As the world gets smaller, it’s rarer and rarer today to find true explorers, those who are the first to visit and map out foreign lands and cultures.
For Nepal, that explorer was Toni Hagen. He was a Swiss geologist who first set foot in Nepal in 1950 as a member of a Swiss foreign aid mission.
These days of course, Nepal and its Himalayas are very popular on the trekking circuit for world travelers. But before Toni and other select early visitors arrived in Nepal in the 1950’s, the country was still “forbidden” to outsiders.
Toni obtained the first trekking permit ever issued to a foreigner traveling in Nepal. Think about that when you receive your own trekking permit there. Amazing.
Altogether, Toni spent over a dozen years in Nepal, walking 14,000 miles, enduring everything from icy blizzards to torrential monsoon rains, while carrying out the first geographical and geological surveys of the country for the Nepalese government and for the United Nations.
Toni plotted sites for hydropower projects like Kulekhani and the Karnali Bend, proposed a east-west electric train artery, ropeways for mountain transport, and advocated rural eco-tourism.
His most famous quote about Nepal though indicates what really impressed him the most about Nepal: “I found the people more important than the rocks.”
Toni, who died in 2003 at the age of 85, documented his work and experiences.
His 1961 book Nepal is still valuable to modern travelers.
He also filmed a documentary on Nepal between 1950 and 1958.
Toni did narrate one version in English, but that version is hard to find online.
The version I am posting below has a narrator speaking Nepali. Still, the images and scenes from Nepal in the 1950s make it well worth watching.