On the popular Everest and Annapurna areas, trekkers either camp or stay in purpose-built lodges established by companies in Kathmandu. Camping treks may be environmentally friendly, but their contribution to the rural economy is minimal, since the fees are paid to the trekking agency, and most of the food is sourced from outside.
In contrast, even a poor family can invest in and profit from a homestay. In Gurja Khani, Belmoti Pariyar started her aptly-named Jivan Ko Bato (Road of Life) homestay with one tiny room and a single bed. Now she has enlarged that room and added another so that she can accommodate four paying guests. Her guest book shows visitors from Brazil, Switzerland, Canada, the UK, and Nepal.
‘The best momo ever,” one trekker, a retired British Army colonel who stayed here a month, wrote. He taught Pariyar some English words, and she is happy that her homestay provides supplementary income to pay for her daughter’s school.
Lulang, on the south slope of the pass, is an unusually large village of Dalits and has three homestays. “People respect me more because they see that I have a steady income from my rooms, they even chose me to be the Chair of our Tourism Committee,” says Rati Maya Biswakarma proudly.
Most visitors here are blissfully unaware of caste discrimination in Nepal, and the ignorance means that they could be indirectly supporting it. Dalits have not been able to benefit from tourism as much because they have not become guides in numbers proportionate to their population. The only tourism-related occupation easily accessible for them is low-paid portering.