Manang, Sept. 29:The Annapurna Padmarg, also known as the Annapurna Circuit, begins in Besisahar in Lamjung, passes through Manang, crosses the world’s highest mountain region at Thorangla Bhanjyang (5,416 meters), and concludes in Pokhara, passing through Muktinath and Jomsom of Mustang and Myagdi.
What used to be a 21-day trek can now be completed in just seven to 10 days due to the construction of roads.
The construction of roads has led to the destruction of many footpaths, and in some areas, footpaths have disappeared entirely. This development is impacting not only porters but also local entrepreneurs and tourism businesses. While the roads were intended to ease travel in the hilly and high Himalayan regions, they are having unintended consequences.
Hotels in Manang didn’t open until 2050, and the promotion of the circular Annapurna trail was also lacking. It was not until 1992 when the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) was established that efforts in conservation and tourism began.
ACAP started gathering tourist data in 1996 and expanded its influence gradually. Prior to this, no other transportation means were used in Manang, and porters would take five to six days to carry heavy loads from Besisahar.
During the earlier time, both tourists and locals used to rely on ropes and bridges for transportation due to the absence of road networks.
Binod Gurung, Chairman of the Manang Tourism Management Committee, noted that many porters were employed during that time. While in some areas, porters are still used to carry tourists’ personal belongings due to the lack of vehicles.
Gurung mentioned that with the introduction of vehicles, mules and porters (Bhariya) are gradually being displaced from work, and they now operate in areas like Narpa Bhoomi, which are not connected to road networks.
In 2012, the Manang headquarters was linked to the Chame road network within two years. Similarly, in just two years, vehicles reached Upper Manang. With the introduction of vehicles from Chame to Upper Manang village, tourists who previously camped on the road with porters now directly stay in hotels.
Nowadays, after checking into hotels, there’s no need to carry food and utensils. Yangdung Gurung, 80, a resident of Pisang in Manang Ngisyang Rural Municipality-1, said, “It is not like before. With cars transporting people and goods together, there are fewer porters now.” He added that tourists can now reach Upper Manang directly from Kathmandu-Pokhara via Besisahar.
According to the ACAP area conservation office in Manang, in the years leading up to 2013, around 19,000 foreign tourists visited the trekking trail annually. In 1999, over 8,000 tourists explored this trail. While there are records of tourist numbers, no agency has gathered statistics on porters. Back then, tourists used to stay in Besisahar since motor vehicles reached that point. They would rely on porters to transport their food items from there.
Chin Bahadur Ghale, Chief of the District Coordination Committee in Manang, mentioned that one porter used to carry goods equivalent to the load of two people. However, now, tourists from Kathmandu and Pokhara can directly reach Manang by vehicles.
The rural economy in this region has transformed with the introduction of vehicles. In Manang, where rice, corn, and millet aren’t typically grown, there is a thriving production of potatoes and beans.
While Manang potatoes were primarily consumed within the region, they now find their way to hotels in prominent cities across the country thanks to the expanded road network.
Kancha Ghale, Chairman of Manang Ngisyang Rural Municipality, shared that while cultivation has decreased, the demand for potatoes has risen. He mentioned that despite Manang’s potatoes reaching Pokhara and Kathmandu through Besisahar, transporting the produce to the market remains a challenge.