This will be my first article conflicting the original theme of the blog which is to help people organize treks by sharing my experiences through pen (well, typing actually) and if that fails, through photos. But there is this particular topic that has been bugging my mind forever. The more I go to the mountains, the more I get aware of a terrible future for all mountain lovers. So, this time I will not talk about any particular hike that baffled our minds. This time we will be talking about something bigger, a plague that is corrupting the very soul of hiking.
I am talking about the budding guided trek organizations and their effect on the practice of hiking or trekking. Given my very limited experience of hiking till date, whatever I am going to say might not be completely unbiased or well analyzed. So I leave it to the readers to correct me or discuss over this.
So, here is the thing. Recently I have been to Kedarkantha which was my first trek in Uttarakhand. It was amazing. No doubt about it. It was challenging at times, and beautiful throughout. But still something was missing. Something that used to make me feel overwhelmed in the Himalayas, was not there. And I think I found out the reason rightly. This trek was less of a trek and more of a vacation which I never wanted it to be. We booked our seats with one of the guided trek organizations operating in the country and embarked on a mesmerizing journey of 5 days. It was mesmerizing, truly, and Himalayas always will be. But what bothering me is the habit that these organizations are pushing in to trekkers, or specially novice trekkers like me.
The first thing that I would like to talk about is the food that we got through out the trek. You think I am talking about horrible food? No. Not at all. The food was incredibly good. Now I don’t have any problem with good food. We all love it. But then who gives hot Gulabjamuns and Jalebis in dinner, a four course breakfast in a trek and that too unlimited? Now you must be thinking what is wrong with that! I think it is establishing a wrong practice. Wrong, because people have started expecting these sorts of things now in a trek which the organizers are catering also with a competitive mind set. For me, the whole purpose of trek is to get out of your comfort zone and experience something bigger that that. Well, no matter how much I liked the gulabjamoons and the jalebis and all other multi-course meals, they definitely did not make me feel what I felt in Beas kund trek even with shortage of food. And that this is leading to a competition between the organizers. If one is providing pastas during the tea time, the other will provide it during breakfast. And novice trekkers, not tasting the boundless joy of experiencing something bigger than their daily life, are stuck in to that and choosing these guided trek organizations more and more.
Secondly, In a trek, one is supposed to get to know the value of simple things in life that we normally take granted for in our daily lives. Simple things like getting water that you will need through out the day. We, living in a comfy apartment of a city, hardly ever have thought of the real value of water that reaches us every day, endlessly. Well in mountains, it is endless, but getting it to yourself is what will make you realize the value of it. Independent backpackers will know what I am talking about. But these guided treks will provide you water whenever you want it just like as if staying in a hotel. Water was just an example, and can be extrapolated to everything else like accommodation, carrying supplies, and cooking food. I am sure very few people trekking with these big organizers will know what it takes to boil a cooker full of rice at an altitude of 3000 meters.
Thirdly, unavailability of camping grounds for independent backpackers. On one hand, more and more people are opting for a safe and sound guided trek leading to occupying bigger areas for pitching tents, and on the other, the remaining few independent trekkers are not getting a place for camping. During our last trek, we met a bunch of guys headed for the same trek camping in a place with scare water compared to the proper camping ground. Why? because no space to pitch a tent and more specifically no peaceful space to pitch a tent. While in a trek, I would definitely not like another 100 people all around me, some making loud noise, some dancing to beats more suitable for a night-club. Well I have nothing against them. People should be allowed to do what they enjoy in a harmless manner. But had these guided trek organizers not been there, there would have been less crowd in the mountains.
Now that we have ensured more number of people are opting for guided trek organizers, that reminds me of the forth issue. The more the number of people, the more it is hazardous for the ecology of the place concerned. Being a biologist myself, I am aware of the fragile ecosystems of the mountains and I can not imagine the level of harm that all these human wastes making to the ecology. Once, the ecosystem gives in, I dare not imagine the outcome. Well, lets just say, that will not be an amazing trek anymore. One more thing we need to understand is how much the people in the remote villages up in the mountain depends up on the ecosystem. Once it is gone, we are literally talking about mass extinction of species from that area including local people.
Also, I have felt, sometimes, treks, that can be done in lesser number of days are stretched to more by these organizers. May be it is more profitable for the organizers and I see nothing wrong in that as after all they are in a business. But, still, one could utilize those days visiting some other places too. But if I look back, I kind of liked this relaxed, stretched out trek also. Provided you have enough days, it wouldn’t be bad at all.
Another thing that goes missing in a guided trek organizers is the flow of money to the local economy. Independent backpacking contributes more to the local economy compared to the guided trek organizers.
Next I would like to say something which I really liked about these guided trek organizers. And that will be their effort to maintain the trail and the campsite as clean as possible. Again judging by the last experience, it is only because of their constant vigilance and efforts from real mountain lovers, that the trail was extremely clean, given the vast number of people everyday walking on it. They provided us small bags for keeping all the waste materials inside it. That is one thing that all independent backpackers should follow.
And that’s about it. No matter how much I loved this last trek of mine, I can not stop thinking about the adverse effects that this trend is establishing. I also admit that all these thoughts are from my own personal view points and I would respect any other view point also if that is not harmful to the mountains. I can live with a loud noise making crowd next to my tent (well, I don’t want to, but, yeah, just for the sake of arguing) but not with something causing harm to the ecosystem and destroying great beauties. After this trek, I am scared that what if it continues a few more year and what will be left after that?
So I request more people to opt for independent backpacking. As long as there is no regulations acting on the guided organizers, its up to us, the mountain enthusiasts, to create a solution to this problem. I request everyone, instead of booking your seats through a guided trek organizers, please try to reach out to the local people. It will definitely be more fun, more fulfilling, and less costly (this definitely does not mean that less experienced trekkers, like me, should try out new places without a guide. We should always remember, it is always the behavior of the trekkers that the viability of the trek depends on). Now I have absolutely no issues if one does not want to opt for independent backpacking willingly. As I have already said, everyone should be doing what they enjoy as long as it is harmless to the environment. But until and unless you try, how would you know that you will not like it?
I wonder if at all it is possible to organize treks where we can train amateur people in independent backpacking where the trekkers will be guided or trained on how to go for independent backpacking and what all are the things that need to be taken care of. There the organizers will help trekkers arrange the guides and porters for themselves, will carry their own supplies, cook or carry their own food, wash their plates for themselves, pitch their own tents etc. I know this might not be a feasible option, but still, just a thought.