PICS: CAILIN KEARNS
The kingdom of Mustang has historically been a vital trade conduit between India and Tibet. The links carry on to this day.
Tsering is a monk from Lo Manthang who received his education in India. He returned to his home after 20 years to serve as a monastery keeper, and what he saw shocked him. His home town had seen a dramatic transformation.
"The conditions here are improving. They are building a road. It'll be completed in three years," he says. The pony trail carved over the ages is now being replaced with a motorable road connecting Nepal to China. Soon, the porters and pony handlers will be out of jobs.
Lo Manthang is already connected to China by road, and will soon have an all-weather road south to Jomsom. While most locals are happy with greater accessibility, some are worried that it will affect income from trekking tourism.
"We are worried that trekkers will no longer have the desire to come here," says Lo Manthang lodge-owner Tserwang.
The arid and rugged landscape of Mustang has shaped the people, and the people have shaped the landscape. This has defined the trans-Himalayan Mustangi way of life, which is the region's unique attraction for tourists.
The road will transform daily life in Mustang, for better or for worse. One youth group leader is ambivalent, "We like the road, it will make life easier but it will also bring bad influences."
Already locals are worried about plastic litter from cheap Chinese products, and people are switching from healthy local produce to imported processed foods. Most Nepali products are more expensive than Chinese ones. On the other hand, those who made a living from tourism, like porters, will not have an income.
The noise and pollution from trucks and jeeps will not only eliminate jobs but also soil the purity of Mustang's environment. Three-fourths of people here migrate down to Pokhara and Kathmandu in the harsh winter months.
The youth club leader makes the migration every year, and every year he returns. "I grew up here, I don't miss the noise and pollution in Kathmandu," he says, "now the noise and pollution have come here and they endanger Mustang's soul. We will become a Thamel."
Upper Mustang has a cap on tourists it allows beyond its borders to the region from turning into an over-commercialised destination. A maximum of 2,000 tourists permits are distributed per year. It is unclear how this will work when the road becomes fully operational.
Seeing red, RABI THAPA
The almighty pen of the bureaucrat needs to be cut down to size