This first event of Nepal Tourism Year 2011, held promptly on its first day on 14 January, took place in the natural stadium of the Annapurna Conservation Area. Runners were applauded by local residents volunteering at check points and feeding stations. Torches and headlamps were lit for the dawn start, khatas and tika were presented to the participants by local mothers' groups and there was an impromptu flyover of majestic Himalayan Griffon vultures. All very befitting for a tourism year ceremony.
"It was a beautiful and challenging race. An incredible experience to share, and a unique way to start a new year," said Britain's Lizzy Hawker, former 100 km world champion, and now first-ever female winner of the Annapurna 100 ultra trail race.
The event is in its sixth year now and promises to be a challenging and permanent fixture in the world sporting calendar. Trail running, using mountain trails rather than roads, is one of the world's fastest growing sports. In 2009, 4.8 million Americans participated in trail (off road) running, according to a report by America's Outdoor Industry Foundation.
In France, the world home of mountain running, there are more 100 km+ races every year than there are types of smelly cheese. Nepal is a perfect host for this kind of sport. Not only are the trails great and the Himalayan views from them heavenly, but the fact that the mountains are inhabited at high altitudes makes for a great experience for foreigners. It's a race, but tourism too.
Nepali women took part for the first time. Twelve girls from Pokhara's Three Sisters Adventure Trekking nervously joined the 5.30 am start without any running practice whatsoever. Nine finished the 50 km course beaming with pride.
Work has already begun on the 2012 event, but efforts are also being put towards generating money for the Nepal Mountain Running Service, an athlete training centre, and to afford to get trail runners to the start lines of world class races around the globe, with the very achievable aim of flying Nepal's unique flag on the podium. If any minister would be willing to forgo an international junket and submit an expense claim receipt for an athlete's flight ticket, please get in touch.
Moulding a childhood