BBC: “Nepal ‘Maoist’ leader Prachanda opens ‘guerrilla trail'”
Former Nepalese Maoist insurgency leader Prachanda has launched a new tourist trail and guide book, giving walkers the chance to see routes and hideouts used by the guerrillas.
The trek – which lasts up to four weeks – stretches across several districts of central and western Nepal.
The aim is to attract more tourists to the impoverished Himalayan nation.
About 16,000 people died in the 10-year war, before a 2006 peace deal and elections won by the Maoists in 2008.
The civil war culminated in the king relinquishing his absolute powers and being forced to give up his throne in June of that year.
Prachanda derived his inspiration from Peru’s Shining Path rebels and dreamt of setting up a communist republic to address the plight of the rural poor and bring an end to Nepal’s ceaseless political bickering.
The former agriculture student and teacher went on to be prime minister of his country from 18 August 2008 to 25 May 2009. He remains chairman of the main “Maoist” (sic) party in Nepal.
The BBC’s Surendra Phuyal in Kathmandu says that while trekking activities in Nepal are generally confined to the Everest, Annapurna and Langtang regions, the new route winds its way through villages and valleys that saw some of the bloodiest moments in Nepal’s recent history.
‘War tourism product’On Tuesday, Prachanda launched a map and a guidebook entitled Guerrilla Trek, which is co-produced with American author Alonzo Lyons.
“As war tourism has been promoted worldwide for economic benefit, Nepal’s Guerrilla Trek also holds the potential to grab the world’s attention” –Prachanda
It details a trail divided into three sections in western Nepal over rugged mountains, caves, villages, rivers and paddy fields along the route where thousands of Maoist guerrillas once dug trenches and ambushed the army.
Prachanda said at the launch that Guerrilla Trek “has the potential of becoming a war tourism product similar to those seen in Vietnam, Russia and China”.
“The vision is more or less showing visitors how the people’s war began and spread from [the district of] Rukum,” he said.
“As all know, Nepal has seen big political upheavals and the people’s revolution will be of no value unless the country goes through an economic transformation. I hope the Guerrilla Trek will play an important role.”
For those who find the idea of four-week trek to be a little ardous, it is possible to opt for a shorter itinerary of 13 days.
The route starts west of Pokhara and goes through Rukum and the Dhorpatan hunting reserve. It includes areas where the rebels carried their wounded along the mountains before ending in Rolpa district.
Travel writer Mr Lyons – who trekked the route last year – told the AFP news agency that it was “captivating”.
“Everest, Annapurna are famous. But if you want to take a unique route, this is the one.
“Its natural scenery is simply breathtaking. You also come across so many diverse cultures.”
Travel operators in Nepal have welcomed the move, pointing out that it will open up parts of the country seldom seen by outsiders or tourists who tend to visit the country’s better-known areas.
“It will surely attract visitors interested to know how the guerrillas operated and fought during the conflict,” tour operator Ang Tshering Sherpa told the BBC.
It is estimated that about one-third of the 750,000 tourists who visited Nepal last year went trekking.