Nestled within the majestic mountains of Nepal lies a treasure waiting to be discovered – the Mundhum Trail. The name ‘Mundhum’ comes from the indigenous Kirati culture and serves as a window into their unique way of life. The trail, opened in 2018, has earned its place among the Nepali Government's top 100 tourist destinations. Embarking on this journey presents an unparalleled chance to connect with the Kirat ethnic group, immerse oneself in their indigenous customs, traditions, and lifestyle, and witness Nepal’s stunning natural beauty. The trail takes travelers through the foothills of the Himalayas, at elevations ranging from 2,000 to nearly 14,000 feet, and offers breathtaking views of snow-capped peaks. The trail also takes travelers to the sacred Salpa Pokhari Lake and Silicho Peak, which are pilgrimage sites for Kiratis and the site of full moon festivals throughout the year.

Salpa Pokhari and Silichho Peak
Salpa Pokhari, a lake in Salpa Silicho Rural Municipality, Bhojpur District, at 11,300 feet

Here, amidst the dense forests of juniper and rhododendron trees, at an elevation of 10,800 feet, the Salpa Silicho Rural Municipality held a special meeting on April 22 in honor of Earth Day. Representatives from local governments and development agencies, local people, and stakeholders from the Bhojpur, Khotang, Solukhumbu, and Sankhuwasabha Districts gathered. Together, they discussed the importance of biodiversity and environment conservation to mitigate the effects of climate change, and the importance of eco-tourism to improve local livelihoods.

On the day before the event, the atmosphere was heavy with smog from recent wildfires. As evening approached, a sudden hailstorm and a brief snowfall blew through the valley. The sky gradually cleared, allowing the participants to sleep under the stars inside their tents. The next morning, with the sun shining but snowy winds blowing, the participants donned layers of warm clothing to attend the meeting. The unexpected rain and snow during this time of the year accurately reflected the rapidly changing traditional weather patterns in the mountains and set the stage for the important discussions of the day.

Hari Prasad Ghimire, Bhojpur’s Chief District Officer, remarked that the event resembled a Nepali Cabinet meeting held at Mt. Everest’s Base Camp in 2015, a few days before the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change. Madhav Kumar Adhikari, Salpa Silicho’s Chief Administrative Officer, explained that the meeting, as pointed out by Ghimire, was a symbolic attempt to draw attention to the threat that climate change poses to Nepal’s mountainous communities, particularly in the Salpa Silicho area.

The tents where the meeting's participants stayed the previous night
Tents where meeting participants stayed

25-year-old Asmita Kulung, Vice Chairperson of Salpa Silicho Rural Municipality, passionately expressed her concerns about how the carbon emissions the mountain people generate may seem insignificant, but it is the poor and marginalized people living in these mountainous regions who suffer the most from the effects of climate change. One of the youngest leaders in Bhojpur District, Kulung has steadily visited the homes of almost every resident in the rural municipality from her election campaign until now, serving in various capacities as a vice chair. Through these visits, she has witnessed the daily struggles of community members to obtain drinking water and sustain their farming activities – an experience that has bolstered her commitment to making sure that mountain people are not left out of the climate change conversation.

The historic inter-municipality gathering in the foothills of Silicho Peak near Salpa Pokhari is a promising step towards tackling climate change in the region. In addition to raising awareness about the issue, the meeting recognized the development of eco-tourism to help improve the livelihoods of local communities and build their capacity to adapt to climate change. To this end, they issued a 24-point joint resolution letter to develop and promote the Mundhum Trail.

During the event, Daulath Kulung, the chairperson of Salpa Silicho, took center stage to present the detailed points of the resolution letter to the attendees. The letter sheds light on several crucial issues pertaining to the conservation and development of the Mundhum Trail and the Salpa Silicho area, marking an essential milestone in the efforts toward sustainable growth and ecological preservation.

Dignitaries from various neighboring rural municipalities
Dignitaries from neighboring rural municipalities

Thanks to the investment of local and provincial governments, along with donor agencies, 60% of the trail has already been upgraded. The resolution reached at the meeting aims to extend the efforts toward developing the remaining 40% of the trail. The resolution also recognizes the significance of Salpa Pokhari and Silichung Peak (the highest point of the trail at nearly 14,000 feet) as important cultural and historical sites along the Mundhum Trail, which hold great religious and spiritual importance to the Kirat people. All parties involved have agreed to halt any infrastructure development activities that may pose a risk to the intangible cultural heritage of the Kirat civilization in the area.

Furthermore, the resolution commits to extending the trail to the Everest Base Camp in the north and linking it with the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve in the south – creating what would be known as the ‘Greater Mundhum Trail’ in the future.

The local governments have jointly welcomed the ambitious target of bringing at least 100,000 tourists to the Mundhum Trail by 2025, and all rural municipalities have agreed to allocate money to celebrate "Mundhum Trail Visit Year 2025". Mayor Kailash Kumar Magar of Bhojpur Municipality emphasized the potential of the area as a popular tourist destination, which could contribute significantly to the diversification of livelihoods for the local communities.

dZi partnered with Salpa Silicho Rural Municipality to organize this meeting. Two of dZi’s partner communities, Dobhane and Khatamma, are within the Salpa Silicho Rural Municipality's boundaries. The Mundhum Trail’s development is also crucial to the neighboring Mahakulung Rural Municipality, where dZi's partner communities of Bung, Chheskam, and Gudel are located, and Kepilasgadhi Rural Municipality where dZi's partner communities of Phedi, Sungdel and Dipsung are situated.

These communities face limited income-generating opportunities, especially in agriculture, due to the harsh climate and lack of profitable markets. In addition to dZi’s  Agriculture Program, the development of eco-tourism in the region can offer additional livelihood opportunities for local people while conserving the environment and local cultures.

dZi has been a steadfast partner of these communities, and we are fully committed to enhancing the well-being of mountain people in every way possible. The local governments have expressed confidence that the development of the Mundhum Trail can act as a cornerstone for the local community's prosperity. We at dZi share this vision for the shared prosperity of the region, and it fills us with more excitement than ever before.

Picture Credit: Sitaram Thapa Magar (Samip)