Donkeys and mules are a practical way of carrying heavy loads in the steep mountains of Nepal. Here, a string of pack animals crosses the Marsyangdi River on the Annapurna Circuit Trek. Such bridges, designed to improve life for villages, have undercut the livelihood of human porters by opening up remote areas to animal transport.
Nepal – Been There

The true rock stars of Nepal

Photo by Craig Lovell

Nepal – Been There The true rock stars of Nepal

I can an hear him coming as I glance across the room of my trekkers lodge. “The mountain is clear, the mountain is clear,” whispers our guide Raju in a voice so soft it seems intended to awaken us without actually disturbing our sleep.

David Noyes
David Noyes Travel Writer

After a few more stolen moments of rest, I drag myself out of bed to find five peaks of the Annapurna range visible as shadows against the soft, blue, pre-dawn sky. As I walk down a small hill towards a clearing where a group of campers are breaking down their tents, the sun slowly tops the jagged horizon and the summit of Annapurna South begins to glow a pale yellow. The first light of day dances across the peaks.

I have been on the trail for several days with a small group of fellow Americans. The rugged terrain and hours of navigating steep stone steps have become a familiar part of my daily routine. There are no roads servicing the towns and trails in the mountains of Nepal. All our luggage and equipment must be carried on the back of a mule, a yak, or a man.

After packing my gear and eating a breakfast of oatmeal, boiled eggs, and fried dough in a quiet courtyard, we set off on a path leaving the village of Ghandruk. Our young porters carry our heavy loads through the mountains in baskets (doko) on their backs, anchored to their foreheads by a simple strap.

The village of mud and stone is coming alive with activity. Women are starting their day, tending to their kitchen gardens or doing laundry at a public faucet in the center of town. As we pass, dogs and chickens scamper out of the way of our parade of tourist trekkers. Children run and play as mule-trains hauling propane and rice navigate narrow cobblestone alleyways.

Raju calls the stone paths I am walking “the highways of the Middle Hills,” connecting generations of mountain people to an ever- increasing number of foreigners. Raju is a slender, quiet man in his late 20s. He is smartly dressed in khaki shorts, white sneakers, and a polo shirt bearing the logo of the tour company he proudly works for. My group is his first as a lead guide and he is both nervous and excited. He grew up in the area we are now trekking and often takes us on local trails, unknown by “city guides,” as he refers to them. Women who knew him as a child tease him, giggling and pointing as we pass. Children along the trail follow him and wrestle to hold his hand.

Throughout Nepal, teenage boys begin a career as a guide by hauling tourists’ possessions from lodge to lodge, often with nothing more on their feet than old plastic slippers or worn-out sneakers. In a couple of years they might advance from a porter to a lead porter, and maybe receive training or learn a new language.

If they are lucky, persistent, or their family is fortunate, a few might be sent to guide school by tour companies and taught to lead groups. Fewer yet will go into the Himalaya with mountaineering expeditions. And the best of the best might one day reach the summit of Mount Everest. They are the Rock Stars of Nepal.

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