Umesh Pun/Republica Tourists wait to observe the sunrise from the Sarangkot tower, Pokhara in this recent picture.
POKHARA, March 21: Dozens of tourists visit Sarangkot area every day. Many reach the tower for sightseeing. For this, they pay a certain amount to the government. But of late, tourists have been paying Rs 50 just for using the road, according to tourism entrepreneurs. And this, they warn, will irritate the visitors.
“The government is supposed to charge a fee only to the tourists that wish to visit the tower. But it is charging even if the tourists are walking on the road that passes through the area,” said a member of Sarangkot Tourism Board Committee, Chin Bahadur Baniya. “If the tourists have to pay a fee just because they are passing through the main road in the area, they will feel bad about,” he added.
The main road is used to reach several other major tourist sites including Dhawalagiri and Annapurna trekking zones. For other purposes too, tourists roam around the area, use the road. “Charging them fees just because they have been through the road is not fair,” Baniya said.
The government is supposed to charge a fee only to the tourists that wish to visit the tower. But it is charging even if the tourists are walking on the road that passes through the area. If the tourists have to pay a fee just because they are moving through the main road in the area, they will feel bad about it. ---Chin Bahadur Baniya, member of the Sarangkot Tourism Board Committee
Pokhara Metropolis supervises the tax. It is up to the metropolis to regulate the activities in and around Sarangkot. Though the municipality officials state that it is not right to charge fees for other tourists than those who are climbing the tower, they admitted the flaws.
The problem surfaced after the authorities relocated the fee collection counter at the parking zone of the area. The parking area is located at the bottom of the Sarangkot tower. After parking vehicles, tourists may or may not trek up to the tower, but they are charged a fee of Rs 50. “Though it is just Rs 50, it is charged for a wrong reason. If the reason for charging is valid, we can charge more than that and people will be willing to pay for it. It makes sense. But no one likes to pay for a service they are not using,” Baniya said.
From Sarangkot many tourists head to Naudada. Another route to reach Naudada goes via Hemja. But the way from Sarangkot is six kilometres shorter than the Hemja route. Apart from the distance, the Hemja road section is under construction, and many tourists choose the Sarangkot route for travelling to Naudada. The municipal authorities also charge these tourists, tourism entrepreneurs claimed.
According to Baniya, the metropolis has called for bids to offer the contract for collecting fees in Sarangkot area. “They called for bids to award the contract for collecting fees from the tourists by stopping on the way, even if they are not heading for Sarangkot. Is this what they are supposed to do?” Baniya asked. “What we have been saying is, increase the fee but charge it to only those tourists who take the service.”
The metropolis has made preparations to award the contract of collecting fees for three years. 'They have planned to charge Rs 60 tourists'.
The term of the existing contract, which was also awarded for three years, is nearing its expiry. The metropolis has called for tender demanding Rs 6 million per year in return. Earlier when it was 'Sarangkot VDC', the contract was given for Rs 3.7 million per year. After the earthquake, it was given to a contractor for Rs nine million for three years.
“If we ask for a fee right at the parking lot, it irritates the tourists. We have to take this matter seriously,” Baniya said.
Ran Bahadur Thapa, president of Pokhara Metropolis – 18, the issue will be addressed soon. “We will soon look into the matter,” he said. “The confusion is also because some tourists view sunrise right from the base. They don't climb up the hill. So, this tax has been charged, but it is not right to make them pay just for being on the road,” he added.
Meanwhile, Chhabilal Sharma, tax officer at the metropolis refuted that the tourists were being asked to pay fees for services they don't use. “There might have been a few such cases, or else, it is not allowed to charge tourists just for using the road,” he said. “The confusion is also because some tourists enjoy the sunrise from the parking zone only. Once, they pay at the parking zone, the slip works for even climbing the tower, they need not pay again,” he added.
Sharma stated that the matter would be seriously followed and corrective measures will be taken in this regard.