Trekking Trails Lead
Nepal Women to Empowerment
By Sudeshna Sarkar
women cleaning up the trekking trail that is an economic lifeline
for the village.
KATHMANDU, Jul 22, 2011 (IPS) - Dawa Gyalmo Sherpa’s three sons
went to look for blue-collar jobs in Malaysia, Jordan and Saudi
Arabia, saying Mulkharka, their tiny village in Kathmandu valley,
had no livelihood prospects.
However, when all three came back empty-handed, with complaints of
being poorly paid, their mother, who runs a small tea house, became
the breadwinner of the family.
Unlike her sons, 46-year-old Sherpa is illiterate but capably runs
the ‘Riverside Khajaghar’ tea house. Once an unassuming eatery it
began to get better custom after an old trekking trail running
through the village was revived by a local non-government
"There are 200 houses in Mulkharka," says Ashok Maharjan, secretary
at Nepal Environment and Tourism Initiative Foundation (NETIF), an
NGO founded in 2006 to develop and sustain the environment and rural
tourism. "Around 60 percent of the population consists of women and
it is mostly they who run the tea houses and trekkers’ lodges."
Thousands of women like Dawa have been shouldering the double burden
of looking after the family and earning for them as husbands and
sons went abroad in search of jobs as a 10-year civil war
exacerbated poverty and unemployment in Nepal.
With tourism the mainstay, the government launched in 2001 the
Tourism for Rural Poverty Alleviation Programme aimed at developing
sustainable rural tourism, focusing on the poor, women, environment
Funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)in Nepal,
the British government’s Department for International Development,
and the Netherlands Development Organisation, the programme operates
in six districts outside the Kathmandu valley, building
infrastructure and providing training to run micro enterprises.
Now NGOs are also coming forward to promote tourism. Funded by the
Finnish government and Suomen Latu, a Finnish NGO focused on
recreational sports and outdoor activities, NETIF is promoting the
Kathmandu Valley Cultural Trek, on a 72 km trail winding through six
towns - Sundarijal, Chisapani, Nagarkot, Dhulikhel, Namobuddha and
Panauti - as well as the Shivapuri National Park.
"An old trekking trail existed here, but it became disused for lack
of maintenance," says Prabin Paudel, coordinator of the heritage
trail project. "We helped the community repair and green it by
planting trees. Last month, in Chisapani alone 3,200 rhododendron
saplings were planted."
In Mulkharka, where cooking gas is yet to make its appearance,
villagers use firewood for cooking. It caused widespread felling of
trees, forced the women to spent several hours of their day
scrounging the forest for wood, and also led to eye and respiratory
diseases caused by the smoky, primitive clay stoves they used.
NETIF began by offering new improved cooking stoves that reduced
wood consumption by almost 50 percent. These are manufactured by the
Alternative Energy Promotion Centre run by the environment ministry
under its energy sector assistance programme supported by the Danish
International Development Agency.
"We then provided them training in briquette-making," says NETIF
president Arun Shrestha. "These are processed from either dung or
banmara (mikania micrantha), a pernicious weed that overruns and
This was rounded off with training in organic farming, so that the
women can grow vegetables and crops like maize, basic hotel training
and skills in making handicraft items.
"Before the heritage trail was developed, the area saw about 20,000
tourists a year," says Paudel. "Now, it has reached around 80,000."
More tourists means better business for the tea shops and lodges.
Dawa Gyalmo is planning to upgrade Riverside Khajaghar to a lodge
for trekkers to stay overnight.
Other women are following suit. The new demand for financing has
given rise to six major women’s groups in Mulkharka with the members
starting their own micro-finance cooperatives.
"Each woman contributes about Nepali Rs 100-200 (1-2.5 US dollars)
and the accumulated fund is loaned out," says Dawa Sherpa, secretary
of the Sundarijal Environment and Tourism Development Society. "They
decided to form their own cooperatives after they realised that
loans taken from the outside carried far higher interest."
Tourists bring business, but litter the trail with plastic bags,
mineral water bottles and wrappers. Women’s groups now voluntarily
scour the entire trail twice a year segregating biodegradable waste
and burning it in incinerators gifted by NETIF. The rest is taken
down to the municipality’s garbage collectors.
Other organisations have begun promoting similar trails. In hilly
western Nepal, the Micro Enterprise Development Programme (MEDEP), a
multi-lateral, donor-funded poverty reduction initiative, the
ministry of industry and UNDP are supporting two trails and spent
138,120 dollars on infrstructure since last year.
MEDEP's 7-9 day ecotourism trek through the districts of Parbat,
Myagdi and Baglung includes a stay in a 20-bed lodge that is
expected to bring in dollars.
The indigenous Magar community, which provides the bulk of the
‘Gurkhas’ serving in the British and Indian armies, dominate the
region. With Magar men mostly out of the country, their women take
all the key decisions at home.
"While we put up 60 percent of the money for the lodge, the
community contributed 40 percent," says MEDEP’s Laxmi Pun. "The
revenue earned by the lodge will go back to the community," she