Megh B. Ale is a well-known name in the fields of adventure tourism and river conservation in Nepal. Born in 1961 in a village of the Syangja district, Ale is the managing director of the Borderlands Resort (P) Limited, an eco-friendly resort on the banks of the Bhote Koshi river, and Ultimate Descents Nepal (P) Limited, a leading water sports company.
Ale is also the general secretary of the Nepal Association of Rafting Agents (NARA), an umbrella association of the rafting agencies in the country. He is the chairman of the Nepal River Conservation Trust (NRCT). He has been lobbying for the protection of rivers and promotion of the adventure tourism.
Ballav Dahal of The Rising Nepal spoke to the industrious and visionary entrepreneur on some current issues related to Nepal’s adventure tourism and river conservation. Excerpts:
How have you viewed the country’s present tourism scenario?
Nepal’s tourism industry has a bright future. In 2011 alone, the country welcomed more than 700,000 international tourists. Looking at our abundant tourism resources, this industry will continue to flourish in the days ahead. But what is the most important is that the nation must have a clear vision for the tourism industry to grow. If we want to develop tourism as the country’s economic backbone, we need to work out plans to utilize our rivers for this multi-faceted industry.
A large number of people could reap benefits from tourism as low hanging fruit. Even without making much investment, we can gain a lot of benefits from this sector. We are lucky to have gifted natural diversity and cultural richness. If we are able to protect and promote them properly, we will be able to make maximum gains.
One tourist can engage as many as 11 persons from various sectors like tour operators, tourist guides, hoteliers and workers and farmers. So, if we prioritize the tourism industry, we can attract one million tourists. This means we can engage 11 million people, especially the youths.
I think, when the people get jobs, nobody will be displaced from the country. Ultimately, this will lead the country to peace, stability and prosperity. Undoubtedly, tourism is a tool of peace building.
One of our great strengths is that no visiting tourist was attacked or killed during the decade-long insurgency. This showed that ours was a political problem, but not terrorism.
But we have failed to introduce any proper plan and programme even after the great political tsunami. Following the devastating tsunami, Thailand came up with the slogan ‘Rebuild Thailand’, while Sri Lanka announced the slogan ‘Bounce Back Sri Lanka’.
We also need to come forward with the commitment of rebuilding our nation by giving top priority to the tourism industry and making an end to the strike and bandh culture forever. I am sorry to mention that our political leaders lack vision and leadership quality. Instead of fighting for power, they should put the nation first.
Various countries have adopted different forms of tourism. Which form of tourism do you think should we go for?
For this, we must have a vision. The nation needs to determine the type of tourism and come up with plans and programmes to achieve the objectives. Thailand has gone for sex tourism, while Indonesia has focused on mass tourism. Until now, we have opted for mixed tourism. In my opinion, this is the best form.
We have heard from our successive tourism ministers about the Tourism Vision 2020. They have focused on the number of tourists rather than quality tourism.
We have world-class tourism resources which are natural. As Nepal is home to many of the world’s highest mountains, beautiful valleys, fresh water rivers and green forests, we should develop the adventure tourism as the backbone of our tourism.
Besides, we need to go for eco-tourism because we have topographical and ecological variations. Promoting this form of tourism is also the need of the hour. Pilgrimage could be another vital segment of tourism. As we have Lumbini, the birthplace of the Lord Buddha, and various other Buddhist sites, Nepal could be the most sought-after destination among 1.4 billion followers of Buddhism worldwide. We can also promote sustainable village tourism and responsible tourism.
As a senior adventure tour operator, what do you think are the prospects of river adventure in Nepal?
We have everything for all the river adventure activities. Nepal is undoubtedly the world’s best whitewater destination. In his famous book ‘Whitewater Nepal’, author, kayaker and adventure explorer Peter Knowles has justified it. He has also suggested that Nepal should promote this brand. We have more than 6,000 rivers in the country.
Out of top 10 rivers of the world, the Bhote Koshi river in the Sindhupalchowk district occupies the seventh position, while the Karnali river stands out the fifth position. But our politicians and policymakers have yet to understand the importance of our rivers.
How have you assessed the country’s river policy?
It is sad to note that we do not have any specific policy on rivers. In the name of development, many hydropower projects are being developed without any plan.
One of its examples is the Middle Bhote Koshi Hydropower Project in the Sindhupalchowk district. The Chilime Hydropower Company Limited is in the process of developing this project. Although we are not an anti-development lot, we have urged the concerned authorities to limit this project to only 75-MW. If this run-of-river project gets materialized through constructing a tunnel between Chaku and Sakhuwa, this will generate 75-MW. But the power developer is trying to develop the project in its full capacity of 102-MW. If the tunnel is built between Jambu and Sakhuwa, the river will lose its charm.
It is also unfortunate that the Citizen Investment Trust (CIT) and the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) are going to finance this project. The power developer has yet to carry out a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project.
As this is the most beautiful section, we have been lobbying hard for its protection. We will try our best to save this river. Most of the locals are also against this project considering its adverse environmental impact.
What is your vision for the utilization of the rivers in Nepal?
We need a planned development of the rivers. If we develop rivers haphazardly, the situation will be similar to that of Kathmandu. We will have to demolish many power projects as the government has destroyed houses in Kathmandu. Even in America, more than 500 dams have been demolished. We must learn from others and move ahead.
In my opinion, the river policy should include the provision of utilizing the rivers from 80 to 200 metres for irrigation in order to secure our food basket.
Similarly, the rivers (from 200-12000m) should be utilized for recreational and livelihood purposes. Hydropower projects should be developed above 1200 metres.
We now need to be conscious that certain rivers like the Seti and the Budhi Gandaki should be allowed to flow freely without any man-made obstruction.
It is a matter of serious concern that there has been a growing interest of various nations in occupying our rivers. If we do not get alert on time, we will have to face serious consequences.