The people we met in the mountains included fellow trekkers of all nationalities: many Chinese, mostly young, Malaysians, Singaporeans, Thais, Vietnamese, Australians, New Zealanders, Europeans, British, Americans, South Americans, Canadians and locals, namely Nepalese. Typically, some young people had decided to take a holiday of one to two weeks in the mountains. They were time conscious and would try to do as much as they could within the time frame. Most had hired porters while some hired guides or a porter-cum-guide. The difference between porters and guides could be subtle. In general, porters do not speak a lot of English and would walk at their own pace unless otherwise instructed by their principals, while guides speak English and other languages of choice and have the discretion to advise on variations in the itinerary.
Almost without exception, trekkers would greet fellow trekkers with Namaste, a Nepalese word via Hindi from Sanskrit to express a polite or respectful greeting or farewell, or in short, welcome. Initially, I responded with Good Morning or How are you, but had soon learnt to Namaste people I met on the mountains. Then there were the locals who carried food and provisions, construction materials and what not, walking steadily up and down between villages; there were school children in smart uniforms walking to schools which start at 10am from Sunday to Friday noon, closing on Saturdays; these children now asked for candies from tourists when in the past they would ask for pencils and crayons; Su handed out chocolate sticks to every child she met and was followed by more when she ran out; and there were herds of animals, usually mules bearing more and heavier loads and rushing down the treks as if we were not there, leaving behind massive amount of manures on their tracts.
Early on, we met a group of 12 or more Chinese from Kiangsu, Shanghai and Kweichow, who were intent on getting to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC), as we were at the time. They were all in high spirits, walked rather fast and were chatting away all the time. Then there were the three young ladies following Tikka that I had mentioned. We passed the two from Vietnam very often because we have similar walking speeds. There was this fine morning when the sky was blue and the sun shining bright so that the four peaks of Annapurna (7,219 ranging to 8.091m) and of Machhapuchhre or Fish Tail (6998m) were in full sight. We naturally took off our packs, took out our cameras and took photos ad nauseam. The two young ladies were a few minutes behind, but as soon as they turned the corner and saw the peaks, they screamed and jumped up and down like crazy tourists. It was what they had waited for days; and it was the raison d’etat for the trekking.
We met a lone Belgian who was 62. We met him resting at a lodge, getting some sun. He told us that he had been trekking for three months with some friends, but that he had decided that morning to trek on his own. He turned back before he could reach ABC because it was too cold and he did not have the clothes and equipment to go on. It was three feet snow and he had to abort. We also met Roger at Dovan (2,600m). He was 74 and from Dorset, UK and he made harpsicord for a living, or so he told us. He was trekking with a young local Rosa whom he met 12 years before when he visited Nepal the first time and who was then a baby. He had since returned almost every year for trekking.
Then there was the New Zealander who was stranded at Deurali (3,230m) with us because of heavy snow. He appeared to be well travelled and had had interesting experience as a Security Consultant in exotic places such as Afghanistan. He told us he would not over exert himself at his age, which he did not disclose, but would pace himself sensibly and followed the tracts left by other trekkers. There was also the young lady from California who had actually been in Hong Kong recently and after a drunken night at Lan Kwai Fong followed others to a monstrously huge house in The Peak, waking up at sunset to marvel at the magnificence of the building, of the environ and of Hong Kong. She appeared to have some time on her hands before she decided on what to do with her life and she chatted on and on about Trump and her disrespect for him.
We also met a couple from UK, Tom and Helen, who had been to Hong Kong. Apparently, Helen is a medical doctor and had done some work with Ruttonjee Hospital. One of the FAQ of us by people from UK is how Hong Kong has become since the British left. “Very much better and alive and kicking,” would be my first line response, followed by some polite and platitudinal statements on the legacy left by the British. Still on Hong Kong, the owner of Sunrise Lodge at Banthanti (2,200m) had spent 11 days in Hong Kong recently, his first visit, meeting his counterpart who had plans to run tour programmes in Nepal. He was on Stages 1 and 2 of MacLehose Trail and was thoroughly impressed with its management, cleanliness and ambience. Here, let me digress a bit to talk about cleanliness generally along the treks of Annapurna Sanctuary. People we met, particularly the more experienced ones, almost all lamented that the environment has deteriorated continuously over the years. Pollution is a big problem: we see rubbish, used or unused tissue papers, plastics, and food wrappers littering the treks, while animal manures were everywhere. The air is often filled with smoke from burning straws or firewood, smog and fog, particularly near villages in lower altitudes. Interestingly enough, the authority has put up signboards outlawing open defecation, spitting and meat eating in certain areas in the mountains and beyond altitudes above 2,600m.
I hope to talk to you again soon.