Nepali Times
War trek

ROLPA TOURISM BOARD: Members of a committee working to promote Rolpa tourism pose at the summit of Rangkot Gadilekh on Sunday.
At 2,400m, the Shiva temple at Rangkot Gadilekh offers a majestic panorama view of the midwestern mountains of Nepal. Nearby is the overgrown ruin of the Holeri police station, the Maoist attack on which in February 1996 marked the beginning of the revolution.

It's not just the historic landmarks that make Rolpa a tourist destination: it is the part of Nepal that has been relatively untouched by development. If you want to see Nepal before the trekkers got here, you go to Rolpa.

Rangkot itself is the site of the Shiva temple of Swargadwari, which used to get tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over Nepal, but was neglected during the war years.

"It's our responsibility to spread the knowledge of this place and work on preserving its historical importance," says Gopal Dangi, the former chairperson of Sakhi VDC, "we can leverage our strategic location as the gateway to other parts of the midwest."

The Sakhi Community Forest User Group and Rural Development Awareness Society had planned to develop the mountain as a tourist site before the conflict. They now hope to revive plans to develop hotels, roads, sanitation and a 15m high view tower on the summit.

"It's about time we think about tourism now that there's peace," says Rishi Ram Shrestha, the chairman of the Sakhi Community Forest User Group, "we can sell our nature, the religious places as well as the historical sites of the revolution."

VDC Secretary Iswor Bahadur Kunwar agrees: "Promoting tourism can be a part of the post-conflict healing process, it can help in income generation and rehabilitation."

But some are doubtful that tourism will take off. Rolpa's infrastructure is basic, there is chronic food shortage, and residual violence by warlords belonging to ex-Maoist and anti-Maoist armed groups.

"Many people have still not got over the trauma of war," says 41-year-old Lal Bahadur Nepali, who runs a tailoring shop, "there's no guarantee about life here, how can there be talk of tourism?"

Rolpa is still reeling from pre-war neglect and the conflict that set development back by 20 years. Six months after the Maoist government came to power there hasn't been a tangible improvement in the lives of the people. Health and education are still stagnant, there are no jobs and there is out-migration of young people. For the elderly, women and children who remain, skin diseases, dysentery, and pneumonia are rampant.

Says Buddhi Sejwal, who runs a primary health centre: "There has been no upgrading of medical infrastructure for the past 12 years, patients still have to walk for a day to the nearest hospital in Dang."

Some like Shobha Dangi of the Rural Development Awareness Society see a perfect match between the need for development and the potential of tourism to make resources available. "The main shortage is money. There is so much tourism potential here it would be a pity to let it go waste," he says.

Roadside tea shops that used to be stopover points for guerrillas during the war could easily boost their income if trekkers started coming. Previously little-known villages that have been made legendary by famous battles could be destinations for trekkers: Gam, Khara, Thabang.

Says Gil Bahadur Thapa, owner of the Thapa Hotel in Holeri: "I just hope for peace now. If there is peace, there will be tourism, and if there is tourism there will be development."

Kong Yen Lin in Rolpa

'Revolution and reconciliation' #442

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)