Dhorpatan, a natural paradise with enormous potential, is in desperate need of infrastructure development
BAGLUNG, March 20: A relatively difficult journey through the dirt roads, rivers and dense forests pays off upon reaching Dhorpatan, a popular tourist destination.
At an elevation between 2,850 and 5,500 metres above sea level, the natural heaven that lies within the Dhaulagiri Mountain Range in Baglung district in the western region of the country is filled with natural beauty, and surrounded by the greenery valley spanning eight kilometers area and blooming flowers. The Uttarganga river that runs at the heart of Dhorbaraha, the wilderness and the mountains in the background are something that entices anyone.
Around one-day walk from Baglung bazaar, the headquarters of Baglung district, through the Mid Hill Highway until Burtibang in Dhorpatan Area and the Burtibang-Dhorpatan-Saljhandi, Dhorpatan, locally known as mini-Switzerland, is listed on the top 100 tourist destinations.
It also offers hunting enthusiasts the excitement of killing game animals. The Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve charges certain amounts for hunting purpose. This has attracted a sizable inflow of both domestic and foreign tourists, said the Reserve officials.
However, the major tourist destination is far behind when it comes to infrastructural development, it has been said. The Reserve was established in 1983 and gazetted only four years later. Despite having full-fledged potentiality for tourism, the area is lagging behind, they said.
Dev Kumar Nepali, Mayor of Dhorpatan Municipality, has stressed the need for exploring and tapping into its beauty and abundant potentiality. "Dhorpatan can be prosperous through tourism by exploring its potentiality.
The municipality alone cannot afford to prepare infrastructures. The federal government must step in and provide assistance," he said, accusing the federal government of not prioritizing the area.
On the part of the municipality, efforts are underway to upgrade the roads, he said.
The municipality has allocated Rs 10 million in the current fiscal year for the development of the area. Work is underway to make a detailed project report for the agro-tourism development in coordination with all nine wards of the municipality, he said.
The Reserve sprawling over 1,325 square kilometers lies along the Dhaulagiri Mountain Range in Rukum, Myagdi and Baglung districts.
The Department of the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation invites hunters to hunt wild animals in the Reserve. After receiving permits from it, hunting enthusiasts are allowed to hunt some specific wild animals including Himalayan thars, wild boars and Himalayan blue sheep, and barking deer.
One foreign hunter is allowed to hunt one wild boar, one barking deer and 10 birds.
The Reserve is home to 852 Himalayan blue sheep, 32 species of mammals and 137 bird species. It also has barking deer, spotted deer, Himalayan black bears, Himalayan ghorals, Himalayan thars, snow leopards, red panda, and wild boars.
The area gives a memory of Switzerland when it snows in particular, said tourism entrepreneurs. Snow-capped areas in Switzerland resemble that of Dhorpatan blanketed by snow, said tourism entrepreneur Mahadev Sharma.
There are 21 hotels and home-stay facility in the area, according to available data. The hotels and home-stay service can accommodate 281 tourists at a go. But, the number of hotels and home-stay facility is not enough to keep up with the number of tourist inflow, said tourism entrepreneurs.
On the other hand, the hospitality sector has suffered a lot due to the seasonal arrival of tourists, said Suraj Paudel, who runs a hotel in the area. "Hotels and home-stay service here are fully packed with tourists during only a particular season.
They have to suffer the rest of time without tourists, thus being discouraged," he said.
The hospitality sector are surviving on only domestic tourists as visiting foreign tourists directly reach the blocks of the Reserve for hunting purpose, he said.
Two years ago, flooding in the local Bhuji river had damaged the road at various areas.
Landslides have damaged the roads, thus affecting the mobility of local people and tourists alike, said a local Kul Bahadur Sunar.
Many places in Dhorpatan remain out of the notice of most of the visitors, partly thanks to a lack of publicity, said local people. Less than 10 percent of the tourists getting to Dhorpatan reach Buki, a beautiful tourist destination, according to them. Buki has pasture lands where sheep graze, and there is a trekking route named 'Guerilla' trek to Rukum and Rolpa districts. But, the trekking route is crying for its promotion.
Efforts are on to make a master plan to develop the Dhorpatan Valley as agro-tourism in collaboration with Dhorpatan Municipality and the federal government, said ward chair of the municipality-9 Khim Bahadur Ghartimagar.
"A master plan will be made to develop the Valley as agro-tourism. Arable lands and the lands for growing potential crops and human settlements will be identified. The master plan will cover the Uttarganga reservoir, the Reserve area and the area for tourism infrastructure," he said.
The centre has been taking revenues collected from the Reserve as a result of failure to announce the villages adjoining Dhorpatan as a buffer zone, said local people. There is a delay in this regard due to a lack of uniformity in the understanding between the Reserve and local people, said Birendra Kandel, chief conservation officer of the Reserve office.
Problems have taken place due to a lack of the coordination between the Reserve and the local level, and a lack of awareness about possible economic and social benefits entitled to the local people following the declaration of the area as a buffer zone, said Ghartimagar.
The municipality has made a plan to manage the Uttarganga river and musical instruments made from stones at the Baraha temple, and construct a temple at the entrance to Dhorpatan, said the municipality deputy mayor Dhan Bahadur Kayat. Dhorpatan could not do well with development activities and efforts to invite tourists due to a delay in the road construction, he said.
The Reserve has kept data of incoming tourists, both domestic and foreign, since the fiscal year, 2019/20. The number of the influx of tourists has increased over the preceding years. The figure of incoming foreign tourists in the fiscal year, 2015/16 was 91. The number (of both domestic and foreign tourists) has increased to 6,703 in the FY 2020/21.
In the FY, 2020/21, the Reserve collected Rs 2 million in revenue as an entry fee. It also charges domestic tourists for entering the Reserve. Most of foreign tourists use air transport to directly reach the Reserve for hunting while domestic tourists prefer road for the same, said local people. Beside hunting purpose, tourists reach the area for a visit of the Valley, worship at the Dhorbarahi temple, and the observation of the Reserve office.
The road connectivity has benefited the local people in many ways. Dhorpatan produces apples and potatoes in a large quantity. "Without roads, we had to carry local products on people's back, and the back of horses and mules to the faraway market. But, the road connectivity has helped a lot," he said.
Most of the locals are engaged in agriculture and cattle rearing, said another local Nar Bahadur Ghartimagar. "Now, there is no market problem. Products are easily sold. Traders even reach the harvesting fields to purchase products," he said.
However, farmers have been hit due to a lack of cold storage facility. Potato produced by farmers often risk being rotten due to a lack of a storage, said farmer Dev Bahadur BK.
With the aim of encouraging farmers, a Dhorpatan apple block programme was launched in Dhorpatan Municipality-9 and Nisikhola Rural Municipality-5 in the FY, 2018/19 and 2019/20.
But, the farmers got attracted to potato farming following a low production of apples. However, lately, the concerned authority distributed 1,115 saplings of apple of Italian species and the orange trees started bearing fruits within one year, thus attracting the farmers.