Sunday, 24 April 2016

Your Guide in the Himalayas

From Pokhara to Annapurna Base Camp, and back, in what is more widely known as the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek. Ask any travel/trekking agent/company that you would want to finish the trek in just 5 days and the only definite reaction that you will get in the end is the expression, “impossible!” 

Pokhara Airport Tower and terminal building, 2016.

A chartered helicopter flight may be possible, but what good is such a mode of transport in the wilderness? You would not want a pre-digested-and-blended glass of breakfast as that! You would like to have a bite, some time to chew, and then swallow, and find the feeling of satisfaction rather than blend egg, juice, salad, slices of bread, jam, butter, and ingredients such as coffee together into one big glass and then drink the resulting concoction!!! Where is the satisfaction in that? You would rather walk the trail admiring the scenery, curse the harsh demands of the trail, drag your heavy legs with the help of a stick, feel the silence, smell the air, take some pictures, sweat over… as you would invariably taste different items in your breakfast table. But just 5 days, you say?

An indirect answer. Maybe, Madame, you would like to consider. Sir, we recommend this, or that. We take care of this and that and those. We provide our own guide and/or porter. Damn! The final answer is still a big “IMPOSSIBLE” to your initial quest (or query).

Boats in Phewa Lake, Pokhara.

There are many things a travel/trekking company in Nepal (or elsewhere in the world) will never tell you about. You pay about US $ 2000 for the trip under discussion here and you relax. Everything will be taken care of once you sign the documents or agree to the terms and conditions set forth. You don’t have to worry about food, bed or breakfast, and the itinerary. And you even get a guide who speaks with broken and oftentimes incomplete or incorrect English, and a porter if you ask for it. Oftentimes, your porter is your guide and the conversations lower down to a basic minimum as he would not talk much because he has not even completed his basic high school, and his communication skills are poor. You walk on your own, you set your own pace, and you walk the trail as if you are meant to walk. No relationship exists between you and your guide/porter for the most part, as most porters/guides simply work for the travel/trekking company, rather than working for you!

Come on. Grow a bit. The moment you agree to the terms and conditions of an agency/company, your pace is set, believe it or not, and you are not in control anymore, no matter what the appearances seem to be. From Pokhara to NayaPul, and even up to Ghandruk, your travel/trek agency will provide a vehicle. You then spend the first night there. Then your next night will be in Chhomroong, and your third night/stop will be at Bamboo, or Himalaya, and then the fourth will be at Machhapuchhre Base Camp, or even at Annapurna Base Camp itself… You may feel like you are setting your own pace but it has been set for you by the trekking company, and you do not even know about it.

OK. That was your trip. So what, you may ask. Your money, your trip. If you travel in a group, and one of the members gets unwell by any chance, you are bound to return, because the contract is binding: your guide has to attend to the sick person and you cannot travel without him. There is no option for you but to follow your guide no matter what. Or imagine the scenario when you would very much like to continue to the next point before you call it a day, but your guide does not agree. Damn, it’s a trap!

Climbing up after Kimrong River crossing.

Many of the trekkers don’t even know about altitude sickness and the problem it creates in the Himalayas. Himalayas are a completely different mountains with a distinctive climate and weather pattern of their own and unlike the Alps, they demand respect: you either bow to them or suffer the consequences. Owing to their geographic location, their vicinity to the equator, the speed at which the location moves around as the earth rotates, all of this create unique weather patterns and micro-climates that will test the limits of your stamina and physical fitness together with your body’s mechanisms of adjustment and adaptation. Here is the point: 3300m above sea level may never be the same for your body when you are in the Himalayas as you are in the Alps. So, be aware! But does your travel/trek company even talk to you about it? Does it tell you what you should do before you start? Is your guide sufficiently trained in first aid measures? A showy first aid box IS NOT the whole story when your porter/guide does not even know how to put a bandage, or CANNOT STOP YOU from taking alcoholic liquors when you are above 3000m! [You can take liquors, sure, but only when you know the limits of your body. If you are well acclimatized, you can drink, no problem.] It is YOUR money, sure, but damn you, if you do! I would rather prefer you vex your anger and retort rather than you get sick or throw up everything you have had swallowed!!

I have heard a local guide tell someone to call a helicopter but does he even know how much it costs? Or whether you are able to afford it or not?? And what about unreliable telephone coverage??? Would you wait and suffer worse, or would you rather follow the trail and make sure you feel better? [Ask any mountaineer, and he will tell you that the best you can do is “descend down, without any delay; and as fast as you can!” Or would you rather wait, for uncertainty???!!!!!] Why give wrong advice, I ask you?? The most sensible thing you can do is get down to a lower altitude, and if you can walk, where does a helicopter come in??? I do not know the answer other than the very simple reason that the agent can pocket a huge chunk of money you pay for the helicopter services. You can perfectly enjoy another trekking route, as beautiful as the first one, with that much money!!

Hinku Cave, between Himalaya and MBC.

Do you get enough photographic opportunities? Good opportunities?? Do you get told in advance about what you can do, and what you cannot?? What is permissible, and what not? What are the essentials you need to carry, and what can be useless or redundant?? Do you even know what is the best fresh healthy balanced food you can get along the trails????

Can you do that trek/trip in just 5 days?

If you have a right attitude, a right stamina, a fit physique, it is completely possible. I do not know about others, but with me it is possible; I make sure that it is. And I am not your average travel guide.
I am different.

I am NOT associated with any agency, and hence you can save money on commissions! I am also MORE than your porter/guide in MANY WAYS. No documents will prove it; there are people who can testify. But I can provide you with a knife to sleep with and feel secure, or feel free to use it if not. That’s what I can guarantee!

I do not boast of anything like your trek/travel agent but I do not also come low quality. I bring much more with me: I come as a guide, as your first aid and safety advisor, as your paramedic, as your social/cultural advisor, as your photographer/photographic advisor, and as your friend.

"Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion," reads Anatoli Boukreev's quote from his memorial chorten at Annapurna Base Camp. [Boukreev breathed his last on 25 December 1997 while attempting to climb Annapurna I. He was caught in an avalanche at around noon that day!]

So, is it possible? Five days??
Annapurna Base Camp, just before sunrise.

I have been there. I have taken a “friend” [I do not use the word "client/s"] there and we have been back: a total of 5 days. No health problems, no safety issues, no trust issues, no hard feelings, no negativities. And we did not miss anything: many others we met on our way missed a lot (Some suffered from altitude sickness; others missed photographic opportunities). 

It was possible for us.  [And we had already done Kathmandu -- Gosain Kunda trek in Langtang National Park, and Jomsom -- Muktinath trek in lower Mustang, previously.]

YOU decide the rest.

[ Text and photographs by the author. All rights reserved. © 2016. For more photographs from the author, please contact the author, or visit his National Geographic page, at ]