From Family Huts to Luxury Lodges in Nepal

Nepal is becoming more and more popular with tourists because of its majestic glaciers and towering mountain peaks. Traditionally known as a mountainous escape for adventurous trekkers, it is becoming more attractive for all types of travelers as the region modernizes to accommodate them. The recent democratization of the country, which saw the election of its first president in 2008, has also made a wider variety of travelers feel comfortable visiting. As reported by TravelBizNews, an outstanding 798,000 tourists visited Nepal in 2013. But only 13,000 of these individuals were trekkers. The majority of trekkers visit in April and October in order to avoid the monsoon and winter seasons.

A recent study, led by Dr. Izumi Morimoto and Dr. Prem Sagar Chapagain, published in the International and Regional Studies Journal asserts that people in the remote regions of Nepal are adapting their lifestyles and changing traditional practices in order to bring a new level of luxury to the region. Signs of such change can be seen in regions as remote as the Manang village, a high-altitude, isolated area landlocked by the Himalayas and famous for its pristine views of mountains and glaciers.

"Manang Annapurna3 Gangapurna" by Solundir - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
“Manang Annapurna3 Gangapurna” by Solundir – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Although small in number, the people of Manang have always profited from contact with the outside world. As reported by the government of Nepal, the Manang village is currently comprised of about 630 residents. Most individuals in this region are agropastorialists; yet, according to the researchers, recent years have seen a rapid abandonment of cultivated land, and other methods of income generation are gaining traction.

According to the study, “one of the most famous ethnic groups in the context of tourism in Nepal is the Sherpa”. Historically known for their trading expertise and “hardiness”, they have long driven innovation through entrepreneurial trading with other communities and fostering connectedness for the Upper Manang region. These factors, along with Manang’s legendary mountain passes such as the Annapurna Trekking route, have created a nesting ground for a growing tourism industry in this Nepali community.

The Number of Tourists in Nepal in Manang (Photo:Morimoto and Chapagain 8)
The Number of Tourists in Nepal in Manang (Photo:Morimoto and Chapagain 8)

Remote regions like Manang have to work diligently in order to attract tourists who are visiting the country for diverse purposes, other than trekking. Although the study does not cite precise numbers of individuals in Manang involved in the tourism industry, the researchers reveal the numerous adaptations individuals are executing to make this region more hospitable for tourists. These adaptations are changing the texture of everyday life for residents of Manang. For example, individuals who have begun to work in the tourist industry, primarily as hotel staff, have guaranteed work during the peaks of trekking season. However, due to the seasonal fluctuations of visitors, during the winter and monsoon seasons workers have begun migrating outbound in order to secure other opportunities in areas such as Kathmandu. This cycle of migration within Nepal related to hotel work is unprecedented.

Another change has been the accommodations offered by hotels in Manang. In prior years, although locals would convert their familial lodgings into “hotels” for trekkers, these residences would often lack bathrooms, lights, and other comforts associated with the Western lifestyle. This situation was standard for residents in the area. Additionally, these humble accommodations were logical for the locale considering their fragile ecosystem, remote location, and the fact that, even in 2014, you can only reach Manang by foot.

Glacier view from Manang Rooftops (Photo: Flickr)
Glacier view from Manang Rooftops (Photo: Flickr)

Despite these obstacles, researchers found that due to societal pressures, current hotel owners in Manang seek to provide a wide range of more modern living technologies ranging from heated water from solar power systems, Western foods from biogas stoves, private bathrooms, sunrooms, Internet connection, and telephone service. One such hotel owner, who was left unnamed in the study, is cited as one of the most successful hotel owners in Manang. Presently, his lodge has grown to a 150-guest capacity, and he is working on a project to generate electricity via a microhydropower project. On the other hand, “because of the lack of banking services in Manang, villagers say that the owner needs to pack the cash, such as dollars and euros, that he earns at his hotel, and bring the money on the back of donkeys, and a rifle on his back to protect from bandit attack, in order to deposit the money at his bank.

In this way, the contradictions of tourist driven development in small towns such as Manang are easy to spot. Yet, hotels in this community, like the Yeti Hotel, are working to ensure that individuals, who are looking to get up close and personal with the glaciers in this region, don’t have to miss out on modern comforts because of their adventurous spirits.

GlacierHub has previously written about the effects of climate change on tourism in Nepal, the beauty of Monzo, and the Annapurna circuit.