With the successful experience of Integrated Conservation and Development Programme (ICDP) in ACAP, NTNC started working in the Manaslu region from the beginning of 1997 as the Manaslu Ecotourism Development Project with funding support of the Government of Nepal and the Asian Development Bank under the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation’s Second Tourism Infrastructure Development Project. MCAP completed the Ecotourism Project in 2001 whereby it was successful in developing basic eco-tourism infrastructure in the area. Programme activities undertaken under this project further assisted and increased the capacity of the locals to take a leading role in managing their natural resources.
Manaslu Conservation Area (MCA), declared on December 28, 1998 became the second conservation area under NTNC management. Manaslu, a mountainous region in northern part of Gorkha District, has a fragile but diverse natural resource base and a rich cultural environment. MCA encompasses an area of 1,663 sq. km. covering Tsumnubri Rural Municapality's seven wards, i.e., Sirdibas, Chumchet, Chhekampar, Bihi, Prok, Lho and Samagaun. The area can be broadly categorized into 3 geographical areas based upon the natural setting and ethnicity. The northwestern part of the MCA covering Samagaun, Lho and Prok wards, is called Nubri valley, and the middle area Bihi is Kutang. The northeastern area covers two wards Chumchet and Chhekampar is known as Tsum valley. Jagat village of Sirdibas is the main entrance to the MCA.
There are about 9,000 inhabitants living in MCA and over 2,000 species of plants, 39 mammals, 201 birds, 3 reptiles and 11 butterflies in 11 types of forest have been reported from the area. With the declaration of MCA in 1998, Government of Nepal handed over the management responsibility of MCA to NTNC for 10 years. The objective was to improve the capacity of the local communities in the Manaslu area to benefit from tourism in an environmentally benign manner for sustainable development. With the expiry of the management mandate, on the request of the local communities, the District Development Committee of Gorkha and the major political parties in the district, the Government of Nepal has extended the management mandate for another 10 years.
In the past, the area was neglected in terms of infrastructure development as well as all basic services, which directly affected the livelihood of the people. The local people were deprived of the benefits of access, safe drinking water supply and electricity. Education and health services were almost non-existent. Since no other economic opportunities were available, they had to depend on marginal agriculture, animal husbandry and exploitation of natural resources for survival. As Manaslu is a food deficit region, high dependency on natural resources was constantly straining the capacity of the ecosystem. Due to the semi-restricted status of the region that adjoins the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, MCA doesn't attract as many tourists in comparison to its neighboring Annapurna region, this although tourism is on an ever-increasing trend, with a record more than 7000 trekkers visiting MCA in 2018.
Manaslu has a lot to offer to trekkers, from the beautiful scenery of the majestic Himalayan ranges and high altitude glacier lakes to rich biological and cultural diversity. Ecologically MCA has a diverse range of habitats which boasts many rare flora and fauna such as Snow leopard, Lynx, Musk deer, Red fox, Jackal, Brown bear and their prey species such as Blue sheep, Himalayan tahr, Himalayan serow, Wooly hare and Himalayan marmot. It is also home to a variety of birds like Snow partridge, Tibetan snowcock, Chukor partridge, Himalayan griffon, Golden eagle, among others, including diverse plant communities.
The culture of the people in the region is equally unique with most people of Tibetan origin following Buddhism. Economically, the people rely on agriculture and animal husbandry system, and are very dependent on natural resources for firewood, timber and medicinal plants. They are also engaged in trade and tourism related enterprises. Agricultural production is very limited due to limited agriculture land, lack of irrigation, low temperature for long periods and low rainfall. The rich cultural heritage is evident in the several large Buddhist monasteries like Shringi Gompa in Bihi, as well as Mu and Rachen Gompas in Chhekampar. Local examples of the harmony between religion and environmental conservation can be seen throughout the region, as Lamas (religious leaders) from the monasteries prohibit any kind of violence against wildlife. This has been hugely consequential in the prosperity of wildlife in MCA.
The Trust has been implementing various field programmes in the region to motivate and mobilize the local people to take the lead in managing their own resources. Extensive programmes are undertaken to create awareness among the local people about their natural heritage so that they understand and are able to capitalize on resources sustainably. Manaslu Conservation Area is being managed through the Integrated Conservation and Development Programme (ICDP) approach that focuses on sustainable natural resource management methods placing top priority on people’s participation and in ensuring a catalytic role.
Philim and Sirdibas are MCAP's main field offices, while its Liaison Office is in Gorkha bazaar. Likewise, two tourist check posts and information centres are in operation in Jagat and Samagaun. The project has been working with the Conservation Area Management Committees (CAMCs) to conserve biodiversity, improve livelihood of local communities and continue to implement sustainable tourism management practices in the future. Capacity of local Conservation Area Management Committees (CAMCs) is enhanced through regular training who are entrusted with the responsibility of managing the natural resources of their region in a sustainable manner. Research is conducted regularly to develop database on biodiversity and socio-economic conditions in the region through the collection of data to record physical and social changes.
- To conserve and sustainably manage the natural resources and rich cultural heritage; and
- To promote ecotourism to improve livelihood of the local people in the MCA region.