True Eco-Adventure in Nepal – Michael Straus
I’m in Nepal, almost into Tibet, in search of the perfect blend of eco-conscious adventure and relaxation. In the pristine mountainous region of Panglang, on a high cliff-top gorge above the wild Bhotekosi River, I find exactly what I’m looking for. The Last Resort.
As a place to chill out after angst-provoking Chinese security in Tibet or traffic-choked Kathmandu. It’s my kind of paradise—a resort of simple but handsome buildings crafted of local stone, wood and slate with very comfortable safari tents arrayed on grounds with lush gardens. If I want, I can splash under a waterfall or floral-edged plunge pool. Getting an excellent massage by Himalayan Healers, or just take a breather from the rigors of travel.
Ah, but if I crave adrenaline-pumping, The Last Resort can be that sort of place, too.
After a three-hour ride north from Kathmandu, my first thrill is crossing the long metal suspension bridge over the Bhotekoshi River gorge that is the resort’s only entry point. It’s the same bridge, later that morning, on which I’ll find myself contemplating a massive leap into nothingness, with little more than a thin sliver of rope connecting me to my future— on a 580-foot bungee jump or the world’s highest canyon swing (which combines an eight-second freefall at 90 miles per hour with a 720-foot swing above the raging river). Also on the adventure menu are canyoning (abseiling, jumping and sliding down waterfall-filled canyons) and Class 4/5 rafting and kayaking.
Founded in 1999, TLR is a pioneer in go-for-it travel, and its facilities hit all the right notes, from logistics and transportation, to videos of your insane leaps into the unknown for sharing with your Facebook friends. Their highly experienced staff instills confidence in the most trepidation-filled adventurer, backed up by a perfect safety record.
Lights out: tented comfort
But what totally grabbed my heart (even more than the leaps into oblivion from the bridge!) was learning about the resort’s ongoing efforts to be responsible environmental stewards and community citizens. If TLR’s Rome “wasn’t built in a day,” it certainly hasn’t been from a lack of initiative. In fact, I think many Nepali businesses could learn from their challenges and solutions.
On the environmental front, first and foremost is their waste management program. Septic systems handle all the effluent—unusual in a region where most houses pipe directly into the rivers below. Kitchen composting reduces solid waste. They offer cheap water-bottle refills to reduce plastic bottle pollution, and then ship plastics to India for recycling (as there are no recycling facilities in Nepal).
Community initiatives were slightly more challenging, at least at first, until they figured out a system that would provide sustainable results. In 2008, TLR created a collective organic vegetable garden with women in the neighboring village, who until that time, grew only millet grain. Initially, the villagers were wholly dependent on TLR’s advice and support. Over time, though, they gained the confidence and experience to work independently.
Similarly, TLR began development of an alternative fuel source, turning biomass (fallen leaves, plants and branches) into briquettes. These are now using locally in place of harvested trees—a dwindling natural resource even in lush, forested Nepal. The briquettes produce less smoke than firewood, especially important as many villagers’ kitchens aren’t equipped with proper ventilation. Here again, TLR had expected to have to run the project indefinitely, but the villagers again seized the opportunity day and now have a nice little income-generating briquette business.
On the educational front, TLR initially offered English language classes for local school teachers but, as is frequently the case, people often don’t value something as highly if its for free; in this case, teacher attendance was abysmal (I can just imagine the students taking roll-call and scolding the tardy teachers); however, when TLR started requiring teachers to pay a small fee, the situation reversed and attendance climbed to 100%.
To date, TLR has invested approximately US$45,000 in community development and environmental programs. Equally noteworthy, nearly all of its 50 employees are local, including the top management, instructors and guides, especially important in Nepal, where unemployment is high and opportunities to develop management skills and experience are limited.
Nepalese, for whom TLR activities would normally be cost-prohibitive, are offering a 35% discount, and now account for nearly four out of every 10 customers—a true achievement in a country that caters so heavily to foreign tourists.
Enjoying the activities does take a leap of faith, but you can feel confident that this is one eco-tourism company that takes ‘eco’ seriously.
About the author: Michael Straus took the plunge into the green, organic and sustainable void more than 20 years ago. Based in Northern California, he is currently traveling in Asia.