| Nepal Eco Luxury |
After too many nights in the loud, tourist-jammed Thamel neighborhood in central Kathmandu, I decide it’s time to head out of the insanity. Surprisingly, my search for serenity keeps me within the city limits. A winding road climbs into the 700-acre forest of ancient trees that was once the private hunting grounds of the royal family. There awaits Gokarna Forest Resort, a welcome escape that blends its lodges and sanctuaries (inspired by Malla- and Rana-period Nepalese royal palaces) harmoniously with nature.
As one of Nepal’s most prestigious hotels, Gokarna attracts the gamut from flashpacking trekkers to business travelers, and even Nepal’s political elite (security is pretty tight on the day that top political rivals attempt to resolve the country’s political quagmire).
Most places I review loudly announce their environmental innovations; Gokarna’s management is more circumspect. In part, it’s because some previous initiatives haven’t flourished as hoped; in part because new management is still assessing how to integrate green more deeply into their DNA. As I probe, I remember that ”sustainability” is a process, and I appreciate their candor in describing their successes and challenges.
Greener greens—and fairways
Gokarna opened in 1999 as a luxury golf resort, Nepal’s first—and still only—international standard 18-hole course. Designed by David Kidd of Gleneagle in Scotland, it is said (I’m not a golfer myself, a mystery two of my teenage golfing-enthusiast nephews can’t seem to fathom) to rank among the signature resort courses of South Asia and is the region’s only course with bent grass greens. It must be a hoot watching monkeys scamper across fairways bounded by this magnificent forest. Even more welcome from my perspective is the resort’s switch, in 2008, from toxic herbicides (the use of which is still all-too-common in western “developed” nations) to benign bio-pesticides such as azadirachta (the scientific name for neem) and chicken manure. This is especially important here, as the adjacent Bagmati River provides water for diverse wildlife in the forest, including the aforementioned monkeys plus spotted and barking deer and even leopards (something to keep in mind when considering a midnight nature hike).
Although it’s a capital-intensive process to retrofit facilities with energy-saving equipment, Gokarna has begun implementing eco-plans that include converting the kitchen to running on bio-gas and installing solar-powered hot water systems. It is also planting an organic vegetable garden to supply its Durbar and Clubhouse restaurants.
Other initiatives include replacing plastics with sustainable bamboo alternatives, using CFL light bulbs throughout the resort, composting kitchen waste, and encouraging customers to conserve water by reducing the frequency of towel and linen washing.
‘Finest in the country’
In addition to the greening of Gokarna, I thoroughly enjoy its spacious and comfortable accommodations and outstanding facilities, including free morning yoga classes and excellent health club and gym (it’s touted as the “finest in the country” and who am I to argue while luxuriating in its heated lap pool, sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi?). The Harmony Spa, overlooking the forest and the Forbidden Valley below, emphasizes soothing Ayurvedic treatments. I also love talking with Gorkarna staff, including a waiter who openly discusses his work as leader of the hotel’s labor union. As much as I admire this guy’s zeal, I also tip my hat to a management team that fosters an environment that allows such a free and open exchange in a country where this is not always so.—Michael Straus, Contributing Editor