“People from the United States and Canada have everything that money can buy and yet they still want something. That you can’t buy with money.” – Chundak Tenzing of Walangchung Gola
Over the 20 years that I have been associated with Nepal, “poor” is a word that has crept into the Nepalis’ vocabulary as they have become more aware of the great gulf that separates them from the “haves”. But the self-respect of the hill and mountain peasant continues to hold, and that may be Nepal’s greatest wealth.
What is there for a person who has trekked in one of the regular routes in Nepal and wants to return again and again?
First, I say, try the monsoon. For the moment, trekking during the rainy season has remained a closely guarded secret of a select few “Nepalophiles”. But others should take up this eccentricity, especially because the timing corresponds with the summer holidays in the West.
Popular trails that are packed with foreigners are completely empty during the rains. The plant and animal life are at their most spectacular and the clouds perform dramatically, periodically parting to reveal spectacular snow vistas. The high country is alive with activity as animals are taken to pastures on the upper slopes.
Some precautions have to be taken, especially because of the slipperiness of the trail, but the monsoon is undeniably the most beautiful time of the year in Nepal.
Another idea is to take your family along. Nepal is an extended family society, in which family ties are the strongest bonds in the country. It stands to reason that bringing your family will make you more acceptable to the people along the way. This can include newborns who are breast feeding, toddlers who are carried by porters, and children from four years and up, who can walk much like grown-ups provided the days are short. There are plenty of diversions along the way. Consider taking children out of school for such a trek. They will probably learn much more than they would in a classroom.
Bring your parents, too. People well into their late 70’s and even older have trekked happily and successfully in Nepal. There are obviously hazards associated with such travel, such as the relative lack of medical resources, but record shows that few people succumb while taking these risks.
Many travelers feel they must rely on the expert services of one of the many trekking agencies that line the Kathmandu streets. Not so. Once you have got the feel of the country, consider either heading out by yourself, or hiring your own porters. You will get to know Nepal much better that way.
Go to a less trekker-visited place. Many of the 50,000 who trek annually in Nepal head north of Pokhara. The number two destination is the Everest region. But places like Lake Rara National Park host less than 50 trekkers a year. When you get off the sahib-trodden trail, for starters you will immediately notice that people don’t beg. There will be many other great joys to experience.
Trekking in Nepal used to be an activity for fit individuals with mountaineering experience. But people with chronic illnesses and great physical disabilities have found they too can experience the country. Amputees, blind people, and many with significant ill-nesses have trekked in the Nepali hills. This fall, a quadriplegic gentleman from Sweden is preparing to be carried back to the Everest region, where he once walked.
Besides just walking the trails, consider learning about aspects of Nepal, such as the plants and animals, or the village architecture as it varies from one ethnic group to another. Most of all, make an effort to know the people. Learn the language, or study some of their crafts. Go on a pilgrimage as the Nepalis do. Perhaps even more importantly, consider sharing yourself with them. If you play a musical instrument, bring it along. Bring simple games, or pictures of your family, your home, or your work.
As Chundak Tenzing said, what Nepal has to offer is not something that can be purchased with money. Countless trekkers have discovered this great wealth of Nepal. With care exercised on the part of the Nepalis and their visitors, this resources can be around for future generations.
Bezruchka is writer of a popular trekking guide to Nepal.