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Another way to Annapurna – Narchyang and the Herzog Trail

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How a small village is playing its part in solving overtourism and the revival of the Maurice Herzog trail

Recognised in a recent UN report, the story of Narchyang and its role in the revival of the Maurice Herzog Trail is a lesson in how tourism can do better, and it’s given travellers the chance to retrace the footsteps of one of the most famous expeditions in mountaineering history.

We’ll start our story with Ajay Pun, an ambitious young Nepali from Narchyang – a picturesque village deep in the Annapurna Range. Upper Narchyang had been part of the route taken by the great French mountaineer, Maurice Herzog, as he became the first man to scale a mountain above 8,000m in 1950 when he conquered Annapurna I along with his French and Nepali team. His book ‘Annapurna’, which told the incredible, near-death story of the expedition, became a huge hit around the world and gave Narchyang a degree of fame for some time.

Annapurna book cover by Maurice Herzog
the cover of 'Annapurna' by Maurice Herzog

The legends of Herzog are still told in the village today, but whilst nearby routes to Annapurna began to attract a steady stream of travellers, Herzog’s original route was largely forgotten and Narchyang was rarely visited by tourists in the years since. The villagers continued to farm or work on nearby hydroelectric projects, and anyone seeking more opportunities or a better education would leave for Kathmandu or Pokhara.

farmland near Narchyang, Nepal
Working the farmland around Narchyang (photo from 8thwonder)

Ajay moved to Kathmandu at 18 and began working in a restaurant, before moving into tourism with a white-water rafting company. A few years later, he started working as a travel consultant for Community Homestay Network – a social enterprise that supports and enables communities across Nepal to become hosts for trekkers and travellers. It was here that Ajay started to realise that he could do something special for his village, and for his region.

Just 2-hours on foot from Narchyang, the village of Tatopani had been gradually gaining popularity as a stopover on the Annapurna Circuit and a starting point for the Annapurna Base Camp Trek. Whilst this was good for Tatopani in many ways, their infrastructure isn’t built to cope with the additional people and it started to have some adverse effects.

In rural areas, if tourism becomes concentrated in one place then it can change the whole area, creating pollution and waste which causes major damage to the environment and wildlife. We’ve seen it many times before, all over the world. It also means that the human and social benefits of tourism aren’t shared by all the people of the region.

Villagers meeting in Narchyang, Nepal
Villagers meeting in Narchyang (photo by 8th wonder)

Ajay could see the opportunity for Narchyang to ease the burden on Tatopani, and he knew the experience they could offer to Annapurna Circuit trekkers. The village itself, made up of three levels on the hillside, is in a stunning setting with mountain views with nearby waterfalls and hot springs to explore, and Ajay was sure that the Magar hospitality they would offer to guests would be very popular too.

Narchyang village, Nepal
Houses in Narchyang village

At Community Homestay Network he was with the people who could help make his dream a reality. He spent a year working for the company, learning how the homestay network operated and about the tourism industry as a whole, before leaving his job and returning the Narchyang to set about establishing a community homestay in the village.

Meanwhile, plans to revive the trail used by Maurice Herzog’s famous expeditions were gathering pace. Basic trekking facilities were being installed, ready for the re-opening of the trail in early 2022. This would create even more demand for accommodation, with Narchyang being the starting point for the route to Annapurna North Base Camp

One of Nepal’s most established tour operators, Royal Mountain Travel, also agreed to include Narchyang instead of Tatopani in their Annapurna Circuit Trek, offering something different for their travellers and reducing the environmental impact of one of their most popular packages. Things were starting to look positive for Narchyang.

With a promise of investment to increase capacity and to provide the knowledge and training they would need to host tourists, Ajay convinced five families to start up their own homestays. Each family would take turns in hosting guests so that the income was spread fairly, and the influx of travellers would create opportunities for the whole village.

greeting a traveller in Narchyang, Nepal
greeting a traveller in Narchyang (photo by Ajay Pun)

In autumn 2019, Ajay’s idea began to gain momentum, with over 50 travellers staying with host families over just 3 months. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with guests enjoying the laid-back atmosphere and the chance to get to know the people of the village and help out with daily chores or farm-work. In Narchyang, travellers are treated more like a family member than a customer, and it’s this kind of unique, genuine experience which so many modern tourists are looking for.

Amidst this wave of optimism, Covid-19 reared its ugly head in early 2020, meaning Narchyang’s new venture had to be put on hold for a while, but with tourists now returning to Nepal and the Maurice Herzog trail opening up, the village’s hosts are ready to welcome travellers to their unique corner of the Himalayas once again.

Narchyang village
Narchyang village (photo by Ajay Pun)

Narchying Community Homestay has been used as a case study in a recent UN report on mountain tourism, which cites the project as a solution to some of the big issues facing tourist destinations across the world, and points to a possible way forward to make the tourism industry a more sustainable place.

View the full report at https://www.fao.org/3/cb7884en/cb7884en.pdf

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