Gravity ropeways

The clever use of gravitational force can help people get their produce to market

Life is difficult for families living in remote and mountainous areas. Getting crops to market can be exhausting and dangerous – it is generally mules, women and children who carry these heavy loads on their backs, down treacherous, winding dirt tracks. When it rains, or there’s a landslide, it’s completely impossible.

It could take two people over three hours to carry a 120kg load of apples 1.3 km down a steep mountain path – and that’s just the first part of the gruelling journey to market. Now, with a gravity ropeway, the apples take less than five minutes to cover the same distance. Depending solely on gravitational force – and using no external power – gravity ropeways are simple, inexpensive to operate, and environmentally friendly.

Two linked trolleys, on pulleys, run on separate 10mm diameter steel wires which are suspended from towers: as the full trolley comes down, pulled by the weight of its load, it pulls the empty one up, ready for the next load. The trolleys’ progress is controlled by another, 8mm wire, looped over a flywheel. A wooden drum brake, with bearing and bracket, governs their speed.

Transporting goods to market in Nepal

Life is difficult for families living in the remote mountainous areas of Nepal. One in every three people live on just £1 a day. They survive by growing food to eat and selling what is left over to provide the most basic necessities. But getting crops to market can be exhausting and dangerous.

Janagaon is one of six communities in Nepal who together with Practical Action have found an answer that’s transforming their lives. And it’s surprisingly simple.

Dharma is 55 years old, with a wife and three children. He grows vegetables on a small plot of land in Janagaon village. He says, “It takes two hours to get down the mountain trail to the main road, and during the monsoon, accidents are frequent. Now we have the gravity ropeway, the time saved means I can earn three times as much from selling my vegetables. With that extra money I can afford to farm animals, too. But I’m not just glad for me – the whole village is prospering thanks to the ropeway.”

It’s a simple solution to the isolation endured by so many poor Nepalese families. The main components of the ropeway are sourced locally and project staff train local manufacturers to build the parts. We show the village group taking responsibility for the ropeway how to maintain it. A small charge to each user ensures enough money to keep the ropeway in good repair while also paying for two operators to manage the top and bottom stations safely.

Before the installation of the ropeway in Janagaon, families often went without food or medicine during the winter months. They could not afford the initial cost of establishing the ropeway, buying the steel cabling or getting the technical know-how to advise on its installation. Those are the elements Practical Action can help with, thanks to the generosity of our supporters.

The ropeway means people can get more produce to market from their mountain villages. And because it gets there quicker, it’s fresher and earns them more. They have more time to tend their crops, more money to buy fuel for cooking and heating, and can even pay for education and healthcare. Technology really is making a remarkable difference to their lives.

Hira from Bishaltar in Nepal

Hira is married with four children and lives high in the hills above the new gravity ropeway station in Bishaltar. Hira grows tomatoes on his plot, which is three long hours walk from the roadside where traders come to buy produce.

Before the gravity ropeway was constructed, Hira would have to pay a porter to carry his tomatoes down the mountain-side at a cost of 100 rupees per load. Now, a much heavier load can be transported using the ropeway at a cost of just 15 rupees – seven times cheaper than hiring a porter.

But it’s not just money that Hira is saving; that three hour journey has been cut to just two minutes. The tomatoes arrive fresh and undamaged and fewer porters have to travel down perilous pathways. Hira’s tomatoes didn’t used to command a very high value. He was also limited in the amount he could grow, not by the size of his plot, but because it just wasn’t cost effective to transport the goods down the mountainside. Hira was therefore struggling to provide for his family.

Now, Hira and his fellow farmers are producing higher quality and larger quantity of crops, having used some of their profits to buy fertiliser and increase their plot of land. They are earning 5 rupees more per Kg of goods and are selling to traders from as far as 500kms away.

During the farming season, this ropeway transports over 100 cages of produce from the top of the mountain to the bottom, each and every day. “life is good now. Not just for me but for many other farmers. We couldn’t imagine how much of a difference this simple ropeway would make; I am saving time and money and can finally look forward to a more secure future for my family”.

The whole community is benefiting from the gravity ropeway, being involved in the project right from site selection. Now they have established a committee which represents the villagers using the ropeway, hired two staff members (one for the mountain top station and one for the roadside station) and mobilised over 50,000 rupees in savings (almost £400).

Now the beautifully simple solution has been found, Practical Action are working hard to give more communities the opportunity to use the same technology.

£25 could buy over 30 metres of steel cable for a gravity ropeway. If you're able to help, please make a donation today.



You can download  technical briefs and manuals on aerial ropeways at Practical Answers, the technical information service of Practical Action, or you can submit an enquiry to the Practical Action staff via the online form

Ropes of hope

Case studies from Practical Action's gravity ropeway and tuin projects in Nepal.

This particular ropeway was installed by the Government of Nepal with technical support of Practical Action Nepal Office and labour support of community members of Manasangkot VDC, Syangja. Interest from Mr. Birendra Hamal, Regional Director, Regional Agriculture Directorate, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperative has led to the installation of this ropeway in Syanjya District.

Ropeways - Aerial Ropeways in Nepal

An introduction to aerial tramway / ropeway transport in Nepal including tuins, a river crossing mechanism.

Ropeways - Technical Guidelines for Gravity Goods Ropeway

A rope based transport system for mountainous regions. Practical Action Nepal & DoLIDAR, 134 pages.

Ropeways - Gravity Goods Ropeway

This story shows the whole community contributed in the construction one a ropeway in Nepal.

Gravity ropeways technical brief

Gravity ropeways technical brief

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