The Nyeshangba, Narba, Phuba and other people of Manang are facing big change, as the first motorable road to the area comes closer…
Blasts and explosions echoes through the otherwise quiet mountain valleys in Manang, just behind the great Annapurna mountain (8091 m). The Nepal Army is in charge of opening up a track to the district headquarters of Chame, located in 2670 meters altitude.
Initially, the road work was scheduled to finish in 2009, but now 3 years later, the road work is still ongoing. Actually, at the time of writing, January 2012, the road work is on hold due to immediate lack of funds, but it’s likely to pick up again later. The locals are optimistic about the new opportunities the road will bring and they even have plans to take the road further up, all the way to the ancient village of Khangsar (3730 m).
What happens when a modern road meets an ancient village?
The bureaucrats in Kathmandu expect the Manang road to be a key factor in alleviating poverty, improving food security, health services and increase trade and investments. They even expect the number of tourists to rise. The big question is, if all the negative effects of the Manang road will scare more people away than the transport advantage will bring. Until now, the only way to travel to Manang has been by foot, walking for several days. A report from the UNEP lists the following possible negative effects of the new Manang road:
- The traditional style of architecture is likely to disappear. It will gradually be replaced by cheap cement and corrugated sheet constructions.
- Crop patterns expected to change to more cash crops and monoculture.
- Manangs rich biodiversity likely to degrade.
- The smaller villages along the walking trail will be abandoned.
- The population will concentrate in fewer places, with increased problems of waste and sewage handling.
- Increased threat of HIV/AIDS and other STDs.
- Increased disparity between rich and poor.
- Cultural and spiritual degradation.
- Wildlife poaching expected to rise further.
- Pollution increase.
Those are some serious threats to the small population and fragile environment, and the Manang road plans were also met with initial resentments from trekkers and some trekking agencies. Did the bureaucrats not know that Manang was part of the Annapurna Conservation Area? Did they not understand the meaning of the word “Conservation”? And why did the Annapurna Conservation Authorities (ACAP) not do anything to prevent it?
It’s too late to stop the road now, and even if we could, it might not be wise. Changes has happened before, as when the area was opened to tourists in 1977, 3 years after CIA stopped backing Tibetan insurgency groups in the area. Most of the locals have been in favour of the new Manang road since day one, and I guess you can’t keep a population locked in their own, ancient ways of life, like a living museum, just to preserve things “the way they were”.