Film project

A short clip from the villages of Chame and Manang in the Annapurna region of Nepal. Included is a brief interview with a local conservation officer.

This clip is a sample from the 34+ hours of film that I recorded in 2007 as part of an on-going film project. I’ve presently got a rough edited 25 minute segment of film but progress has been slow. Lack of funding has been the main impediment to completing this, so if you can help me in any way please let me know.

Final reflections from Nepal

Tomorrow we leave Nepal after being here for just over a month. Yesterday I gave a presentation to the core climate change group in Kathmandu, with representatives from the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC), WWF Nepal, IUCN, Winrock International and Practical Action.

The bulk of our time here has been spent walking the Annapurna circuit and doing what we could to interview local people along with dealing with illness and other challenges. Before we left I shared some information on the Annapurna Conservation Area Programme (ACAP). I think up to about ten years ago this was a very strong programme for protection and enhancement of the Annapurna region.

The disruption with the Maoists and the assassination of the royal family has created greater instability and a weakening of efforts by ACAP and others. Because of associations with the royal family the ACAP presence has been significantly affected, for example the Maoists destroyed the ACAP offices in Ghandruk village three years ago. This political instability along with political and economic pressure from China and India are some of the main reasons why the road is happening in the Annapurna region. My main message to the climate change group yesterday was the need to focus efforts on supporting wise, local leadership in developing and implementing future visions.

As I’ve already said here, we found good local people who simply need more support to encourage reafforestation programmes. In villages like Marpha and Ghandruk there are strong local communities at present, but they are facing challenges. Now is the time to act. We’re not going to solve the major issues of our time sitting around tables. We truly need to get beyond the talk and focus our collective efforts on positive, proactive change. Ecological restoration is a fundamental necessity, everywhere. As Michung Gurung from Thorong Phedi said to me, if we could channel things away from guns and wars into planting trees we might actually make some serious progress towards a truly sustainable future. As simple as it seems I believe it truly is this simple … if only we can get enough people to be more aware and focused on small, simple, practical actions.

Tomorrow we leave for Cairo, via Bangkok. After some days of anxiety I have finally heard from my contact in Egypt. I have been communicating with people from Sekem a very strong and positive initiative in Egypt that I am very interested to learn more about and share. Egypt will be very interesting and another dimension to the story, after 11 weeks in Asia. So far we’ve travelled from the south coast of Thailand, to hill tribes in the north, by the Mekong, to the lowlands, then on to Viet Nam from north to south and the Mekong Delta, and to Nepal walking high into the Himalayas. Now to a desert region and the Nile basin. We only have ten days there, enough to develop some impressions and meet some good people.

Community forestry project near Kathmandu

Today we went out from Kathmandu to the village of Lalitpur, in one of the hill areas that surround the Kathmandu Valley. Here we were assisted by Sarad Ghimire, a recent University graduate. This is his home village, a place where he grew up with the trees. Sixteen years ago the government gave the people of Lalitpur 96ha of land to manage. Initially there was scrub and pine trees, now there is a diverse regenerating forest with increasing numbers of birds and other animal species. With Sarad as translator I interviewed Mr Mani Ram Ghimire who is Chairman of the community forest management committee. There are 60 households involved in managing this common land and all are realising the many benefits of the regenerating forest, including a cooler local climate, fresher air, cleaner water, and importantly a more readily available firewood supply. The latter is carefully managed. The success of this programme is now serving as a model for other communities. It was certainly very refreshing to see such a positive initiative happening on the edge of Kathmandu, where there are multiple problems with issues such as air and water pollution, rapid population growth, urban spread, loss of tree cover. With ecological restoration now well underway the community of Lalitpur is now exploring potential economic developments that are in harmony with their local environment.

Sarad Ghimire with Gavin
Sarad Ghimire with Gavin
Community forestry project, Lalitupur village
Community forestry project, Lalitupur village

Reflections from trekking

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?

Ghandruk, our last stop, and then to Pokhara

It wasn’t until we came to Ghandruk, a village of Gurung (Ghurkha) people, that I managed another interview.  This is a large village, around 6000 people, with many challenges but very good community organisation.  With early support from the Annapurna Conservation Area Programme (ACAP) they have a strong community forestry programme and other positive initiatives. Unfortunately the local ACAP building, like others in the region, was demolished by the Maoists a few years ago and the ACAP workers fled to Pokhara. A lot of good work has been undone through such actions.

Soon after we arrived a massive thunderstorm descended over the village. After the rain cleared we went for a walk, asking after local people who I might be able to interview. We were directed to Kisam Gurung. We met and talked with Kisam Gurung that afternoon and interviewed him the next morning. He is a local leader and lodge owner. He informed us of positive initiatives within Ghandruk, including on-going community engagement with the community forestry programme initiated by ACAP. With the building of the road through the Kali Gandaki there is already increased presence of trekkers in this village, and that is likely to increase as alternative trekking routes are used. How the locals manage such pressures will be vital to their future.

A massive thunderstorm in the afternoon. People were saying that the monsoon rains have come a month early
A massive thunderstorm in the afternoon. People were saying that the monsoon rains have come a month early
Our last day. An excellent meeting and talk with Kisam Gurung, local community leader and lodge owner, here with his wife Ratna Gurung
Our last day. An excellent meeting and talk with Kisam Gurung, local community leader and lodge owner, here with his wife Ratna Gurung
Ghandruk is a large village of around 6000 people, wealthy from Gurkhas, smart people and working smartly with their environment but with local issues and challenges
Ghandruk is a large village of around 6000 people, wealthy from Gurkhas, smart people and working smartly with their environment but with local issues and challenges

After talking with Kisam Gurung his eldest daughter, Alisha Gurung, took us on a quick tour of the village.  Alisha is only 10 years old but clearly very bright, very socially aware and very strong minded. A future leader. A young tree that has potential to grow tall and strong.  It was a pleasure to meet this family.

Harvesting wheat
Harvesting wheat
Alisha Gurung, 10 years old, eldest child of Kisam and Ratna. A strong young tree, a potential future leader for this community. Hope for the future lies with children like Alisha
Alisha Gurung, 10 years old, eldest child of Kisam and Ratna. A strong young tree, a potential future leader for this community. Hope for the future lies with children like Alisha

We then walked out to the road end at Birethanti and on to Pokhara.

It's all over girls, you were absolutely awesome over the last 19 days. I’m so proud of you both. Time to walk out to Birethanti
It's all over girls, you were absolutely awesome over the last 19 days. I’m so proud of you both. Time to walk out to Birethanti
Walking down from Ghandruk. Keen to finish the trek now, but in the end very sad that is was all over
Walking down from Ghandruk. Keen to finish the trek now, but in the end very sad that is was all over

On to Ghoropani and Tadopani

From Tatopani we climbed towards Ghoropani. We only got as far as Shikha village before a thunderstorm hit, so stopped there for the night. Next day we climbed to Ghoropani where, arriving early, we were able to get some washing done. Next morning (21 April) we were up at 4.30am to watch the sunrise over Poon Hill. We descended for breakfast before setting out for Tadopani, feeling very energetic and running through the rhododendron forest.

Mountains, forest, terraced fields, a scene that conveys a sense of harmony between man and nature
Mountains, forest, terraced fields, a scene that conveys a sense of harmony between man and nature
Climbing through rhododendron forest to Ghoropani
Climbing through rhododendron forest to Ghoropani
Machapuchare at sunrise, and on the other side, Manang. A reflection on how far we had come, both physically and inwardly
Machapuchare at sunrise, and on the other side, Manang. A reflection on how far we had come, both physically and inwardly
The hunger for firewood to feed trekkers, keep them warm, and these days to provide hot showers. We can’t keep taking this for granted. Perhaps the wisdom of the Pakha Sukjai village leaders is needed here (see post from 20 February, 2007, “Lena’s 18th birthday”) with trekkers required to plant a tree for every day they are in Nepal. I don’t just mean giving money for tree planting, I mean being required to pay for and plant trees in the local communities that they trek through.
The hunger for firewood to feed trekkers, keep them warm, and these days to provide hot showers. We can’t keep taking this for granted. Perhaps the wisdom of the Pakha Sukjai village leaders is needed here (see post from 20 February, 2007, “Lena’s 18th birthday”) with trekkers required to plant a tree for every day they are in Nepal. I don’t just mean giving money for tree planting, I mean being required to pay for and plant trees in the local communities that they trek through.
More beautiful views after another afternoon downpour
More beautiful views after another afternoon downpour

To Tatopani, reflections on the road

After Marpha we had a long walk down through the Kali Gandaki valley to the village of Ghasa. For most of this walk we managed to avoid the road. From Ghasa to Tatopani the stupidity of the road became too much for me… so out came the camera as I filmed some of what I was seeing and shared my thoughts. This road was becoming a powerful metaphor for all the bad decision making in the world that ignores the obvious power of nature and benefits of working in harmony with local environments and wisdom of local people.

Building a road through one of the most stunningly beautiful valleys in the world, how stupid is that? A road that is a result of economic pressure from China and India, political instability in Nepal, and poorly informed local people living a dream of prosperity in a region made rich by its stunning beauty and people coming to walk and wonder
Building a road through one of the most stunningly beautiful valleys in the world, how stupid is that? A road that is a result of economic pressure from China and India, political instability in Nepal, and poorly informed local people living a dream of prosperity in a region made rich by its stunning beauty and people coming to walk and wonder
What direction do we want to go in? Working with nature or seeking to dominate nature?
What direction do we want to go in? Working with nature or seeking to dominate nature?

What direction do we want to go in? Do we want to be connected with, and working with nature. Or do we want to continue with the belief that we can dominate nature? The age of cheap oil has given us a false sense of our power, and it has fostered both laziness and greed.

A massive erosion face tells the story of how unstable this landscape is and how futile the road is through this region, particularly with future effects of climate change in the picture
A massive erosion face tells the story of how unstable this landscape is and how futile the road is through this region, particularly with future effects of climate change in the picture