One of the main reasons why we opted to go to Nepal before going anywhere else on our long, travel wish list was due to the recent article in the New York Times regarding the building of the road.
Almost like a sign of fate, my dad happened to see an article in the New York Times on March 10, 2010 called “Hiking the Annapurna Trek Before the Road Takes Over”.
Link to article and video footage (copy and paste into browser): http://travel.nytimes.com/2010/03/21/travel/21nepal.html?scp=2&sq=hiking%20the%20annapurna&st=cse
Basically what the article said was that this world-renowned hike was going to be ruined within a matter of years by the building of a dirty, dusty road that would tear through idyllic villages and pristine nature and open this once hidden, mystical land to jeep, car, and bus traffic. The road will start in Bhulbule and end in Manang (which currently takes 6 days hiking to reach). After hiking the Annapurna trail, I can see exactly what the author means by the dangers of building a road, not only to tourism but to the people who build it.
Unfortunately building a road in Nepal is quite a feat given it’s mountainous terrain and lack of infrastructure. There are incredible dangers involved in building a road. Although the job pays well the worker’s conditions are deplorable. There are absolutely no rights for the workers (they are out there without hard hats, without any protection from sun or falling rocks and wearing flip-flops!). Per our guide Hari, 15 workers have already fallen to their death yet they keep coming back to work since it is one of the only good-paying jobs available. Furthermore, the road construction is a very manual, labor-intensive process without the modern technology we use in western cultures.
There is a lot of concern that the road will destroy the village life as well as the Annapurna trek, taking away its beauty and more importantly, the rural villager’s dependable tourists which the community relies on. Who would want to trek along a dirty, dusty road smelling of jeep and car exhaust? It is a tragedy.
The good news is that the road is nowhere near completion. Locals estimate it will be at least another 10-15 years until it is completed and I’m not sure many tourists will want to risk their lives to take it. Roads in Nepal do not have the same safety as western ones….no guardrails, terrible conditions (pot-holes, landslides, etc) and probably not paved. Nepal desperately needs infrastructure but good infrastructure.
So the bottom line is if you want to go to the Annapurna, go soon!
Picture of the building of the road (the workers look like ants and are building on a dangerous edge where you could hear the rocks crashing down the mountain):
Closer view of the workers:
One of many gorgeous valleys that will be destroyed by the road: