Steel and concrete has changed Nepal’s mountain landscape forever. The “charm” of an authentic village is a thing of the past.
I was on our “Amazing Annapurna” adventure last year. I remember a lady from Sweden complaining about how the villages weren’t like she had expected. “We’re paying for food and board in dollars. We should, at least, not have to sleep in cold boxes made of corrugated steel”, she remarked. She thought that it made the villages look industrial and commercial and did not blend well with the natural surroundings. She was right. We were staying at a renowned hotel in Ghorepani and their extension wing was built entirely of corrugated steel. The roof, the walls and the doors! It was a cheap fix to increase the hotel’s capacity.
What’s more appalling is seeing hoards of people transporting corrugated steel and plastic pipes to the remotest villages. I witnessed that this year in the Kanchenjunga region. I had to ask what was going on. One of the porters replied, “Eco-Himal is helping villagers in the district build toilets”. It’s great that every house will now have a toilet but, was it really necessary to use steel and plastic? I actually asked one of the villagers that night how he felt about it. He said they accepted the offer only because the materials and transportation was paid for by the NGO. He stated, “It’s not really free. We have to pay for the construction costs. We would’ve preferred if they just dug up a hole, put up a roof and covered the sides with gunny bags”. I am now seriously starting to doubt the eco-friendliness of our environmental NGO’s.
The sad fact is people living in authentic Nepali houses feel inferior to their counterparts who live in “modern” houses. Ask them and they will tell you that they can’t afford a concrete house or a tin roof. It’s humiliating for some to live in a mud house with a thatched roof. It’s a dream for people here to build a steel and concrete house. One just like their neighbors.
We should encourage people to build with eco-friendly materials such as ‘Bamboo and Adobe’ instead of ‘Steel and Concrete’. We need to emphasize on the use of materials that are cost effective, blends with nature and preserves the authenticity of our villages. Bamboo, for example, grows well in the Terai as well as the mountains and needs to be utilized as it was done in the past. People can be trained to use emerging “green” technologies to make proper use of eco-friendly materials and build sustainable villages. Environmental NGO’s, please take note…
New technologies are allowing travellers to view satellite maps and read reviews about destinations. I’ve actually heard people say they want to visit Olangchung Gola in Nepal. Why? Because they searched for a village without a tin roof on Google Earth! So, I think it’s imperative that we do something about all the damage that’s going on in our backyards. How can we educate villagers about these issues? More importantly, how do we educate the Government and Environmental NGO’s?