Tips for Trekking in Nepal

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A weekly bazaar in Nepal.
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Three sherpas and their pet.
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One of Kathmandu's exotic temples.
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The porters take a break.
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A bridge of "questionable integrity."
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Sunset on a mountain lake.
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Makalu and its neighboring peaks at dawn.
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Chainpur, the brass center.

“Hello! Good morning! Tea!” a gentle voice announced
outside the tent. It was 6:00 a.m., and — as just a
small part of the impeccable service provided by Journeys’
Pemba Tsering Sherpa and his Nepalese staff — we
enjoyed our morning “cuppa” without venturing out of our
sleeping bags. While still-sleepy hikers sipped the welcome
brew, pans of hot washing water were placed at the doors of
our tents and another adventure-filled day on
MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ trek to the remote Arun Valley region of eastern
Nepal began.

Camping in Nepal

We soon fell into the camp routine, dressing quickly
and packing our duffels so that the porters — who
carried 80-pound loads in their tall baskets with seeming
ease — could get an early start. As we gathered for a
big breakfast, the Sherpa guides struck and packed the
tents. Around 7:00 a.m., we left the kitchen staff
to clean up, we took to the trails.

Ah, the trails! Though the footpaths we traveled are the
super highways of Nepal, they’re not the neatly maintained
variety — designed with reasonable grades and handy
switchbacks — familiar to most American backpackers.
Instead, they follow the Nepalese notion that the only
logical way to get from one point to another is
(whenever possible) to travel in a direct line regardless of whether that course takes them 3,000 feet
straight up a ridge and then drops, just as precipitously,
down on the other side.

Streams and waterfalls pour down the mountain slopes, too,
resulting in challenging crossings on a variety of
ingenious bridges — many of which appear to be of
questionable integrity! Over the larger rivers, aging
planks rest on wire loops, which — in turn — are
attached to a couple of (often well-rusted) chains or
cables strung high above the tumbling waters.

Despite such obstacles, the distances that we covered
were — on some days — little short of phenomenal,
reminding us that steady, determined foot power is an
amazingly effective form of transportation (a fact that’s
all too easily forgotten in our car-oriented society). Yet
each individual was easily able to set his or her own pace,
and if one dropped an hour or so behind to socialize with
the locals in a smoky teahouse, to play with a fat,
laughing baby, to admire a newborn goat or simply to
rest legs and lungs that were protesting with a bit too
much insistence, an arrow — scratched in the dirt by a
guide — would always show which branch of the trail the
group had taken.

Off and on during a typical morning, members of our jaunty,
singing kitchen crew — carrying dishes and cooking
paraphernalia — would pass us by and at midday
they’d have a hot lunch ready and waiting. In the afternoon
the same buoyant group would pass us again, and as soon as
we straggled into the right’s campsite, tea and biscuits
were served, followed soon thereafter by a delicious,
full-course meal.

The Exotic, Ancient World of Nepal

However, if the trekking routine soon became comfortingly
familiar, our surroundings were a constant source of
surprise and delight. Almost every valley contains its own
ethnic group or mix of races — Newars, Limbus,
Chhetris, Sherpas, Tibetans and Tamangs — each of
which has its own colorful dress, jewelry, customs, houses
and temples.

Nature, too, offered rich and exotic rewards. As we
climbed up from the fertile farmlands of the tropical
Tarai, through pines and oaks, and into misty, moss-covered
rhododendron forests whose 60-foot-high trees were just
beginning to put forth their showy blossoms. Candy-colored
birds sent us scrambling for binoculars and cameras, and
monkeys fought and screamed in the giant ferns. During our
visit to one small Tibetan village, young girls came to the
campfire and — without being asked — sang and
danced for us with a grace that was all the more amazing
for its spontaneity while shadowy jackals raced past
just beyond the firelight and howled eerily at the swelling
moon.

Our legs — surprising many of us with their staying
power — took us high above the clouds, but the towering
peaks of Makalu and the Kanchenjunga range still loomed
ominously above us when we camped at 11,500 feet. That
night a freak snowstorm, accompanied by slashes of
lightning and booming thunder, discouraged all but a hardy
few from struggling the next day — sometimes through
waist-deep drifts — to yet higher elevations.

On other days we plodded across the edges of rice paddies
that rose in terraced audacity for thousands of feet up the
sides of steep slopes and passed through friendly,
prosperous mountain towns. (Upon leaving Chainpur, Nepal’s
remote brassmaking center, we found that we had to hire
another porter to carry all the low-cost artwork we’d
bought. There, too, nearly 20 of our group enjoyed a tasty,
all-we-could-eat meal in a local restaurant for a total
bill of less than $10!) And it seemed that we had only to
pass a school to put an end to that day’s classes:
Outsiders, you see, don’t often visit the part of the
country through which we traveled, and our arrival was
usually an event celebrated by the whole village.

Trekking Fever

When we finally reached Tumlingtar’s dirt airstrip, from
which a small twin-engine plane would fly us past Everest
and a string of equally magnificent peaks on the first leg
of our journey home, it was with wistful sadness that we
bade some of our new Nepalese friends goodbye. At that
point many of us remembered that on first arriving in the
fabulous, temple-strewn city of Kathmandu, we’d talked to a
couple who had just returned from a long trek of their own.
“We wish we were going back with you,” they’d said,
but — with some worries about how we’d handle the often
grueling journey ahead — we had assumed they were just
being polite.

Well, we were wrong! There is a special magic about the
Himalayas, a natural rhythm to life there that makes any
lack of modern-day amenities seem ridiculously unimportant and a great deal of truth in the saying, “You don’t
change Nepal. It changes you.”

Therefore, we’re glad to
tell you that from March 12 to April 1, 1983, we’ll offer “A
Himalayan Spring Spectacular” trek.

At that time, the rhododendrons in the Annapurna region of
western Nepal, where we’ll hike for over a week, should be
in full bloom. Better still, our second Nepalese tour will
include a raft trip down the Trisuli River to the Royal
Chitwan National Park, where we’ll ride elephants on a
photo safari in search of rhinos, tigers, crocodiles and
other wildlife. In short, we’ll have opportunities to savor
as much of this remote kingdom’s diverse culture, dramatic
topography, natural habitat, and adventurous challenge as
the three-week trip will allow! The tentative cost is
$2,750 (including airfare), and a $200 deposit will hold
your place.