On 13 February 1996, the Maoists in Nepal waged a decade long civil war. It ended with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord on 21 November 2006 between the political parties and the Maoists. The decade long war took a toll of over 17,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands. People still remember the period as a great tragedy and a nightmare in Nepal’s modern day political history.
One of the most important routes in this war was the guerilla trail stretching around 30 Km from Beni Bazar to Sulichour in Rolpa district. The route was a place for Maoists' hideouts, training ground and surprise attacks. Many historical events took place there and hundreds of people were shot, killed, maimed and wounded. While people still remember the war as a big tragedy, the route stood as Maoists’ renaissance ground. The route is now preserved and converted into a trekking route for the curious and adventure seeking tourists. Under the initiatives of the locals and Government of Nepal, this route is now developed as a trekking route and has started welcoming hundreds of tourists both foreign and Nepalese.
The route provides an opportunity for the tourists and trekkers to see the effect of the Maoist war and have a feel of the war-time situation in remote areas and rugged terrain of Western Nepal, especially, the Rukum and Rolpa districts. The route covers major war affected areas of the western region of Nepal where the Maoists established their headquarters and declared the region as their base area. In spite of a blooded past, these days, the route is very much peaceful and offers an excellent view of the snowy Himalayas in the north and tourists get to have first-hand experiences of the life in remote areas.
War is always painful and the trekking route stood as a scar of the ten year long civil war. The big innovation in this story is how a business can change war-time remnants into to a peaceful, economically thriving local economy. A simple business idea can bring profound changes in the lives of so many people. The trekking route not only brings in sustainable peace and stability in the region but also creates economic opportunities. This idea has promoted tourism and, at the same time, brought peace in the life of local people. Employment opportunities have been created; now gradually businesses are coming up for homestays, hotels and lodging, jobs for trekking guides, and opportunities for small tea and coffee shop owners.
The trail passes through dramatic waterfalls, lakes and lush forests of rhododendron, fir, pine, birch, and juniper to come across the settlements of various ethnic groups like Thakali, Tibetan, Chhetri, Brahmin, and Magar ethnic groups. Trekkers can observe and experience rural life, local culture, especially the unique Magar Culture of the Rukum and Rolpa districts, besides having a feel of the hardship and ruggedness of the mountain topography that once sheltered and mobilized Maoists' guerrillas.
The route is also a perfect ground for camping. It offers amazing views of the Dhaulagiri range and Saipal Himalayan range. The scenic beauty of this region is unmatched. The ten-year long memory of the war still haunts the locals and the route was a reminder of the nightmare. But now a simple business idea has converted war time revolt and resistance into a peace-time business opportunity. The route is now explored by hundreds of curious tourists.
Scenic beauty of the Guerilla trek
The idea was initially mooted by an American Tourist Elenjo Lawrence. But it was by the initiation of local people and local bodies of the Government that the route was actually converted into a trekking route in 2014. The major inspiration that led towards this innovation is the hope of restoring happiness and stability in the life of war affected locals. They thought of making use of the route to promote tourism and improve the lifestyle of the locals instead of reminiscing over the war time losses. Since then many travel and tours companies are offering trekking packages, including: Rugged Trails Nepal, Trekkers Home, Beyond the Limit Treks and Expedition Nepal, Nepal Mountain Lovers’ Treks and Expedition, and Swiss Family Treks and Expedition Gmbh.
The biggest impact of this business innovation is on creating and sustaining peace. It is hard to come back to normality after experiencing a decade long dreadful war. But this trekking route has successfully overcome the dreadful past. This is a perfect example of how a business can restore peace in the war affected areas thereby successfully addressing SDG Number 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. The route also helps in eradicating poverty by creating entrepreneurship opportunities to locals and thus contributing to achieve SDG Number 1: No Poverty.
Locals say “Every time we pass through the route, it reminded us of the gunshots, the brothers and sisters we lost during the war. But now there are curious tourists trying to explore that place. There are coffee shops and tea shops. Locals are building homestays and people are getting employment. The scenario has been totally changed and all that happened just because of a simple business idea.
Since the opening of the route, hundreds of curious and adventure seeking tourists visit the route every year. Considering its blooded past, this route is quite different from other trekking routes in Nepal. As a result of this trekking route, people can now sell their local products . One of the most popular product being Kamal ko chanako achaar (pickle made from lotus flower). It has provided employment to hundreds of local people. In the route there are more than 40 homestays, around 100 tea stalls and more than 50 hotels providing direct and indirect employment opportunities to around 1,000 locals.
Trekking companies charge $1800 per person on average for a 15 day trek. Of that amount, more than fifty percent goes to accommodation and feeding. This implies a high impact on the local economy. As per the data maintained by the Sisne Gaupalika -8, Rukumkot, a Rural Municipality within the route, approximately 700 tourists visited the route in the year 2018, which is a big number given the remote location of the route. And the number is increasing every year. The total contribution of the route, in terms of bookings in the hotels and homestays is about $630,000 per year. Other than this, there are business benefits measured in terms of production and consumption of local products.
This is a perfect example of how business can bring sustainable peace and stability in the lives of the people. This business not only converts the war time scar to a happy trekking route, it also strongly supports the government’s Visit Nepal 2020. The Government of Nepal is launching Visit Nepal 2020 with a target to bring in 2 million tourists. Nepal has immense potentiality in adventure sports and this route materializes this potentiality, albeit in a different manner. Now, the locals no more think of it as a life-taking trail but a life supporting business. The trekking business and trekkers can help locals to get engaged with the global community. This also contributes towards protecting and promoting the unique culture and lifestyle of different ethnic groups settled there. It helps to promote cultural diversity. This is an excellent example of how powerful business can heal the wounds of the past and helps to create a peaceful and sustainable society. Besides business benefits, it is the restoration of peace and happiness that matters.
Keshav Rawal, Local Founder and Promoter
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Rolpa, Karnali Pradesh, NP
Business Website: https://www.facebook.com/GuerrillaTrekNepal/
Year Founded: 2014
Number of Employees: 501 to 1000
The Guerilla Trek is a newly opened trekking route that passes through the most remote areas of western Nepal in Rukum and Rolpa. The route is named after a ten years long civil war in Nepal led by the Maoists as it was important place for Maoist hideouts and training camps during the war. With this innovation, the war time memorial has been converted into a happy trekking place welcoming hundreds of tourists every year since its establishment.