Tourism refers to the movement of people to places outside their usual environment in pursuit of recreation, relaxation and pleasure. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), tourism entails the movement of people to countries or places outside their usual environment for personal or business/professional purposes.
The unique characteristics of Nepal—indigenous cultures, nature-based attractions, historical monuments, beautiful landscapes, and pleasant weather conditions—make it a natural destination for tourists.
Rara lake is one of these splendid beauties of Nepal, which attracts people with its breathtaking beauty. Rara is the biggest lake in Nepal, with a length of 5.2 km, a breadth of 2 km, and a depth of 167m. The total surface area is 10.4 square kilometers, situated at an altitude of 2980m. Rara changes its color three times a day. It turns blue, brown, and crimson white, a shade of Sinje and Kanjirowa mountains turns it into glorious beauty. King Mahendra was so taken away by the beauty of Rara that he penned his famous poem, “Rara Ki Apsara”, describing its uniqueness and glamour.
Though it is so rich in natural beauty and has unique features, Rara has not been able to attract as many tourists as expected. There are several factors behind it. First, there are no well-equipped hospitals and health care centers near Rara where tourists can be treated in any case of emergency. The nearest place where proper health treatment can be available is in Nepalgunj.
The second hurdle is transportation. To travel down to Nepalgunj, one has to hire a jeep, which will take two days. However, this option is not favorable during the night as police do not allow vehicles on the road after the dark. Helicopters and airplanes may not be favorable in case of bad weather such as snowfall, fog and rain. During our stay there, we heard that one child suffered from typhoid, and he was to be taken to Nepalgunj for treatment, but due to weather, there were no flights, and he lost his life waiting to be cured. Life is precious, so is the health of every single person. Therefore, the government should work on establishing hospitals and health care centers around Rara.
Third, there is a lack of an information center. There are no information centers in the bus parks of Nepalgunj, Surkhet and Kohalpur where tourists may get detailed information about the best means of travel, hotels and lodges on the way to Rara. As a result, they may be cheated by frauds who are in a rush to make quick profits. They provide tourists with false information. In the name of providing services to the tourists, frauds make the tourists hire vehicles, make tourists stay and eat in hotels from which they extract commissions.
Fourth, tourists have to struggle during the travel, not knowing about the place they want to visit and the place they should visit during their stay. This creates the wrong image of the people of Rara and makes tourists unhappy and unwilling to recommend their friends to visit Rara or make a second visit by themselves. Thus information centers should be established from place to place and provide excellent hospitality to the tourists. Actions should be taken against those who are involved in fraud business.
Fifth, the government has failed to make credible plans and strategies to attract and hold tourists in Rara. Tourism development and mobility are limited to certain pockets. There are not many things tourists can do in Rara. Tourists can either climb Murma top to explore the beauty of Rara lake or take a walk around the lake or do a horse ride or boating around Rara lake. Tourists usually look for entertainment, adventure, relaxation, exploration, and learning during travel. Rara does not have much of such enabling environment. There is a hotel and some lodges only in one corner of the lake. There is no place to take a seat and rest and to have something to eat and drink. The government should take these factors into consideration and help set up shops that sell local products and other facilities such as museums, cable cars, food stations, and many other things that attract the tourists and help them stay longer in Rara and encourage them to recommend their friends to visit Rara.
The government and the local people should work together for the long-term and sustainable development of the tourism sector.
Sixth, transportation cost is a big issue. Vehicle fares are pretty expensive. For example, for one-way travel from Nepalgunj to Mugu, an individual has to pay as much as Rs 3500 if they go by big bus, Rs 3800 by small bus and Rs 5000 by jeep. By plane, the cost may vary according to the season but it generally costs Rs. 6500 per person. The same costs apply in the case of local people as well. Additional fares are charged based on the number of bags the passengers carry along with them. The expensive vehicle fares ultimately lead to a rise in the price of foods and goods. The higher costs in all these matters deeply discourage the tourists and they tend to return from Rara as fast as they could. Thus it is extremely important to make tourism cost-effective in Rara.
Tourists may still keep coming to Rara even in the current situations but if the costs keep increasing they may be unwilling to return to Rara next time or may not refer to their friends due to which the flow of tourists may go down.
Finally, Rara faces network problems now and then. There is no proper network in Rara and the way to the lake, making it difficult for tourists to access the outer world and look for information on websites. They may miss their important online classes and meetings. Therefore, the government should build a network tower to ensure a better internet network, so that the tourists do not miss the link with the outside world.
What should be done?
The problems listed above are not specific to Rara alone. The same problems impede tourism prospects in many other rural parts and the Himalayan region of Nepal, which are the major destinations for tourists coming to Nepal.
We promote steamy jungles, sparkling lakes, snowcapped mountains, spectacular scenery, and cultural diversity as major sources for attracting tourists. But in the lack of proper planning, action and conservation at a national level, the tourism sector cannot flourish nor will we be able to attract more tourists. Many studies have been conducted around issues related to the problems and prospects of tourism, tourist arrivals, risks and the ways to increase tourism flow. We have been discussing these issues for years and years but the problems remain the same.
Business as usual won’t help change the situation. Thus the government should make a thorough study about the issues related to tourism from the ground level and educate local people about tourism and hospitality. Then, the government should ensure that locals benefit more from tourism than others, which will encourage them to work for tourism promotion. Similarly, the government should come up with supportive strategies, plans and regulations to support tourism promotion. Tourism infrastructure such as hotels, lodges and entertainment centers have to be set up around tourist destinations. Finally, the government and the local people should work together for the long-term and sustainable development of the tourism sector.
Purnima Shrestha is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in literature from Tribhuvan University.