It’s tourist season with capital “S” up in far away Manang district in the Annapurna region. The number of visitors has reached higher levels than ever in the past, as far as local tourist entrepreneurs can recall. The main reason for this spike in tourism? A newly built road!
Roads can open up hitherto inaccessible areas. Yet prior to the road, critical voices felt that remoteness and mountain serenity were precisely what tourists came to Manang to enjoy, not the roar of a jeep or motorbike. A motorable road, some feared, would scare tourists away!
This year’s tourist count, however, proves the sceptics wrong, at least for now. Every day, hundreds of tourists visit Manang, most heading for the world famous Tilicho Lake at 4,929 metres above sea level, some even to Thorang La pass, easier to reach now than in the past.
The biggest spike is in domestic tourism, says head of the local tourism entrepreneur’s committee, Binod Gurung: “Among those who visit Manang are young couples and families. They come on bikes or other private or public vehicles.” Currently, Manang welcomes several hundred visitors every day, not least from Kathmandu, Pokhara, Butwal, Chitwan and Palpa.
This is not the only story on the upside of new roads to far away places, either. In Humla in northwestern Nepal, poor or no access to the national roads network left locals to rely on transportation of cargo by pack mule or air shipment for decades. But that’s about to end!
A new road from Tibet into Humla via the border town of Hilsa has done nothing less than revolutionized local transportation. Now food and construction materials, not least, reach towns and villages in Humla by jeep or truck, and that has reduced time as well as costs!
To be exact, the cost of transportation has been slashed by one third on average. Some goods have become even cheaper. For example, the price of cement has been cut by more than half, all thanks to cheaper transportation. Shipment by plane or mule simply costs more than by truck.
The reduced transportation cost is expected to boost local construction, consumption and development in general. Demand for truck drivers has even created jobs for local youth!
It’s also true, though, that some locals lose in this process. The traditional mule caravan drivers have less business now and are unable to compete with cheaper and faster transportation by jeep or truck. Those who love the silence of the mountains are not on the winning side, either.
Indeed, roads seem to penetrate still deeper into once remote and inaccessible parts of Nepal, even in hitherto completely isolated areas such as Manang and Humla. Good or bad? Well, only good if one asks locals who reap economic benefits – or who got faster to the hospital!
By the way, it was just announced that a new project with ADB funding is underway that will expand the Mugling-Pokhara road stretch. Who knows how that will affect the economy and amount of traffic over time to Pokhara and beyond. What else to say than: Let’s hit the road!