Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Responsible Peek at Nepal

Following is an article one of our travellers, Fredrik Pettersen, wrote after he travelled with us to Nepal. Enjoy your reading;

The majestic snow-capped peak of the mountain range Himalayas is seen in the distance. I'm looking down on the small fields covering the hills around Nepal's capital Kathmandu. After 16 hours long flight from Oslo (with a stopover in Zurich, Switzerland and Qatar) the aircraft is approaching Kathmandu.

I travel with Ethical Travel Portal. This is a Norwegian tour operator specializing in trips out of the ordinary. Focus on their tours is learning experiences in responsible tourism. We travel off the beaten track and visit various projects. We meet local grass root operators to learn from them how tourism contributes to positive development for the people in their communities. And not at least it provides a lifetime of memories for us who travel. In Nepal, Ethical Travel Portals local partner is socialtours. This is a travel company that cares about people and nature in Nepal and takes responsibility thereafter. We get an insight in the work they are doing on responsible tourism. Ethical Travel Portal and socialtours base their business on the responsible tourism. We learn about this throughout the whole trip; from problems as plastic bottles to positive establishment like the community library for the local people in Chitwan.


Kathmandu is different and colourful. The traffic is chaotic. Crowded bus - decorated trucks and entire families on the tree that fills a scooter is a common in Kathmandu. The narrow alleys in the city centre are crowded with hopeful sellers with their stalls - as well as rickshaws who desperately offer its services for Western tourists. We cross the two rivers Manohara and Hanumante when the sun is setting. Along the river banks we see settlements consisting of tin sheds which reminds us that we are travelling in one of the world's poorest countries.


It is 05:00am and I enjoy a cup of coffee at a square in Bhaktapur, one of Nepal's largest and historically most important cities. This is definitely of the cultural treasures in Nepal. The streets are dark and wet after the night's rain showers. The city is beginning to wake up. Fresh produce fruits, vegetables and animals are in the process of putting colour on the town. I think of those people who have carried their products all the way to the city - often on their back using a rope that is fastened around the forehead.


Chepang Hill Trail is a good starting point to experience Nepal. There are days, often weeks between each tourist here which allows us an off beaten trekking experience. The profits from travellers are also therefore minimal - it is only an extra source of income.

We are walking in a lush landscape and the path that leads us up to the trip's first "home stay" is steep. Our porters are from one of the small villages on the trek. We hear their story and learn about the porters issues in Nepal. Most Norwegians are raised to "carry there own stuff". But by having a porter the traveller contributes to economic growth in rural Nepal. After passing schools and villages we arrive the village we where we will spend our night. There is no electricity and the locals are isolated from the outside world. The kitchen where they eat and store food acts as a bedroom at night. The dinner is today's highlight. Here the whole family - three generations –is gathered. They cook and serve Phapar Dhindo which is a typical Nepali dish that consists of buckwheat. The local wine made of rise and is served as beverage. We spend time with the family and hear about how it is to run a home stay here and the function of the homestays network in Nepal.


Our breakfast consists of popcorn and tea before continuing our trek. For generations, this track has been the hearth of the small communities along the hillside. The fog is thick as porridge and dark clouds threaten in the distance. The atmosphere is majestic. Day after we meet school children in freshly coated uniforms walk up and down the steep mountain slopes on the way to school. Women and man are carrying their harvest. We are close to Shaktikhor where our trekking ends.

Chitwan National Park is one of the major tourist attractions in Nepal. You can do the ordinary tourist bits, but Chitwan has more to offer than trips to the jungle! We got a responsible insight. Small projects have evolved like the Elephant dung Paper Project where they produce paper from elephant dung and sell the products. Deforestation is a major problem in Nepal. This is a project to prevent the use of trees to make paper by using an alternative method.


Another project is The Biogas Village. Cooking inside with open fire is not good for either your health or the nature. By using biogas as a source energy solves some of the problems. The biogas is developed from elephant and cow dung. This gives a better life for all who are lucky to be part of this project. Tharu Handicraft is a project in which women from the Tharu village have come together to create products of straw, like pot holders and baskets. These are great gifts and you are assured that all money goes directly to the women who create the products.

Back in Kathmandu we meet Bivor Lai Shrestha the leader of OCCED (Organization for the community, child development & Environment) in Nepal. They have several orphanages around in Nepal for children up to 15 years. In Kathmandu and Nepal in general there are a number of orphaned children. The parents of these children are in a situation where they are not able to take care of the children of different reasons or the children are brought in by the police. At this orphanage, we meet excited children and see that they are been taking very good care of.



I am left with many impressions. Travelling with Ethical Travel Portal I saw a different side of Nepal and received an impression how tourism can contribute to positive development for the local population. Nepal is a paradise for photographers - as a photographer it is important to respect the locals and a take no for a no. We had a guide from social tours during the entire trip as willing asked the locals if they could photograph or if it was ok to photograph the place we were. Travel in a country where cultural differences and living standards are so differently from Norway does something to you. It helps to understand and respect people from another culture and gives a good opportunity to make friends for life.


Ansvarlig Turisme: www.ansvarligturisme.org
Ethical Travel Portal: www.ethicaltravelportal.com
socialtours: www.socialtours.com

Text / Photo - Fredrik Pettersen

See some of his photos on Flickr.

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