FEATURE: Sights and Sounds of Climate Change on the Great Himalayan Trail
In a small town called Beni, in a valley divided by a river and surrounded by green hills, the team are having a well deserved rest day. They are tired after walking for 65 days covering 936 km, but resolved in their mission. They are gulping pizza, burgers and other high calorie food that their friends brought from Pokhara, as they prepare themselves for a press conference being attended by Honorable Minister of Environment Hem Raj Tater and other prominent members of the government, civil society, and the business community of the town of Beni.
In the press conference, Dawa Steven Sherpa, two times summiteer of Mount Everest, reflected on what had been seen by the team so far on the trail. Two days previously they had stayed in Ghale Ghau village, where the villagers had started home stay tourism and currently there are 35 households offering their services.
The trekkers split up to stay in different houses for the night and saw a glimpse of village life. Dawa observed that due to lack of opportunities for work or education, youth have left the village. The impact of climate change was also visible. Erratic weather patterns are lessening agricultural productivity and a hailstorm had recently ruined vegetable production. This is a story repeated along the trail.
The most awaited speech was that of Apa Sherpa. Climate Change destroyed most of Apa’s properties back in 1985 during the Dig Tsho Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF). He succeeded in climbing Mt. Everest for the first time in 1990, and since then he has climbed it 21 times in 21 years.
Tourism gave his life back. Apa Sherpa had come to the Annapurna Range some 27 years ago. He said tourism is doing extremely well in this part of the region; however, there are certain threats. A glacial lake has formed above Siklish at the height of 2500 meters. People are scared as they think that the lake may burst anytime soon.
Next morning, I sat with Saurav Dhakal (British Council International Climate Champion and Journalist) to get his insights on climate change issues in the region that the team has covered so far. He mentioned a massive landslide in “Rasuwa District,” a central region in Nepal. He said roads are being constructed in the region without properly testing the structure of the soil. Such haphazard development is creating landslides. These are affecting transportation to Dunche, which is a tourist region and thus requires regular supply of commodities.
He also mentioned the closure of water mills in several areas due to reduction in the supply of water. Such water mills are important for villagers to husk and grind rice, millet, corn, and barley and can save them much physical labor. Such a simple but time saving technology is at threat if the river dries out.
My two days in Beni were vital for me to understand the complexity and dynamism of the problem that the Himalayas are facing. On one hand I have many reservations. Will any sort of development keep the villagers especially youth in the village? The lure of the urban life style and the challenges of rural life seem to have drawn them into the cities. Are they willing to go back and save the Himalayas? Will they show motivation to help their community adapt to climate change? Will tourism and agriculture be enough to attract them them? Can Nepal draw enough tourists to sustain the local economy without destroying the peace and tranquility that attracts them there in the first place? Is Apa fighting for a cause that will never catch on with today’s Nepali youth?
On the other hand, something needs to be done for these rural communities where the reach of government and development sector is all but invisible. Such enormous challenges that need to be answered to preserve the aesthetic beauty of the Himalayas will remain a herculean task for all.
Watch out for the second in this series of blogs from the Great Himalayan Trail when I will be reporting from the Western Region of Nepal on how climate change is affecting this remote part of the country.
Saroj has been a regular columnist with Kathmandu Post, one of the premier broadsheets of Nepal . He has written reports and publications on a wide range of climate change and development issues, and has previously worked as an analyst for the Asian Development Bank, the Asia Foundation and the editor of the Asian Journal of Public Affairs.
Flicker photo by climate smart trek