Annapurna Cable Car brings hope amid tourism gloomThe gondola lift from Phewa Lake to Sarangkot has carried 85,000 passengers since it opened in February.
A decade ago, Japanese tourism entrepreneur Takashi Miyahara constructed the Hotel Annapurna View on Sarangkot hill in the northwest of Pokhara. As the road alone would not be enough to attract high-class tourists to Sarangkot, he envisioned a cable car service from the shores of Phewa Lake to Sarangkot.
On February 18, Miyahara's vision became a reality. Annapurna Cable Car, built by the private sector with a collective investment of Rs2 billion, began carrying passengers to scenic Sarangkot.
Miyahara has passed away, and the hotel is now run by his daughter. Tourists travel by cable car, which was designed with the idea of bringing guests to the hotel. The construction of Annapurna Cable Car started in 2013, and work was delayed for two years by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Tourists ride the gondola lift to Sarangkot early in the morning to watch the sunrise. The cable car has become an alternative to the road to reach Sarangkot to view the Annapurna mountain range, Phewa Lake and Pokhara.
Following the launch of the cable car service, investments in Sarangkot have also increased. New hotels and restaurants have been constructed. An apartment building is being built in Sarangkot. Locals run small businesses such as tea shops, curio and handicraft shops. The trend of opening hotels and restaurants in Sedi is spreading.
Locals are building new hotels around the upper station while the existing ones are on an expansion drive, adding floors and guest rooms. Many standard hotels and coffee shops have come into operation.
Rajendra Thapa runs a curio shop in Sarangkot market. He lived abroad for a few years, and after his return, worked as a security guard at Annapurna Cable Car which is located near his home. Three months ago, he quit his job and opened a curio shop near the upper station of the cable car.
“I quit my job and opened a shop as I expected tourist arrivals to increase," Thapa said. “I am making a few sales and hope that business will increase gradually.”
Sarangkot too took a heavy hit when the Covid-19 pandemic destroyed the tourism industry. But the operation of the cable car has rekindled hope among entrepreneurs.
Gaurab Raj Subedi, owner of Bhanjyang Village Lodge and Restaurant at Sarangkot, said that after the operation of the cable car, tourist arrivals had swelled, compensating for the losses suffered during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Nowadays, there has been an increase in the number of people coming to Sarangkot by cable car and eating at the restaurants here before returning to Pokhara," he said.
The construction of Suryotthan Luxury Apartments started in Sarangkot with an investment of Rs2.5 billion. Two big business houses, KC Group and Keyal Group, both with experience in the housing industry, are building the apartment building as a joint venture.
The apartment building is being constructed on a 17.9-ropani plot in Sarangkot hill, and is expected to be completed within two and a half years.
The base station of the cable car is located at Sedi on the shores of Phewa Lake. The gondola ride to Sarangkot, the upper station of the cable car, takes 9 minutes from Sedi. Miyahara's Hotel Annapurna View is located at the upper station.
Despite the upbeat outlook, the cable car service has not been receiving as many tourists as expected.
According to Arun Koirala, administrative chief of Annapurna Cable Car, the service has carried 85,000 passengers since it opened. Among them, 65 percent are Nepalis, 25 percent are from India and other member countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), and 10 percent are tourists from other countries. This works out to a daily average of 566 passengers.
The cable car operates for 10 hours from 5 am and can carry 5,000 passengers at full capacity. Before construction began, it was expected that 1,500 people would use the service daily.
"Foreign tourist arrivals stopped during the Covid-19 pandemic and the global economic recession. This also hit the cable car service business. We expected more tourists from countries like China and Japan. But the number of Chinese tourists is zero. Currently, the global economy is not encouraging," Koirala said.
He believes that the cable car service will become profitable when an environment for tourists is created, and there is no need to be disappointed.
"It is natural for small investors to look for quick returns, but big investors have been patient. As soon as the tourism market improves, they believe that the cable car will start giving returns."
The company is not just waiting for foreign tourists but has made plans to bring more domestic tourists too. It has planned to build a 62-foot-tall statue of Panchamukhi Ganesha in Sarangkot to lure religious tourists and expand the number of attractions.
The idol will be established at the initiative of the Sarangkot Religious Tourism Development Committee. A sub-committee is preparing to complete the statue before the next Shivaratri festival. It is expected that the arrival of domestic and Indian tourists will increase after the establishment of the statue of Ganesha.
The length of the cable car is 2.4 km. There are 17 gondolas and each gondola can carry eight people. The cable car's upper station has a view tower, garden, restaurant, coffee shop and parking. The company has provided direct employment to 32 people.
There is also a restaurant and parking at the lower station. The company has added adventure activities like zipline, swing and sky cycling at the upper station of the cable car.
Annapurna Cable Car is Nepal's fourth cable car service after Manakamana, Chandragiri and Kalinchowk cable cars.
A ride in the cable car costs Rs700 for Nepalis, Rs800 for tourists from SAARC countries, and $9 for citizens of third countries. There is a 50 percent discount for senior citizens and persons with disabilities. The company also runs a free return bus service from Lakeside Fishtail to the base station at Sedi.