There are hundreds of trails to walk in the Himalayas, some of them more popular than others such as the Annapurna Circuit which I had a pleasure of trekking in the mid November. A big trek like that offers breathtaking views, great physical and mental challenge but due to its popularity it lacks one important thing, genuine hospitality. The route is so well trodden that over time the supply has met the trekkers’ demand. These days the teahouses on the trail have a full package on offer; an extensive menu with worldwide cuisine, beers, cappuccinos, wifi, trekking equipment. Don’t get me wrong, I was enjoying all of those conveniences just as much (I had the best apple crumble at 4500m!), on a long and strenuous trek even the little things can make you really happy 🙂 In hindsight however, I was left feeling as if I’ve missed something important to me, any interaction I had with the local people seemed little orchestrated. I can’t really blame them though, they’ve greeted way more trekkers in their life than myself;)
Given my state of unfulfillment I decided that while I’m in Nepal I’m going to go for another trek, provided that I still have any energy left 🙂 But I didn’t know which one to choose, I left the suggestions up to the universe and it has provided big time! While I was working as a volunteer in a village in the lower Himalayas I found out about the Indigenous Peoples Trail and I was instantly hooked. From the description of my fellow volunteers it sounded exactly what I was looking for. It was supposed to be a remote trek with very few tourists, beautiful mountain views and most importantly, warm hospitality in very basic homestays. It sounded perfect! Even though I usually don’t mind trekking alone I knew that for this one it’d be wise to have a companion, apparently the trails were not often trodden and it’s easy to get lost. I wasn’t really worried about the right trekking buddy either, the universe has provided 2 lovely girls from the volunteerig project and we had an amazing time together!
The preparation for the trek was a bit of a challenge, since it’s such a hidden gem of the Himalayas not many people know about it. The map we bought in Kathmandu was too basic and completely unuseful, we relied mostly on Maps.me and an article in The Guardian that explained in details the route. From the very beginning we knew it’s going to be tricky and I couldn’t wait!
The first day of trek was already filled with so many wonderful moments that we soon realised that we’re going to have memorable time. The bus we took from Kathmandu was on diversion and it dropped us off 2 hours before our destination, from there we were guided by women returning to their village carrying twice their size loads on their backs. They didn’t speak a word of English but it didn’t stop them from speaking to us in Nepalese the whole way 🙂
Once we arrived at the village we were instantly directed to the only homestay available ‘The Three Sisters’, we got to know 2 of the sisters and they were lovely. We spent the evening with them in the kitchen area sipping insanely sweet tea and having a bit of a talk (as much as our language limitations let us). I have to say that I was dreading the idea of having a dal bhat every day for the upcoming week. (Dal bhat is a traditional Nepalese dish that consists of rice, lentil stew, potatos, spinach and pickle, the locals eat it basically every day). I’ve never been the biggest fan of it, it lacks a kind of finesse in comparison to its neighbour Indian dishes, or maybe I just had too many of them already;) To my surprise though, it was the best dal bhat I’ve had! It could have been the fact that we watched one of the sisters preparing it that made me enjoy it so much. From the first day it felt as if we were on a dhal bhat tour, each place had it done differently and it was always delicious!
Each day of the trek was an adventure on itself! On the Sailung Peak we met a shaman and his 5 students, they performed a ritual ceremony for us… The shaman presented his skills, that invloved licking a glowing hot knife, hailing ghosts to appear by blowing on an old lion bone and telling us our future. I enjoyed the encounter especially as it didn’t seem like a fake show. They just happened to be there happy to talk to us, they offered us coffee and bragged about their powers. The cynical part of me was afraid that we’ll be asked to pay for the performance but I was pleasantly surprised that upon leaving all we got was warm farewells from the students (the shaman was more reserved).
One of the nicest welcomes we recieved was the night we spent in a monastery. We struggled to find the right route to get there, the sun was slowly going down and we were facing a couple more hours of walking if it wasn’t for a lovely farmer who opened his gate and let us through his fields. That cut the route by more than a half and let us reach the monastery just before the sunset. We arrived tired and cold and the monk who welcomed us inststed that we have a milk tea and biscuits before showing us to our room. With that small gesture my heart melted a little bit 🙂 We have been offered a lot of warmth and hospitality from both the monk and the lady who served us and at the end they didn’t even charge us for the accommodation and the delicious food. We left an appropriate donation of course.
Getting lost and asking the locals for directions became a big part of this trek. It’s not that we’re really bad in orientation (except for me, I actually am pretty awful), it’s the maps that caused most of the confusion, the distances were completely misleading, one village didn’t exist on a map and we had reroute. Quite often we had to rely on the directions from the locals. The rule was, if a person had to think for a couple of seconds before answering us we didn’t take this advice. It’s a cultural thing, not knowing an answer can be considered shameful so some people prefer to make up an answer rather than say ‘I don’t know’. Quite frustrating for tourists but once you figure it out it’s easy to avoid the misleadings 😉
On our last night, after trekking for more than 8 hours, we arrived in a very much desired village just to find out that the homestay which is part of the official trail is closed. Initially it seemed like no one wanted to take us in, as it turned out later on the local ladies were simply discuissing the bed arrangements, as for us to sleep in their home it meant that the kids had to give up their beds and sleep with the parents. We were happy to sleep on the floor but their hospitality wouldn’t allow it. I felt weird ‘stealing’ their beds for the night but I’m also sure that the family was very happy with the extra income they got from us. When we looked at a guest book in one of the homestays we realised that they get on average 2 visits per month. That’s nothing comparing to the commercial trails and cannot be even considered as an additional steady income!
For some reason the IP Trail never took off, when the trail was created in 2011 the idea behind it was to boost the popularity of the region and provide an income to the locals. Some suggest that if it did in fact become popular it would loose its meaning, it is the indigenous people after all. If everyone trekked there it would slowly transform itself to a money making, lasagna serving, well managed machine. It does make sense to keep the trail from the main crowd, on the other it was quite upsetting to realise that it will propably be a while before another tourist will make his way there.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Indigenous Peoples Trail, it might not have given me the thrill of the higher Himalayas but it has left me feeling cleansed and reenergized. The views were still breathtaking and the landscape was changing on daily basis. During the 7 day trek we haven’t met a single tourist, it was just 3 of us and I’m extremely grateful to have shared this experience with such lovely human beings. I’m especially gratfeul for the morning spider scouting in the toilets, they were extremely big and hairy and they tended to hide there in the night time. As long as those beasts were inside I simply refused to pee 😉 So thank you ladies!
If you are interested in learning more about the IP Trail I also recommend you to read the article in The Guardian, it gives more detailed explanation of the route:
I took houndreds of pictures on the trek, it was impossible not to! It was hard to choose just a few of them for this post but here they are: