PERMITS & FORMALITIES
Thanks to some rule changes in 1999, you no longer have to queue for hours in the lavatorial atmosphere of the immigration office to obtain a trekking permit. Permits are not needed for most treks. Treks that do require a permit must be a camping trek arranged by a trekking company.
Pack it Out – to Where?
One of the pressing problems in Nepal is the large amount of trash that trekkers and mountaineering expeditions generate in the hills. The problem is compounded as Nepali villagers use more and more cans, bottles and plastic items in their daily lives. Environmental groups have been active in making both trekkers and villagers aware of the problem, and the hills are now much cleaner than they were a decade ago.
Part of the conservation ethos is to pack out those items that cannot be properly disposed of in villages. This is an excellent solution for recyclable items such as soft-drink and beer bottles, but you might think twice before you pack up a load of tins and plastic bottles to bring to Kathmandu. The rubbish-disposal facilities in Kathmandu are poor and are rapidly running out of space. Patan’s garbage ends up at the side of the Ring Road or in the Bagmati River. Kathmandu’s garbage ends up in a poorly maintained landfill on the road to Sundarijal.
You should carry any bottles back to Kathmandu and see that they are recycled. The huge pile of beer bottles at Shyang boche airport is a dramatic example of why you should do this. Spent batteries are toxic waste, and you should carry these back home to suitable disposal facilities. You would, however, contribute more to a long-term solution to Nepal’s conservation efforts if you were to encourage the use of local rubbish-disposal facilities in the hills rather than bringing other forms of un recyclable trash back to Kathmandu for disposal. Villagers should be encouraged to develop their own properly maintained rubbish dumps that both they and trekkers can use.
Trekking groups dig toilet holes and erect toilet tents; if you are with a group, encourage the sherpas to fill in the hole completely when you break camp. In heavily used camp sites the proliferation of toilet holes creates a real sanitation problem. If there is a permanent toilet handy, use that instead of the toilet tent. If you are on a camping trek, be sure the toilet pits are dug deeply and are filled in completely when you leave a camp site. If your trek staff is not digging the pits deeply enough, or not filling them in properly, the time to solve that problem is on the spot, not by writing a letter of complaint when you get home.
There is no systematic waste-disposal system in the hills, and many hill people are acquiring more and more manufactured items from Kathmandu. A look at the stream of worn-out shoes and broken toys in the streets of Namche will show that litter is not only a trekking problem. But the piles of garbage and human waste at Ghorapani and on the route to Annapurna Sanctuary and the relentless clearing of rhododendron forests between Ghorapani and Ghandruk to allow even more hotel construction are related to trekkers. Yet the protection afforded by a national park can lead to greater pressures. It takes more than 100 army personnel to manage and enforce the regulations of Sagarmatha National Park, which has a local population of less than 2500 people.
What You Can Do to Help
The hill people have a right not only to live in their traditional home sites but also to try to improve their standard of living. Their lifestyle may appear picturesque, but in many places it is a meager, subsistence- level existence that could be improved in numerous ways. Trekkers can contribute to this development, not only with their cash but by their example. Solutions to the energy problem, such as hydroelectric plants, bio gas generators, solar-energy units and the wholesale importation of fossil fuels, all take time and cost money.
As solutions are developed and implemented, they will change the trekking experience – and certainly increase costs. When attempts are made in this direction, it is reasonable to support them, even when the result is a more expensive trek. It will cost more to eat at a hotel that has a new, energy-efficient wood stove or a kerosene stove and a proper toilet.
Hoteliers have become aware that clean hotels and toilets and solar heating attract more customers. Trekkers should encourage hotels that adhere to environmentally sound practices so that hoteliers will find the means to continue their attempts. The hotel system in the hills should become something that not only turns firewood into cash, but also serves as a demonstration for all villagers of the need for, and the advantages of, limiting their dependence on the forests.
Talk to other trekkers and try to order the same food at the same time so a hotel can do all the cooking at once instead of keeping a fire roaring throughout the day. You can purify your water with iodine instead of ordering boiled water. The process of conserving energy will take time and effort, as old habits and traditions are hard to change.
Conditions admittedly are bad, but the situation is not totally bleak. Trekking companies and many hotels in the hills now use alternative fuel as a matter of course. Trekking sherpas dispose of trash properly and are far more concerned about their country than they were when trekking began. Most Nepalis now understand the magnitude of the problem and some government officials and Nepali entrepreneurs are making efforts to develop Nepal-style solutions. In the Khumbu region the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC) has banned glass bottles. If you look behind some rocks at Lukla and Shyangboche airstrips you can see the mountain of bottles they collected before the ban was put in place.
An excellent way to help villagers become involved in development activities is to carry a few Trekkers Educational Gift Packs. This is a collection of books in Nepali produced by Himal Association and available in Kathmandu bookshops. If you present these books to teachers and village elders in the hills, you are contributing far more to long term progress than you would by giving a cash donation or passing out pens.
Although Nepal has been accessible to foreigners only since 1950, there are few places in the kingdom that either trekkers, photographers, expeditions or representatives of foreign-aid organizations have not visited. The Nepalis view foreigners according to the stereotype created by those who have preceded them. Unfortunately, the predominant image is one of great wealth and a superior culture, which Westerners wish to share with the people of Nepal. Such traditions as passing out balloons, sweets and pens to kids are partly responsible for this, but it is on a far grander level that the real image has developed.
Mountaineering expeditions have spent seemingly limitless sums of money for porters, sherpas and equipment, including a lot of fine gear for the high-altitude sherpas. At the conclusion of an expedition, excess food and gear is usually given away rather than repacked and shipped home. This type of extravagance leads many Nepalis to believe Westerners have a tremendous amount of money and will simply pass it out to whoever makes the most noise.
Sherpas and hotel-keepers know of the cost of an air ticket to Nepal from the USA, Europe or Australia. No matter how small a trekker’s budget may be, Nepalis are unwilling to accept a plea of poverty from someone who has already spent enough money to build two large houses in Nepal. It is impossible to explain the difference in our relative economic positions to a Nepali in the hills.
Many trekkers and expedition members in the past have given substantial tips to sherpas, as much as several hundred US dollars. This type of extravagance forces wages up, resulting in higher demands on the next trekker or expedition. It also contributes to an unhealthy view of Westerners as rich, lavish and foolish.
Well intentioned trekkers often overreact to the needs of porters and sherpas on treks and provide an exorbitant amount of free equipment to their staff. Porters do need to be equipped with warm shoes, clothing and goggles when they are travelling into the mountains, but many trekkers overdo this and it is becoming increasingly common for porters to demand fancy new equipment. They then pack it away to sell later. Over- generous behaviour by trekkers also makes it difficult and expensive to hire porters, especially in the Annapurna region.
Foreign-aid projects have built schools, hospitals, roads and electricity and water projects in Nepal. These facilities are largely supported by contributions from Western organizations, although there is usually an effort to require input of local labour and money. Nepal needs these projects and they perform a great service, but this method of financing helps to sustain the preconception of Westerners as people with a lot of money from which they can readily be parted if they are approached with enough cleverness.
Many trekkers feel a strong affinity for villagers or sherpas they have met. Many have supported the education of local children or even provided free trips abroad for them. This practice, too, is certainly worthwhile and kind, but it does encourage Nepali people to seek such favours from Westerners. The US embassy has published a paper, titled So You Want to Take Your Sherpa to America, that points out some of the procedures and pitfalls of this process.
The problem is not confined to the hills and the efforts of a few thoughtless individuals. Many nations are eager to gain a foothold in what they consider a strategic part of the world. They spend vast sums of money on aid programs within Nepal to strengthen their position.
The Nepal government also seems to assume that foreigners have an endless supply of money and will continue to pay for the privilege of visiting, trekking and climbing in Nepal. The vast array of visa, trekking, rafting, climbing, filming, conservation, national park, entry, re-entry, import, export, hunting, liaison officer and departure fees all appear to be aimed at collecting as much money as possible from tourists. The US$70,000 fee for climbing Mt Everest and the 1993 fine of US$100,000 for violating expedition rules seem to indicate not only a lack of appreciation for ‘the freedom of the hills’, but also an unrealistic evaluation of the amount of money typically impoverished Western mountaineers have at their disposal.
This is the Westerner with whom the Nepali is familiar. They may also recognize qualities of sincerity, happiness or fun, but the primary quality they see is wealth. Nepalis may try to obtain tourists’ money by appealing to a sense of fair play, through trickery or blackmail (such as a porters’ strike in a remote location), through shrewdness, or even by outright thievery. Westerners retain this image, no matter what they do personally to dispel it, and an appreciation of this is very helpful in developing an understanding of local attitudes during a trek in Nepal.
Nepal, unfortunately, is no longer a place where a single woman can be guaranteed safety in the trekking environment, although less than a decade ago Western women could feel comfortable travelling anywhere in Nepal. The reasons attacks on women are increasing are multiple, and the trend probably has as much to do with the changes taking place in Nepali society as it does with the comportment and dress of visiting Western women.
It makes sense never to trek alone. Sexual assault and harassment have been reported at lodges. Two or more people walking together are a less likely target for theft, random assault or sexual harassment.
Traveling with a reliable male guide can help ensure your safety, but be sure that you do have a reliable person before you go. Occasionally a guide himself has become obnoxious and harassing during the trek. The bigger-name trekking agencies are more likely to provide reliable guides than an off-the-street tout.
What to Wear
Though you may feel you should be able to wear what you please, there is a practical reason for dressing conservatively while trekking in Nepal: you will be treated better, and may even be more comfortable. Nepali culture is uncomfortable with the display of the female leg, and of large expanses of flesh in general. Although you will still be waited on politely in lodges, the owners and workers will feel inwardly uncomfortable around you if you are inappropriately dressed. Demonstrating an effort to be culturally sensitive will gain you a greater rapport with the local people, and particularly with the local women.
Experienced women trekkers sing the praises of the lightweight cotton mid-calf- length skirt that can be worn by itself in hot weather and layered over tights or bicycle shorts as the altitude increases. Sleeveless tops are acceptable in hot weather, but bikini tops or revealing halter tops are not. In the highest mountain areas, as the weather becomes the major factor, pants are perfectly OK and, in fact, are worn by increasing numbers of local hill women. Make sure you seek privacy for changing clothes, and try not to expose yourself needlessly to local people. Pay attention to how the local women behave, and take your clues from them.
Other Hints for Women
Getting to know local people, and local women in particular, can be one of the most rewarding aspects of trekking. Two well- tested icebreakers are photographs of your family back home, and attractive jewellery – but don’t wear expensive jewellery while you trek.
If you are likely to menstruate on your trek, bring a plastic bag and carry used pads and tampons with you until an opportunity arises to dispose of them properly. Do not just discard them along the trail.
Since tampons and pads are virtually indestructible, do not dispose of them in outhouses; the material in outhouses is often eventually used as fertilizer, and stained pads are an unwelcome sight for villagers. Household fires are considered sacred in Nepal, and are not used for burning garbage. Trekking groups occasionally build fires for burning garbage, and these are acceptable for burning pads.
TREKKING WITH CHILDREN
Trekking with children can be a thoroughly enjoyable experience if the parents are already comfortable with back-country travel and realistic in their expectations of what children can tolerate in the trekking environment. If parents are nervous about travel in Asia, and uncomfortable living in tents, it is unlikely they will relax enough to enjoy the experience with their children. Read the following suggestions, go on at least one short test trip at home before you commit yourself to a long Asian holiday or trek, and remember: a first trek with a child is better too short than too long.
Parents who have had extensive experience with their own cases of diarrhoea, flu and skin conditions while travelling are likely to be more comfortable with making their own diagnoses and starting treatment when appropriate. Parents should consult their child’s medical practitioner before the trip to obtain a list of appropriate medications to cany and the indications for using them. Try to maintain hygiene on the trek, washing the child’s hands frequently and limiting, if possible, the number of local people who handle the child. It is imperative to know exactly what your options are in regard to obtaining medical help or evacuation if you should need it.
Choosing an Appropriate Itinerary The factors to consider are altitude, cold and the difficulty and length of the trek. In choosing a trek with a child who will be carried, try to determine the nature of the trails you will be travelling on. Most trails in Nepal are quite safe, and the likelihood of a fall is small. However, some trails are carved into the sides of cliffs, built out on sticks from a hillside or subject to rock fall. The quality of many bridges in Nepal ranges from merely unsafe to horrifying. If the prospect of watching your child sitting precariously on a porter’s back as he inches along a cliff above a 100m drop makes little hairs on your neck stand up, make sure you know where you are going before your trek starts.
Three Months to Three Years
We don’t recommend going trekking with an infant before three months, and preferably six months, of age. Children up to three years old can become ill rapidly, with few signs to indicate how serious the illness is. It is difficult to ascertain if they are suffering from altitude sickness, as they can’t always tell you whether they have headache, loss of appetite etc. It is better to plan treks under 3000m with children this age. In addition, children this young cannot easily be kept I warm in the very cold conditions often encountered at higher altitudes. They will I need to be carried virtually all of the time, either by a parent or by a specially selected I porter. Porter baskets can be modified to in- elude seats, padding and footrests for children, making being carried much easier. I Children two years and older can generally I sit in a doko, but younger ones will need to I be in a child’s backpack.
Treks with very young children should be I kept shorter, usually under seven days, as I children may not have as much fun as their I parents for an extended period of time. Dress the child more warmly than you would yourself, as they will not be generating as I much body heat while being carried as you will while walking. Synthetic pile or fleece is the ideal fabric for children: warm, lightweight and rapidly drying. If the child is in nappies (diapers), bring an ample supply of disposables, as there is rarely an opportunity while trekking to wash and dry cloth nappies. Carry the soiled nappies in a plastic bag until you can find an appropriate place to dispose of them.
Three to Six Years
Children in this age group can tell you more about how they are feeling, and can be kept warm more easily. Thus, depending on the level of experience of their parents, they can be taken to higher altitudes. Be careful to allow extra days in the itinerary for acclimatization. Make sure others are as committed to your children as you are before teaming with them for a trek. It is ideal to go with another family who have children of a similar age. Be sure to bring toys, games and foods familiar to the child, who may not adapt readily to the local fare. Carry surprise presents, and bring them out as needed when the child hits a low point. The children will want to walk at least part of the time, but it is still important to have a child porter available as few children in this age group can walk extensively. A good child porter, or doko dai, can develop a warm relationship with the child, carrying them when needed, and holding the child’s hand and chatting along the trail when the child needs some exercise.
Six to 12 Years
As children get older, they will be able to walk most or all of the way. Children eight years and up should not need a child porter. Keep walking days shorter than you might choose for yourself, and make sure you have games, books and treats for distraction, as the kids may not be as thrilled with the Himalayan views as you wish them to be. Prepare them for the experience of being stared at and doted upon, as this can be overwhelming to a shy child. Fair-skinned children are still a relative rarity in the mountains and attract a lot of positive attention.
13 to 18 Years
If children this age still want to go on a holiday with you, count yourself lucky. Make sure the kids really want to go on this type of holiday before committing them to a three-week trek. Sullen, cold and bored children can be a ball and chain around the legs of the most enthusiastic parents. If they have companions whom they like, the trip will be much easier. Health concerns are beginning to ease at this age, when children are physically similar to adults in their ability to withstand illness and are able to give you a good history of their symptoms.
Choosing a Style of Trekking
If you travel on an organized trek, you are a self-contained unit. You can develop a family-like atmosphere with your staff, control meal times and types of food, and have built-in support in Kathmandu through your trekking agency if an emergency arises. The choice is an individual one, based on personal experience, but if you have doubts, choose an organized trek for your first trek with children.
DANGERS & ANNOYANCES
Personal Safety & Theft Early editions of this book said, ‘there is virtually nothing to fear in Nepal from thieves, hijackings or the other horrors of our urban civilization’. Unfortunately this has changed, and it pays to be cautious about your companions – whether fellow trekkers, guides or porters – and your belongings, especially when you camp. There are frequent reports of items being stolen from tents and hotel rooms, even in the most remote villages. There have been incidents of violent crime, something once unheard-of in Nepal.
There is at least one roving gang of thieves who watch trekkers and go after those who display valuable items or have large amounts of cash. Boots are high on the list of desirable items (along with money and cameras)* Don’t leave your boots near the door of your tent or outside a hotel room. Don’t leave your clothing hanging on a line outside at night.
Thefts occur most frequently in Nau- danda, Ghandruk, Dhampus and Hyangja on the Around Annapurna trek. Another danger spot is the Chisopani/Shivapuri area at the beginning of the Helambu trek, but it pays to be cautious everywhere. Always be especially cautious within two or three days of a road on which buses might offer a quick getaway. If you are camping, be warned that thieves often cut tents in the night and reach inside to grab whatever is handy.