In Jumla, Norbu Lama isn’t a household name, but his hotel is.
An ambitious, multi-million rupees project, Hotel Kanjirowa is unlike any other facility in this valley in one of Nepal’s most remote districts. While a semi-finished and semi-functional two-story stone house gives an initial impression of the proposed three-star hotel, the architectural skeletal of the work-in-progress structure sprawling over 19 ropanies (9,666 square feet) of land maps the project’s grandeur.
“I want this to be a landmark in Jumla,” says Lama who has teamed with his cousin Jampal Lama on this endeavour.
There aren’t many landmarks as such in Jumla apart from the golden dome of the Chandan Nath Temple with Mt Patarasi peeking in the backdrop in Jumla Bazaar. But once completed, according to Norbu, their hotel would stand as Jumla’s modern-day marvel, which would highlight the pace of development in this district, often regarded as the poorest and most backward.
The Lama brothers’ personal story, as they say, attests the very notion. They came from a poor family of the neighboring Mugu district and struggled to make a livelihood. While Jampal, now 47, left for India at an early age with his mother, Norbu, 55, migrated to Jumla and made it his home. He started working as a porter and then a trekking guide while his younger cousin worked in construction in India before returning to Nepal in his mid-20s.
“It was high time to come back, and start working in your own country,” says Jampal who worked independently as a contractor in Kathmandu following his return. “Then I heard about my brother’s plan in Jumla a few years ago. I jumped in because I believe it will be a good investment.”
While Jampal’s share constitutes his financial investment and construction expertise he gained from India, Norbu says he has poured his entire saving to see his dream project become reality.
“I carried people’s load and worked as a guide for 26 years — all the money I saved has gone into this,” Norbu says as he sits outside the makeshift dining hall behind the main wing of the building.
For a place like Jumla, the hotel’s capital is staggering. The brothers estimate the total cost would come to the tune of more than Rs 100 million. The land itself cost Norbu about Rs 30 million. The business partners have also borrowed some capital from the bank.
Though it’s a big risk, the tall man with a thin but fit body structure, Norbu says he takes this venture as a challenge.
“Rather than buying a land in Kathmandu unlike all my trekking [guides] colleagues, I thought I’d buy land here,” Norbu explains his vision. “I want to invest in this place where I belong and contribute in its development.”
A commercial hub of the Karnali Zone, one of the country’s least developed pockets, Jumla is famous for its apples and herbs like yarsagumba, or the Himalayan Viagra. While apple trade contributes Rs 40 to 50 million to the local economy, herb trade generates up to Rs 500 million, according to the United Nations Field coordination Office’s report.
Like 93 percent of Jumla’s people, Norbu’s family is also involved in agriculture, but he is also in the one percent bracket that has steered into the hotel business.
The Lama brothers are offering a 24-room facility with modern amenities. Hotel Kanjirowa, according to them, will supersede all the other hotels that currently operate in Jumla and its periphery.
The hotel will not only contribute to the local economy but also generate local employment, Jampal says.
With a proposed plan to start a trekking expedition from Jumla to Lake Rara in Mugu district, it will create some 150 jobs with additional positions for the daily operations of the hotel. Currently, 15 construction workers, wood carvers and painters are working to meet the 2015 deadline for an official inauguration.
Situated strategically within minutes from Jumla’s airstrip, Hotel Kanjirowa overlooks the towering hills crowded with lush pine trees and the Tila River right beneath.
“We couldn’t have found a better location,” Norbu says. Initially what started as building something “bigger and better than their grandfather’s house in Mugu” has taken a new turn for Norbu. Having ditched several opportunities to migrate to the United States, Norbu says he takes pride to have “invested all the savings” in his village.
Also, he wants to prove that projects as such can materialize in places like Jumla.
“If we do something of the same magnitude in Kathmandu, our efforts will go unnoticed,” his younger cousin adds. “But this is our community, and we’re trying to uplift our place and people. Our accomplishment and the acknowledgement we’ll have here will be priceless.”
This article originally appeared in Republica The Week, November 22.