After my experience in Ghalegaun and talking with Kamala and Shree, I was left wondering what Nepal’s next steps should be in terms of tourism development and what role a trekking company like iTrek can play in this process.
When I visited Ghalegaun it became clear that a lot of developments would need to be made in order for Ghalegaun to become the popular tourist destination that many of its residents want it to be. The road leading up to the village needs to be smoothed, western toilets and more showers need to be installed, and although the village technically has electricity, it only worked a few hours out of the entirety of our two-day stay there. No one in the village spoke English, and while I was traveling with someone (Shree) who spoke both English and Nepali, and could therefore translate for me, many tourists may not have that luxury.
Ghalegaun is still years away from becoming a desirable mainstream tourist destination. Currently I do not think iTrek should not bring its average client there. There are many places in Nepal that have more beautiful trails and scenery and are easier to access than Ghalegaun. Even along the Annapurna Base Camp Trail the guesthouses have western toilets and 24-hour electricity even though many of them are days away from any roads or cities.
Ghalegaun however has something that few other destinations in Nepal offer: a homestay experience. Although I found the Annapurna region to be more beautiful and cleaner than Ghalegaun, my homestay was wonderful and made the trip to Ghalegaun well worth it. In Ghalegaun I learned a lot about the local culture in a very short amount of time; I had an immersive experience that was unique from the rest of my stay in Nepal. In Ghalegaun I had the opportunity to eat a homecooked meal inside a family’s kitchen, visit a local school, and make friends with Nepali people. For these reasons, I think iTrek should offer clients the option of a trip to Ghalegaun as long as iTrek explains that the village is less developed than other destinations in Nepal.
I also think there is a role iTrek and other trekking companies can take on to help rural villages develop their homestay programs so that they meet the needs of both local villagers and tourists. While it is not feasible for a trekking company to be funding the development of a village, there are ways for iTrek and rural villages to work together to improve the homestay experience.
*A young boy leaps off the wall during recess at the local school in Ghalegaun (Jordan Leonard // June 2012).
Travelers, for the most part, are going to Ghalegaun not for the scenery or hiking, but for the unique homestay experience. I think if Ghalegaun offered other unique experiences, then travelers would be more inclined to go out of their way to visit the village. For example, I think many of iTrek’s clients are looking for “off the beaten path” experiences and would cherish the opportunity to volunteer in the local school and teach kids English or observe the locals as they make their traditional handicrafts. iTrek could even collaborate with Ghalegaun and create a program whereby guests can have the homestay experience free of charge if they volunteer to teach English, help with the construction of a new building, or maintain the road. iTrek can assist with the development of these rural villages by making suggestions, volunteering, and providing feedback. Additionally, iTrek could also help fund new developments by having a donation box in the office for clients to contribute to or by selling the handmade crafts of villagers to clients for them to take home as souvenirs.