Nepal under the gloss - trek facts

Nepal is a safe country nowadays, but it does have its problems. Principal amongst these are power cuts country-wide, often for more hours in the day than there is power. The big hotels have generators and it may not be noticeable to you, but you are likely to be affected by the lack of electricity in some way.

There was an association with the Maoist uprising, but in truth this has passed into history now. Attempts to forge a multi-party system have largely failed, and Nepal is in a constant state of political flux, with daily strikes and protests. In general these do not affect the tourist areas at all. Do check the FCO Know Before You Go website for the latest updates on the politics of Nepal. The recent earthquake caused a huge amount of damage in the capital and lots of villages in popular tourist areas but the rebuilding work has begun and one could look at this as a very unusual and uncommon phenomenon. 

It is however obvious the moment you set foot in the mountain regions that none of these modern-day problems really impinge on the Himalayan experience. You will find deeply honest and spiritual people. They are proud and hardworking, and in the most part you will be nothing other than impressed by their character.

The Sherpas have made a good living out of tourists, and nowadays the lodges are very good. You may find the rooms a bit Spartan, especially higher up where the walls are unpainted plywood and so thin that you can hear all the activities of your neighbours up and down the hallway. And they are not heated, although you can borrow a blanket in every lodge. Don’t worry, they’re clean.

Showers are quite good, but not great. Nowadays Sherpas know that westerners don’t want to see half a tree being burnt for to fund a weekly hair wash, so the showers are fuelled by gas. This adds a frisson of excitement to the experience, as you stand soap-sudded a few inches from a pilot flame and the sound of pressured gas. It also has the interesting effect of producing a stream of water not unlike liquid magma, so be careful to adjust the cold tap before you stand underneath.

It’s an outdoor experience so expect bad weather at least once. When it’s snow, it can be a truly amazing wonderland amongst the mountains, but pretty miserable if you are short of a pair of gloves. It does rain, thankfully in short sharp showers most of the time, but during said shower you would be forgiven for thinking that you were caught in a biblical event. Take an umbrella; your waterproof jacket will struggle!

In terms of the walking, it’s all very easy really except for two crucial factors, the number of hills and the altitude. There’s no point in denying that standing at the bottom of a very long hill is a bit dispiriting, but this is all mitigated by the great feeling once you get to the top. Be prepared to perspire and do take a sunhat.

As for the altitude, it’s a concern without a doubt and some people suffer more than others. Beware the team member who bounces into the breakfast room having had a full night sleep with no freezing visits to the toilet in the middle of the night, and “not a single symptom of being up high!”; you may experience feelings of acute dislike for a few moments.

Some people find the necessity to eat food which is quite high in carbohydrates a bit difficult. The Sherpas do like their rice, stews, potatoes and mashed barley called tsampa, which unfortunately looks a bit like fudge but is actually made with rancid butter. Beware also the local hooch called chang or the more distilled rakshi which will do more to prevent you walking than any amount of altitude.
There is a lot of poverty and exploitation in Nepal. Society still operates under a caste system, and you may find your principles of human rights slightly dented. But it is their way of life and things have changed a lot in the last few decades. Nepal is entering the modern world slowly, but it is their system of Government which is the biggest problem. Do be patient with the fact that this is a developing country. Despite the problems with infrastructure, it is a very beautiful country with truly wonderful people.

No such article would be complete without a brief overview of the toilets. These are typically Asian-style, which means squatting over a hole. It feels a bit like training for skiing when you are caught have a ‘long drop’, but in the main it is a perfectly acceptable experience. Many lodges now have sit-down ceramic toilets, but you will find that these tend to contribute to either the open sewer system alongside the path, or the field.

Finally, do remember that Nepalese people are very conservative and they often find our liberal western ways very confusing. While the older generation mistrust anything that smacks of modernism, the youth have embraced Americanism wholeheartedly. Sadly this has led to alcoholism, drugs and a decline in moral standards, especially in the tourist area of Thamel. People will offer you hashish all the time. Without sounding pious, I do believe it is our duty as visitors to uphold principles of decency and try not to show our worst characteristics to a naive generation of Nepalese who are struggling with their identity.