Trekking in the Himalaya has received a lot of publicity in Western media. Tour companies sell the image of a comfortable adventure without any stress or suffering, with the sahib cocooned from all contingencies and the unexpected. Perhaps the time has come to set out what it can really be like. In fact, it is probably a legal requirement to do so, now that the EEC Regulations are being applied to tourism across Europe. Here’s how a new EEC pamphlet on Himalayan trekking might read if one were to try to introduce some degree of reality into the tour company brochures. There might actually be some good that will come out of this exercise.
If your normal destination is a package tour to Majorca, do think twice before signing up on our trekking holiday to Nepal. The snapshots of smiling trekkers, snow peaks, exotic temples and placid yaks, all bathed in strong sunlight are all true to life. But so are the mist, cloud, rain, snow, snowdrifts, mud, leeches, high winds, intense cold, and truculent yaks on a high, narrow trail.
Having arrived in Nepal, be prepared for tummy upsets — 90 percent of all tourists are so affected. Do be aware that your jabs do not give full immunity, and you may still come away with typhoid, malaria, hepatitis, and other interesting life-threatening diseases. Typhus, for instance, from beg bugs in the Kathmandu hotel, which will lay you up with fever for days on end but give you the most compensatory of hallucinations.
The political climate of the Himalayan country is no longer very stable. You arrival might coincide with strikes, riots and all-day curfews, which can be restricting. The weather may delay the start of your trek by several days, because the distant airstrip is socked in by clouds. There is also no guarantee that your return flight from the hills will connect with your international flight in Kathmandu, so do not make any important appointments during the week after your expected return.
You may want to consider the implications of walking 10 to 12 miles daily, for days on end. All you have to do to alleviate tiredness is to look across at the porter who is staggering along barefoot, with 65 lbs on his back. The distressing thing is that there is always the chance that a porter will not make it. Each year, porters die from the excessive physical demands mad upon them, humping high loads in bad weather, and at altitude.
Westerners, too, have perished over the years by trying to keep to trekking itineraries that were just too tight for acclimatisation requirements. There are no exact figures. Also, no one wants to frighten you away.
Our trek leader will do his best to make life as comfortable as possible. In doing so, he will keep the locals away from your tent and campfire. As part of a somewhat insular group, you may or may not get along with your trek mates. Some young personable youth may hijack the trip and have you racing along at his pace, or the whole lot of you may develop a competitive spirit and become blinkered to all that is Nepal. There will always be someone that you cannot stand, and at such times you cannot wait for the trip to finish, to get back to the place where you last found love— home.
Do remember that evening comes early in the low latitudes of the Himalaya, and that by 7 p.m. it will be pitch dark. Be prepared for the constant smell of kerosene, including in your food. We try our best to provide waterproof tents, but they do get mistreated and may leak. Do bring your own closed cell foam mat, as the sponge mat provided could end up very soggy.
Occasionally, your equipment will go missing – a water bottle, umbrella, or trainers left at night outside tents. Talking of baggage, you may notice suddenly that the line of porters is not moving. There has been a porter strike, because the sirdar and the naike have colluded to rob the porter of a good portion of their dues. This is normal, but when it goes too far the porters will put their foot down, and their loads too. In short, only expect the unexpected, but bear in mind that overcoming physical and psychological obstacles is the only sure way to grow. No pain, no gain. A trek 5 which is right for everyone is like I packaged food, bland and safe.