On popular treks in the Nepal Himalaya such
as the Annapurna Circuit ( known as the "Coca-Cola
Trail" ) and Everest Base Camp ( "the Yak Route" ) you are assailed by a plethora of greetings
ranging from the anglo-saxon Good Mornings, G'Days and Hi's through continental Bon Jours, Guten
Tags, Grusse Gots and Bon Giornos to the Tashi Daleks of Tibetans and the ubiquitous Namastes of
Namaste is commonly used as a casual hello
or goodbye but can also be bellowed out as a belligerent
challenge - in effect " who are you and where do you think you are going? ". In its highest form it
is uttered reverentially, with upright hands pressed together, in respect or thanks - " I salute
the spirit within thee ".
Do not anticipate thanks however for the
customary and very welcome donations of cash or clothing
to your trekking staff - it is the giver who is considered the lucky one in having something to give
and thereby obtaining merit points to achieve nirvana.
While it is normal practice on narrow paths
in the European Alps to give way to uphill traffic this
should not be expected in Nepal where most trekkers are not experienced mountaineers. It would also
be unwise to attempt to impede a fully laden porter careering down a steep hillside - in Nepal the
basic rule of the road is " might is right ". Brashness also counts.
I have however seen porters, complete with
their 30Kg dokos, running uphill to escape the sharply
pointed horns of a frenzied yak - one of the potentially lethal hazards of trekking in the himalaya. Last autumn in the Solu Khumbu there were two such fatalities - one woman tourist and one Sherpa sirdar heroically trying to protect his group from a train of stampeding yaks.
When you hear the tinkling of their bells
you are well advised to get off the track. Should this
not be possible ( sheer drop one side, sheer cliff the other ) then holding a hat in front of their
eyes is usually sufficient to ward them off. Although normally tractable they should never be
treated with contempt - even yak-men exercise considerable caution.
To experience the best from a trek a small
group ( 1 to 4 members ) is preferable. Large groups
( more than 8 members ) though more profitable for agencies are less satisfactory in many respects
- the greater the number of people then the higher is the probability of problems - logistical,
organisational, personality clashes, accidents, health ( many kitchenboys - many hands touching
Managing the day to day expenses of large
groups - purchase of fresh vegetables, charges for
campsites, wages for porters - can prove too much for the budgeting skillls of some sirdars and the
money they are allocated by their agency is exhausted before the end of the trek resulting in a
whip round of members. In the remote Makalu region I met a group abandoned by their sirdar who had
absconded with the remaining money and their return air-tickets.
With an attendant army of trekking staff
and porters large groups are an unwelcome encounter
responsible for major hold-ups and frustration on single-file trails and at permit checkpoints.
They are the bane of independent,"tea-shop" trekkers who have filled the visitors' logbook in the
ACAP ( Annapurna Conservation Area Project ) office in Dhampus on the route to the Annapurna
Sanctuary with adverse comments. Diana Penny, the organizer of the biennial Everest Marathon has
received complaints about her 40 member groups on their approach march to the race start point at
Gorak Shep - the original site of the base camp for climbing expeditions.
Such large groups can completely monopolize
lodges and inundate campsites. They are an abomination
in wilderness areas. Several times I have been invaded and, overwhelmed by force majeur, de-camped
to escape the surrounding bedlam - most people take to the wilds to get away from the madding crowd
and are not overjoyed to have it overtake them.
Long trains of professional porters
carrying trade goods can also be an impediment to progress when
they suddenly stop in mid-path to rest their loads on their T-shaped sticks. I have been tempted to
give the end one a good shove to see if they would all tumble like a row of dominoes.
The popular treks of the Nepal Himalaya may
be ideal for meeting people from many countries and
furthering one's language and social skills but not for seeking silence and solitude. In the peak,
post-monsoon season last autumn saturation level was reached in the Gokyo Valley in the Khumbu
region when the number of visitors exceeded the capacity of the local lodges.
Of course the great attraction of these
routes is the ease of access they provide to the
incomparable mountain landscapes of the highest peaks in the world. Considerably fewer trekkers are
to be found in the pre-monsoon, spring season or on the more difficult and demanding routes such as
the Dhaulagiri Circuit.
Untrampled routes remain in Solu Khumbu as I discovered on my trek to Thare Teng.