Like all infrastructure projects in Nepal, completion of this road is delayed. Khumbu municipality has run out of money for the remaining 24km dirt track to Chaurikharka from Thamdada.
The completion of the road was the pet project of the former Chair of Khumbu Rural Municipality, late Nim Dorje Sherpa who died in June. He believed that connecting Phaplu to Lukla would further lift living standards, bring down prices, and reduce the drudgery of his Sherpa people.
“It’s still our top priority project,” says Lhakpa Tsheri Sherpa of Khumbu Municpality, adding that the construction has been delayed somewhat by the Covid-19 crisis which has also devastated the region’s trekking and climbing income this year.
Khumbu used to earn Rs200 million a year just from trekking and climbing fees, not counting the what visitors paid for lodging, food and portering. This year, the income is down to Rs60 million.
“It is because of this loss of income that the construction of this last 24km stretch slowed down,” explained Binod Bhattarai, Chief Administrative Officer of Khumbu Municipality. “Now there is hardly any money to complete the project. We are struggling.”
The Municipality has decided to open Khumbu for trekking and climbing even though nine Covid-19 cases were detected in Namche Bazar last month, and it could have spread. Local people have stopped trekkers from going above Pangboche on the Everest Trail.
South of Lukla on Thamdada, bulldozers are at work on the track, while flights to and from Lukla buzz overhead all morning. The road alignment then drops precipitously to the river and Surke helipad below Lukla, before a final ascent to Chaurikharka.