Pristine Countryside at the Mercy of Marauding Modernity
Do you remember the track ‘Long Road to Ruin’ from Foo Fighters – an American hard rock/heavy metal band? The title of this essay is inspired from the very track.
Well, here I’m not talking about thrashing and thundering hard rock music though I’ve been an ardent fan of AC/DC –other renowned hard rock artists from Australia. Their music is like a tonic to me: whenever I feel low and down I find my solace in their thundering guitar chords and crashing cymbals. You know some people dismiss hard rock music as nothing more than ‘pollution’- noise pollution. To respond to the critics, AC/DC then had to prepare the track ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution’ for their best selling studio album ‘Back in Black’ in 1980 as a counter argument.
During the week-long election holiday I was on a day-long hike to the hill of Kahu in the northeast of Pokhara valley. I loved the hike very much. But together with the joy of hiking, I came to confront, much to my chagrin, the harsh reality the development efforts had brought to that place. The beautiful hill of Kahu, however, was not the only and the first place where I witnessed the local development effort at its most brazen and crudest form.
As we reached the crest, we found a drab-looking viewing tower there- which looked as if it was hastily- built- closed and the area littered with plastic wastes. Later we also found the hill was criss-crossed by a dusty country road which leads from Phoollbari area to the very top of the hill. The road snakes through the scattered settlements on the steep eastern side of the hill with sharp bends and countless potholes.
Some vehicles, mostly motorcycles, were parked on the crest of the hill which had some level grounds- I don’t know whether those level grounds were bulldozed so as to make room for parking or naturally occurring. Seeing those machines at the top of the pristine hill, a strong feeling of repulsion took hold of me. Didn’t those roaring modern machines look like a sacrilege to the tranquil, pristine crest? Didn’t those machines disgrace the rustic feel of the hill? Oh I felt so bad to see those ugly machines resting at the top of the beautiful hill like a victor standing proud at the top of the pile of the corpses of his defeated victims. Here those ugly machines appear as the victor and the poor hill as the victim.
The white-washed watchtower, on the other hand, was a sorry sight, not in any way in harmony with the rustic surrounding. The tower appeared to be hastily and badly built with no attractive features and in no way matching up to the bucolic environment there. The tower could have been built using local materials using local style of architecture which would be compatible with the pristinity of the hill. But, alas! the tower was nothing more than a pitiful sight of a lone ugly pile of concrete completely alienated from its surrounding.
(A moment during the visit)
With development comes destruction. This newly-coined refrain quite well exemplifies the development practices in our country. We know road building and other infrastructure works have taken their damaging toll on the natural state of many places. So far I think in the name of promoting tourism, bringing road to every [possible] tourist destination is not a wise idea. First, it kills the pristinity of a place as more people flock to the place. More people mean more pollution – of every sort- and undue pressure on the natural environment. Big number of tourists alone doesn’t ensure tourism development. What matters more is spending capacity of tourists. A few tourists with taste for refinement and luxury can spend more than a thousand backpackers. Some places like the hill of Kahu are better suited for a small number of epicurean tourists, not for mass tourism.
Second, tourists travelling on vehicles have little interaction with local people and local culture thus preventing them from having the better understanding of the locality. They are also less likely to contribute significantly to local economy. Third, it discourages hiking or trekking which is one of the major forms of recreation/tourism. Examples are already evident in major trekking areas like Annapurna Circuit. Previously several weeks- long Annapurna trekking has now been shortened to a mere week thanks to the road building efforts in many of the places there. As a result, there is a massive drop in the number of trekkers. The other disadvantage of building roads in such places is it becomes an easy means for bringing in alien and incompatible things like concrete in the remote, unspoilt countryside.
Granted, local people do need basic facilities like roads. But the problem we have here in our country is we have already become too much infatuated with roads that we see the building of roads as the foremost condition for development. Efforts for building roads even in the most impossible landscapes like Mid-west and Far-east have not only guzzled financial resources but also have overshadowed other vital aspects of development like water supply and sanitation, health services, etc. I don’t think early 19th century English people were less developed with no motorways or only a fewer railway lines than we 21st century ‘modern’ Nepalese today are with all these black topped roads and vehicles.
The pristine Rara Lake is also facing the same problem. Construction of a country road which passes from near the lake can in future bring in more travelers resulting in mass tourism and killing the pristinity of the lake for good.
Well, do I look like a neo-Luddite? I’m not opposing the construction of roads or use of vehicles as it has become inalienable part of our lives. What I want to emphasize after my visit to the hill of Kahu is some places are better left with no or little human intervention so as to preserve their pristinity and attract the epicurean tourists.
But the marauding modernity in Nepal, it seems, is all set and determined to rip through the remaining bastions of natural beauty and pristinity.