The world famous Annapurna Circuit trekking route is safe and open for business, said an assessment report prepared by Miyamoto International, a global structural and earthquake engineering firm.
However, there are some areas that have been identified as having a particularly high hazard level due to their existing features or geometry. The Annapurna region receives more than 110,000 foreign trekkers annually. The assessment of the region’s main trekking routes for structural and geotechnical earthquake-related damage was funded by SAMARTH-NMDP, a programme supported by UKAID, and conducted on behalf of the Tourism Ministry.
The audit report submitted to the Tourism Ministry on Thursday showed that structural earthquake-related damage in the Annapurna region was very limited—3 percent of the total buildings studied and 0 percent of the bridges assessed. “The damaged buildings can be repaired easily. Stone building wall damage should be replaced with stone and cement mortar.”
“It appears that the Annapurna Circuit and Annapurna Sanctuary trails covered in this study are largely undamaged by landslides after the earthquakes. However, some areas have been identified as having a high hazard level,” said Kit Miyamoto, CEO of Miyamoto International.
According to Miyamoto, the assessment began at Pokhara from there 31 villages and approximately 220 km of trails were assessed, a majority of the trails by helicopter and most of the structures on foot. The assessment covered 30 bridges and 30 villages with 250 accommodations in the Annapurna region.
The Thorong La Pass between Thorong Phedi and Muktinath was not covered due to weather constraints. This section involves a high mountain pass and is likely to have a very significant level of landslide and avalanche hazard, the report said. “However, we expect that the natural hazards in this area have not significantly increased as a result of the earthquake.”
The assessment of trekking trails was divided into six sections: Birethanti to Tukuche, Tukuche to Muktinath, Bhulbhule to Chame, Chame to Thorong Phedi, Birethanti to Bamboo and Bamboo to Annapurna Base Camp.
Track Birethanti to Tatopani—the trail in this area is typically located on the side of moderate to steep, well vegetated slopes. The trail climbs up to Ghorepani then down to Tatopani. No apparent new landslide damage was observed between Birethanti and the river crossing south of Tatopani, the report said. There is some new rock and debris on and near the track in some locations south of Tatopani (between the river crossing and Tatopani).
A majority of the damage was noticed on the eastern part of the Annapurna Circuit, which is closer to the 7.8 magnitude epicentre and experienced higher ground accelerations.
The bridges assessed had no structural earthquake damage. One bridge located approximately 1 km north of Chame had soil erosion concern where the edge of the river bank is approaching the bridge abutment.
The report has identified four major hazard areas, namely Bagarchhap, Bhratang, Kagbeni and between Kimrong and Chomrong/Jhinu Danda in the southern part of the Annapurna Sanctuary tracks.
The report said that seasonal closure of these four major hazard area trails during the monsoon may be considered, as it is most likely that rockfalls and landslides will occur during the wet months.
Hazard areas should be signed and communicated to both locals and visitors. This may include signage at the beginning and end of the hazard areas using universal signage, such as that adopted on roads, to encourage people not to stop in these areas. As an interim measure, the report has recommended that “Rockfall Hazard Area” or “Landslide Hazard Area” signs be placed on the trail at each end of the villages as appropriate.
The report has recommend placing “Landslide Hazard No Stopping for 2 km” signage on either side of the new regolith landslide north of Bhratang.
Tourism Minister Kripasur Sherpa said that the report would be vital in spreading a positive message in the international arena.