SISTEER Nepal Day 11: Bhujung Homestay Program: Visit to Tea Plantation and Micro-hydro Plant

25th May (Day 11) – Bhujung Homestay Program: Visit to Tea Plantation and Micro-hydro Plant
ACAP’s focus is on ecotourism and socioeconomic development. This includes environmental tourism, gender development (women empowerment), tourism management, and cultural preservation.
We had an engagement with ACAP (Bhujung) in which we discussed how ACAP’s goals applied to the context of Bhujung. Bhujung is the last Gurung village that observes traditional Gurung practices. We felt that it was really amazing how ACAP’s community engagement with the villagers forms a crucial part of their decision-making process; the villagers’ inputs on development of the village are taken into account.
The homestay programme is an example of a successful ecotourism project proposed by ACAP to the villagers. Due to its low capital and potential tourist income, the villagers took up the idea and applied to ACAP for approval of their homes to be used for the homestay programme. However, there were some challenges faced by the homestay programme.
First, tourist arrivals in Bhujung are relatively lower than the main trekking routes in ACAP, which makes income generated unstable. Also, the number of homestays is limited as it is difficult to meet/maintain the criteria set by ACAP for the homestay programme.
Second, there was a problem of waste management. We realised that some parts of their waste management were not ideal. Due to inaccessibility in the mountains, it is not economically viable to transport the small amount of non-biodegradable waste generated by the villagers out of Bhujung (the nearest city is about a 4-hour jeep ride away). Therefore, waste is instead burnt or buried near the river, which can pollute their water source over time.
During our time in Bhujung, we stayed two nights in a homestay. All of us struggled with the living conditions; the insects, low levels of sanitation and hygiene, and the lack of hot showers (in 15-degree weather). As mentioned, waste management was not ideal in Bhujung village. Therefore, we decided to manage and collect our own waste and bring it down to the city to reduce the impact of our tourist waste on the village. Over the period of 2 days, we collected 2 large boxes of trash for 21 of us. It made us reflect on the amount of waste we had generated compared to the locals there due to our use of disposables. Most importantly, we have immersed ourselves in their culture; the warmth and hospitality we received from our hosts and the villagers were a real eye-opener to us, as it was something that we have never experienced in Singapore.
On our second day since our arrival, we visited the tea plantation and processing factory, where we learnt how tea farming is carried out in the village.
The tea leaves harvested are ground in the mixer (picture on the left) and dried in the oven (picture on the right) by “baking” them for 40 seconds at 120℃.
After which, the tea leaves are transported to a grading machine (picture above) to sort the tea leaves into different grades (high, medium or low).
We also visited the micro-hydro plant project by ACAP, built by Shankar Vaidya, a micro-hydro engineer and one of the pioneers of ACAP. Prior to the trek down to the plant site, we heard from the ACAP Bhujung village representatives who talked about the motivations for setting up the micro-hydro plant and how it works. Hearing about how running water is harnessed to generate electricity seemed simple, almost ordinary.
However, as we learnt more about the micro-hydro plant and visited it ourselves, we realised how amazing its design is, despite its simplicity.
The brilliance of the project lies in the fact that the micro-hydro plant does not require the construction of a dam, unlike conventional hydroelectric plants. Building a dam would require extensive infrastructure to hold the water stream up before releasing it to power the turbine. This can drastically affect the water levels and livelihoods of the people both upstream and downstream, thus having far-reaching impacts on the surrounding environment. Instead, the micro-hydro plant simply creates a diversion of water from the stream to the turbine, and this simple machine can last for 25 years. This greatly reduces the impact on the surrounding environment whilst generating sufficient electrical power for the entire village.
Furthermore, it dawned on us just how important electricity is to improve the villagers’ lives; something that we all took for granted back in Singapore. It gives them the ability to run a zipline system that carries heavy crops and supplies (such as cement) up the mountains, saving them great amounts of human labour and time which they can now use to attend training sessions by ACAP on livestock rearing and agriculture.
The past two days spent in Bhujung village were thus really memorable, as it showed us the beauty of simplicity be it in design or the locals’ hospitality. All these left a deep impression on us, allowing us to better appreciate the local village culture and see for ourselves sustainability in practice, which does not always require advanced technology or equipment.

Written by Chun Hou and Jing Qi Edited by Stella