Nepal village adopts homey ways to boost tourism

Wed Mar 28, 2012 8:53am EDT
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By Gopal Sharma

GHALEGAUN, Nepal (Reuters) - Gam Bahadur Gurung sits cross-legged on the clean, hard-packed mud floor at the family kitchen sipping rice beer.

His wife Tek Kumari, who sits across from him at the fireplace, prepares a meal of lentils, goat meat and rice as her husband offers vodka-like home-brewed rakshi to the guests, who lie on straw mats stretching out their legs.

This has become a typical scene in Ghalegaun, about 100 km (60 miles) west of the Nepali capital of Kathmandu, which is now known as "the homestay village" for its part as the model for a scheme designed to lure tourists, many of whom were scared away during a decade-long conflict which ended in 2006.

"‘Come as guests, go as friends' is our motto," said Gurung, 50, who lives in the stone hut that has been set up with rooms with clean beds and toilets to accommodate visitors in this hill-top village overlooking some of the world's tallest peaks.

"We live like a family sitting and eating together with the guests. We discuss even personal matters and crack jokes with them as friends," he said.

Ghalegaun, a village of 400, sits amid carved terraces growing potatoes, onion, garlic, millet, rice and corn. It is overshadowed to the north by Mount Manaslu, the world's eighth highest peak at 8,163 metres (26,781 feet).

The village, which itself is located 2,070 metres (6,790 feet) above sea level, is renowned for the culture and hospitality of the Gurung, a community that came from Tibet several centuries ago and is known as one supplier of the famed Gurkha soldiers for the British and Indian armies.

Tourists stay and eat with the locals in their homes, whose doorways are so low that anybody entering has to stoop. The prices for food and lodging are determined collectively by the villagers - a system now copied by dozens of other villages across Nepal, though Ghalegaun is the most popular.   Continued...

Tourists look at a tattoo vendor during a tourism festival in Kathmandu organized to celebrate World Tourism Day September 27, 2008. REUTERS/Deepa Shrestha