by Scott Coates
Walking along a rocky dirt trail, I heard some chatter ahead and looked up from the path to see a group of children wearing tattered clothing, sitting on a rock on the edge of a dramatic drop, talking and playing. It was as if there was no impending precipice and they were carrying on like kids in Canada would while sitting on a soft mat playing on the floor. They heard me approaching, turned with beaming smiles and started throwing what limited English phrases they knew my way. I was clearly a novelty, they were as interested in my no doubt strange clothes, pale white skin and fact I was there, as I was in their seemingly terrifying spot to play. I was officially way off the beaten path, a curiosity, and the only reason I was here is because I had a full service trekking crew making it possible.
Nepal is a small yet huge country. If its mountains were flattened it would be 14 times larger than it appears on maps. In just 230km the country rises from 71m in the south to 8,850m in the north. The road infrastructure is minimal to say the least and most citizens walk days on ancient footpaths to reach the nearest road. It’s this labyrinth-like network of paths and varied terrain that create an almost infinite number of possible trekking routes, as long as you have your own tent, food and equipment. The vast majority of visitors rely upon tea houses (like guest houses) which blanket the country’s famous trekking routes such as Annapurna Circuit and Everest Base Camp, literally keeping everyone on the same path. But if you have a trekking crew to carry tents, cooking gear, food and other supplies, you can literally go anywhere. That’s where I was.
One of my favorite travel experiences in the world is full service trekking in Nepal. A group of eight travelers typically has an impressive crew of about 20 extremely hard working and hospitable people who literally take you along and over the mountains. Their roles are very specific and they undertake them with great pride and precision. Some are junior porters who carry ‘light’ loads of about 20kg, while other more senior porters carry about 50kg. There are Sidars and Sherpas (actually an ethnic group) who manage the crews and assist guests as needed. The cook and his/her team are perhaps some of the most important people as they keep guests fuelled and most importantly healthy. Having such a crew allows you to walk almost any path, set up camp as you go, access remote areas, meet locals who rarely see tourists and have an extremely unique and authentic experience.
The entire trekking experience is very Zen-like. The pace is much slower than westerners are used to hiking. There’s no rush to finish the day as quickly as possible, for you’d beat the crew to meal and camping spots, resulting in you sitting and waiting. So you slow down, stop often to take in the views, chat with people along the way and soak it all in. Suddenly the journey becomes the important factor, not the time it took to cover the day’s distance. Chatting with your crew, watching them work and haul their loads is an impressive and interesting activity in itself. Their ability to work incredibly hard all day then prepare your camp and meals, while smiling and seemingly not become fatigued is inspiring.
One wakes on trek about 6am to a gentle voice outside your tent, “tea sir/madam.” Unzip the tent and you’re handed a steaming cup and a wash basin of warm water to do a bit of morning preening. Change for the day, pack your daypack then pull your bags out of the tent. While you have a warm breakfast of porridge with honey, eggs any style, toast and other bits, your tent is taken down and packed for the day. Then it’s off on the trail for about four hours, leisurely meandering along footpaths, through tiny villages and marveling at each and every moment. Lunch is a relaxed two-hour affair as water is boiled and a scrumptious hot meal assembled, usually on the side of a mountain. Another few hours and you arrive at camp. Tents are erected while hot cocoa, coffee and biscuits put on offer. Dinner takes a while to prepare and typically starts with popcorn then a hot soup, followed by any number of scrumptious curries, stews, pizzas and is sometimes topped-off with a cake somehow baked in the cook’s small tent!
Travel brochures all too often promise to take you off-the-beaten-path, but it’s rarely true. Travelers regularly say they want to be off-the-tourist-trail but can’t do without email or a hot shower for more than a day or two. Thankfully there’s Nepal, its wonderful people, incredible terrain and full serviced trekking crews which unequivocally deliver on the above, in comfort and style. If you love the outdoors and crave the truly magical and unique, then get trekking with us.