Ghandruk losing its originality worrying conservationists

During the 1970s, Shankar Man Gurung of Ghandruk used to teach at a local school. Foreigners would be scantily spotted on the way when he went and returned home from the school. Who were they? Why they visited the village? No one knew. The foreigners who reached the village for the first time were new to Ghandruk.

The villagers would look upon any strangers to the village with suspicion as a spy. Shankar Man started inquiring about visiting foreigners when their influx increased. Only then, it came to light that they were tourists to the village. At that time, hotels and restaurants were out of imagination.

He took the tourists to his home and gave them food and accommodation. “They would eat whatever was cooked at my home. They would sleep in general rooms,” he recalled, “Villagers would refuse to keep the tourists with them. I gave them accommodation. It became easier for me as I was a little familiar with English language.”
The Gurung community had a custom of providing hospitality to guests visiting their home without money in exchange. Shankar Man followed suit in the beginning. “We were reluctant about asking foreigners for money in exchange for giving them hospitality. Neither it was in our custom. They would hand us some money after being pleased with our hospitality,” he said.

The number of tourists visiting his home gradually shot up. The villagers would also recommend them to his home. “We are the one who for the first time provided hospitality to tourists visiting Ghandruk at home. Later, my relative Kul Bahadur Gurung opened a hotel in Ghandruk,” he said. A hotel named Fishtail, the first hotel in Ghandruk, was established around 1971 targeting visiting tourists. But sadly, it is now closed.

Following the opening of the hotel, Shankar Man opened another one named Annapurna in Kotgaun. He operated the hotel from the house of his uncle. Later, he bought the house and continued to operate the hotel until 1995. Shankar Man, now 78, still operates a hotel in the village with the support of his 74-year-old spouse, Bel Kumari. His son Milan is living in the United Kingdom along with his family.

“We opened a hotel after finding a good location. We have named the hotel Milan,” he said. He continued to engage in hotel business after retiring as a school teacher in 1995. Having spent around 54 years in hospitality sector, he is now known as the first tourism entrepreneur of Ghandruk. Many people respect him when it comes to tourism.

“People would wonder about what I was going to do with it when I opened a hotel. After knowing about income from the business, other villages later followed suit,” he said. During 1986, hotels added in Ghandruk. So was the number of visiting tourists.

Ghandruk village at Annapurna Rural Municipalit-10 and 11 is popular among domestic and foreign tourists. Thousands of tourists have visited and immersed in nature and local culture here.

However, despite increasing tourism activities, the tourist destination is at risk of losing its original identity. This has worried many people concerned about the village like Shankar Man. The touristic village is not the same as the old Ghandruk. It is susceptible to modern lifestyles and technologies. New structures have dampened its original appearances. Road networks have displaced some trekking routes while others are on the verge of disappearance. The roads have turned dusty and muddy.

“Foreigners would tell that the village should not connect to motorable roads. Well-equipped hotels should not be established. They would mean to retain the originality of the village,” recalled Shankar Man.

However, tourism entrepreneurs had to keep up with time and compete in the market. So, motorable roads were constructed, and big hotels opened, he said. Lying in the lap of the Himalaya, the village is lined with stone-and-mud houses, and homestay facilities waiting to provide hospitality to tourists. There are village settings, and clean environment. The village is predominant of Gurung community, and their arts, culture and lifestyles lure anyone. Anyone is attracted by Annapurna and Machhapuchchhre mountain ranges that can be viewed close from Ghandruk.

Local dishes are served. However, these things are now at risk, as the village is undergoing a rapid urbanization, said Shankar Man. With a surge in the mobility of tourists, hotels and resorts, big and small, have been established with the investment of millions of rupees.

Cultural dances and songs performed by the Gurung community are vulnerable, while homestay facilities are suffering a setback. Some of the facilities have been turned into hotels. Market products are fast replacing local foot items.

Modernity is fast replacing originality of the village, said Bikram Gurung, President of the Ghandruk Tourism Management Committee. “We all are concerned about this. We are trying to retain the originality of the village by making people construct new structures (if they wish) in a way that would retain the village’s originality. Some of the villagers have conserved old and dilapidated structures,” he said.

The future of tourism of the village would be susceptible if it fails to conserve its originality, said tourism entrepreneurs.

Visiting tourists themselves complained about the construction of big structures in the tourist village, said Lalit Gurung, President of the Annapurna Century Tourism Committee.

“Entrepreneurs might have their own problem. They may add more floors to buildings due to a lack of space. It is for sure that Ghandruk is not the same old village. Many traditional houses have been replaced,” he said.

Tourists may not come only to view mountains if the village fails to offer its original products and hospitality, he viewed.

He stressed the need for constructing tourism-friendly infrastructures in an integrated way as the village is popular as a tourist destination at home and abroad. The Committee has been organising the Annapurna Century Tourism Festival every year in a bid to promote tourism.

New concrete houses are being constructed by dismantling old ones, said a local Dhan Subba Gurung. “They say timbers have been eaten by insects. So, they are replacing wood houses with concrete ones. Furthermore, there are labourers to grow crops in the village itself. We have to depend on agricultural products bought from the market,” he said.

To give a relief, some old houses in Dandagaun have been spared. Some entrepreneurs have renovated them and are running hotels in them.

Some days ago at a tourism festival organised here recently, Chief Minister of Gandaki Province Surendra Raj Pandey stressed the need for developing physical infrastructures in the village in a way that would retain its identity. He also expressed his concern about the village gradually losing its originality.

“Tourists visit Ghandruk to view its village settings, and culture. Tourism here may get affected if these things are gone,” he said.

According to the Tourism Management Committee, there are 54 hotels and resorts, and 18 homestay facilities in the village. Millions of rupees have been invested in them. The village draws around 3,000 tourists on a daily basis when there is a tourist season.

Chinese tourists mostly prefer to visit Ghandruk. Other tourists visiting the village are from India, Europe and the US. Ghandruk serves as a transit to the Annapurna Base Camp and Ghorepani/Poon Hill Trek in Myagdi district. The village is reachable by walking around six hours from the Naya Pool along the Pokhara-Baglung Highway through Birethanti, Saulibazaar and Kinche. It takes around one and a half hours on a vehicle.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *