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September 23, 2021

Dr. Harka Gurung’s Contributions to Mountaineering 

  • Highlights Tourism

Dr.Harka Gurung (1935-2006) was one of the most formidable and most influential intellectuals of contemporary Nepal who possessed deep knowledge about the Himalayas, flora, fauna and was equally fond of mountains until his unfortunate death in 2006 in a helicopter crash along with 23 others at Phaple in Taplejung while returning from a conservation meeting.

He was a Nepali geographer, author, and politician, known for his conservation work. Dr. Gurung was also the first Tourism Minister of Nepal. It was during his tenure as the first Tourism Minister of the government of Nepal that few tourism entrepreneurs, mountain climbers approached him to do something and helped them to establish the Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) under the leadership of Khadga Bikram Singh, which now has become instrumental in initiating climbing training for the new climbers.

The NMA founding member and world record-holder Everest summiteer Shambhu Tamang still remembers how Dr. Harka Gurung was fond of mountaineering and how he loved to meet with the climbers. 

Dr. Harka Gurung as Tourism Minister encouraged the climbers to move forward with their dreams and plans to establish the NMA for the betterment of the mountain tourism and mountaineering sector which is considered to be one of the backbones of the tourism industry in Nepal today.

According to Tamang, Dr. Harka Gurung instantly took steps to prepare all kinds of necessary documents for the establishment of NMA on behalf of the government and he even got an endorsement letter from the government side.

So, the pioneering intuition and initiatives of Dr.Harka Gurung had worked a lot in the establishment of the current NMA according to the NMA officials because Dr. Harka Gurung was a visionary intellectual for various fields including development fields.

Without his timely support, encouragement, and initiatives taken by Minister Dr. Harka Gurung, the NMA would not have come into existence. Dr. Harka’s profound intellectuality is exhibited through his book entitled, “Nature and Culture”.

As a demographer, he also wrote and published several books. He was versatile in aptitude. His expertise as a development worker is also indispensable for the country.

According to tourism experts, Dr. Harka Gurung was also one of the pioneering persons to rename the mountain peaks and trekking trails in Nepali rather than the names used after the first European visitors which was practiced before Dr. Gurung took up steps to stop such practices in Nepal’s tourism sector which proved to be very much fruitful.

So, Dr. Harka Gurung is remembered not only as a planner, demographer, and development expert but also as a tourism expert. The Chairperson of the Nepal Mountaineering Association Shanta Bir Lama said that Dr. Gurung is not a distinguished person to be remembered only once a year, but that we have to follow the paths shown to us by him.

He was the leader of the government committee formed to provide names to mountain peaks in 1983. Born in Lamjung District, Dr. Gurung studied in Dehradun and Patna before receiving a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh. 

He later served as the Vice-Chairman of the National Planning Commission (1968–75) and Minister of State (1975–78) in the Nepalese government. His areas of professional interest include demography, planning, environment, geography, sociology, and tourism. He has authored numerous books, including Annapurna to Dhaulagari (1968), Vignettes of Nepal (1980), Dimensions of Development (1984), Social Demography and Expressions (1998), Mountains of Asia (1999), Landscape Change in the Nepal Hills (2004), Peaks and Pinnacles (2005) and Mountain Reflections (2005). Dr. Gurung continued his research on Himalayan life and science. 

After completing his Ph.D., Gurung worked as a Research Fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies and then, returned to Nepal in 1966 to take up a lecturing post at Tribhuwan University in Kathmandu. 

He was the first Ph.D. holder in Nepal. In 1984 he was appointed Visiting Fellow at the East-West-Center in Hawaii. A prolific scholarly author, Gurung published fifteen books and around 675 academic articles and reports. He also worked as an advisor to the World Wildlife Fund in Nepal.

Dr. Gurung subsequently held several government posts, including Minister of State for Education, Trade, and Industry Minister. He served as Director of the Asia and Pacific Development Centre from 1993–1998 and was a consultant for the World Bank. 

Dr. Gurung was also connected to opening schools as well. There were people saying that mountaineering schools will be opened in the Khumbu region, while some heard that they will be opened in the west. Dr. Gurung suggested that the training school should be opened up in other places as the Khumbu region was already crowded with mountain climbers. Based on his suggestions, the mountaineering school was established in Manang.

Harka Gurung was born in the village of Taranche that overlooks the Marsyangdi River in the central-western hill district of Lamjung. His father was a Gorkha soldier who had seen action in France and Palestine in the First World War. It was perhaps from his father that Dr. Gurung inherited the almost soldier-like discipline and sense of purpose.

Dr. Harka Gurung was also the chief advisor of the Nepal Mountaineering Association from 2002-2006 AD. He was a prominent conservation expert.

Dr. Harka Gurung Mountaineering Award was established in 2007 just one year after his demise to commemorate his life and contributions to mountain tourism in Nepal.

Dr. Gurung’s perpetual contribution to mountain tourism has been accredited with one of the mountains of Nepal being named after his name.

The 20th highest peak in the world has been named Dr. Harka Gurung peak by the government of Nepal. This of course is a matter of great pride that a Nepali youth born near Himalayan mountain ranges gets his name associated with the name of one of the Nepali peaks after his death. 

Gurung was also very instrumental in revealing the facts of Nepal to outsiders such as Edmund Hilary. Dr. Gurung was so fond of mountains that he even named his two daughters and one son as Sagarmatha, Annapurna, and Manaslu. Dr. Gurung was not only honored as the chief advisor of NMA during his lifetime but was also a significant personality in contributing to the establishment of the International Mountaineering Museum in Pokhara.

Commemorative parks in his name also have been constructed in Lamjung by his Gurung community to pay homage to the great intellectual personality who was born in Nepal who ceaselessly contributed to the world in mountain tourism, development, demography, sociology, and conservation. 

He was indeed a storehouse of knowledge, wisdom, intellectuality, a unique personality who was not comparable to any other learned academicians in Nepal and elsewhere.

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