- 19 Nov, 2023
Our contributing writer Suman Malla takes a tour of Arba to find out how mountain biking is transforming this once quaint village into a thriving hub of hope and adventure.
With its panoramic views and breathtaking landscapes, Arba matches the charm of its neighbouring villages. Yet, this village has remained in obscurity despite its proximity to Pokhara City; it is merely 7km from the lakeside.
It cries for publicity—a chance to shine and share its untold stories with the world.
The tale begins with grand plans to develop an ancient shrine of Lord Shiva called Mahaprabhu Dham on the hilltop into a pilgrimage centre.
The murmurs of divine transformation echoed through the village, kindling the hopes of the residents. As time passed, these whispers turned into silence, leaving behind a community teetering on the edge of despair.
“Our community donated about 200 ropanies of land for that purpose. But the lack of tangible results cast a shadow over the once-bright hopes,” said Navaraj Baral, who served as the chairman of the Arba Village Community Forest Board for over 18 years until 2018.
Many villagers abandoned their roots in search of greener pastures in the city. Some migrated to the downtown hustle of Pokhara; others went even further afield to the capital, Kathmandu, or overseas. The village seemed destined to become another casualty of rural-to-urban migration.
However, a beacon of change has emerged, steering this once-forgotten village towards a new destiny. The vehicle of transformation is an unlikely one: mountain biking.
A group of daring mountain bikers, drawn by the untouched beauty of the landscape, carried out a reconnaissance mission in 2018. The community forest in the Arba Hills became the unexpected stage for a transformational journey. They saw potential lying dormant in the hills, while others saw despair.
“Arba has immense potential, and we are committed to harnessing it sustainably. Our goal is to strike a balance between preserving our cultural heritage and embracing the opportunities that come with responsible tourism,” said Sunil Chandra Sharma, race director of Dawn Till Dusk, the mountain biking company that manages the Pokhara Enduro event.
The company has been working hand in hand with the local community to develop trails that showcase breathtaking landscapes while respecting the environment and cultural heritage.
The authorities took notice of that bold endeavour. They acted quickly, driven to bring about a long-lasting change by the mountain bikers’ vision.
Over the next three years since the COVID-19 pandemic, the once desolate and neglected dirt track that wound through the Arba Hills has been transformed into a smooth, paved road.
This seemingly small infrastructure improvement had a cascading effect on the village. It breathed new life into the forgotten community, drawing a growing number of visitors to the ancient shrine and the freshly developed mountain biking trails. Arba encompasses significant religious sites like Mahaprabhudham, Manideep, and the Ganesh temple.
During the Dashain festival last month, the ancient shrine on the Arba hilltop experienced a revival of its own.
The former community forest board chairman, speaking with a glint of pride in his eyes, reminisced about the Dashain festival when more than 300 people—the most in recent memory—visited the shrine.
“It was the biggest crowd ever at this shrine, as far as I could remember,” the septuagenarian Baral remarked, reflecting on the recent transformations. “I’ve never seen this much vibrancy in Arba. It’s heartening to witness our village coming alive again.”
Residents who had previously left their hometowns in search of a better life started to trickle back, spurred on by newfound optimism. Entrepreneurs emerged from the community, envisioning a future where Arba could thrive on its terms. They have set up small businesses and lodging to accommodate the growing number of visitors drawn to the ancient shrine and the charm of mountain biking trails.
One of those returnees is Ram Chandra Sunar, who traded his bustling gold shop in Pokhara for a guest house named Arba Resort in the serenity of his hometown. This property has become a focal point for the burgeoning biking scene, with the Pokhara Enduro organisers booking it for almost a month until the final day of the thrilling bike race on November 25.
Beaming with pride, the 41-year-old said, “I never thought I’d see the day when Arba would be a hub for mountain biking enthusiasts. It feels great to be back and contribute to the growth of our village.”
Sunar, who also cultivates vegetables in his fields, adds a personal touch to the hospitality of his resort by offering guests fresh produce from his adjacent farm, capturing the spirit of local growth and sustainability.
More inhabitants in the neighbourhood are eagerly anticipating the mountain biking event as the wheels of excitement set in motion.
A short trek of 200 metres from the guesthouse leads to a small settlement where Mahadev Devkota resides in a house with his parents and seven siblings. The Devkotas share boundaries with the ancestral home of Kiran Baral, the current chair of Pokhara Metropolis Ward 13.
With entrepreneurial zeal, the 31-year-old sees an opportunity to provide refreshments and essentials to both residents and adventurous tourists.
“I’m planning to open a kiosk to cater to the influx of visitors. I’ll sell fresh home produce like corn, lemonade, and buttermilk,” said Devkota, who works at Sujal Diary in Pokhara. He envisions a harmonious blend of tradition and modernity, where these hills serve as a haven for both spiritual reflection and thrilling outdoor experiences.
Now, Arba Village echoes with the laughter of children playing, the hum of entrepreneurial activity, and the wheels of mountain bikes tearing through the once-silent trails.
The pilgrimage centre that never materialised may have left the villagers in despair, but the resilience of the community and the unexpected partnership with mountain bikers have given Arba a new identity—one of hope, growth, and a future that embraces both tradition and progress.
Standing amidst the rejuvenated surroundings, Pokhara Metropolis Ward 13 Chair Baral spoke of hope and potential. “Arba Village is no longer the forgotten sibling. Its revival is a testament to what can be achieved when the community, local authorities, and adventure enthusiasts work together.”