With all these mountains, why do we need a mountain museum? Sceptics scoffed at the idea. Cynics thought that an international mountain museum in Nepal, a country where good ideas have more obstacles thrown in their path than bad ideas, was just not believable.
But it was a great plan. Right there in one of the most stupendously scenic places on earth, in the heart of the Himalaya would emerge a museum that would educate and inform people about the genesis of the greatest mountain range
in the world, its formation, its human geography and future challenges. The scope was immense. But could a cashstrapped country take on a project of considerable cost, challenge and commitment? Could it be properly managed and adhere to the highest international standards?
It took seven long years, but the museum is now finally taking shape. It is not just a plan, there is now an actual physical, tangible presence. Flying into Pokhara, the museum is impossible to miss from the air: a massive frame of steel, concrete beams and the unique shape that seems to mimic the Annapurnas in the backdrop.
The basic design of the complex reflects the ethos of the surrounding mountains. The structure is markedly contemporary in style, and it sprawls over a considerable part of the six hectares of the government-donated land 5 km south-east of the city centre.
"It is a complex structure, especially the roof which fans out to look like a range of mountains," says architect Narendra Pradhan, who says his idea has all along been to integrate the surrounding scenery with the design so that visitors inside will first see the most important exhibit of all: the natural view to the north of
the Machhapuchhare pyramid and the magnificent wall of the Annapurnas.
Designed by a consortium of architects from the Kathmandubased firms of Sanday Kentro Associates and Narendra Pradhan and Associates, the $1.1 million museum is the pet project of Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA). The museum will not just feature the Himalaya, but will look at other mountain ranges in the world, expanding the perspective of Nepali visitors.
Nearly complete is Phase I which is a cavernous structure designed to house the Hall of Himalayas, the Hall of International Mountains and the Hall of Expeditions. By the time the roof is fitted, doors and windows installed, and the glazing completed in December 2000, the museum will be ready to house exhibits from past exhibitions, geological specimens, archival photographs, satellite maps and
The NMA, which derives most of its income from levying fees on climb medium-sized "trekking peaks" in the Himalaya has raised tariffs on 18 peaks between 5,555m and 6,654m from 1 January this year. A major portion of the added revenue is to be spent on the project.
Still, that will not cover Phases II and III which are only at the blueprint stage. Although the overall design looks ultra modern, the details have been "indigenised". Most modern buildings in Nepal suffer seriously on the maintenance and cleanliness fronts. Keeping local behavioural patterns in mind, the toilets and cafeteria are situated outside the main hall, an aspect visiting French and Japanese experts found hard to digest.
"Of course it would have been more convenient to have the cafeteria and toilets inside like in other museums. But we don't want the smell of fried momos and unsanitary urinals permeating the exhibition halls," says Pradhan.
Because Pokhara is a major tourist destination, the museum is expected to get outside visitors, but it is designed primarily to make Nepalis more aware of their mountain environment. Tourist traffic is also highly seasonal, and the locals will keep visitors levels up all year.
The International Mountain Museum in Pokhara is the dream project of former NMA president, late Dawa Norbu Sherpa. When Dawa Norbu died in 1997, work on the museum came to a standstill. The shock of his death and funding shortfalls forced
NMA to postpone the museum's scheduled opening during Visit Nepal Year 1998. It is now targeting 2002, which has also been declared the International Year of Mountains by the United Nations.
"Better late than never," says NMA president Tashi Jangbu Sherpa. "Of course there's still a long way to go. The interior has yet to take shape. Models of mountain ranges have to be built on scale, exhibits have to be acquired."
While requests for exhibits from international alpine clubs have met with positive
responses, there is concern that Nepal's own collection may be deficient. The basket of the first ballooning expedition over Everest lies NMA premises in Kathmandu.
Dawa Norbu had managed to raise money from wellwishing alpine groups the world over, and largely from Japan, to get the museum off the ground. When complete it will have exhibition halls, an audio-visual hall, a gift shop, an exposition area, parking facilities and outdoor landscaping.
"It will be the biggest of its kind. There's no example to follow, nothing on this scale," says Sarosh Pradhan, Museum Project Director. Close in concept would probably be the Banff Mountain Centre in Canada, a mountaineering museum in Trento, in Italy, the Swiss Mountain Museum in Berne and the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling.
Following a public tender, Nepali museum experts have submitted scripts for the museum. "The script is extremely important. It reflects the spirit of the museum, tells the story of the exhibits," says Sarosh Pradhan, who does not divulge the qualityin a derelict condition at the of the entries so far. Rather than wait for agrand launch, the museum will have a series of soft openings, beginning this
autumn with French climber Maurice Herzog opening a book exhibition tocommemorate his classic climb of Annapurna I in 1950, the firstever ascent of an 8,000 m peak.
Minor hiccups and major set backs aside, the museum will be completed by 2002 which has also been declared Destination Nepal Year. "Sometimes you have the money, the equipment, the support, everything. But this is Nepal- things still take forever," says an NMA official.
An example of the petty problems that lead to delays include the inability of the
museum's core committee to decide whether the special roof material flown in from Malaysia should be clamped down or screwed in.
It was decided to go for the screws, and the work finally resumed in July. This is the kind of delay that the museum project cannot afford if it is to open as planned in 2002.