Tourists trek Nepal's guerilla trail
The Guardian in Kathmandu
It is a very political itinerary for a Himalayan trek. Instead of just vistas over serried peaks and the opportunity to be photographed astride a yak, there are former combat zones and valleys that were a "liberated Maoist" zone only a decade ago.
The new route will take walkers on a three-week trip through the heartland of Nepal's 10-year civil war, which ended in 2006 and pitted government forces against a Maoist insurgency. The region was also home to many of the top Maoist commanders.
The scheme is backed by the prime minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, himself a former Maoist leader.
"Memorials are built in any country after major revolutions and [the] guerilla trail is a memorial of the war we have fought," said Dahal, who goes by the name Prachanda.
Lokendra Bahadur Bista, a former minister and rebel told the media at a press conference last week: "We fought the war, and this will help us to be a record for ourselves."
More than 16,000 people were killed during the conflict. The Maoists became the largest party in Nepal after the Constituent Assembly election in 2008 and have since led the government twice. However, grave political instability remains along with severe economic problems.
One aim of the new scheme is to diversify tourism in Nepal. Foreign visitors bring much-needed hard currency into the poor South Asian nation.
But major tourist destinations such as the valleys around the massifs of Everest and Annapurna are getting overcrowded and, in some places, dirty.
"The concept of the guerilla trek emerged as we were looking for new avenues for tourism," said Kashi Raj Bhandari, an official at the Nepal Tourism Board.
Surendra Rana, a Nepali researcher, said the trek could benefit marginalised communities from which most of the guerillas were recruited at the initial stage of war.
"Trekkers and trekking can help them engage with the global community," Rana said.