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.


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

The Arun III Tragedy: Probably We Could Have Escaped Load Shedding!


Arun, a mighty river that flows from the eastern Himalayas of Nepal has a story to offer. This story reveals about that one incident which changed the course of Nepal’s pursuit of harnessing energy, shifting the nation’s paradigm to an unknown period of darkness. Perhaps no single development issue attracted as much attention, controversy, and debate in the early nineties as the Arun III Hydro Project located in Sankhuwasabha district.

Fed by mountain glaciers and aquafiers, the most attractive feature of this project was the firm energy it produced throughout the year. Unlike other projects developed and identified for the future that generated very low firm energy, ranging from 15 to 60 percent of the installed capacity in lean seasons, Arun III provided about 85 percent of the firm installed capacity even in the dry season of December-April, when the need for load-shedding normally becomes acute in Nepal. In 1987, a Least Cost Generation Expansion Plan (LCGEP) was prepared with the help of a Canadian firm called Canadian International Water and Energy Consultants. The Plan had concluded that the most economic generation sequence to meet the forecasted demand through 2005 would be a combination of load management, thermal power, and a two stage Arun III project. The study had considered various options including both thermal and hydro projects and an update of LCGEP in 1990 had reconfirmed that Arun III was part of the least cost plan.

The total generation capacity of the project was 404 mw of electricity .The total estimated cost of the project, as of 1994, was US $ 1.08 billion, of which about two third was committed by external agencies, entirely in the form of grants and soft loans. The Japanese had committed soft loans convertible into grants and thar1e World Bank and ADB loans represented soft credit payable over a period of 30-40 years at less than one percent service charge. Others were grant-cum-credit. A rough calculation showed that the foreign assistance package had a seventy percent subsidy element in it and the annual power generation from the project at the prevailing power tariff at that time would yield approximately five billion rupees. The debt servicing obligation and operational costs of the project would take about one fifth of this revenue, leaving approximately four billion rupees as net revenue to the Government for investment in other priority sectors.

One important component of the project was the 122-kilometre access road to be completed at the cost of $ 124 million. The road was important from social and regional development standpoints and it further made possible the development of second phase Arun III plus the Upper and Lower Arun. The combined power capacity of these projects was an estimated 844 mw, making the overall power generation among the cheapest in Nepal.  If one were to further take into account the use of the access road and transmission lines for other projects including the Lower and Upper Arun, with total the generation capacity of 643 MW, the energy generation cost would come down to be among the cheapest in the world. The country had already spent US $20 million for pre- feasibility, feasibility, and the engineering designs. Various other studies concerning the environment, seismology, hydrology, resettlement, and GLOF had also been completed, and their appropriate prescriptions incorporated into the project design.

Unfortunately, the project attracted unprecedented debate and controversy both within and outside the country by a powerful network of international non-governmental organizations. However, the staunchest anti-Arun campaign was launched by international NGOs and their local counterparts in various financial capitals including Washinton D.C., Manila, Tokyo, and Bonn. The controversy took a political turn when the Communist Party of Nepal criticized the G.P. Koirala-led Nepali Congress government for promoting the project without creating a national consensus and studying alternative scenarios. They were also suspicious of the role of ‘commission money’ behind the project

And then that one incident happened which changed the course of Nepal’s pursuit of harnessing power. Situation reached its climax when the General Secretary of Nepal Communist Party (UML) Madhav Kumar Nepal shot a letter dated 18 October 1994 to the World Bank President expressing “serious reservations about the way the project has been designed and proposed”. He also wrote that he would undertake a fresh review of the cost-benefit and the environmental side of the project before taking any final decision, “if elected to form a new government in Nepal.” The letter also questioned the mandate of the then ‘caretaker’ government to make a decision on such a vital project. The timing of this letter could not have been more critical, Nepal was preparing for mid-term elections, and the World Bank Board was scheduled to give final approval to the project on the 3rd November 1994. Naturally, the World Bank took the content of the letter seriously, as it came from the leader of the major opposition party which stood a chance of winning the election. Consequently, it deferred the final project decision on the project. The mid-term elections in November produced a hung parliament with no party winning majority seats. The CPN (UML) which emerged as the single largest party formed a Minority government.

The anti-Arun campaign was gaining strength. A new management had assumed office in the World Bank and they did not share the same commitment to the project as their predecessors. The World Bank was not convinced of the Government’s commitment to the project. On 3rd August 1995, the new World Bank President James Wolfensohn cancelled the project “in agreement with the Government of Nepal”. Referring to his telephone conversation with Prime Minister Manmohan Adhikari, he said priority would now be given in “devising and implementing alternative strategy of meeting its needs for electric power”. Asian Development Bank and the Government of Japan were successfully persuaded to jointly support this project. This support was irrespective and independent of Arun III and therefore, there was no transfer of funds committed to Arun. Only the funds committed to Arun III by Germany was transferred to Mid Marshyangdi Hydro Project, and that too after a lot of persuasion.

It then took 20 long years for government to finally bring back Arun III on ground. On November 25, 2014 a day before the 18th SAARC Summit, a public sector company of India SJVN Limited signed a Project Development Agreement for the implementation of 900 MW Arun-3 Hydro Electric Project with the Government of Nepal. The agreement was signed at Kathmandu in the presence of Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi and Hon’ble Prime Minister of Nepal Shri Sushil Koirala.

One has to accept some tradeoffs between environment and modern development. Construction of infrastructure projects like hydropower, roads, and irrigation create negative environmental ar4impacts, but such projects are also vital to improve the living conditions of the people. Otherwise poverty itself will destroy the ecological balance. What is important is a proper mitigation plan to minimize the negative environmental impact from such projects to maintain a balance between environment and development.

The debacle of Arun III has a lesson, if only we are prepared to learn it. Project preparation and investment for the scale of Arun III takes many years of time, money, and effort, even when goodwill and congenial atmosphere for development assistance prevail. But it takes a few months of determined activism to destroy it in this world of instant global communications. Opposition to such project can always be expected from the global network of organizations for ideological and other reasons, but when national policy makers themselves fall prey to wrong and motivated advice, the nation suffers.

Once undone, recovery cannot happen early and easily.


-Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat’s Report “In Defence of Democracy”

-The World Bank Staff Appraisal Report, Arun Three Hydro Electric Project 29 August 1994.

-The World Bank News Release No.96/Soo8. August 3, 1995.

Women Moving Mountains: And you say they are not physically strong..


For ages mankind has set a belief mechanism about what a women can’t do and how in every other way, men are superior. Sadly, there still are those stereotyped beliefs found everywhere in the world. This is my attempt to challenge those perceptions. And I am not going to do that through arguments rather I would share with you a real life example and leave it on you to decide that if there is any place still left to doubt women. Of all other areas, their physical capabilities are something that is questioned every now and then. What if I tell you that the women of western Himalayas of Nepal are moving mountains so that they can connect with the rest of the world?

Rural Access Program funded by UKaid  is the project where I am currently working on. This project build roads to connect the remotest areas of the country to the rest of the world. Because it’s a mountainous region, traditional approach of road construction is not feasible enough. And because it is funded as a poverty alleviation program, hiring contractors to build roads would be irrational. So what it does is hire local people who live in the ‘to be build’ road corridors and train them to construct roads. It’s a labor incentive approach where roads are also constructed and poor people also get employment. Win – Win situation at both the end. I am currently at mugu district and at this place alone there are 1278 labors mobilized to build 43 KM (21 KM for now) road which shall connect their villages to the district headquarter. The interesting point is, 500 of them are women.

Women wearing hard hats, boots and gloves, smashing the hard rocks of the mountains with all their physical forces applying on the hammer. No less of a man, in fact, a lot of women are more efficient and productive. Every day these soldiers of development fight their war on the extreme conditions, chipping out tons of hard rocks from the mountains, opening the track. Some with their babies on the field and running the expenses of the house, alone because their husbands are busy drinking alcohol. Illiterate they might be but what they do here is more meaningful ww2orks than lots of politicians have ever done or will ever do. They are making a huge difference. Building roads is one hell of an important thing but they are also building a set of trends that is redefining the image of a women in our society. That too from the remotes part of the world.  I had a chat with some of them and some of their answers: “We get paid and our children go to school, wear good clothes and eat good food. That is what matters the most. And what we are doing will make our village prosper in the future.” Confident woman, isn’t she? When asked about if they could match the stamina and productivity with their male counterpart’s one of them really made a hilarious statement “You can sit here and check, who is faster and efficient. We do this work every day and doing this continuously has made us strong enough to win fights over our husbands. These are just rocks.” Then she laughed. One of the group leader is a women and she controls, manages and organizes everything very effectively. Nobody complains about women being a leader of a group. Even men out here have accepted that women can be better leaders. I wonder if it’s really education that creates a better mindset because I guess these illiterate men have better perceptions about the women than many literate and qualified men of the mainstream society. I remember a woman saying “I am respected in my house like my husband. Both of us earn money and are able to feed the entire family. My father in law looks after our kids while we are working. For now everything is going good.


They are truly an example of ‘the woman of substance’. I have come across a lot of people who seriously think that women are not as capable as men. But I always avoid them. Reason? I am not an activist of women empowerment and I have no such expertise to argue about it. And my small argument will not make them wise anyway.  But these women of Karnali Region who are moving mountains here will challenge every bit of stereotypes who don’t believe in equality. Humanity is at stake because our women are not safe, are not empowered, are not encouraged enough to make a mark in the society. Sad part is, a lot of them doubt themselves too. However stories like this inspire our soul and restores out faith in mankind. I hope a better world is coming. At least at this remotest corner, it already has!

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.


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