Begnas going the way of PhewaPokhara’s lesser-known lake is at risk of ecological and livelihood impacts from motorboats
Maury Mason was following a Shelduck gliding over the mirror calm water of Begnas Lake through binoculars from his rooftop when a motorboat cut through the stillness. The startled bird flew away.
Mason came to Nepal from Canada 52 years ago, travelling across the country before reaching Pokhara and promptly falling in love with the city. He remained enamoured by the beauty of the valley, its lakes and its rich diversity of birdlife.
Mason lives by Begnas Lake, having fled Pokhara’s overdevelopment. He was not so bothered by tourists on row boats on the lake, but then came the motorboats.
Residents of the Pachbhaiya village near Begnas were also shocked by the motorboats, which were introduced by local businessmen of the Begnas Lake Boat Traders Committee.
Without a hint of irony, Ravi Raj Kandel of the committee says the boats were brought to “develop tourism” in Begnas.
The motorboat can carry 10 people at a time, and each passenger is charged Rs400 for the ride. The Committee is promoting the motorboats for groups larger than ten rather than paddle boats.
“We have introduced the motorboats for rescue operations and so pilgrims can visit the Baraha Temple on the lake,” says Dhak Nath Kandel, ward chair of Pokhara Metropolitan City-31, which includes Begnas.
The 250 wooden paddle boat operators as well as the local fishing committee were not consulted, and it has affected their livelihood. Along with residents, they have protested against the motorboats.
Local fisher Tanka Jalari says the fish yield has decreased since the boats were introduced and his income has dropped from Rs30,000 a month to almost zero.
Jalari adds that it is dangerous to go out on the lake when the motorboats are operating. “Our family has to constantly go back and forth across the lake, and those motorboats can easily capsize our small fishing boats,” he says.
Manoj Gurung, a resident of Pachbhaiya, enjoyed the novelty of seeing motorboats in the beginning and thought it might boost tourism, but has now realised how harmful it is to the environment, livelihoods and tourism.
On World Wetlands Day 2015, Pokhara’s lakes, including Phewa, Begnas, Rupa, Gude, Khaste, Niureni, Dipang, Kamal Pokhari and Maidi were included in the List of Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance. The nine lakes are listed as the Lake Cluster of Pokhara spanning 64,514 hectares.
Wetland ecosystems are crucial habitats for migratory birds, fish, amphibians and vegetation. Nepal’s 10 wetlands of Nepal, including the Lake Cluster of Pokhara are lprotected under the Ramsar Convention.
All nine lakes of Pokhara were already in danger due to pollution, encroachment and over development. Businessman Ganesh Pariyar frequently sees fuel spillage from motorboats on the previously pristine Begnas Lake.
“The peace of the lake and surrounding areas is constantly disturbed by visitors shouting along to music blaring from the speakers of the motorboats,” Pariyar adds.
Nepal’s Local Government Operation Act 2017 stipulates that the local government has the authority to permit and regulate tourism business operations. However, the Begnas Lake Boat Traders Committee only applied for a permit three months after it began to operate the motorboats.
There are concerns over the local government’s commitment to protecting the lake’s wetland ecosystem as Pokhara Metropolitan City wants to introduce 20 kinds of water sports to promote tourism in Begnas — including the operation of three-tier engine-powered boats on the lake.
The National Wetland Policy 2012 states that environmental impact assessments be done before plans for development and construction in and around wetland areas. No such report was done at Begnas Lake.
Bishal Ghimire, secretary of the Ministry of Industry, Tourism, Forest and Environment of Gandaki Province, admits that even small-scale projects like motor boats on lakes require a basic environmental study.
However, there is little communication between the local and provincial governments, and Begnas residents complain that the local government does not care about what is happening to their pristine lake.
Begnas is not as well known as Phewa Lake, but that is now changing. Says Manoj Gurung: “It is really important for us to protect Begnas to leave it for the next.