Machhapuchhre Rural Municipality, situated in the Kaski district of the lower Annapurna region, has made the decision to introduce trekking entrance fees for tourists. Currently, there are four trekking routes within the municipality, but only two of them are actively used. The other two routes have been recommended for improvement, although they are not as popular among tourists. Nevertheless, the municipality has expressed its intention to prioritize the development of one of these routes.
Among the trekking routes in the Machhapuchhre Rural Municipality, Mardi Himal is the preferred choice for domestic tourists nowadays, followed by the Great Machhapuchhre Trail. The number of domestic tourists on this route has been increasing significantly. The Ghalchok-Tarakhil trekking route is also being considered for further development by the municipality. Currently, there is relatively less tourist activity on the Machhapuchhre Taan Model Trek.
The Rural Municipality does not have data on the number of tourists, both internal and external, who use these trekking routes. However, it is estimated that around 50,000 tourists visit the Machhapuchhre Rural municipality annually.
To manage the trekking routes and promote the area's development, the municipality has decided to charge both internal and external tourists for trekking within its jurisdiction. This decision has been communicated to the public.
"We will start collecting the fees from today," said Ram Gurung, a tourism entrepreneur and member of the rural municipality. "We have made this decision to manage the trekking routes and use the collected fees for the development of the area."
He also mentioned that the rural municipality plans to use the collected fees to provide electricity and internet services to the area, as well as establish information centers, resting places, and essential public toilets.
The Rural Municipality announced the plan to collect fees just three days ago. According to the information provided, the fee is NPR 100 for internal tourists and NPR 500 for external tourists.
"We will begin collecting fees for the trails that lead to Mardi Himal, which is popular among tourists," he said. "We have been preparing for this since the beginning of the fiscal year, but the decision was delayed due to internal discussions. This week, we will start collecting fees."
He shared that 80% of the trekkers visiting the Machhapuchhre Rural Municipality are domestic tourists, while only 20% are from foreign countries. The Khumai-Korchung trek is especially popular among internal tourists.
The Rural Municipality has established mainly short routes that can be completed in three to four days for the trekkers within its jurisdiction.
"In the future, we also plan to provide weather-related information tools," he said. "We are preparing to create rescue teams for the trails and establish shelters."
He stated that their plan is to have rescue teams ready to assist tourists in case of emergencies during their treks. The municipality has also been involved in promoting the Ghalchok-Tarakhil trekking route, which connects the Machapuchhre Rural Municipality with the Madhi rural municipality, where the Sikles village is located.
The purpose of collecting fees is to manage and preserve the trekking routes. Gurung emphasized the need to protect the trails and support sustainable tourism to keep them vibrant. He added, "The decision to charge fees for management and conservation has been made in consultation with tourists."
The fees collected will be solely utilized for the management of trekking routes. While the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) charges three thousand rupees to foreign tourists, the Tourist Information Management System (TIMS) is set to charge one thousand rupees.