THE GOSAINKUNDA EXPEDITION: WORKING TOWARDS THE LEAVE NO TRACE PRINCIPLES FOR ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION AND OUTDOOR LEADERSHIP TRAINING IN NEPAL, APRIL 2012 | VENEETA SINGHA
The Gosainkunda Expedition, organized by WWF-Nepal and Initiative Outdoor, was a pilot program designed to provide on-site Leave No Trace (LNT) training to trek leaders and outdoor professionals from Kathmandu. The over-arching objective - to impart to trek leaders critical skills and know-how of LNT principles and values which would then translate into their work and tours beyond Gosainkunda and in the larger trekking and outdoor sports milieu in Nepal - proved a guiding force during the Expedition. The Gosainkunda Lake is located in Rasuwa District in Nepal with coordinates of 28°05′N 5°25′E / 28.083°N 85.417°E; a 13.8 hectare Surface Area; a 1.472 million m3 Water Volume and a Surface Elevation of 4,380 masl. The LNT Course and Expedition to Gosainkunda was designed by Mr. Chandra Ale, a certified LNT Instructor and Director of Initiative Outdoor.
It is widely recognized that responsible tourism and Environmental Stewardship must go hand-in-hand for long-term socio-ecological preservation and community development. A symbiosis between Nepal’s fragile natural ecosystems and the visitors, tourists, trekkers and outdoor guides who frequent the diverse trekking hotspots and trails located within these biospheres is also seen as crucial. The Gosainkunda Expedition afforded a unique opportunity to weave together key outdoor education and training elements with the LNT Principles and important concepts and objectives of the WWF Green Hiker Campaign. Local environmental conservation perspectives and community-based awareness raising in support of the socio-ecological preservation of the High Altitude Wetlands (HAWs) in the Langtang Region and the surrounding areas were the key methodological points of departure. Significantly, waste management issues figured prominently in the discussions amongst the Trek Team and in the interactions with many local communities. First Aid and health issues; change management; expedition ethics and communication; goal setting and leadership training; community-based problem solving and the efficient mobilization of local conservation activities were central to the Expedition dialectics.
The Gosainkunda Trail and the surrounding villages present some of the most picturesque landscapes in Nepal. The Langtang Range and the HAWs in the region are perfect destinations for an ideal nature trek. The LNT Team brought considerable value additions to the Trek itself. With a highly participatory working style, many of the activities were self-initiated by the participants under the guidance and leadership of the LNT Instructor. Each day of the Trek saw new challenges and LNT ideas being explored and advocated among the local populace. A strong emphasis on outdoor leadership training blended with the geo-physical and conservation dynamics of the area formed the bases of the expedition sessions and discussions.
Environmental problems and solutions were explored and debated throughout the Expedition with enthusiasm. The scenic routes were also highly conducive to an experientially-complete work process and program. The first work day of the Trek in Thulo Bharku - April 11 - was devoted primarily to an introduction of the Leave No Trace Principles by the LNT Instructor and Expedition Leader. Discussions on the stories, opportunities and community issues related to conservation, tourism and development surfaced many times and with varied reactions. Consequently, the need for and opportunities in raising awareness on conservation, hygiene and sanitation amongst the local stakeholders and village residents took the Expedition forward.
The LNT Philosophy has broken new ground in responsible and ethical Nature Tourism throughout the world. Challenges related to elevation, altitude sickness, acclimatization, adaptation, speed and pace alongside local, indigenous remedies for many of these problems were explored. Participant goals and expectations were outlined and discussed at length in Thulo Syabru on April 12. With personal and professional objectives ranging from outdoor leadership training and skill development to awareness raising in local communities and conservation program development for ecosystems and tourism, there was a palpable sense of adventure.
The implementation of good practices and lessons learnt in conservation promotion; solution-based advocacy; motivation and incentive bargaining; hands-on outdoor learning, educational outreach and skills; ecotourism replication; youth and community development as well as the promotion and propagation of the LNT principles were some of the main participant aims for the Expedition. Training the local stakeholders in appropriate waste disposal methods and recycling as well as the preservation of local biodiversity were some of the hands on actions. Natural resource and conservation management along with appropriate institutional support were discussed at length. Both the participants and the Expedition itself continually demonstrated issues of program continuity and ‘the ripple effect’.
The Gosainkunda Trail is dotted with many community locales and lodges – this gave the Expedition a singular opportunity for interacting with many local residents and leaders who were keen to discuss community issues on conservation, community development and tourism. The need to share work responsibilities of and benefits accruing from conservation-related programs within the community surfaced as an important talking point. Cultural preservation, youth education, preservation of local indigenous knowledge, institutionalization of and problems in the conservation of the Red Panda along with perspectives on civic responsibility were also discussed at length supported by health, sanitation and environmental security ideas. Following the successful dialogues with the Aama Samuha in Thulo Syabru, a series of complementary discussions were held between the Expedition participants and local stakeholders (including Aama Samuha members) in Fhoprang Danda, Singh Gompa and Kutumsang.
Discussions on the conservation of the Red Panda also took centre stage with a key local stakeholder opining that the lack of rules and improper enforcement were leading to the further endangerment of the Red Panda. The engagement of the Langtang National Park personnel and efficient monetization and benefit-sharing of community conservation activities were seen as crucial by the community as a whole. The LNT Instructor gave the discussions a keen edge by introducing ideals of business responsibility, individual and collective responsibility as well as co-creation of community rules and regulations to be enforced for the benefit of the community. Waste management issues also held a prominent place during this vital interaction.
The area has also witnessed a significant increase in religious tourism in recent years alongside serious erosion of local cultural and spiritual traditions. The local residents were particularly keen to learn about program development and communications, a proposed model for the restoration of dilapidated Gumba(s) in the area and appropriate waste management and local work delegation. Five key High Altitude Wetlands in Nepal are located in the area and the discussions were centered around the need to facilitate effective National Park engagement in conservation management and to resolve ongoing ‘Park and people’ conflicts.
The Expedition gave the participants a consummate work and training opportunity as well as an incomparable insight into the landscapes and rich biodiversity the area is famous for. With lush green forests, sparkling rivulets and waterfalls alongside many varieties of flora and fauna such as the Rhododendron, the famed Lokta and blooming apricot and apple trees, the Expedition went far beyond the average travel itinerary. 852 endemic bird species call this area home. Conservation and environmental concerns, strategies and ideals remain ever present within these ecologically-fragile trails and ecosystems. Home to a burgeoning tourist influx, the area is, unfortunately, a haven for unsustainable travel and livelihood practices well beyond the local carrying capacities. In summary, serious efforts for community outreach and education, periodic environmental appraisals and social monitoring are recommended as both necessary and crucial in the beautiful Gosainkunda Region.