Finally we were all feeling good. Lena was determined for us to make up for lost time. It was a long day of walking as we tried to get to Dharapani. In the end we stopped at Karte, about 30 minutes short of Dharapani. We’d made up two and a half hours, which was very good going. Attempts to connect with local people and do more filming were on hold for the time being.
Thank goodness Ali had a good sleep and her energy levels steadily improved through the day. Lena was at her lowest this morning and seriously struggled for the first hour. We managed however and came to a nice place above the river with a breeze blowing and small waterfall nearby. We stopped there for about two hours to give Lena a good rest and also ate some chapati and cheese. Lena started picking up after this, but only had enough energy to get to the tiny village of Syanje, about three hours short of Chamje our original destination for the day.
As we walked I saw the road building activities on the other side of the river. I had reflected on this since talking to the two brothers at Bahundanda. My view is that this is a road to nowhere. It is being built in the wrong place for the wrong reasons. The problems of deforestation and landslides are clearly evident on our walk so far. With a real likelihood of more snow melt and more intense rainfall events I think landslides will become a far greater issue with climate change. It is very evident that the road that is being built will be severely affected by the combined effects of intense rainfall, deforestation and landslides. I don’t believe the resources will be there to maintain it, maybe not even to successfully complete it. I might be proved wrong, but that is my view. I think it would be far better to put the money being used to build the road into a concerted reafforestation programme.
The girls seemed better this morning as we left Khudi, although I was concerned with Ali who didn’t have much appetite. Lena seemed stronger. The first couple of hours were good, but the girls started losing energy after then, Ali in particular. Once we got past Bhulbhule I got the camera out and started doing some filming, the first I’ve done in Nepal. It was good to finally get back to doing this after two weeks. The challenge, however, was with Lena and Ali, particularly over the last leg, uphill to Bahundanda. This was particularly tough for Ali who was really struggling. Some food and rest seemed to do the trick, or so it seemed for a while!
Meanwhile I got talking to the owners of the Mountian View guest house, Bahundanda. They talked about past efforts at reafforestation, about 20 years ago, which have proved to be unsuccessful. The forest around their village was cleared as more people moved there. The problem now is that people are continuing to cut trees and burn the grass, with reafforestation efforts often negated with uncontrolled spread of fire. They have tried to talk to local people to stop cutting trees near the village, but to no effect. The other issue affecting them is the road that is being built to Manang, which will negatively impact on the environment and tourism. They would like support for a community development project in the area. Education is clearly the key.
Just when I thought things were coming right with Lena and Ali, Lena started going down again with diarrhoea. Our primary concern had been with Ali as it seemed Lena was OK, but this proved to be incorrect. Ali’s big need was for a good nights sleep. Lena was very distressed to be having diarrhoea again. It greatly distressed me as well to be seeing the girls so low.
It was a tough start to our journey around the Annapurna circuit with Lena and Ali both having had food poisoning yesterday. As we drove out of Kathmandu I reflected on the changes I have seen since I was there in 1983, 24 years ago. There are a lot more people and there is a lot more pollution. The rapid change in temperature that occurred over the last week, and affected ourselves with food poisoning and apparently many others, is a clear warning sign for the future. I see a serious deterioration in the environment of the Kathmandu valley.
The other thing that I noticed as we drove east is the level of haze, far worse than I remember. This was a major disappointment for Lena who had imagined us journeying into clear mountain air. Our road journey ended at Besisahar and then we walked to the village of Khudi, where we stayed the night. Not many trekkers stop here now, with the road for buses continuing to Bhulbhule. More on the road later. Our guide, Karma Lama, thought that Lena and Ali might be better for some walking, but they really struggled … even with only day packs to carry. It was a relief to get to the guest house.
I am presently sitting in our hotel room in Kathmandu, recovering from a bout of food poisoning. It was a real effort for me to get up this morning. I then had to gather my energy to make an appointment with Dr Siddhartha of the National Trust for Nature Conservation in Nepal.
I thought it would be useful to share some information about the area of Nepal that we will be in for the next three weeks. The information I have comes from a booklet given to me yesterday by Dr Siddhartha. This trust was formerly known as the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation and was established in 1982. Over the last two decades it has undertaken over 200 projects on nature conservation, biodiversity as well as cultural heritage protection, ecotourism, and sustainable development.
The Annapurna Conservation Area Project, launched in 1986, is the largest undertaking of the NTNC. The Annapurna region is the first Conservation Area and is the largest protected area in Nepal. “It covers an area of 7,629 sq km and is home to over 100,000 local residents of different ethnic, cultural and linguistic groups. ACAP is rich in biodiversity and is a treasure house for many plant and animal species.” It has one of the world’s deepest gorges, the Kali Gandaki Gorge, which is 3 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. “The region contains the world’s largest rhododendron forest in Ghorepani and the world’s highest lake, Tilicho, in Manang, south of the Annapurna massif.”
There are many issues in the ACAP region, not least of which is the impact of tourism. While tourism benefits the local economy it has also placed huge demands on fuel wood (consumption of fuel wood for tourism is twice that of the local people), and serious litter problems.
“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.