MUSTANG, March 12: Thorong La (pass) that connects Manang and Mustang has mesmerized trekkers for years. However, the pass is restricted whenever snowfall in the region is heavy.
This year snowfall in the region was so much heavy that the trekking route remained closed for over a month. Authorities concerned are taking initiatives to clear the track located at an altitude of 5,416 meters above the sea level.
“This year’s snowfall was very heavy. I would rather say it was the heaviest snowfall in recent decades. The ice is still very thick and we are trying to clear the way track for trekkers,” said Tulasi Dahal, a Jomsom based official of the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP).
Stakeholders had held a meeting regarding the blockage. On Monday, laborers were sent to the spot to clear the trekking route.
“It is important to clear the trekking route since it is directly affecting the local tourism industry. We have sent some workers to clear the snow, while another group of locals is on its way to access the situation. Once this group returns and shares its findings, we will take additional measures to open the route as soon as possible,” said Dahal.
Tourists who come to visit Manang and Mustang often trek along this route. This is considered one of the most adventurous trekking routes in the country, he said. “Trekkers find it quite thrilling to trek along the Thorang La Pass. Many love to try it even when they have limited time,” informed Dahal.
In the last few days, not more than a dozen tourists have dared to climb hills in Mustang, according to Dahal. “Tourists loved to climb and trek along snow-covered mountains. But this time, it looks very much risky to trek along the Thorang La Pass as heavy snow still remains deposited.”
Most of the tourists reach Thorong La Bhanjyang through Manang. A very few tourists climb to the Bhanjyang through Mustang. After they cross the Bhangyang, they climb down to Manang. Since the last three weeks, not even a single tourist has come over to this route, according to Dahal said.
“Though some have been visiting Manang and Mustang, this route has not been tried since the last three weeks. Not even a single tourist has tried it. We need to study the condition properly to resume the trekking along it,” he said.
Locals state that it might take many more weeks for the ice to melt in the region. This has made tourism entrepreneurs anxious. “If we are not able to bring things on track and make it possible for the tourists to trek in those areas, many aspects of tourism are going to be affected. We have to ensure the safety of tourists, as well as take care of our businesses,” Dahal stated.
Fifteen workers are presently working to clear the ice on the trekking route. Similarly, a group of five locals has headed to Thorong La to access the situation.
“The workers are doing their job. On the other hand, there is a group of locals is on their way to the Thorang La Pass. After they return and share their field assessment, we will plan additional actions to bring the trekking route into operation,” Dahal said.
In the high hills, it is not possible for untrained workers to clear the snow. So, only skilled ones have been sent off, according to Dahal. “There is high risk involved when you are working at higher altitudes and especially when there is a lot of snow deposited. Considering potential dangers, we have sent only skilled and experienced workers to clear the trekking route,” he said.
The length of the trekking route from Muktinath to Thorong La Bhanjyang, it is around 11 kilometers. According to Dahal, seven kilometers of this track is clear and fine for vehicles. “We are trying to open the entire track as soon as possible,” he said.
It is hard to clear ice in narrow treks where dozers cannot be used. But it is no less challenging to work on motorable roads due to too sharp bends, Dahal said.
The other risks are of avalanches. Rising temperature right after heavy snowfall often triggers avalanches. According to Dahal, both the workers and visitors in the region must be cautious about it. “Avalanches are a greater risk while working on such routes. If the temperature suddenly rises here, an avalanche is quite possible,” he said.
Amid this scenario, Dahal said that the safety of locals, tourists and workers should be a very high priority of the local government as well. “We are consulting with all stakeholders on finding ways to address the problem promptly and properly.”
Meanwhile, Chairperson of Baragu Muktinath Rural Municipality, Chhepten Gurung stated that security forces have also been deployed in some areas for clearing the snow.