Shermathan awaits tourists to occupy empty homestays

Sindhupachowk, Mar. 8: In the quiet village of Sermathan, nestled below the mountains in the Helambu Rural Municipality of Sindhupalchowk district, there are only a few children and aging elderly. The village silently awaits tourists to occupy its vacant houses.

Of about 80 households that remain from the previous count of around 300, nearly 50 per cent offer homestays accommodating two to five people. With only the older generation present, they hope for tourists to fill their empty houses and generate additional income.

Ama Homestay opened two years ago. The house was destroyed by the 2015 earthquake, and after rebuilding it, Lakpa Lama, 56, has been running a homestay. She can accommodate up to three tourists at a time. They have tourists only in September and October, Lakpa said.

Another local, Norki Lama Hyolmo of Helambu Rurual Municipality-2, also runs a homestay that can accommodate three people at a time. Before the earthquake, she used to host tourists most of the time, but now there are no tourists in the area. “Some tourists come here to volunteer for Sermathan Community School for few months, but their presence is also divided among homestays,” she explained.

Norki and her husband are the only ones remaining in the house.  Of their three children, two sons are abroad, and the daughter lives in Kathmandu. She said they charge Rs. 1,000 for one night’s stay including dinner and breakfast. 

Most of the homestays are run by female members of the household. Even though there are male members, they go out to work, collect firewood, and bring necessities to the house. Women work in the field and look after the households.  These days all the women members are busy in planting potatoes, most popular dish in the Himalayas.

Nima Dorje Lama of Kesare Rural Municipality-2 also owns a homestay, but these days, there are no tourists. She and her husband are alone as their children are not with them. “We are alone here and cannot cultivate all the land we have. 

Most of it is barren. If we plant, wild boars come and eat everything. So, many people leave their land barren and focus on running homestays instead.

But Nima holds onto the hope that her children will return to their homeland to settle. “Now they can go anywhere to earn, but ultimately they should come back. Otherwise, there will be no one left in the village,” she said.

Most of the people relocated to Kathmandu after the earthquake. “We do not count them here as they have separate guthis. Almost 90 per cent of the younger generation are abroad, and they have bought houses in Kathmandu for their parents, so they are gradually leaving their homes here,” said Kendo Hyolmo, a local, who also works in the Helambu Mountain Resort. 

According to Kendo, Sermathan used to be the main route for trekking to reach Kutumsanng via Gangyul, Tarkegyang, Ama Yangri and Melamchigyang.  Foreigners would come here for trekking, and some of them began volunteering in a school in Yangri Academic Centre. 

They started sponsoring talented and financially disadvantaged students to study in their countries. “One after another, they began sponsoring students in the area, and those who were sponsored used to refer to them as their brothers and sisters. As a result, almost 90 per cent of the working-age population has gone abroad,” she said.

But now, trekking has become an option after the construction of a motorable road, and vehicles started coming to the area. Additionally, the earthquake deterred tourists from visiting the area.

Pemba Lama Hyolmo, Chairman of Ward No. 2 of the Helambu Rural Municipality, stated that homestays are operating in coordination with the local body, although they are yet to be formally registered. “We are in the process of registration and formulating regulations,” he added.

Before the earthquake, there were no formal homestays, but accommodations were provided without being labelled as such. Now, after the earthquake, almost every house has been reconstructed using modern technology and is operating as homestay. 

Before the earthquake, most houses in Sermathan including other villages in Helambu were traditional wooden structures. While some reconstruction efforts resulted in concrete homes, the focus now is on rebuilding in original style, showcasing Hyolmo culture and tradition.

Colonel Jimmy Roberts founded Mountain Travel, Nepal’s first trekking company, bringing trekkers to Helambu in the 1970s. The late Tashi Lama built the first trekking lodge in Sermathan in the early 1980s. 

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