Ropeways for cheap, efficient and Sustainable Accessibility

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.

REFERENCE:

Gyawali, G., Dixit, A., and Upadhya, M., 2004: ROPEWAYS in Nepal, Nepal Water Conservation Foundation, Patan Dhoka, Nepal.

A matter of observation: Humla

When I arrived in Humla for the first time ever, I was exhilarated less by the treat its surrounding mountains had given to my eyes, and more by the wondrous settlement that comprised of a little headquarters that went by the name Simikot.

It was like a village of some exotic country, and seemed to be like an escape destination to people who toiled hard in the city and came here to spend the weekend. Simikot was a settlement that had learned to exist in coherence with the environment; a village that resided in the lap of Mother Nature. In other words, Simikot was bliss.

Simikot and Simikot Airport

Simikot and Simikot Airport

I got to my hotel and started plans for my travel to Darma, my workstation. I was told that I had to walk for three days in steep and narrow trials to reach my destination, with no one else but a porter. There would not be a telephone reception throughout my journey, or even electricity. It would be an utter separation from technology, something I was hugely dependent on. But I had already embraced the fact that my stay in Humla would be far from pleasant, and that I had to live through it. I met my porter, finalized everything and we decided to start our journey early the next day.

I had the rest of the day for myself. So I indulged myself in observing the place. It didn’t take me long to realize that Simikot was (obviously) also the political hub of all of Humla. At times, I felt like there were more politicians than were civilians. There was a substantial number of people who were employees of NGOs and INGOs who worked at projects related to road, water supply, renewable energy and even health. There was a small lobby across my room which would never be devoid from discussions of contractors, politicians, clients and engineers about engineering methodologies, worker mobilization and of course, money. Apparently, Humla was where everything was happening – Humla was the place to be.

Naresh Bahadur Shahi (my porter) and I started our endeavor at 11 a.m. the next day. Naresh Dai had introduced himself to me the previous day. When I called him dai, he insisted to be called only by his name, but I would not have it. I called him dai anyway. He looked very old and looked as though he was full of wisdom. His tone, although very different from the ones I was used to, was reassuring and calm. He didn’t talk much, but I managed to get him to tell some things about himself during our walk to Darma. He had worked for thirteen years in India and managed to pay for his younger son’s primary education. He didn’t know how to read or write, but he had enough wisdom to make sure his son did. He also told me that he tried for more than ten years to get his family out of Humla, to Surkhet, for a better life and better opportunities, but he couldn’t. Now, he had given up. When I asked if he was going back to India, he said he was too old for that now, and that he planned to spend the rest of his life in Humla with his family. I thought Naresh dai was one of the many examples of people who wanted to make something of their life but whose aspirations and expectations were crushed and overpowered by the inaccessibility and adversity offered by the mighty Humla.

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The wise and noble Naresh Dai

All the more reasons to make it accessible through roads. That was why I was there. To try and make a difference in the lives of people like Naresh Dai.
The 25 hour long trail took me through few of the most deprived, misfortunate and poor settlements of the country, and I realized that the picturesque headquarter of Humla was a deception of its true nature. The flare of development exhibited by all those talks by political parties, government employees and engineers was not there. Not even a hint of it. I had the fortunate opportunity to talk to locals along the way, take, for example, the host of the house where I lodged in for a night. He seemed like an entrepreneur who was born in the wrong place. He had so many ideas for farming and putting up apple orchids and opening up a hotel for when roads made its way along his front yard. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that his vision was only a reverie that could never come true in his lifetime. I had a feeling that somewhere in his heart, he knew that too, but he still dared to dream of a life that was a bit less tough.

As I write this article in my small office in Darma Village, I realize that I was very naïve when I thought that development was going to come to the people soon. The locals in Darma say that the government officials had no intension of visiting the place (an exception was the visit of a CDO very recently which was after more than a decade that a CDO visited Darma). The ideas and words discussed in grave manner in Simikot were as hollow as the stomach of people starving to death in these villages. Just yesterday, there was a villager here who suffered from severe diarrhea for days before he fainted because of inadequate medical attention. Nine local boys carried him to the nearest hospital which was in Gamgadhi, Mugu, and two days away from this place. I could never bear to see the state of the people forced to live here, because they are not living a normal lifestyle, but are only led to believe that they are.

Some kids from the local Primary School of Darma

Some kids from the local Primary School of Darma

Do policy makers and the people on whom the development of this place depends realize that Humla is not only Simikot? Because the state of things point out that they don’t. I think that these people have to face the ground reality by actually being here, because making plans for a place by not even seeing it in person sounds preposterously hypothetical, and that kind of plan is bound to fail. So lead the development to the people, don’t throw it in their faces. The locals of Darma, along with any other local from any other village deserve that much.

Development is puny in comparison to the natural beauty Darma Village of Humla has to offer

Garkha Village, Darma, Humla