October 23, 2021, Saturday
Nepal 1:37:26 pm

100 years of Ropeway in Nepal : History to bring back

The Nepal Weekly
September 28, 2021

By Purna N. Ranjitkar

Shree 3 Chandra Shamsher, one of the powerful Rana Prime Ministers of Nepal, in 1922 started building a 22km long cargo ropeway from Dhorsing-Chisapnai-Chandragiri hills passing into the Kathmandu Valley. It is mentioned in the relevant literatures that the construction was completed in 1927. During the period of construction another short span Ropeway system from Halchok to Lainchaur (both locations in Kathmandu) was constructed and operationalised for transporting stones. 

In 1964, the Ropeway system of Dhorsing-Chisapnai-Chandragiriwas further improved and extended to 42 kilometres to Hetauda. Financial and technical assistance was provided by United State Agency for international Development(USAID).  With the introduction of the Foreign Aids to Nepal policy changed. In Fifth Five-Year Plan road construction enjoyed high priority. The donors were in impression that the roads are the back bone of the development. In its ‘Nepal Country Report’ of 1976, the World Bank came to a conclusion that construction and maintenance of roads in rugged mountainous country was too costly and other means of transport should be found. However all the past lessons have totally been forgotten for decades and road building is booming despite high cost and the damage they cause to the fragile mountain environment.

Many agencies carried out feasibility studies in the past to explore the possibilities of the different types of Ropeway in Nepal. Unfortunately they all remained like academic exercises.Two goods carrying ropeways inBhattedanda(Lalitpur) and Barpak (Gorkha),and MankamanaCablecar(Gorkha) were actually built. Similarly, Parbat UdhyogBanijyaSangh with the funding by ‘KushmaBalewaYantrikPul Company’ constructed 600m long Kushma-Balewa passenger carrying mechanised bridge Parbat district. Later, ChandragiriCablecar (Kathmandu) and KalinchowkCablecar (Dolkha) have been operationalized by private sector entrepreneurs. Similarly, Annapurna Cablecarin Pokharais ready for operation too.

The feasibility report of these projects showed that demand for ropeway is high in remote areas of Nepal. But Policy makers did not give serious attention. Likewise, cablecarexperts are doing their best in survey and design of a number of passenger cablecars and goods carrying ropeways but for limited clients.

Keeping in view the geography land structure of the country, Ropeway system isa viable solution for transportation of goods and passengers. A little land for towers and stations are enough for Ropeway systems. Short construction period and cheaper construction cost are other benefits. Moreover, Ropeway systems are operated by electricity so electricity generated in the country will be well utilised. Thus Ropeway systems escape road construction and save cost of fossil fuel to run the vehicles.

Nepal possesses extreme geographical conditions ranging from high hills and mountains to areas of flat land known as the Terai. Rugged terrains, unfavourable weather conditions and scattered settlements in the hilly and mountainous regions obstruct the mobility of people and the transporting of goods and services as well as hindering development efforts. Rural access is a major problem in Nepal. Settlements are scattered, with few densely populated areas. In such a harsh mountainous region the construction of roads is both expensive and time consuming. The cost of transporting construction materials by is high, and damage from landslides is common.

As Ropeway systems constructed in Nepal past 99 years had shown good signs for decarbonised mobility. The country and the entire world is looking for maximum use of non-fossil fuel mobility, importance of Ropeways are raised. This can help the climate change effect reduction campaigns like 100% Renewable Energy, Net Zero Emission and so on. Moreover, Nepal is looking for the market for consumption of electricity considering use in the country is better than exporting at a low price.

Some time in the time, Investment Board Nepal (IBN) was studying the possibility of reviving the Hetauda-Kathmandu ropeway which has been lying abandoned for more than two decades to transport goods from Birgunj dry port to the then under-construction Chobhar dry port.IBN had planned to bring the Ropeway back to life if it can be used to carry heavy cargo. A pre-feasibility study and field survey was conducted too.

The 42-km Hetauda-Kathmandu Ropeway came to be out of operation since 1994. In its good time, the Ropeway ran 10 hours and transported 220 tonnes of goods daily.

As a matter of fact, the Ropeway system should be considered extending Hetauda to Birgunjat one end and Matatirtha to Chobharat the other end as construction of the Dryport in the Chobhar has been completed. It is worth to add that Ministry of Commerce built inland container depot (ICD) has been ready.

Similarly, Ropeway systems can be a viable solution for municipal waste transportation. The system may be utilised for waste transportation of the Kathmandu Valley for instance, where segregation of domestic waste is ‘simple not possible’ and the municipalities have to lift whatever has been dumped as waste by the residents and other waste producing entities.

As such, politicians, planners and professionals should consider on Ropeway systems for goods transportation or passengers transportation in for multiple climate related, environmental and economic benefits which provide a risk-free system as a bonus. Moreover, this technology if introduced cost of road construction, cost of transport vehicles, cost of fossil fuel, costs of human resources drastically. Likewise, air pollution produced by the vehicles will be fully checked and this will be advantage from the point of view of public health protection.