Weeks before we set off, friends have been asking with whom we would be going, how many and for how long. Well, we are a small team indeed, comprising Su, aka the High Command and me as the member. Su booked with Sherpa Society Ltd, a trekking and mountaineering outfit operating in Kathmandu (KTM) since 1973. She had lost contact with the guide she retained 20 years back. Sherpa Society offered an 18-day itinerary beginning with a briefing on Day Zero, followed by 12 days of trekking with accommodation at lodges providing BLD (breakfast, lunch and dinner), two days at a hotel in Pokhara, three nights at Yak & Yeti Hotel in KTM and a round-trip flight KTM-Pokhara-KTM. More specifically, we would be accompanied by a trekking guide called Mohan Rai and an unnamed porter. On Day Zero, Su met Mohan – I changed my flight to a day later so that I could meet my daughter – who then took an eight-hour bus trip from KTM to Pokhara to join us on Day One.
In case I have lost you, our team comprises Su, myself, Mohan and the porter called Sudip, whom we met on Day One in Pokhara.
Mohan is 46 years old and Mongolian by race. He is the third child in a family of six, four sons and two daughters. He had no formal education beyond the fourth grade and he left home at 16 and a half without telling any member of the family, spent seven years as a porter before becoming an assistant guide which job he held for six years before he became a trekking guide. He was out of touch with his family until his elder sister tracked him down five years after he left and brought him home to meet the parents. He has since married and has a son. He speaks reasonably good working English which he picks up on the job and has been to Tibet 22 times. He carried his own backpack and water for himself and the porter, and after the second day offered to carry my day bag and some extra loads from Su’s which included a thermos flask with 1.5 litres of hot water and a food bag.
Sudip is 19 going on 20 and happens to be a Mongolian also. This young man is rather fit and strong, and somewhat good looking. He carried three backpacks all the way, our two and his, which would weigh about 38 kg in all which he tied up with ropes and loaded on his back. He walked rather fast, but would stop at strategic points to wait for us. He was highly motivated to learn English and carried a text book which he would study during breaks and in the evening, consulting Mohan and Su. During the natural breaks, he would do some rather vigorous stretching exercises, including press ups with both hands clapping on his back in between, a rather impressive feat by any standard.
We found out that guide and porter report to Sherpa Society direct, but that this pair had worked together as a team before. Su and her sister Alison had previous experience of guides and porters walking very fast ahead, leaving the principals toiling behind out of sight. Well, these pair is professional such that at least one of them would always stay within our sight line and wait for us to catch up, regardless of our speed and pace. Mohan in particular is very sensitive to our needs and would volunteer to make our lives easier as far as possible.
We have also learnt that the butler service we got is not given as such: it was our blessing and thank God for that. It happened that we met another guide taking a group of three ladies. Tikka is also 46. He is thinner, more sturdy and a Hindu. He would simply walk on his own pace stopping to wait as and when he wanted, so that the three ladies – one Chilean who walked rather fast and the other two from Vietnam who were much slower – would hardly see him during their walks.
Our team of four got on rather well throughout. Mohan has been sympathetic. He soon picked up our strengths and weaknesses and was able to predict reasonably well how long it took us to reach the next peaks and so on. He would advise us to check into lodges early before the weather turned foul and would take us to lodges which offer somewhat better services. Here, I should add that all lodges in a township or village charge the same rates as determined by the local committee. In fact, the cost of accommodation is nominal, while the lodges expect to charge for food, water and shower facilities which rates increase the higher one goes up the mountains.