepani and Birethanti, the trek can now be completed in about a week’s time.

The Tatopani-Chitre trek, which took two days on foot, can now be traversed by vehicle in three hours. Similarly, the trekking route from Pokhara to the picturesque Gurung village of Ghandruk is just about an hour by car. This means loss of business and revenue not only to the locals living along the Annapurna Circuit but also to the trekking agencies and the country as a whole.

Can something be done before it is too late? While roads are necessary to bring development to the rural and remote areas, it is equally important to see that it does not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, namely the trekking business. Apart from the central government, the local levels are known to use a good chunk of their budget on the haphazard construction of roads using heavy machinery, namely excavators, to dig up the soil. Such roads have done more damage to the locality than good as the roads built without adequate engineering homework make them prone to mud slips. Nepal is going through a difficult period of economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it has particularly hit hard the tourism industry that employed hundreds of thousands of people. It is unlikely that tourists will start trickling into the country in large numbers anytime soon. And when they do start coming, in all probability, they will do so to go trekking or climb a Himalayan peak. Thus, it would be in the interest of the country to declare trekking as a protected sector to preserve the trekking routes and not disturb the unique experience of trekking in a quiet and pristine environment.

Refinancing fund

Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) has so far approved Rs 83.13 billion for refinancing the industries and businesses that were adversely affected by the COV- ID-19 pandemic last year. The government had also brought a policy of refinancing them for a period of one year at 5 per cent interest rate. Till date, around 22 billion has been released out of the total amount approved. NRB has claimed that the refinancing process is running smoothly. Issuance of loans under this plan is taking time because of a large number of applications, which also need to be scrutinised thoroughly.

Under the refinancing policy, the small and medium-size enterprises that use domestic raw materials and others which contribute to substituting imports will get priority while disbursing the loans. More than 70 per cent of the loans will be mobilised through 45 banks and financial institutions across the country.

While the measure taken by the government and NRB to bail out the industries and businesses is a welcome move, the loans meant for the COVID-19 affected sectors must be disbursed without any further delay. At the same time, the loan seekers should also submit their papers, fulfilling the criteria set by the government and the NRB.