Reconstructing ponds and other natural sites in order to promote them as tourist destinations has been a popular practice in Nepal in the recent years. The government has also given priority to link sites such as Lake Rara with roads to exploit the available resources. Besides, the local bodies construct parks, hotels and other infrastructure in a bid to develop the sites. As a result, today roads pass through many of the beautiful natural lakes and wetlands, and parks and hotels have been built at such sites. Maipokhari, the only listed Ramsar site of eastern Nepal, is also no exception in this regard. But lately, the locals have started raising voices to undo all the construction works carried out over the years to enhance the beauty of the pond which is also a popular religious site in Ilam.
An organisation called East Foundation deserves kudos for generating awareness among the local people about conserving the Ramsar site by maintaining its natural setting rather than adding artificial beauty. It has succeeded in spreading the message among the locals that Maipokhari could be saved from any outside invasion and encroachment, which puts the surroundings at risk. As a result, the people have realised that introduction of the Grass Carp fish species in the pond and plantation of exotic trees like pines and sal around it pose a threat to the growth of natural species of plants and vegetation. In fact, the new fish species and tall pine trees were introduced only to add beauty to the area, which the people have now understood was a suicidal move. It all happened in the absence of knowledge among those who tried to exploit the area to develop it as a tourist site. With a change in the concept, plans are now afoot to undo some of the works carried out in the beautiful pond in the past. The East Foundation has already sent plans to the Ministry of Forests to undo the works that pose a threat to the biodiversity of the pond. If the ministry endorses its plans, works to remove the harmful fishes and exotic trees will begin. Likewise, human activities like fishing would also be managed in order to maintain the biodiversity of the pond.
In fact, the beautiful pond that spreads over an area of 12 hectares at an altitude of 2,121 metres in the beautiful hills of Ilam was different from its present shape. As a religious site, people used to throng the pond, covered by trees and plants, to have a holy dip in November every year. Later, the plants and trees that were growing inside the pond were removed only to make it look more beautiful. Foot trails were replaced by motorable roads. Now questions are being raised whether the removal of the natural plants from the pond has put its biodiversity at risk. The people as well as the government authorities would do well to learn a lesson from the Maipokhari case and stop introducing modern elements at other Ramsar sites and wetlands like Ghodaghodi and Rara Lake. Works to link such sites with roads should also be discouraged in order to preserve their bio-diversity.