Rural Nepal has been bearing the brunt of out-migration for centuries. But now the tide is turning as tourism lures young people back with the promise of new jobs.
Ghale Gaun in Lamjung has sent its young men to join the British and Indian armies for more than a century, and most other twenty-somethings today head out for Qatar or Malaysia for jobs. However, the ageing Gurung families of Ghale Gaun are turning to hospitality to make a living.
Together with eight other VDCs in Lamjung, Ghale Gaun has become a model for a new initiative of the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) in the past decade to plough tourism earnings more directly into the village economy to alleviate poverty. Trekking and home-stay tourism has proved to be mutually beneficial for both residents as well as visitors.
Kripa Ghale, 20, lives with her married sister in their father's house. Kripa's brother-in-law works in the Gulf and her two younger brothers are in school. She says: "I would would probably also have headed down to the city or abroad had trekking not picked up after the war ended."
Tourism has brought jobs and income. But there is also less and less reason to migrate permanently to the filthy and crowded cities. Ghale Gaun now has electricity, tv beaming Hindi soaps, internet, clean water supply, mobile phones, there is even a helipad and a museum of Gurung culture. The cobble-stone streets are clean, life is not stressful and then there is the stupendous scenery.
The village has done its best considering the circumstances, but out-migration to the Gulf has highlighted another gulf : between the young and the old. At age 84, a grandmother sweeps the street outside her home, farms and cooks for the family. Her son studies in Besisahar, her daughter is married in Chitwan. Even at her age, she travels to Besisahar once a month to receive her husband's military pension. Other elderly women weave traditional rugs, and it is obvious this is the last generation that will be making rugs in Ghale Gaun.
The road has also arrived now to Ghale Gaun, but the best way to get to this quaint window on the old Nepal is to trek six hours straight up the mountain from the road at Khudi. And you marvel that the irony that the mountains that have kept Ghale Gaun under-developed for so long have also kept this town in splendid isolation and given it its breath-taking scenery.
Kripa Ghale has just given the SLC, but unlike many in Lamjung has no intention of leaving her.home village to be a maid in Hong Kong. She says, "I want to do my plus-two soon. I've always wanted to study since young, and then I'll come back to Ghale Gaun."
There is only one primary school in the village which means Kripa had to descend to Besisahar from her hilltop village to complete her schooling. She has been using her spare time after her exams to help her father and sister in their homestay tourism business. When the local club organises culture shows for tourists, Kripa finishes work at home, goes to the village hall and dances to the soulful songs of her Gurung forebears.
Says Kripa: "I have the best of both worlds here, why would I leave?"
More than mountains, BADRI PAUDYAL