We are back to ‘civilisation’ after 19 days walking in the Himalayas. Over this time I’ve managed just over 3 1/2 hours of filming time and around 1000 photos. I filmed less than I hoped, but believe that we have captured some quality material. From two months travelling and talking to local people we now have about 20 hours of film, about half of this from Thailand. It is already clear to me that there are some special people and special things happening in Thailand. Back to Nepal. Here are some reflections from the last 19 days. We’ve had an amazing journey. Despite our challenges with illness we managed to experience and appreciate some stunning landscapes as we followed the Marsyangdi river towards its source. Early on in the journey there was clear evidence of deforestation. The building of the road also became a part of the thinking and reflections on present and future changes. As we moved into higher altitudes we came to people who are originally of Tibetan origin. My impression is that these are very strong people who possess a strong connection with their local environment, with rivers, forest, mountains. Not all are as aware as others, but it seemed to me that there is strong local leadership in places such as Chame and Manang. These people who are providing leadership need to be supported as much as possible. Our high point was Thurong La Pass, but the night before at Thurong Phedi was something special. Michung Gurung had a clarity, directness, and practical wisdom that I believe can only come from living with the power of high mountains and appreciating the true power of nature.
Beyond Thorong La our experiences were quite different. We no longer had this huge high altitude challenge ahead of us. We also struck a level of development that surprised me. The building of a road is far more advanced on this side. The more we walked, the more we listened and saw, the more the girls and I became very upset by this development. It is impacting, and will continue to impact, on local communities, local economies and on the environment. Nature will prevail in a region that is already prone to erosion, landslides, flooding. They are building the road, by hand, through some very unstable terrain. It can’t and won’t survive in my view… certainly not without a huge and ever increasing input of resources. If I put climate change into the mix then I see very big challenges for communities that are becoming less self sufficient and resilient.
The saddest thing about all of this is that everything that has happened in the Annapurna region over the last decade or so has involved the undoing of the Annapurna Conservation Area Project. It is worthwhile reflecting on the summary I wrote on ACAP three weeks ago, before we began trekking. In the summary I quoted the following:
“The multifaceted problems of the Annapurna Conservation Area have been addressed through an integrated, community-based conservation and development approach, an experimental model which has been in the vanguard of promoting the concepts of ‘Conservation Area’ through an ‘Integrated Conservation and Development Programme’ approach in the country and abroad.”
The road through the Kali Gandaki, combined with the destruction of ACAP offices in some villages, has been the undoing of this programme. My view is that communities will be increasingly vulnerable and less resilient as a result. As I said in the Marpha post (Into the Kali Gandaki and the reality of the road, 16 April) our fixation with building more and more roads is consistent with what my friend, Dave, calls “straight line thinking”. It’s the type of thinking that prevails with our addiction to fossil fuels, and the belief that continued economic growth is good for us all. At what cost?