Over the last 25 years, projects funded by the World Bank have researched the
hydroelectric potential of most major rivers in Nepal. These sites have been
evaluated on the basis of the cost of building a facility versus the profits to be
made from Power Generation. To date major Dams have been built on the
Marshyani, Kali Gandaki, Chilime and Bhote Kosi rivers. Construction is also
nearing completion on the Modi Khola, middle Marshyagdi and Khimti and a new
project is being planned for the upper Marshyangdi, Bhote Koshi, Tamba Koshi
and West Seti
Almost all the rivers in Nepal have some form of hydroelectric development
scheme planned for them within the next 10 to 20 years. The question is,
“Where will it stop?”
Nepal is currently modifying its ‘Water Resources Policy Act’ to encourage more
foreign investors to quickly develop this resource. The Government has already
received tenders from several energy companies from the developed world to
bid for what has been dubbed as; “The Karnali / Chiso Pani and Middle Karnali
Most countries that already use hydroelectric power have found that the
benefits of this clean and energy efficient fuel source come at another price –
the destruction of the landscape and fragile eco-systems around them. Entire
species of fish can be lost due to dams and river ecology has been fractured
because of rampant development. There are examples of this all over America
where dams are being removed and organisations fight to return rivers to a free
“There are currently over 3000 permitted dams in the state of Pennsylvania.
These dams can adversely affect the health of Pennsylvania rivers and streams
by altering channel morphology, flow regimes and sediment transport, changing
water temperature and chemistry, modifying algal and macro invertebrate
communities, and disrupting resident and migratory fish communities (Petts
“The disruption of these linkages by dams represents a significant disturbance
to the broad-scale base of production for entire river systems and can impair
the way a river processes and assimilates inputs of sediment, toxins, and
nutrients. Thus, dams have an influence on the interaction between watershedscale processes, such as non-point pollution loading, and in-stream ecological
health. (Nightingale 1998)”.
This is a current example of where Nepal could be in 20 years time. Why
do we have to repeat these same mistakes instead of learning from the mistakes
of other countries?
Once Nepal agrees to donate the Humala Karnali to the living Earth some of the
following will become long-term benefits:
- 1. Nepal will become a recognised World Leader in Eco-Tourism and this can
be used to further promote our Tourism Industry.
- 2. This will in time (if we don’t keep any other rivers free) become the only
corridor in Nepal joining the Tibetan Plateau via the Himalaya with the
- 3. The action of keeping Karnali free will carry a very real message of
sustainable development in a region where it is most needed.
- 4. This would be the beginning of the Politicians aim to make Nepal the
“Naya Nepal/New Switzerland”.
- 5. Once this river becomes protected it will help to conserve the; Flora and
Fauna, Aquatic Life, Ancient Cultures. In Humla and the Upper Dolpa
region we see the Tibetan culture in Himalayan Region and Khas culture in
Jumala, Mugu and the Dailekh in the Mahabharat regions, we see the Raji
and the Rautes (the last nomadic tribe in Nepal) cultures and in the
Churia Hills and Karnali Basins we see the Tharus culture.
- 6. Protecting the river will maintain the pristine wilderness around it which
includes forests that are still 60% untouched.
- 7. Hundreds of different Himalayan Herbs can be found for example in the
low lands elephant grass and in the high lands yarsa gumba and Panch
Aunle in this corridor.
The Government needs to research specific areas with regards to the Karnali
Project in order to understand further the reasons why it should be left alone:
- 1. To research the whole area of Karnali including all aspects of it’s
development and keeping in mind the vision of “Karnali after 98 years”.
- 2. The research needs to be done in 3 different sections; Firstly on the
flora, fauna, geology and geography of the area. Secondly on the Culture
and Sociological heritage of the area. Thirdly on the eco-tourism
potential of the area.
- 3. A “Right of the River” system needs to be implemented. For example a
band of 3km on either side of the river to be protected from
Government encroachment or private development. The local inhabitants
would be allowed to stay and a new trail as in point (5) would be built to
- 4. The flora, fauna, aquatic life and culture would need to be kept intact and
protected along this river corridor in order to enable Nepal to showcase
the Karnali as a real blend of sustainable development and Eco-Tourism.
- 6. In reference to point (5) the trail would be taken care of by the local
communities it passes through and they in turn will be beneficiaries of
the increased tourist trade. The Government should develop a system by
which this trail is maintained in much the same way as the trails in the
- 7. In reference to point (5) a National Park fee must be charged to tourists
as in the Upper Dolpo or Annapurna regions.
- 8. In reference to point (5) the local communities should be encouraged to
maintain their farming lifestyle, fishing as well as working with tourists.
This will avoid a similar situation as is arising in the Everest region where
the indigenous population are forgetting their cultural trades in favour of
tourism which can be devastating on an area if the tourism is reduced for
- 9. Nepal needs to avoid falling into the tunnel vision trap of thinking that
once we have hydroelectric power we will all be rich. The Government has
been systematically privatising the rivers to the highest bidders, such as
Bhote Kosi, Khimti and Chilimne. We need to bear in mind that most of
the rivers have already been registered to Indian and Nepali
businessmen. The leading Industrialist Mr. Pravaker Ram has said that
the Seti Dam on it’s own has the potential to raise the per capita income
of Nepal by over $2000 / year. We need to seriously look how the
country can be developed for the benefit of everyone and not just a few
selected individuals. With the privatisation of the rivers the rich will get
richer and the poor will get poorer.
- 10. Nepal needs to develop a long term vision with a specific plan to carry
on in its mission to manage the natural resources for the benefit of the
Nepali people. When looking at developing the hydropower we should
consider dividing Nepal into 3 different zones.
• East Nepal – Leave the river from Sagamartha the Dudh Kosi
untouched. The rest of the tributaries: Indarwati, Tamba Koshi,
Arun and the Tamur can be built on. While building these dams the
local tourism and ecology must be considered.
• Middle Nepal – From Kali Gandaki, Mardi, Marshyangdi to Trisuli
can be developed for Hydro Power but leave Madi alone.
• West Nepal – The last free flowing river in Nepal the Karnali
should be declared as our Himalayan River Heritage. In the far
west the bordering river Mahakali can be exploited between the
• Keeping the above in consideration the best policy Nepal Govt.
could enforce order to flourish both industries (whitewater
rafting tourism and Hydro industries) would be no dames to be
built below 1200 mtrs. from sea level and this is very possible.
Most of our river expeditions start below that elevation and most
of our river comes from 7,000 meters.
- 11. If we are serious to develop our country first of all we have to
make our politician and policy makers realise that what are our strengths,
weaknesses and what we have got to offer. On this regard we would like
to put forward four major agendas as our nation's long term vision and
Mission for the future sustainable development of our country which
have to be developed simultaneously:
❑ The Tourism Industry (sustainable and eco tourism) is recognized as the
back bone of Nepalese Economy and should be put forward in National
priority and we should build a good infrastructure accordingly. It applies
to education, HRD, security, all means of transportation and nature
❑ Go Organic within the next 10 to 15 years, develop Himalayan herbs and
develop handicrafts and cottage industries: Our two neighbours the
economic giants of Asia will be the biggest market for our Organic and
herbal products. Nepal cannot be an industrial Country, there is no way
we could compete with India and China or some of the south Asian
countries. We must smartly think what are the other alternative ways to
compete in this Global Market, what are those industries where we can
be ahead then rest of the countries? We must think of how we could
cater to the middle class people of these two countries which are the
most populated in the World. Every visitor who comes to Nepal will have
organic food, the finest handy crafts will be exported, the Himalayan
Herbs are already in big demand but it has to be managed well in a
❑ Nepal to be developed as a “Trade Transit and Banking” institution. Just
trading links between the two industrial giants in Asia (India and China)
and providing the banking services to these two countries would be good
enough for Nepal’s economic growth. Nepal can be as good as Hong Kong
or Switzerland in South Asia for trading and banking.
❑ Nepal to develop the hydropower industry to sell to India but since India
is the only buyer, India will have the monopoly in pricing so Nepal has to
be careful especially when India plans to put Nuclear Power Station.
Nepal must look to other options for development so we are not too
dependent on the hydropower business so the above two options must be
taken into close consideration. When we want to build a hydro dam we
must look over 75 years or more, would the dam still be viable after that
many years, what would be a better option for long term sustainable
development? Would the hydropower industry help sustainable
development? For example Nepal may get very rich by selling the power
to India, will that money give jobs to more people in the country? The
best is to go for micro hydro schemes where we have low cost, low
maintenance and maximum benefits instead of dreaming about hydro
Most of the big streams and river have been registered in private
companies' name, almost no river or stream left, any profit on these will go
to private companies. With this process the richer will become richer and
poorer will be much poorer. Our people must realise that our natural
resources (Jal, Jamin and Jungle) belongs to the people of this nation not
only to handful rich people. On the other hand this will also create severe
problems in nature. The perfect example is the burning flood situation in low
land Tarai, most of it is men made disaster rather then natural one because
of the dam in Indian side.
As a group we are not against hydroelectric power. For development in some
major areas of Nepal it is needed. There are areas however where it is not
needed. As a country Nepal tends to give favour to hydroelectric power in some
areas over the current highly sustainable tourism development and other
activities. Hydro-electricity does provide much needed power and foreign
revenue but it has been shown that sustainable tourism can also generate as
much revenue and with these profits don’t go to private investors, they go to
Tourism in Nepal has gained popularity in the last 20 years. More and more
people come to Nepal to trek and to sightseeing and to enjoy its beautiful rivers.
Rafting in Nepal is one of the most popular activities for tourists, second only to
trekking. The Karnali is an excellent river for both these activities. For
Kayakers and Rafters alike, Nepal is undoubtedly the number 1 destination in the
Nepal claims to be the second richest country in the World (after Brazil) in its
Natural Water Resources. If this is really true then why do we hesitate to leave
even a few of our rivers in their natural state for our future generations? If we
don’t leave any rivers untouched then we can hardly claim to be rich in Natural
In International tourism Nepal’s Brand Name is: “Naturally Nepal” and we do
not hesitate to claim our status as the land of “Eco-Tourism” – But how in
reality after damming all our rivers can we expect the rest of the World to take
us seriously in our claim to be an Eco-Tourism destination.
Our Politicians are quick to say that they want to make Nepal the New
Switzerland or Singapore. They all talk about our countries long-term vision but
what will the vision of Nepal really be after 50 or 100 years?
The Karnali River, meaning “Turquoise River” is one of the 3 great rivers in
Nepal. Starting at the base of Holy Mount Kailash, the Karnali travels slowly
across the Tibetan Plateau, before gradually speeding up through the Himalayas
and churning itself into a mass of white water that spills into the Mahabarat,
the Shiwalik hills and then eases off in the lowlands of the Terai and dispersing
into Ganges tributaries in the Gangatic floodplains. The Karnali is considered to
be connected to the Holy centre of the World as well as its source in Mount
This river has served as the base for the Khas civilisation, which was the root of
the present Nepalese civilisation. Throughout the Dolpa, Jumla, Humla, Kalikot
and Mugu districts there are abundant religious sites and in the Karnali area
there are also many pilgrimages for the faithful like Reling and the sacred
Tumkot Monastery. An example of this history was shown in the movie “Caravan”
which was based and filmed in the Karnali watershed in Dolpa District.
As well as it’s Cultural ties the Karnali is acclaimed as a classic example in Nepal
of a “Pristine Free Flowing” river. The Karnali has the lowest population density
in Nepal. There are no large towns or cities on its banks and in Nepal it is only
crossed by one road the Mahendra Highway near the border of India. This
environment, virtually clear of man’s progress has ensured an abundance of
wildlife second to none in Nepal.
The Karnali corridor has got the most abandoned and diverse flora, fauna and
aquatic life compare to any other rivers in the world. Animals such as; snow
leopard and blue ship to One horned rhinoceros Leopard, Deer, Bengal Tiger,
wild elephants, over 230 different species of mammals can be found, many
different specious of reptiles including Indian and Burmese python, king cobra,
Ghariyal and mash mugger crocodiles and over 870 different species of Birds
can be recorded from Mansrowar lake to Bardiya National Park, Nepal’s the best
aquatic life is also found in this river including Himalayan trout, freshwater
dolphin, giant catfish and golden masher. The river also cuts through the
magnificent gorges, steep pine forested slopes, subtropical Jungle all the way to
the Bardiya National Park. The park is respected as being one of the best
National Parks in Asia. All this area by its location and good luck to be so far
relatively untouched should be protected in its natural state. For such a pristine
area of wilderness it seems illogical to want to build new dams there.
The Karnali is classified in International Rafting Standards as 1 of the top 5
rivers in the World to Raft down. This is largely due to its almost perfect
natural condition and the technically difficult level of its white water. Tourism
has only been in the area around Karnali for the last 5 years and the area since
then has been dogged by political turmoil.
In future years the Karnali has the potential to be as popular a tourist
attraction as Snack River in Yellowstone National Park and The Grand Canyon in
America or River Franklin in Australia. The Annapurna Conservation Areas and
the Mustang require permits of Rs. 2000 up to $700 per week for the privilege
of trekking in them. The Karnali could be established as a “Himalayan River
Heritage” and access could be arranged along the same lines as other
Conservation Permits for Nepal.
The current plans however are in danger of ruining the tourism potential of this
area and diluting the cultural heritage and spoiling the wilderness. In this new
World of Eco-Tourism and Sustainable Development, tourism in Nepal has the
potential to meet both of these goals at once. Several Government schemes have
been suggested for the Karnali. They all focus on exploitation and not
protection. We highly recommend the micro hydro schemes in our country,
which is low investment, low maintenance, more practical and minimum
environmental degradation. If not then the main trunk of the Karnali (the
source of Huala Karali to all the way to Bardia national park and to Ganges)
to be saved, the other tributaries of the Karnali such as Muga Karanli,
Tila, west Seti and Lohare can be developed.
The Karnali may be a good river for producing Hydro-electricity but Nepal is not
in short supply of good rivers for this purpose.
The late King, as one of his “sacred gifts for a living planet”, doubled the size of
the Royal Bardiya National Park.
We propose that the Nepal Government follows suit and donates the Karnali
River as a “sacred gift for a living Earth” to the World and just as importantly
to the Nepalese people.
Other river-based communities will be able to pay subsidies towards the upkeep
of the park, for example: Gold Panners and the fishing community.
If we build a track right the way to Mount Kailash then there will be many
wealthy Buddhist and Hindu pilgrims on the trail even out of the tourist seasons
thereby maintaining the income to the area throughout the year.
The flow of tourists into the park should be controlled. Bhutan has very specific
limits on the numbers of tourists they allow in every year. They also charge very
high visa and park fees thereby attracting the “right sort” of high paying
clients. We should aim to attract nature lovers and wildlife watchers. This area
is known for it’s protected species such as; Tigers, Dolphins, Himalayan Black
Bears, Snow Leopards and Musk Deer, probably the riches area for Himalayan
Herbs in entire Himalayan Region as well as in culture. Surely conserving the
Flora and Fauna as well as the culture of this corridor is as good enough reason
on it’s own for the concept of the “Karnali National Park” or the Himalayan River
We need to try to consider Tourism as our Number 1 Industry in Nepal. It is an
industry where currently 1 tourist employs 11 people. Therefore if we have 1
million tourists then 11 million people will benefit. If Bali, one little island in
Indonesia can have 3 million tourists per annum then what is to stop Nepal from
having the same number of tourists every year. Nepal’s unique bio-diversity,
geography and culture are more than enough reasons to attract high numbers of
foreign tourists each year to our country. Nepal just needs to focus on
developing the infrastructure to support tourism, maintaining it’s natural beauty
and promoting Nepal as a destination for Nature, Culture and Adventure
We now need to develop a clearly structured plan of action for how we are going
to achieve the goal of creating a new “Karnali National Park”. Our immediate
actions should be to:
1. Petition the Government to declare the Karnali a “Free River” where no
hydroelectric construction will take place ( Mt. Kailash - Humala
Karnali to Bardiya Nationalpark). To make it a “Sacred Gift to the
2. Survey the entire length of the river and draw up plans for its protection
and trekking routes etc. This should be done by a team of; Geologists,
Hydrologists, Ecologists, Anthropologists, Guiding specialists and
3. Prepare a proposal and implement the action plan for developing this area
as a sustainable eco-tourism destination.
Nepal’s main problem it seems is that our Politicians seem to have no “Long
Term” vision. After every 6 months the Prime Minister changes and each Prime
Minister has his own agenda to develop the country. They come along and say
they want to make Nepal the “ Switzerland”. But is this the right approach?
Surely Nepal can be developed into a beautiful country in it’s own right – if we
manage our natural resources and our basic infra structure properly.
With the recent advent of Democracy coming back into Nepal, now is a good
time to speak out and say that we are not happy with the state of things and
that there must be a change. Our Government needs to look at the long-term
sustainability of projects for the benefit of the whole of Nepal for generations
to come. Privatising Hydro-electricity will benefit only a few rich Nepali for a
short time. But developing Nepal as a leading International Eco-tourism
destination will benefit many more people and will provide a Natural Nepal for
generations to come to enjoy.
We need to take notice of our two main neighbours who are fast developing into
internationally wealthy centres of commerce and realise that the future of
tourism doesn’t just lie with Western Tourists but also with those countries
closer to us.
As Anil Chitrakar said:
“First of all Nepal and Nepali’s must understand and build on the
confidence that we are not poor, but rather a poorly managed country. We are
not land locked but we are a land linked country” (Anil Chitrakar)
Nepal needs to follow the example of countries like India where Ghandi and
Neharu’s vision was for long term development seeing far into the future 50 –
100 years of their country.
Nepal’ own domestic problems and political turmoil have held us back from
developing at the same rate as India and China but their economies are now
booming and whilst we are working to catch up with them through projects such
as Hydro-electric power we need to not lose sight of our other advantages,
namely our beautiful natural environment and the potential that Nepal has to
become a World leader in Eco-Tourism.
All too often in Nepal our best academic minds and our hardest workers are
looking to emigrate abroad to seek work in better paid countries and to settle in
countries with stronger economies.
The eminent Mr. A. Chitrakar stated that: “We Nepali are successful as
Individuals but collectively we are a failure”. (A. Chitrakar)
But with good vision, structure, policy making and perseverance we now have the
opportunity to make our own country as desirable a location to live as the others
that our young are moving to.
With the cooperation of the Nepal Tourism Board and the Ministry of Tourism
we will be able to promote our programmes and our new form of Eco-tourism to a
It seems at the moment that the politicians all care only about “The bigger the
dam, the bigger the investment, the bigger their commission” we need to stop
the malaise and the current thought pattern of “More Pacchi Dumai Raja”. We
need to make our voice heard and the politicians to sit up and listen.
Perhaps now is the time to have a new beginning for our Nation. We are a free
democratic country full of love and compassion for our heritage and the Nepali
way of life. Saving Karnali and making it a National Park/Himalayan River
Heritage for Sustainable Eco-tourism /sustainable development will be a strong
positive step towards a new structured way of developing our country and
sustaining it as a profitable source of income for everyone for the future. Not
only that this would carry the real respect to those conservation Martyrs
who lost their lives while working for nature conservation and there will be
the fish for our many generations to come.