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WWRC 89-35
Environment and Society in the Manaslu-Ganesh Region of the Central Nepal Himalaya - A Final Report of the 1987 Manaslu-Ganesh Expedition


The relationship between environment and society is an everyday concern in mountain communities of the Himalaya and the subject of ongoing debate among Himalayan scientists. The broad patterns of geology, climate, vegetation, landforms and soils in the Himalaya are just beginning to be understood at the same time that human modification of the physical environment continues at an accelerating rate and enlarging scale. Whether or not science can keep up with the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of mountain development pressures is one question, but no one will argue against the notion that new practical understanding of specific problems in mountain science should be applied to decision-making regarding resource development whenever possible.

The purpose of the 1987 Manaslu-Ganesh Expedition was to conduct geological, geomorphological, hydrological, and resource management studies in the Manaslu-Ganesh Himal, on the Nepal-Tibet border. Preliminary results of this work were presented in Kathmandu upon returning from the expedition in November, 1987. One set of presentations was made to a group of scientists visiting the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) from eleven different countries. A second set of presentations was made to a multidisciplinary group of scientists at Tribhuvan University assembled by the National Council of Science and Technology. The following topics were covered: global climatic trends as reflected by glaciological variations in the Himalayas and other great mountain ranges of the world; Himalayan hydrological potential and the importance of sediment budget studies as applied to hydropower projects in Nepal; fracture-controlled mass wastage and implications for land management and mountain development: regional structural and metamorphic geology and the economic mineral potential in the Manaslu-Ganesh Himal; and a land use systems analysis with an emphasis on the need for environmental impact statements prior to development in the Nepal Himalaya. This volume represents the culmination of two years of data analysis and writing since the conclusion of the 1987 expedition. Portions of this final report also include findings from the 1984 Langtang Himal Expedition.

The spectacular physical and cultural landscapes of the Nepal Himalaya have attracted a large number of Western scientists, but their findings have not always been couched in terms pertinent to the economic development of Nepal. In fact, the Nepal National Council for Science and Technology has expressed concern that research findings are often not even made available to scientists and government officials in Nepal. Therefore, one of the objectives of this report is to discuss the implications of our findings to the potential for development, that is, progressive change for the better. Four factors affect economic development: people (number, growth, distribution), environment (especially resources and hazards), culture (how society is organized through its economic, political, and religious systems), and history (affects the relative ease of initiating economic change). Some key demographic data help illustrate the disparity in material well being between Nepal and the rest of the world that must be considered when planning for economic development.

The 1987 expedition was composed of two doctors, an expedition journalist, and 16 scientists (geologists, geographers, and meteorologists) from six countries: United States, Australia, Nepal, Great Britain, Norway, and Canada. The expedition arrived in Kathmandu on October 7. The first few days were spent making final logistical arrangements, complicated by the simultaneous demonstrations in Lhasa, Tibet, and the intent of the expedition to work in a restricted area near the Nepal-Tibet border. A 40-day period, October 11-November 19, was spent in the field in a traverse of the southern flanks of the Manaslu and Ganesh Himals. The routes taken by the 1984 Langtang Expedition and the 1987 Manaslu-Ganesh Expedition are shown in Figure 1.1. The 1987 expedition began at the trailhead at Gurkha, 100 kilometers northwest of Kathmandu. The group initially travelled west through the town of Chepe to the Marsyandi River. The route then followed the Marsyandi River north through the town of Tarkughat. The group left the river at Philesangu and followed a ridge toward Bara Pokhri into the Manaslu Himal. An elevation of 4700 meters was reached before unseasonally heavy snows stopped progress. The expedition then travelled east through the towns of Tanje, Barpak, Laprak, and Kholabenesi, and across the Buri Gandaki gorge into the Ganesh Himal. The route then continued through Kasigaon, Khading, Tibling, and Linju. The expedition split into two groups for the purpose of conducting extended studies in the upper Manjet Khola and near Laba. The expedition was reunited in Burong and then returned to the roadhead at Trisuli Bazar. The mountains in the area of our research commonly attain heights of 6000 to over 8000 meters. In 40 days approximately 300 kilometers of trail were negotiated without ever seeing another western party in the field. This research area represents some of the least known sectors of Nepal in terms of physical and human geography.

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