Nepal carves out trek in Maoist heartland
Trauma has given way to tourism in Nepal. The decade-long Maoist insurgency may have changed the political and social landscape of the world’s only Hindu kingdom but that hasn’t kept Nepal from devising the Guerrilla Trek, an overland journey of adventure through the former heartland of the Red conflict.
The insurgency, beginning in 1996 from Rolpa and Rukum in western Nepal and spreading across the landlocked country, took the lives of 14,000 people. In 2006, the Maoists gave up their guns and soon became part of the elected constituent assembly that was tasked with framing a constitution.
This historic trekking trail starts in war-ravaged Myagdi district, once attacked by the Maoists during the insurgency, and passes through other conflict-hit areas like Baglung, Puthyan, Rolpa and Rukum, the very epicentre of the Red insurgency.
The trek also follows trails where thousands of Maoist guerrillas once dug trenches and ambushed security forces. In 2004, when Maoists attacked Beni, the headquarters of Myagdi district, hundreds of guerrillas trekked up and down the rugged mountainsides of Rukum. Hundreds of combatants lost their lives in the battle for Beni. During the war, the Maoists carried their wounded along the route which was used to connect Rukum, Rolpa and other surrounding areas.
As much as 19,000 Maoist fighters, now preparing to join the Nepal Army or on their way to rebuilding their lives after being confined to cantonments for more than six years following the end of the war in 2006, used classic guerrilla tactics to win their war. As part of peace process begun in 2006, these 19,000 fighters, who called themselves the People’s Liberation Army, laid down their arms, promised to shun violence, and joined peaceful politics under the aegis of the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) agreed to between the then Nepal government and Maoist party. Rolpa and Rukum are were strongholds of Maoist activity during the insurgency and used for recruiting, training, and strategising; they were also the site of many confrontations and battles.
The land is blessed with wide range of bio-diversity, exemplified by its wildlife of Dhorpatan Reserve, captivating waterfalls, rivers, caves, and delightful lakes as well as the towering, sublime Himalayas to the north. The Guerilla Trek passes through many historic sites, some of them scenes of major clashes. It is now an area of immense peace, beauty and hospitality that is open, ready and willing to host countries.
Unveiling the Guerrilla Trek in Kathmandu with the launch of a map and guidebook written by American Alonzo Lyons, Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal said that the trek has the potential of becoming a “war tourism product” like in Vietnam, Russia, and China.
Developers of the routes have offered three alternatives; a 19-day or 14-day or 27-day walk over rugged mountains, rivers lined with lush
wheatfields, caves and centuries-old villages.
According to the Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal, the routes offer comfortable hotels and lodges and home stay facilities. “The picturesque bays and valleys, once filled with misery, are now awaiting tourists,” said Kashi Raj Bhandari, director of the Research, Planning and Monitoring Department at Nepal Tourism Board (NTB). Locals are also focused on promoting the Guerrilla Trek and welcoming tourists.
“Villages like Mahat, Cwangwang, Chakewang, Khara, Pipal, Syalapakha, Kakri, Hakam, Khola Goan, Burtim Danda and Saank can be attractions for both domestic and international visitors,” Bhandari reeled off the names he hopes will soon become bywords on the Himalayan trekking circuit.
With peace restored, the Maoist party has now transformed the districts into a “war tourism” destination. The vision is more or less showing visitors how the people’s war began and spread from Rukum. “As all know, Nepal has seen big political upheavals and the people’s revolution will be of no value unless the country goes through an economic transformation,” said Dahal.
A part of the attraction is the Kham community, from which most of the guerrillas were recruited during the initial stages of the war. The trek also winds through the Yarsagumba
Trail and the Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve.
Lyons said there is “plenty of sunshine for the remoteness of Rukum and Rolpa that was quelled into a seething pot of war once upon a time”. Villages like Khara, Khawla, Jhimkhani, Jibang, Khabang, Bafikot, Kunakhet, Pipal, Rukumkot, Maring, Kakri and Tuksara stand witnesses to the war and retain the scars of a decade of fighting.
According to the information provided by the Guerrilla Trek book, the best time to visit is October, November, March and early April. Trekkers will enjoy typical Nepali cuisine along the routes.