Nepali Times
Fabulous far west


1. The Mahabharat range and the Saipal, Jethi Bahurani and Babai mountains as seen from the Doti-Dadeldhura highway

Nepal's far west has always been perceived in a negative light, and indeed is chronically underdeveloped in comparision to the rest of the country. It faces yearly famines, en masse migration of youth to India for work, and a silent HIV-AIDS epidemic.

A recent visit to Doti, Baitadi, Dadeldhura and Achham revealed a different side to the far west. The region is blessed with beautiful valleys, the stunning mountain ranges of the Api-Sapial, the roaring Karnali, and attractions such as Ghodaghodi Taal, Ghataal Than and Khaptad.

Dadeldhura is almost 800kms by road from Kathmandu, but an hour and a half by air will get you to Dhangadi, from where it is a four-hour drive. Three more hours and you are in the regional capital of Dipayal in Doti. Saphebagar in Achham is another two hours away.

The district headquarters and highway settlements are relatively more developed. But there are many villages here that are two to three days walk from the nearest road. Large swathes of uncultivated land are seen throughout the journey, as men prefer to migrate for work than farm. Tourism could encourage them to stay. With adequate promotion, planning and infrastructure, the far west is a tourist destination waiting to be tapped. 

Budhi Ganga river, Doti

A woman near Mangalsen in Achham

Local women dance to Deuda tunes at the Saphebagar Festival in Achham, 5-11 February

Saphebagar, Accham, with the festival camped on the airport runway

Far, far west: Dadeldhura and Kathmandu are 798km apart

Read also:
Cross-country tiger

1. Soni

I am really curious about this. If the far-west is a "tourism destination waiting to be tapped", then why has not been tapped?

You have outlined the reasons as lack of promotion, planning and infrastructure. 

These appear to be the surface reasons, why can't Nepalitimes ask the more pertinent question, why has there been no promotion of this region as a tourist destination, what happened to the plans, and why could no one develop infrastructure?

That the governments were negligent is a pointless argument. Of course, they were not. All modern governments know that the more development there is, the higher its chances of staying in power. The question is why does it appear that they were negligent?

Additionally, since there has been development in other regions, and also development in places within the region, it must mean that there was a desire to develop, but it could not be turned into action. Why?

2. Soni

"Large swathes of uncultivated land are seen throughout the journey, as men prefer to migrate for work than farm. Tourism could encourage them to stay."

Can't let this go, this one article contains more information than Prashant, the My Take man and the editorial combined have. This is also the most important.

No government is required to cultivate the uncultivated land. Sure, storage, price which compensates the grower to stay on farm, and some basic equipment is required and the government can aid in that. But that really is all the government can do.

People prefer to migrate for some other reason, should we not work a little harder on empirical evidence on what the real reasons are, or is it really so hard to do that. 

Take for example farming, the fact is that food inflation is very high. Only one of the two reasons why there would be food inflation, one is that not enough food is being grown in the first place, or that their is hoarding. Given there are little signs of hoarding anywhere, it must be low produce and difficult supply chains, all of that should have attracted more people into farming and supply chain management, there are people who have that sort of business elsewhere in the country, why has that not happened here?

I always hear Nepalitimes and its columnists talking about what the government and the people should do, how about NT doing something that it has done before with Rabi Thapa and some others talking about the artificial food crisis in this region.

The same thing with tourism, if there are prospects, and someone has not exploited that opportunity even when private enterprise is allowed, then there must be a good reason, a set of specific hurdles, which prevents businesses from establishing tourism related enterprise.

If the land is blessed with so much beauty, and space on it is fairly cheap, there is no other reason why people would not establish tourism related businesses. 

3. S. Upadhyay

The beautiful Api, Mahakali, Seti river, the forests, and the beautiful cities: Baitadi, Dadeldhura, Doti, Chainpur, Martadi, Kalikot,Sanphe and many others have always been there. So did many of the wild life santuaries. The climate allows all kinds of crops, vegetables, fruits and herbs from the northern most himals to the flat Terai, which equally has great fisheries production potential. Educated far western folks and the political leaders live in KTM. The rest? We all know go to India and bring back HIVAIDS. Chhaupadi still prevails in this 21st. century. The donors and I/NGOs and government regional offices run their projects through Nepalganj Unit office with AC, vehicles and easier flights to KTM or trips to Lucknow or Delhi or Haridwar. As a result, Indians of all skills and in almost all skill areas come to work/business, make money and take it back to India; many villages have women w/HIVAIDS; the potentials are unused and left out; and Karnali blues and plays are only to read or see in KTM for fun and sympathy amongst selected groups of fans including writers and media. In the early 80s, in a response to a question, by a groupd of donor agency staffs on what I believed the development trend should be for the far western region, my response to them was just help build the roads, roads and the roads. Nepali people will do the rest. I still believe it. Don't you?

4. Soni
You say this was early 80's, did they build the roads Sir? Did it have an impact? There are other places in Nepal where chauppadi system ended, at least in its more perverse forms, why did it not end here?

Why are the potentials unused and left out? Surely, the people in this region are hard working enough to get a job in India, why can't they work in Nepal? 

Have you wondered why the people in Karnali region don't listen to the wise men and women from the NGO's? Do you know why I/NGO's did not do anything to improve things here?

Have you ever compared the amount of money that is issued both by the donors and the government to improve things in the region, and the correlation with the number of NGO's being set up in the region, or as you say in Nepalgunj and Kathmandu? Is there a message in that?

You seem to be an influential person with an interest in this region, have you considered the idea of doing nothing and letting the people do their own thing? Why could the money not be handed over to the people within the region? Why would you not have asked some of these people to check with their friends in Kathmandu if they would not set up some tourism business somewhere here? 

There is something else missing here and that is not the roads. 

Since I am assuming that you are an influential person and I saw the "don't you?" in the note, how about an experiment. 

Lets assume that a total of 50 Crore p/a was issued to five NGO's to carry out a project work to improve things, whatever you want. 

Now, instead of giving the NGO's the money, the government says, for any village in which there are above a certain minimum requirements met, the VDC would get an extra budget of NR 1 Crore and every year 10% of the regions best performing villages would be selected for that reward. Do you think that would work? What would be required to make it work?

Of course, you would have to set rules around how that money would be spent. So, lets say the government says that this money would be deposited in a bank account with every child getting an annuity every year till they reach the age of 18. If a child is 5, and there are 10 such kids, that would mean at 8% interest over 13 years, the fund would have given you a little over 2.5 Cr pot with 10 very rich kids. This is not a to do, I am not saying the government should do this. I am sure if this was a good idea, somebody would have already thought of this, and done it and failed too.  

My point is that if you must spend money then make sure that 900million (22.5%) of it does not go into admin.

So, if that is not the answer, we must keep asking what is, right? My question is still open, I know someone would be able to help me satisfy my curiosity.

5. bibhav
"All modern governments know that the more development there is, the higher its chances of staying in power."

I think this is incorrect. Staying in power has more to do with forming alliances with other parties and paying the youth group to silence dissent. If someone dies in a Nepali village, the ministers still stay in power.

"Large swathes of uncultivated land are seen throughout the journey, as men prefer to migrate for work than farm. Tourism could encourage them to stay."

This does not seem so straightforward. Simply look at the pictures. It doesn't look like anything useful grows in those rocky mountains. Immigration is fueled by a cost-benefit analysis. There is no point trying to portray them as being lazy or unpatriotic because they went to India.

Tourism is not going to be an answer until you have strong infrastructure. With 1.5 hr flight from Kathmandu and all the extra hours of traveling by dangerous bus, only very seasoned tourists will go there. If you fall and break your leg, where do you go? Romanticization of lack of roads, airports and hospitals is not helpful.

VDCs receive grants from the central government. "Giving money to the village" is very complicated. Who has ownership of the money? Who gets to decide where to spend it? Will the person with the keys to the bank account be an illiterate female from a lower caste? Very unlikely. In that case, how will this address the problems of the most marginalized?

6. Soni

Just a couple of things Bibhu, in the first quote from my comment you may be right, although there is a difference between a government and a politician. 

However, the second quote is from the article and you are right in your assessment. Although I am not sure where you got the lazy and anti-national bit. Tourism would indeed not be an answer to the problem without the infrastructure.

Meanwhile, I must point out that my question is more about why there is no infrastructure and the other things that are noted in the article. 

Politicians start off with the promises to develop it, surely there are enough of them talking about ensuring that this happens even now, and yet we do not see substantial change on the ground. It makes me wonder what is wrong with that. 

As I said, my example has nothing to do with what the government should do and as I said if the idea was good somebody would have already tried it. Please ignore the example.

7. jange

"Large swathes of uncultivated land are seen throughout the journey, as men prefer to migrate for work than farm."

Not entirely true but �this is a piece of journalism, not an academic research paper.

The author's purpose is to highlight the Far West's tourism potential and to garner support for it. Surely he is allowed some journalistic license.

One question though- Would the author visit the place at his own expense? Would he go there if he wasn't paid to do so? Answer these questions and you will get a better appreciation of the problem.

8. Soni
All the journalistic licences were suspended when they started to pretend to be more than journalists, they have to show more mettle and stand up to real expectations. 

To expect a journalist to offer a deeper insight is not expecting them to be academics, just journalists.

9. bipa
A couple of months back I got the opportunity to travel the same trail and I was really amazed by the beauty and potentiality of the area. Questions similar to what Soni is asking ran through my mind. However I observed a few things:
1. Human nature: It is rather common that we choose paths of easy money if given a choice between easy money and a bit more labor. Here, the people have been relying so much on money sent by their male members from working outside that they have stopped putting labor in their fields. In Mangalsen, I was surprised that they rather buy vegetables and fruits imported from Dhangadi and elsewhere than grow vegetables in their land. There is so much grassland and yet, there are handful of farmers only raising cattle, though there is market of dairy products. This shows how the people lack that motivation to earn more. A factor may be that there might be no veterinary service but that should not be a big problem.   
2. Accessibility: The region had been cut off from the mainstream of development for long time due to lack of road access and there was subsistence economy dominant for a long time now, even after the roads were built. The built roads are also cut off during rainy seasons. The road meanders through many fragile areas. The road travel itself is very risky with so many ups and downs. However, I feel in a year or two, the scene would be completely different as there is so much road construction ongoing in those region at present. At Mangalsen, there is so much road, practically every house touches the road.  
3. Too much politics: Most of the leading politicians are from these regions, they still have homes back here and yet not much development. I felt the people are too much influenced by politics and in every little decisions, there is too much politics so that the real issue of development never gets touched. For example, some sections of the roads could've been made shorter with less turns, but the political pressures and all, has made the road unnecessarily long at some spans. Resulting in cost and time of travel has increased. Plus, the cost spent on those unnecessary road turns could've been used for other necessary portions. 
4. Exploring of potential: The land in the area has so much potential for organic food and vegetables, yet this aspect has not been explored much. I felt the lack of awareness on the true potential of the area also played a big role in lack of development of the area. Not much investment has been made in this aspect. However, in Dhadeldhura and Dipayal, etc this consciousness is growing and hope it catches up further north. 

10. Rahul
Hi Ms. Soni
I was wondering if you liked my idea on improving tourism in our country:

So... lets Legalize Pot in Nepal! yes... you heard me. Lets make ganja legal (again). It was legal back in the 70's, and if you read this account of a hippie: ....... this may bring some clarity into my thought. Weed tourism generates Holland 2 billion dollars annually. Imagine if you just tap into 25% of that? I m sure you are well aware of the marijuana industry in Nepal, keep a look out for hashish busts in your newspaper. There are on average 2 every month, to my account. So... there is an industry currently, they have even begun producing it in terai, due to increased growth from India. Furthermore, some of the best hash in Nepal is exported to Holland, where it is said to be the best in the world. Its known fact that marijuana is safer than alcohol and tobacco, and it plays a major part in our society. Why not (re)legalize it? Not sure if you know about the hash industry in Morocco, but its generates tremendous income for the government. And even if everyone in Nepal becomes a marijuana junkie(no such thing)... it will be far better than what we now are :D

11. Dorji Tsering Sherpa
The far western region of Nepal has all the ingredients that can turn it into equally popular region like that of the Everest region. Many years before the then tourism minister Mr. Narayan Poon had emphasized that a world class golf course can be built easily at the Khaptad national park. It is easily accessible by various aircrafts now in use. Some one and the concerned village development committees should have the vision to make it a commercial viability. Politics should be kept aside for the economic developments. 

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)