|A farmer at the upper station of a GGR. (C) Ganesh R Sinkemana|
Ropeways, a neglected mode of transportation, can be life-saver for rural mountainous population
By Sanjib Chaudhary and Ganesh Ram Sinkemana
We are obsessed with roads. Prior to the national planning process started in 1956, Nepal had only 626 km of roads and 59 km of railroads. Today, as per the 2015-16 data, we’ve built 12,493 km of strategic road network (SRN) though 50 per cent of the SRN is yet to be paved. However, we’ve turned a blind eye towards other modes of transport.
Suitable transportation for mountainous topography
Considering Nepal’s topography, gravity goods ropeways have proved to be a life-saver for communities where road construction is very difficult. The aerial ropeways, built to connect communities living high up in the hills to road-heads, operate by gravitational force. Two trolleys, running on pulleys, go up and down simultaneously on parallel steel wires – while the one with heavier load gets down to the road-head due to gravity, the other with lighter weight goes up to the upper terminal .
The first gravity goods ropeway was successfully run in Marpha, Mustang to transport apples from orchards to road-heads by Practical Action in association with International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in the year 2001.
According to studies, aerial ropeways are three times cheaper than the equivalent road construction in Nepal and installing a gravity gods ropeway costs around Rs 25 lakh. While descending through the hilly tracks take two to three hours of walking to reach the road-head, the same load can get to the lower terminal in less than two minutes. This reduces the drudgery of the community people and saves a lot of time. The agricultural produce from the villages reaching market in no time means people are encouraged to produce more, eventually shifting to commercial farming. In a way, the ropeway acts like an enabler for inclusive business – integrating the smallholder farmers into national markets.
The socioeconomic study of a gravity goods ropeway installed between Ghairang and Namtar Bazaar has reduced the transportation costs from Rs 5 to Rs 2 per kg and the agricultural produce are reaching bigger markets easily. This has also reduced the price of the products reaching Ghairang from Namtar. Since the gravity goods ropeway uses gravitational force, there is no extra cost involved to run the set-up. Two operators, one at each station can handle the process easily.
Apathy towards ropeways
About 50 percent of Nepal’s population still lives at least four hours walk away from the nearest dry-season road. Looking at Nepal’s topography the importance of installing ropeways, at places inaccessible to build roads, is obvious. However, this technology has been neglected after the 3rd Plan. In the 1st Plan 1956-61, extensive survey for ropeway was planned but the first plan could not be achieved due to lack of finance, technical manpower and equipment. In the 3rd Plan 1965-70, National Transport Organization was established to coordinate the ropeway, railway and other means of transportation.
While Adam Wybe, a Dutchman, constructed the first authenticated ropeway in 1644, for the city of Dantzig, Nepal’s first ropeway was constructed in 1924. The Halchowk to Lainchaur ropeway was 4 km long and was used to carry quarry stones to construct Rana palaces. The second was 22 km long Dhorsing – Bhimphedi to Matatirtha – Kathmandu ropeway constructed in 1927. Even the private sector has come forward constructing the Manakamana Cable Car and Chandragiri Cable Car.
Nepalese experts have built gravity goods ropeways in Shamtse, Bhutan and have been invited to Myanmar and Nagaland, India to survey and help construct the ropeways. However, only around 20 gravity goods ropeways have been serving rural people in Nepal. The technology is taken as inferior to the new transport technologies and people still question why to go with this ages-old technology but forget their usefulness and environment friendly characteristics.
Although the National Transport Policy (NTP), 2058 says that private sectors shall be encouraged to construct and operate ropeways in the areas where construction of road is dangerous in environmental and geographical view or where operating road transport is comparatively costly, it has never been practised in reality.
We are in the transition times. While the NTP, 2058 talks nothing except roads, the government allocated Rs 800 million in the FY 2015/2016 for the feasibility study of metro and monorails. Our thinking should be futuristic but in the meantime let’s not forget the easier means of transportation available except the roads.