In October, 2018, my wife and I joined a group of trekkers led by Jamling Tenzing Norgay, the son of Tenzing Norgay, who in 1953 was the first person (along with Ed Hillary) to reach the top of Mount Everest. For our trek in the Kingdom of Mustang, which borders Tibet, we had to alter our route to avoid a new and busy roadway along the trekking route. Even so, our trail intersected with a new highway that was being built. Hearing the bulldozer after pristine days of natural sounds and quiet nights was shattering.
As I write in this story for National Geographic: “Change is coming quickly to Mustang, as it is throughout Nepal. The country has embarked on a fast-paced road-building program that’s transforming the landscape as well as the lives of residents and the experiences of travelers. While some visitors bemoan the expansion of roads into what they view as pristine regions, many Nepalis living in remote settlements welcome easier access to cities and opportunities to enhance their economic prospects.”
Jamling told me during our trek through the Nepali Kingdom of Mustang: “Local people have the right to improve, the right to do better in life. Who are we to stop people from having their own vehicle at their doorstep? We have it; they want that.” Yet he is keenly aware of what’s disappearing, for locals and visitors: “The moment you have cars going by, the whole charm of a trek is lost,” said Norgay. That’s significant for the thousands of Nepalis who depend on tourism for their livelihood.
At a monastery in the walled city, I asked a maroon-robed, English-speaking monk what he thought of the road that will connect Lo Manthang to the outside world. “Some things bad, but some good,” he said. Then he told me about a woman who had a difficult childbirth, which resulted in her infant’s death. If the road had been finished, he said, perhaps she could have reached a hospital in time to save the baby.
As one learns traveling the globe, there are no easy answers.