F&M Stories

F&M Rising Senior Explores Sustainable Tourism in the Himalayas

Most hikers completing a trek at 13,000 feet in the Himalayas might be too preoccupied with altitude and avalanches to consider economics and sustainable development, but for rising senior Apurva Subedi, it’s a natural combination.

Subedi recently returned from a trip to Nepal where he researched sustainable tourism in the Annapurna region and completed the Annapurna Base Camp Trek. Read more about his experience below.

Apurva Subedi

Major: Economics and Mathematics

Minor: Music

Hometown: Kathmandu, Nepal

Activities at F&M: International Student Avisory Board, Mu Upsilon Music Honors Society, Writing Center tutor, Inequality, Povery, Power and Social Justice Initiative Research Fellow

Tell us a bit about your research. What were you hoping to learn, and how did F&M prepare you to take on this project?

My research was about the continued resiliency of sustainable tourism in the Annapurna region of Nepal. The Annapurna region is one of the most well-preserved areas in the Himalayas, and the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) has received numerous sustainability awards for its Integrated Conservation and Development Project model.

I was curious whether ACAP’s track record had been impacted by the increasing inflow of tourists, as well as lagging effects of the COVID lockdown, so I studied that relationship. The project was funded by the Committee on Grants’ Rockhold fund, which provides funding for economic research in developing countries. As part of the approval process, I was assigned a faculty advisor, Professor Danish Khan, who helped immensely in both outlining and conducting the research.

What inspired you to study sustainable tourism in this region?

I have always been very interested in trekking and mountaineering, having been born and raised in the Himalayas, and it is important to me that the cultures and traditions of the people inhabiting these regions aren’t adversely impacted by tourism. It was also a personal goal of mine to reach Annapurna Base Camp, and of course as an economics major, I enjoy drawing relationships between different phenomena and studying them. So this project combined my personal and academic interests in a way that added to the relatively limited research looking into sustainability in the Himalayas.

You completed the Annapurna Base Camp Trek as part of this trip—what was that experience like?

The ABC Trek experience was incredible and one that I will cherish deeply. It definitely wasn’t an easy trek, the two biggest risks being avalanches and altitude sickness. At 13,550 feet, Annapurna Base Camp is at an altitude higher than most global mountain peaks, so several people had to turn back due to altitude sickness. We also saw around 20 avalanches along the way and had to strategically avoid them so as not to get hurt.

That being said, the views of Machhapuchhre, the four Annapurnas, and other mountains of the region are breathtaking. The trekking route in general was very tranquil and lived up to the reputation of the Annapurna Sanctuary. High altitude trekking definitely takes a toll on your body, but warm soup and Nepali dinner at the end of the day would always make up for a day of continuous walking.

I also enjoyed meeting new people and bonding over our common trekking experience. A random dog (who I named Snowball) followed me all the way to the base camp and back, which was very nice too!

What did a typical day of research look like?

The research was roughly divided into four sections: outlining, fieldwork in the Annapurna Region, fieldwork in Pokhara and Kathmandu, and compiling. I completed most of the outlining before I got to Nepal and got preliminary research approvals in Kathmandu before heading to the region.

The second section was integrated into my Annapurna Base Camp Trek, so a huge portion of my day, around 6-7 hours, was simply walking. Every time I stopped to eat or stayed in a tea house, I would interview the business leaders of those tea houses. I would also interview guides and porters I met along the way as we headed toward the same destination. At some stops with ACAP field offices, I would separate a portion of my days for interviews with conservation officers.

As I moved towards the third section, my days were full of appointments with the ACAP regional heads in both Pokhara and Kathmandu. I also visited Ghandruk a couple of times because it had the regional office.

What was the most interesting thing you learned from your research?

I was most surprised by the intensity of the community-based conservation efforts that were prevalent in the region. Everything from fixing bridges, adding new accommodations, allocating guests, recycling, and waste management were done as a community. For example, staff from one teahouse would fix bridges while another would be in charge of waste management, and everyone would take turns.

Another example: there is no law prohibiting plastic bottles, yet since all of the tea houses themselves have banned them, there are virtually no plastic bottles in the region. While the lack of legal restriction is a potential long-term problem, it was very interesting to see communities taking sustainable initiatives. ACAP, in its early years, spearheaded a community-based capacity-building effort, and the results seem to be both effective and very resilient.

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