Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge is set on a dramatic ridge, about 1,000 feet above the Pokhara Valley floor in central Nepal. With a stunning Himalayan panorama, the view features three peaks of over 26,000 feet—Dhaulagiri, Annapurna I and Manaslu. Established in 1998 by Tiger Tops and Mountain Travel Nepal, both founded in the mid-1960s (hence the name, Tiger Mountain), the property combines the rich heritage of these two tourism pioneers in South Asia with a focus on simple but high-quality service, a focus on locale and local community, expert interpretation by skilled local guides and strong social commitment to staff and adjacent communities alike. Sustainability was woven into the corporate DNA of the company from the start. The current owners worked with Tiger Tops and Mountain Travel, one from the mid-1970s and the other from 1990.
Designed to reflect a local village and to provide a comfortable base for day hikes (as opposed to classical trekking/Himalayan hill walking as espoused by Mountain Travel Nepal), the building is spread over an inverted T-shaped ridge. The architects, Philip Beck (USA) and Prabal Thapa (Nepal) took great care to ensure that the rooms in individual bungalows were all below the ridgeline so as not to alter the view. No trees were cut down during construction. And even the main bar and dining room on the hilltop were designed ingeniously so as not to disrupt the skyline, to the point that the property is barely visible from the surrounding hills or valley floor.
The local community was involved right from the design phase and warmly supported the project. Right now, over half the employees are from the immediate village. It has been constructed entirely of local materials, including warm limestone quarried with permission of the local community from the village source, approved timber from West Nepal certified by the government, and local slate from a few miles up the road towards Kathmandu. The buildings were designed to reflect the local architectural vernacular—15 ‘haat’ (cubit) bedrooms being the same length as traditional local houses—and the main building centred around a stone courtyard and verandah reminiscent of local hill-Nepal lifestyle. Modern aspects only include attached bathrooms and glazed windows.
As a concession to modernity and safety, RCC beams are hidden within the structures for earthquake resistance and tested, for real, in the 2015 Gurkha earthquake—they proved their worth. The result is a subtleness and warmth from the use of such natural and local materials. Décor is local in style with traditional village household items for decoration, original paintings by the British artist Luke Piper, rich Tibetan rugs, simple cane furniture and natural-fibre fabrics for soft furnishing—courtesy of Fabindia—and original historical photographs of people and mountains taken by Col. Jimmy Roberts (founder of Mountain Travel Nepal) in the 1950s.
Nurturing local ecosystems
The lodge draws on the heritage of Tiger Tops for its strong environmental and conservation ethos with skilled guides to provide accurate and detailed knowledge of local flora and fauna, a focus on conservation initiatives such as the 7-acre grounds being maintained in an utterly natural manner with exotic plantings restricted to the organic vegetable gardens and some plants in the immediate vicinity of the main building. The rest is ‘jungle-y’ and deliberately so to maximise habitat for local wildlife—from the over 280 butterfly species recorded on site through to the regularly sighted common leopard (Panthera pardus) and much more in between. Monthly records of the butterflies in the compound are made by the guides as both a record and an indicator of environmental quality/change. Birds are recorded regularly on site and in the Pokhara Valley environs including by the guides leading the Annual Birdlife International Waterfowl Count on the Pokhara Valley’s many lakes and ponds. The grounds are managed organically without pesticides or artificial fertilisers, etc.
The operational aspects of the lodge have sustainability woven in throughout. Size being key, there are only 18 rooms. Staff are all Nepali barring the owners, 34 at the lodge and two in Kathmandu. Around 87% of the lodge staff have been working since the lodge opened 22 years ago.
Housekeeping focusses on the use of natural materials such as vinegar or vinegar infused with orange peels—the oranges coming from the village. Toiletries in bedrooms are locally made by speciality suppliers.
The lodge prioritises sourcing supplies locally as far as possible with minimum internationally imported commodities—barring the drinks for the bar and one or two ‘special cases’ in the kitchen. Food from Chef Lalu’s award-winning kitchen focusses on authentic local meals—homestyle cooking, be it classic dal-bhat-tarkari, the Nepal staple of rice, lentils and curried vegetables and meats, or international cuisine, but using local raw materials to benefit local suppliers. Local rainbow trout are bought in Pokhara from a project operated by the KAAA charity, smoked and served or made into potted trout/paté infused with local herbs such as jimbu.
The property is surrounded on three sides by a community forest of rich Castanopis indica/Schima wallichi composition as is typical of the area. There are some relict sal (Shorea robusta) representing the original forest complex of the Pokhara Doon Valley. The lodge works closely with the community forest user groups both supporting conservation initiatives and providing training by our guides and assistance as needed. A similar approach is taken in terms of the lodge supporting the community through our Community Support Partnership Programme with a designated employee, Hari Pariyar, who leads this. The focus is on ensuring community-based and -led initiatives so that the donor-tail does not wag the dog. An ongoing programme supports local state schools with a range of capital funding (only given after the government has made its full budgetary commitment), teacher mentoring through a world-class volunteer agency in UK, People & Places and support for rural health such as by provision of ambulance service and fire-fighting capacity through the lodge’s fire brigade.
The lodge is one of only a handful of properties that are independently audited in Nepal. This includes both certification by GSTC affiliate, Travelife UK, with Gold Standard achieved, both audits undertaken in 2017 and 2019. In addition, verification is done by Yardstick, an independent UK verification agency that ensures we comply with our own rigorous Responsible Tourism Policy. Through this CO2e data is monitored and used as the basis to drive reduction as far as possible. Plans to purchase electric vehicles were delayed by road widening in the community (thus requiring the use of 4WD vehicles due to bulldozing, etc.) and now by the coronavirus epidemic requiring all cash to be preserved for staff remuneration. However, over the years our CO2e footprint has been well reduced by improved energy efficiency, primarily entailing the installation of higher power submersible pumps for the water supply—reducing pump running time by over 80%—improved vehicles reducing emissions (all are certified by government emission testing) and reduced power consumption on site. In 2019, the lodge installed a bio-gas digester to reduce the reliance on LPG in the staff kitchen and is working with a commercial CNG supplier in Pokhara to supply CNG in cylinders for the guest kitchen (as the site precludes a bio-gas plant of sufficient size). Future plans include aligning our impacts and monitoring against the Sustainable Development Goals and, over time exploring zero-carbon options.
Marcus Cotton is the Managing Director, Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge, Nepal. The property is a part of the RARE India Community of conscious luxury boutique hotels in India and the subcontinent.