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Recurrent sport events can have a significant impact on unestablished destinations. If a site is not yet famous in its own right, the event can put it on the map, establish the "brand," and reset the life cycle of a destination that might otherwise become tapped out.
Early on, the event may depend on the pre-existing charisma of the destination. Even if the event does not come to be more famous than the venue, it may become a significant part of the asset mix.
Bridges: Projects in Rational Tourism Development has proposed two such recurrent events. The program that was scheduled for Feb-May 2010 was to have focused on feasibility studies.
Heroes of Rolwaling A three-sport competition to be held regularly in Nepal's Rolwaling Valley. The first leg would be the ascent of one of the 20,000-foot trekking peaks -- either Yalung Tse or Ramdung. This would be followed by a 20-mile run from Tsho Rolpa, at the head of the valley, to Simigaon, down to the Bhote Khosi river, and upstream to the ethnically Tibetan village of Lamabagar. From there, the third leg would be a kayak race downstream to the roadhead near Dolakha.
The Everest Classic A backpacking marathon from the trailhead at Jiri all the way to Everest Base Camp, 100 miles away. (Alternatively, the route might begin 80 km further west at Lamosangu, which was the trailhead before the Swiss Road was completed as far as Jiri in 1985.) Competitors will be divided into classes according to the weights they carry: 7.5 (memba), 15 (trekker), or 22.5 kg (porter). Ideally, the weights would consist of rice or other staples that can be used locally.)
We're still hoping to move ahead with those projects.
In an upcoming article, we will look at the Tenzing-Hillary Everest Marathon, an event that we think deserves greater world-wide attention, and which could be a substantially greater force for development and for peace.
Sporting events have important advantages over other forms of development.
There are many beautiful valleys in Nepal, but none that are as likely to become the next big tourist destination.
Located just west of Khumbu, the home of Everest and most of the other giants, Rolwaling has languished in poverty and obscurity for decades due to a combination of factors. Its unusual east-west orientation kept it isolated from the north-south trade (between India and Tibet)that sustained the Khumbu Sherpas. Restrictive regulations prevented the development of tea-shop tourism. Virtually all able-bodied men and many women outmigrated seasonally or permanently in search of employment, leaving those who remained to survive on a deficient diet of potatoes and home-brew. In recent years, the specter of Maoist depredations (mostly exaggerated) further reduced tourist traffic.
Despite the tribulations, Rolwaling has unusually strong tourism assets:
With all these attributes, it is inevitable that Rolwaling will be developed. We would like to see that this development proceeds in a sustainable fashion, which means that the local community must be organized and aroused to take advantage of economic opportunities before outsiders move in. One important step should be communal ownership of key trademarks. Rolwaling (and perhaps Cradle of Heroes) should be marketed internationally. A well-promoted sporting event would be a good first step. Later steps should include cottage-industry scale dried trekking food and equipment manufacture. Another project that we have been discussing with Everest Summiter members is the Summiters School, a mountaineering school for tourists taught and run by Sherpas. Most important, we would like the Cortland Nepal program to be the first stage of an international study center, the Rolwaling Mountain Legacy Institute. This institute would not only be a magnet for the best kind of "ecotourism" -- long term study -- but would also provide ongoing technical assistance for the Rolwaling community.
Outside of Kathmandu Valley, Nepal is essentially a walking country. Roads and airstrips are innovations that hard-core trekkers regret. To see Nepal from the cramped seat of a lurching bus or the dicey prospect of a domestic flight, they feel, is hardly worth the visit.
The road to Jiri has clearly brought important economic benefits to the region, but it has also had negative impacts. Trekking tourism, which had brought hope to villages between Lamosangu and Jiri, collapsed. Even on the main trail from Jiri eastward, progress has been slow due to the displacement of leisurely trekking by rush-rush-rush fly in-fly out tours.
From the tourist's point of view, the long trek in has other advantages than the panorama of rural Nepal. The experience itself is transformative: many trekkers claim that it was more significant to them than actually reaching Everest. It is the hook that holds visitors, bringing them back for visit after visit.
The transformation is not only spiritual but also physical. Cutting across the topographical grain of the country means climbing and dropping thousands of feet repeatedly, a process that frequently gets many trekkers into the best shape they've ever been, and guarantees that they will not fall prey to Acute Mountain Sickness as they approach their final destination.
From the perspective of the Nepalese hosts, the long trek in maximizes contact between host and guests, increasing the likelihood that guests will feel a commitment to the host community and return repeatedly; some will even become "sponsors."
An Everest Classic trekking rally might revitalize interest in this uniquely Nepalese tourism asset. Making this a weight-carrying event would have other advantages. It would promote empathy for porters, the true athletes of Nepal; and it would promote a carry-your-own ethos, reversing the tendency to dehumanize locals as beasts of burden, and allowing more people to share the remarkable benefits of this form of recreation.
If you are interested in participating in Moving Mountains or have any feedback, contact Mountain Legacy Projects Coordinator Seth Sicroff at email@example.com; 511 W. Green St., Ithaca NY, 14850 USA; (607) 256-0102.