SUSTAINABLE TREKKING IN NEPAL: HOW TO BE RESPONSIBLE ON YOUR HIKING ADVENTURE
Trekking in the Himalayas is Nepal’s most popular tourist attraction, and for very good reason. Every year this magical part of the world attracts 200,000+ visitors who long to explore some of the world’s highest mountains. But, with a lot of visitors can sadly come a lot of destruction…
Travelling responsibly should be a priority at the best of times, but it’s even more important when visiting the most precious, sacred, and breathtaking giants the world is lucky enough to have. If you’re planning on trekking in Nepal’s incredible mountains, here are a few important things to remember to ensure that your hiking adventure is sustainable, ethical, and a positive experience for all:
Trek with an Ethical Company
No matter whether you’re trekking to Everest Base Camp, hiking the Annapurna circuit, or exploring one of the lesser-known trails, it’s vital that you travel with a company that cares about the people, the environment and of course, the animals too. Not only do they need to align with your values and beliefs, but they also need to be open about their policies and standards.
Is it a locally owned/run company?
Do they take care of the porters they employ?
Do they pay their staff fairly?
Do they have strong environmental policies?
Do they give back to the local community?
ETC. ETC. ETC.
The company you trek with is the backbone of your entire experience… If it’s both responsible and ethical, and a company that practices what they preach, then you’re off to a flying start!
(I would advise against solo trekking, as going with a company helps the local economy, and ensures that you’ll be safe throughout your journey at high altitude. If you do trek solo, PLEASE ensure that you pay for your rooms… Asking for free accommodation is not ethical)
LOOK AFTER YOUR PORTERS
As travellers, it is our responsibility to ensure that our porters are treated fairly. Yes, they might seem like the strongest superhumans on the planet… But they are really no different from you and I.
Don’t overload them with an excessive amount of stuff; pack light and don’t force them to carry more than they can/should. The MAXIMUM amount is 10kg per trekker and 20kg per porter. But of course, the lighter the better. Make sure they have adequate insurance, suitable clothing and footwear, are eating well, have water to drink, a place to sleep, and are being paid fairly.
Ask questions, and if you notice something that doesn’t sit well with you, bring it up with your tour company!
Give Way to the Porters
Porters are the heroes of the mountains! They are often carrying huge amounts of goods and supplies on their back (we saw one man carrying over 100kg of steel), and they always have priority on the trail.
Constantly be aware of your surroundings and step to the side to allow them to pass.
Don’t Give Money to Kids
Albeit very generous, tourists giving to children has become so common that nearly every child you walk past instantly asks you for chocolate… It’s important to remember that although you might mean well, handing things to children (whether it’s money, snacks, stationery etc) perpetuates bad habits and encourages begging.
Even if your intentions are pure, remember that your impact is far more important.
Ask Before Taking Photos
No one likes to have a stranger’s camera shoved in their face… If you want to take a photo of someone, just ensure that you ask them first – simple! If you’re taking photos of children, always ask for their parent’s permission, and if you’re going to be posting it online, make sure they have consent of that too (it’s very important). Even if you can’t speak their language, all it takes is a simple hand gesture!
If they say no, respect their personal space and point your camera elsewhere.
Respect Local Culture
Cover your knees and shoulders. If eating with your hands, use your right hand only (the left one is for washing after using the bathroom). Eat the local food AKA “Dal Bhat Power 24 Hour“. Remove your shoes when entering temples and sacred sites that request it. Learn some local language and traditional names for the region you’re in. Be considerate and greet others with ‘Namaste’, and say thank you with ‘Dhanyabaad’.
Always always always be respectful of the local culture and customs. It’s the backbone of responsible tourism, no matter where you are in the world.
Offset your Carbon Footprint
Flying to Nepal from your home country? Carbon offsetting is a great way to balance out the emissions caused by pesky air travel. Offsetting my return flight from Melbourne to Kathmandu was $65 AUD through the Carbon Neutral Charitable Fund. The contribution re-establishes native trees in Australia, captures greenhouse gas emissions, and encourages natural ecosystems and biodiversity to thrive.
If you can afford to spend an extra few dollars to balance out your emissions, by all means, do. And for those that are trekking around Sagarmatha National Park, don’t forget about your flight to Lukla too!
Carry All of Your Waste Down the Mountain
I bet you’ve heard about the excessive amount of waste that seems to accumulate in the Everest region… It’s even obtained the label of the “world’s highest garbage dump” (not a title that we should be proud of). There aren’t any sustainable waste management systems in the middle of the Himalayas, so I’m sure it comes as no surprise that human waste hasn’t got anywhere to go. Locals have to resort to burying the waste in numerous tiny landfill-like holes, burning the trash (pictured below), or carrying it back down the mountains themselves.
Trekking to such a magical part of the world is a privilege – not one that should ever be taken lightly – so pack a reusable tote in your bag and take all of your waste back to Kathmandu with you. Even better… Pick up any other trash you see along the way too!
If you’re heading home after your trip, it is best that you take your trash back to your country of origin (I took mine back to Australia) so that it can be disposed of in the most sustainable way possible.
Say NO to Plastic!
Avoid plastic at ALL cost! “Zero waste” travel (aka. minimal waste travel – it’s impossible to be perfect) should be paramount at the best of times, but it’s especially important in the mountains where waste management is basically non-existent.
You might be thinking… “But what about water?!” When you’re having to drink up to 5 litres of water per day, the plastic bottles create a HUGE amount of waste. But here are the alternatives:
– Water Steriliser/Filtration System: SteriPen, Lifestraw, Grayl Bottle etc.
– Purification Tablets
– Boiled Water
Say no to plastic bags, and if you’re wanting to purchase any snacks, juice, or soft drinks, look for the most sustainable alternative possible. I know that it isn’t always easy (desperate times call for desperate measures) but remember to carry whatever trash you accumulate back down the mountain with you!
Pick up a bag from Sagarmatha Next and carry it back to Lukla (Specific to Everest Trekking)
Sagarmatha Next is an incredible initiative turning mountain waste into art and design. The centre is located in Namche Bazaar and is dedicated to restoring these sacred mountains to their pristine state. They will supply sustainable solutions for waste management and community development, whilst educating tourists about the importance of sustainability in this beautiful National Park. They are still in the early stages of design, but it’s a wonderful initiative to say the very least.
Aside from creating art, they have developed an amazing system where plastic waste is shredded and compacted into #carrymeback pouches. Trekkers are encouraged to stop at the pickup location in Namche Bazaar on their return trip, and carry as many bags back to Lukla as they possibly can.
Some people have even carried 20 pouches (each weighing around 1 kg) but there’s really no pressure… One pouch from each trekker is a simple and effective way to bring down the waste! Collective power is a beautiful thing.
Use the Toilets (And Nowhere Else)
Use the toilets, not the trail. I know it can sometimes be difficult when your bowel movements are perhaps a bit more eager than usual, but human faeces are causing real havoc in the mountains.
With so many trekkers comes a whole lotta poo (yep)… Bodily fluids are being “produced” at such high rates that it’s becoming hard to manage. It’s being washed into the streams during the monsoon season and infecting the water supply, which of course, is a major sanitary and human health concern. So please… Hold on to your business to the best of your ability until you find a suitable “drop off” location. If you can find a compost toilet, that’s even better.
Use Biodegradable Toiletries
Once again, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that there aren’t any water filtration systems in the middle of the Himalayas. If you’re planning on using soap whilst trekking (seems obvious, but trust me… It might not be a common occurrence) then do ensure that your soap is both biodegradable and environmentally friendly. You don’t want to be damaging the fragile ecosystems with toxic soap if it happens to end up in the streams.
In terms of other hygiene items, avoid any single-use packaging and pack sustainable/zero waste items wherever possible. Ladies, menstrual cups are the way to go.
Stay on the Trails
The flora in the Himalayas is incredibly delicate, so please tread carefully. Stick to the trails and leave little trace. It’s as simple as that.
Avoid Riding a Horse if Possible
The horses in the mountains are small, often malnourished, and sometimes injured too. Being an animal friendly traveller doesn’t become of less importance when you’re in the mountains… It’s vital that you respect them and their health like you would anywhere else in the world.
Don’t get an unnecessary horse ride just for the sake of it, stick to your own two feet instead! I know that avoiding them might not be an option if you get injured and need a mode of transport, or for those with a lack of mobility that still want to explore the beauty of the mountains, but only use them when/if it’s 100% needed. And do ensure that you don’t overload them… Those little ponies can only hold so much.
Always Give Way to the Yaks/Donkeys
Much like the porters, the donkeys and yaks always have right of way. If you hear them coming, step to the mountainside (not on the cliff edge – you don’t want to be pushed off by a donkey) and allow them to pass. And also, watch out for those yak horns… They are dangerous things!
Have you got any other tips for sustainable trekking in Nepal? Let me know in the comments below!