The historic town of Dolakha, nestled in the lap of Gauri Shankhar, has been a strategic entrepôt between Kathmandu Valley, Tibet and Northern India for centuries. It was fabled far and wide for its wealth and stunning natural beauty. The historic mint here used ore from copper mines of the Tama Kosi to make coins for the kingdoms of Tibet and Kathmandu.
Dolakha was a backwater when John Hunt’s first successful expedition to Mt Everest passed through in 1953. And it wasn’t until the Swiss-built Jiri highway came through that the economy started picking up. The road bypassed the old town, and it was Charikot which grew from a tiny village to a city of high rises that it is today.
Last year’s earthquake, especially the 12 May aftershock which had its epicentre only 5 km away, destroyed most of old Dolakha and the fancy new hotels and towers in Charikot.
Dolakha is struggling to rise from the rubble. But there are encouraging signs as two big hydropower projects have resumed construction and trekking is picking up again.
Before the earthquake, Dolakha’s businesses had just started promoting the district’s hiking trails, white water rafting, paragliding and homestay tourism. With its scenery, Dolakha could easily rival Pokhara as an adventure tourism destination.
“After the earthquake we considered closing down for good,” says Herman Thapa of Charikot Panaroma Resort, where five of the seven stone cottages were damaged. “We decided to get back to business because people need jobs; also this resort is my parents’ dream.” Thapa’s mother is Swiss. Panorama was the favourite stopover for European trekkers bound for Rolwaling. Most of the cottages have been rebuilt and work is going on to restore the main hall and dining area.
Reviving tourism can be a good way to restore Dolakha’s economy which has seen a boom in recent years with new hydropower projects. “Together with hydropower, tourism is the mainstay of Dolakha’s economy,” says Sundar Karki of the Hotel Association of Nepal. But many of the new hotels in chariot were destroyed or damaged in the earthquake, throwing many people out of jobs.
“After the earthquake, there was blockade which hit development projects and tourism, but things are picking up again,” says Navaraj Khatri, manager of Hotel Kuber, which opened six months before the earthquake.
It is an optimistic indication that hotels are being repaired, and new ones are opening up. What entrepreneurs here now hope is to upgrade the hotels and promote Dolakha as an international destination.
Dolakha is also the perfect destination for those looking for short hikes with spectacular views like Kalinchok, the ridges above Jiri and the longer Rolling and Tasi Laptsa treks. The classic route of the Everest Trek also starts in Jiri.
A new road from Khadichaur to Charikot and a plan for a cable car from Kuri to Kalinchok, locals hope, will boost tourism.
Says Sundar Karki: “Dolakha has many places that are ideal for families and adventure tourists. Tourism can help the post-earthquake revival of Dolakha.”
Rebuilding Hotel Paradise, Kunda Dixit
Deconstructing reconstruction, Sahina Shrestha
Dolakha's hidden charm, Dambar Krishna Shrestha