-- BY TAMISH GIRI
Until 2016, Chandragiri, a hill station situated at an altitude of 2,551 metres above sea level on the south-western side of Kathmandu and just 8 kilometres away from Thankot, would receive very few visitors. Very few local people used to trek to the hill station to worship the Bhaleshwar Mahadev shrine. However, the hill station has been getting visitors in droves after IME Group inaugurated a cable car service - the second cable car service in the country - to the top of Chandragiri hill on December 15, 2016.
Kuri village, which sits on the base of a hill where Kalinchowk Temple is located, in Dolakha district has a similar story. Only a few pilgrims used to visit Kuri before a cable car service to Kalinchowk Temple came into operation. Today, Kuri boasts multiple hotels and resorts brimming with visitors most of the time.
Chandragiri and Kuri are examples of how cable car service is transforming destinations in Nepal. Both these destinations are immensely popular among visitors today. During snowfall in winter, visitors swarm to these destinations to play with snow.
Ashok Siwakoti, CEO of Kalinchowk Cable Car, shared with New Business Age that Kuri would generally observe a very nominal number of local tourists visiting the temple of Kalinchowk Bhagwati before the cable car service started. “People, mostly Newars from Kathmandu, Ramechhap, Dolakha, Sindhuli and neighbouring districts, used to visit this temple during the season, while there was hardly any crowd during the off-season. The number generally used to be 200-400,” he said, adding: “However, we are getting visitors from all 77 districts after the cable car service started operation.”
Siwakoti said his company had begun studying cable car projects in different parts of the country before the COVID pandemic. “We had postponed the study for some time because of the pandemic. Though our team has resumed feasibility, we are undecided about starting a new project soon,” he added.
Likewise, Prabhakar Khakda, Head of Sales and Marketing of Chandragiri Hills, said the cable car service in Chandragiri has brought a revolution in tourism in the region. “The cable car service has made Chandragiri a popular hill station for locals from the valley to enjoy snow and mountains. In 2019, we served almost 700,000 visitors,” added Khadka.
The history of commercial cable car service in Nepal started on November 24, 1998 when Manakamana Darshan Pvt Ltd started cable car service from Kurintar on Prithvi Highway to Manakamana Temple in Gorkha district. The cable car service serves over a million pilgrims annually. Apart from the regular commercial rides, Manakamana Darshan also supports the transport of goods for the Manakamana village. It covers a distance of 3 km in just 10 minutes with a capacity to handle 660 people per hour. Manakamana Cable Car charges Rs 700 for Nepali, Rs 525 for students, Rs 490 for Senior Citizens, Rs 880 for Indians, USD 10 for SAARC, and Chinese nationals and USD 20 for foreigners.
Nepal’s fourth cable car service, Annapurna Cable Car, started operation in February this year. The 2.3-kilometre line links Sedi Bagar on the shores of Fewa Lake to the Sarangkot hill. It has 18 cars and can commute 5,000 individuals per day. The cable car has served more than 85,000 passengers so far. It charges a fare of Rs 700 for Nepalis, Rs 800 for visitors from SAARC countries and Indian nationals, and $9 for foreigners.
Three more in pipeline
Three more cable car services - Bandipur Cable Car in Tanahun, Maulakalika Cable Car in Nawalparasi East and Lumbini Cable Car in Rupandehi/Palpa - are preparing to come into operation within this year.
Bandipur Cable Car is being built for tourism promotion in Bandipur. The 1.6-kilometre line will have a bottom station at Thuldhung and top station at Baralthok in Bandipur. The company is also building a 12-storied Queen Tower at the upper station which will house a 66-room hotel. The project would have been operational by now if the COVID pandemic had not affected construction work, according to the promoters of Bandipur Cable Car.
Krishna Adhikari, executive proprietor of Bandipur Cable Car and Tourism Limited, said they were hoping to start operation by the Nepali New Year (mid-April next year). “The main objective of the project is to usher in premium tourism services in the historic Bandipur town,” he added.
Likewise, Lumbini Cable Car in Rupandehi/Palpa is likely to come into operation on January 15, 2023. The 3-kilometre cable car service connects Bamghat of Butwal Sub-Metropolitan City with Basantapur hill of Tinau Rural Municipality of Palpa.
Similarly, Maulakalika Cable Car of Eastern Nawalparasi is preparing to start operation. The 1.2-kilometre cable car service connects Dharapani of Gaindakot Municipality with the Maulakalika Temple. The top station will be near the temple premises itself. The cable car service will have six towers and 12 gondolas with the capacity to carry 6,000 passengers per day.
More in Study Phase
Four more cable car services - to Shivapur, Gosainkunda, Pathibhara and Annapurna Base Camp - are in the study phase. Likewise, Nepal Investment Board showcased the Manang Ski Resort project during the 2019 Investment Summit. A commercial cable car service is one of the components of the project.
Similarly, Muktinath Darshan Pvt Ltd has proposed to develop Nepal’s longest cable car service between Birethanti of Kaski and the holy Muktinath temple in Mustang. The project is estimated to cost $350 million. The company has already signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Office of the Investment Board Nepal to study the project.
A study shows that ropeway construction is at least three times cheaper than building a road. According to the study, ropeways can be installed eight times faster and are the most energy-efficient transport systems, running on clean energy. This virtue can be important for countries like Nepal rich in water resources. Ropeways can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and increase the consumption of electricity generated from our rivers. They can help the country save foreign exchange and be a tourist attraction.
Khadka of Chandragiri Cable Car claims almost 90% of foreign tourists coming to Nepal visit Chandragiri hills. “Chandragiri Cable Car is the only cable car close to Kathmandu and is popular among tourists,” he added.
Likewise, Siwakoti of Kalinchowk Cable Car said people from as far as Darjeeling and Sikkim of India have started coming to Kalinchowk after the cable car service came into operation. “Our daily capacity is 2,500 passengers. Almost 500,000 have enjoyed our cable car ride so far. We serve around 100,000 people annually,” he said, adding that around 85% of the passengers are domestic tourists. “While around 10% are Indians, others are from other countries.”
However, a tour operator told New Business Age that cable car services are more for domestic tourism. “Gradually international tourists could also benefit from it,” he added.
Kalinchowk Cable Car has been providing direct employment to around 40 individuals. The commercial ropeway service provider charges $10 for international tourists, Rs 800 for Indian nationals, Rs 1,000 for visitors from SAARC countries and Rs 600 for Nepalis. It provides a 25% discount to Nepali students, senior citizens and locals of Dolakha.
Likewise, Chandragiri Hills charges Rs 800 for Nepalis, Rs 1,280 for visitors from SAARC countries, $15 for Chinese nationals and $22 for other foreign nationals.
“Cable car service has become an integral part of tourism activity in the Chandragiri region. It is supporting tourism in other destinations like Chitlang and Markhu of Makwanpur by shortening the travelling distance,” added Khadka of Chandragiri Cable Car.
Siwakoti of Kalinchowk Cable Car said bad road conditions to Kuri have been a major challenge for us. “Had the road conditions been good, the number of visitors to Kuri and Kalinchowk Temple would have doubled. The bad road is affecting both our service and tourism in the Kalinchowk region,” he added. “Unfortunately, the government is not paying toward the condition of the road. We have sounded the local, provincial and federal government, but to no avail.”