Print Edition - 2017-02-18  |  On Saturday

Chasing the wind at Dhorpatan

  • An Epic Drive into a remote Shangri-La in the Dhaulagiri region reaps promising rewards
- SAROJ DHAKAL

Feb 18, 2017-

When I received an invitation to join in on an impromptu road trip to Dhorpatan, I initially politely declined the offer. My leave from work, which I was spending in Pokhara, was drawing to a close and I was readying to return back to Kathmandu.  But once I hung up the phone, curiosity got the better of me. Of course, I had heard of Dhorpatan before—and was aware that it was the only hunting reserve in the country—but I had no idea where it really was. And as I began Googling images from the region, my curiosity peaked. Because Dhorpatan is off well-beaten tourist circuits, it seldom features on the itineraries of travelers, domestic or otherwise; and as I spent the evening researching, I figured that it is not every day that one gets the opportunity to visit far-flung Shangri-las yet untouched by the easy traps of modernity. On a whim, I decided to give in and join the team departing the next day. 

The three-person team, led by Kushal Gurung, the CEO of Wind Power Nepal (WPN), was headed to Dhorpatan to conduct an initial wind assessment to see if the region could be conducive for commercial wind farming. And as we departed from Pokhara towards Baglung—from where the road to Dhorpatan veers west—the team filled me in on the details. WPN was founded in 2012 with the aim of harnessing Nepal’s wind energy. As part of a project to conduct a wind energy resource mapping for the country, the team needed to set up an 80-metre tall mast to collect wind data for two years in an area that boasted a wide expanse of open land. And Dhorpatan seemed to fit the bill—this trip, as fate would have it, would be more than just an unplanned joyride. 

The initial few hours, however, were nothing to write home about. Having had been on the relatively well-maintained Pokhara-Beni highway on numerous occasions, the short trip up to Baglung was made up in good time. But once we stopped at the once-traditional Newar town, we realised that we weren’t very prepared for the road ahead. As it is with travelling in most parts of Nepal, the instructions and directions we received from locals were vague and inconclusive, if well intentioned—some said we should stop for the night at Golkot Hatia, a three-hour ride away, others thought we could reach up to Kharbang in the same time, others yet encouraged us to shoot for Burtibang, up to where the roads are mapped. Finally, as the sun began to sink below the western hills, we decided to chance fate and head up to at least Hatia, via the mostly ‘off-track’ Mid-Hill Postal Highway. 

With popular Nepali item songs for company and the boulder-strewn ‘highway’ rocking us back and forth in rhythm, we finally arrived at Hatia by nightfall and checked into Hotel BNB which is sat beside the gurgling Gaudi River. Sore from a full day of riding, a dinner of freshly caught Asla fish from the river came as a therapeutic respite and generous refills of Khukuri Rum warmed up the chilly night. A persistent cool breeze seemed to sweep through the settlement, and we went to bed hopeful that it was a promising omen for what awaited us in Dhorpatan. 

Resolved to make the most of the next day, we headed out at the crack of dawn with the goal of reaching Burtibang—about five hours away. Stopping over at amusingly named towns like Bhalupaile and Ghoda Badhe, we made up good time to arrive at Kharbang for lunch and a refuel. Here as we soaked up the winter sun, the petrol pump operator cautioned us that our Scorpio jeep—with a clearance of 180 cms—would be hard pressed to make it all the way to Dhorpatan; the road, he warned, would get progressively worse after the town. 

His prophecy would come jarringly true. 

Because the Mid-Hill Postal Highway is still under construction, our trip was frequently punctuated by excavators and dozers busy expanding the road, cutting hills and rocks. Moving at a snail’s pace now, we had to idle for large periods of time as we waited for the highway to clear, all the while wondering how a few strategic dynamite blasts would have made the laborious process easier for all involved. 

As the night fell on another hard day, we decided not to chance shooting for Dhorpatan in poor light and to spend the night at Bowang instead. The problem was, Bowang has no hotel and the school that doubles up as traveller’s lodge was under construction. Finally, we decided to take up shelter at a shoddy local teashop. It wasn’t much, but having had veered so far away from the touristy path, we were grateful to have a roof over our heads, a carpet for a mattress and electricity. A delicious dinner of a local bhale, potatoes and spinach, served over repeated refills of Jhwaai Khatte—a strange concoction of ghee, rice and alcohol—rekindled our spirits as the mercury dipped with the moon climbing over the eastern skies.

The next morning, despite freezing temperatures, we headed out towards Dhorpatan, giddy with the suspense of what our readings would yield. But no sooner had we headed out, the already beaten up Scorpio proved to be too delicate for the road and the driver refused to take us any further. Undeterred, we decided that part of the team would continue walking up the trail, while the rest descended down to Bowang to see if a jeep with higher ground clearance could be found.

Our gamble paid off. What a relief it was to hear the revving engines of a Hilux ambling our way through the woods! The rest of the trip from there was a breeze, as it was terrifying—a short two-hour hightail amid some of the roughest, steepest roads that I have been on. Finally, having zoomed past a snowy Deurali, the flatlands of Dhorpatan, under the watchful gaze of the towering Dhaulagiri, emerged. 

After exchanging pleasantries with the ranger for the reserve, the team set out to complete their assessment and mapping of the wind in the area. Dhorpatan, which gets its 

name from the two words, Dhor meaning marshes and Patan meaning meadows, is a beguiling region that boasts vast verdant open spaces that are dwarfed by towering mountains. There are about 25 houses, a beautiful Gumba and a solitary hotel in the area. 

Though we were in Dhorpatan for just a few hours, the team—which was collecting data with a handheld anemometer—found that the initial assessment was indeed optimistic, a big reward for the taxing ride we had had to take to get there. The assessment showed that the region boasted wind speeds of up to 15 meters per second, even at just three meters of height. In general, wind speed of 6 meters per second at the height of 40 meters is good enough for commercial wind farming. And because the wind speed generally increases with height, the data the team collected was extremely promising, although Kushal was quick to warn that without a year’s worth of data, conclusions should not be hastily arrived at.  

Content with our findings, we began the long journey back to Baglung and then Pokhara. Though tired, we were awash with new energy and began talking at length about how Nepal’s incredible potential for wind energy continues to go untapped. According to the Solar and Wind Resource Assessment (SWERA) completed in 2006, Nepal has the potential to produce around 3000 MW of energy through wind power—and because project installation takes very short time, it could be ideal to supplement the current electricity shortfall. 

But for all the potential, we also got a sobering reminder of why more studies have not been undertaken. Far-flung Shangri-las like Dhorpatan, which make for ideal wind farming sites, are also quite inaccessible—difficult to get to for a small team of four in a SUV, near to impossible for a large project attempting to haul up materials to actually build large infrastructures. v

The author is the CEO of 8848 

Inc. Additional input for the article provided by Kushal Gurung of WPN

Published: 18-02-2017 08:31

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