Nepal is a country bestowed with natural beauty in every village, every turn and in every corner. Waterfalls, rivers and streams, and the landscape are the ingredients that make Nepal one of the most beautiful places of the world with abundant destinations that provide thrill and pleasure to the eyes. But these are precisely the ingredients that make it a nightmare for transportation in Nepal. Hills and Mountains comprise two thirds of the country’s total area, and are accompanied by streams and rivulets which run along in every gorge damaging everything in its way. Because of the weak economy of the country, it is safe to assume that accessibility to every village through the construction of roads is impossible even until the next decade (owing to its huge construction and maintenance cost).
But there has to be a better and a cheaper alternative, hasn’t it? That’s where Ropeways come along.
A ropeway is a mode of transport in which special types of carriers are suspended from, or simply attached to, an overhead rope to facilitate the transfer of materials, goods or passengers, from one point to another (Gyawali, 2004).
In fact, Ropeways may well be considered the primary means of transportation in rural areas, because it holds numerous advantages over the conventional road. One advantage that I’ve already mentioned above is that the construction and operation cost of Ropeways are seen to be far less than that of roads in hilly terrains. Typically, the cost of Gravity Ropeways per kilometer is approximately 200,000 NRs whilst costs of earthen roads per kilometer is approximately 15,000,000. With ropeways providing connections to villages with shorter routes in comparison to roads, it is self-evident that ropeways are the better economic alternative. Whereas roads require the construction of bridges, drains and (in some cases) tunnels, ropeways demand no such accessories and are independent entities. Another advantage is that it does not pose a threat to the environment as roads (more often than not) do – destabilization of slope is not an issue because there is very little ground construction, and as such, ropeways are not vulnerable to floods and landslides.
One may point out the fact that Ropeways require electricity for operation. But this requirement, if understood properly, may as well be the best advantage a ropeway may possess, particularly for a country rich in hydropower development. Most small, decentralized hydro-electric plants are idle for much of the day and come to life only for a few hours in the evening to provide electric light. In some cases, the daytime productive load is practically zero. Thus, ropeways can be used to increase the efficiency and productivity of Hydro-electric (Hydel) projects and can be used in complement to these plants. It is not so difficult to realize that both Ropeways and Hydel projects encourage the development of each other.
But why aren’t ropeways an important component of transportation in our country?
Though policies and average-scale programs were incorporated in Nepal’s Five-Year Plans, ropeway development has not gained any momentum in the last five decades. The government could not fully realize the importance of Ropeways and the role it could take in the development of Rural Transportation and Tourism. The development of Ropeway would always be over-shadowed by the development of roads, bridges and Hydel projects, and the little budget allocated for them would always be only enough for maintaining existing ones. Many Agencies carried out feasibility studies in the past to explore the possibilities of the different types of Ropeway in Nepal. One example is the Jumla-Surkhet Ropeway, and like any other promising project, it remained limited only as an academic exercise.
Also, during the 1950s-1960s, road construction enjoyed high budgets as World Bank and bilateral donors assisted successive governments in their road-building programs. World Bank assumed that roads were the backbone of development and that other development projects would automatically follow road construction. But they didn’t realize until later that construction of roads in a rugged terrain would be very costly. World Bank learnt from their mistake and concluded that an alternative means of transportation was necessary. But the lesson learned by World Bank has been long forgotten.
It is pretty obvious that Ropeway development will not happen unless the government realizes its importance. Budget allocations for ropeways should not be only for the sake of allocation, but must be thought of a high priority area of investment. Appropriate agencies should be established to support and help entrepreneurs and community groups in Ropeway development (example: Alternative Energy Promotion Center for the development of micro-hydropower). The government should provide incentives and proper rules and regulations for private institutions to facilitate their investment and interest in Ropeway development. Alongside feeder ropeways, branched short haulage ropeways that carter the needs of Rural Villages may also be introduced in plans related to rural development. The government needs to learn lessons from Switzerland: a country who prospered magnificently in transportation despite the rugged and unfavorable terrains by the means of Ropeways.
Another effective way for access could also be Ropeways teaming up with Green Roads. Green roads in Nepal do not use contractors and employ local labor for the construction of their own road. They do not utilize heavy machinery and blasting techniques and thus do not have any harsh environmental implications, with the added advantage of providing much needed employment for the poor in villages. Green Roads started in Nepal in the 1980s with the Tinau Watershed project and had a huge amount of success ever since. Even so, green roads are not enough for the indomitable terrain possessed by the country and thus must be teamed up with Ropeways. In conclusion, the government must broaden its view in the matter of transportation development and stop the parade of wasting away the country’s capital in inefficient roads and start investing in the much more cheaper and sustainable Ropeways.
Gyawali, G., Dixit, A., and Upadhya, M., 2004: ROPEWAYS in Nepal, Nepal Water Conservation Foundation, Patan Dhoka, Nepal.