Charikot, 133km east from Kathmandu by road, is the gateway to the recently opened Gaurishankar Trekking Area, encompassing mountain peaks, waterfalls, temples and monasteries in Dolakha district.
Despite its relative proximity to the capital, northern Dolakha feels nearly as remote as Humla. And because of the lack of roads and neglect of the state, it is desperately poor. Almost every household has several members working in Kathmandu or abroad.
Now, thanks to help from the Austrian NGO Eco Himal, Dolakha has become an example of how tourism can inject cash and help development. Eco Himal began in 1997, helping locals construct tourist lodges to attract trekkers. "We invested in this area because we saw the potential," says Eco Himal's Kurt Luger. "As a tourist destination, Gaurishankar can be as popular as the Dhaulagiri and Annapurna regions."
Eco Himal first built a lodge in Bigu, a four-day walk from Charikot up the Tama Kosi river. Since then it has handed over other lodges for local groups to run. "We couldn't have invested so much ourselves, but we've taken the responsibility," says Ranabahadur Thapa Magar, chairman of the Bigu Tourism Development Cooperative.
The lodges offer clean rooms, hot showers, a variety of food and local handicrafts. Where there are no lodges, there are campsites. The cooperatives have also worked with Eco Himal to renovate temples, build bridges and improve hiking trails. Increasing numbers of schools now have safe drinking water and hygienic toilets.
HOW TO GET THERE: Kathmandu-Charikot, Charikot-Singati Bajar by bus. Trekkers can choose between five,
10 or 20-day hikes in the area. All the lodges are operated by local residents.
The Gauri Shankar Trekking Area (including Rolwaling) - A Cultural Tour Book
Edited by Patricia East, Susan H?ivik, Max Petrik, Sara Shneiderman and Mark Turin.
Kathmandu: Eco Himal and Mandala Book Point.
ISBN 99933-10-20-0. 124 pages, colour and monochrome plates, trekking map.
ALL PICS: DAMBER KRISHNA SHRESTHA