<a href="https://www.greenlifestylemag.com.au/blog/17#">Eco Travel</a>

Eco Travel

On the path to responsible travel, with Louise Southerden.

Eco-trekking in Nepal

Khopra Ridge in the Annapurnas

One of the sites for a new Peregrine Adventures community lodge in Nepal's Annapurna-Dhaulagiri region

Credit: Louise Southerden

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Forgive me if this blog is a little addled. I just got back from Nepal and my head is still full of mountains. Big ones. I was trekking in the Annapurnas, amidst 8000-ers such as Annapurna South and Dhaulagiri, though all the mountains we saw were sights to behold and I never tired of looking at them.

When I did stop gazing at the snow-smothered "hills", however, I noticed some interesting new developments in the trekking industry in Nepal. For one thing, camping treks seem to be losing their advantage over lodge-based treks.

There are two main options for trekkers in Nepal:

  1. Stay in a lodge.
    Most of these are relatively small stone houses with a humble dining area and a handful of basic rooms for trekkers to stay in, for a small fee. The most popular trekking routes are lined with lodges (aka "teahouses") making them convenient for independent trekkers who can keep their gear to a minimum: no need to carry much more than your camera, a water bottle, some warm clothes and a sleeping bag.
  2. Camp out.
    This has long been the option favoured by eco-conscious trekking companies operating in Nepal. Why? Because when trekking took off in the 1970s, whole villages were built to service the increased trekking traffic and every lodge in every village had wood-burning stoves for cooking and heating. This led to large-scale deforestation in popular trekking areas such as the Annapurnas and the Everest region. So by camping (and therefore not patronising the wood-burning lodges) and using gas for cooking, trekkers could save the trees and be self-sufficient as well.

But things are never as simple as they appear. Following are a few thoughts gathered during my trip to Nepal:

  • Camping groups often (especially on the main trekking trails) have to pitch their tents in villages, sometimes right outside lodges with cosy, wood-burning fires – where the group’s porters, Sherpas and perhaps trekkers themselves, hang out to keep warm and take advantage of the electricity to read or socialise after dark.
  • Many villages are changing the way they collect wood (after all, they don’t want to run out of trees either): by using wood-collection quotas, for instance, or only cutting wood from fallen trees (instead of cutting down trees especially). And there have been long-term re-afforestation projects happening all over Nepal; some have been going on for more than 15 years and have been sponsored by other countries such as Japan and the UK. I was personally surprised at the number of dense, seemingly healthy forests covering the foothills we walked through on our 10-day trek.
  • "Community lodges" are being developed that promise to be the change eco-conscious trekkers have been waiting for: lodges that are eco-friendly AND benefit local communities.

    The community lodg" concept is a new phenomenon in Nepal, developed by Nepali trekking guide Nima Lama, a well-respected community elder Mahabir Pun and British trekking pioneer Mick Chapman, who established most of the trekking routes in the Annapurnas more than 30 years ago and is now Peregrine Adventure’s operations manager for the region.

  • I stayed in the three newest community lodges during my trek and though fairly basic, they’re impressive. All of them have, or will soon have, solar panels for hot water and electricity; some have composting toilets, others offer wi-fi internet access; and when trekking groups start staying at these lodges (the first Peregrine group goes through before the end of this year), schools and other projects in local villages will start receiving a percentage of the accommodation fees.

It's good news for the trees and it's good news for the people who live in this spectacular part of the world. The future of trekking in Nepal is looking brighter than ever and, let's hope, will one day be both socially and ecologically sustainable.