Trekking in Nepal: Porters

To hire or not to hire a porter on your trek?

History

Sherpa is the name of the ethnic group that live in the mountains, it is a culture and language. When westerners first began trekking in Nepal in the 1940s and 1950s, they hired Sherpas to be their guides and porters. As the trekking industry boomed in Nepal, the term Sherpa is now generally referred to as any guide or mentor.

Because of the high demand for guides and porters for trekking expeditions, many Nepalese men and women from the lowlands travel to the mountains searching for work. The Sherpas have lived in the mountains for centuries and have adapted well to the cold climate and high altitude. Unfortunately, some of those that travel from the lowlands will come to the mountains ill-prepared for the journey.

You will see some porters on the trail in flip flops and a light jacket.  They don’t have money to buy gloves or extra socks, and sometimes, you will hear of porters getting frostbite, getting sick, or even dying. It is your responsibility to take care of and advocate for your porter.

The International Porters Protection Group (IPPG) outlines some protections and rights of porters. If you are going with an agency, please ask questions and make sure your agency treats them well.

Cost

Guides and porters charge about $20-$25 USD a day. I couldn’t afford them, so I did not hire one. The Poon Hill trek is a very popular one, so I didn’t need a guide at all. And I carried only essentials so I didn’t need a porter either.

It is a great way to support the local economy, so if you can afford it, you should hire a porter! Plus, they are generally happy to answer any question you have about Nepali culture, and it becomes a wonderful cultural exchange and learning opportunity.

The government has a limit on how much the porters are allowed to carry. This does not mean anything because: 1.) The limit is a lot anyway. At 30 kg, it is one of the highest in the world and 2.) travel companies will compromise the porters health in order to offer a cheaper rate for their clients (by making them carry more weight).

Just because it’s their job, and they do it every day, doesn’t mean it gets any easier. It’s still 50 lbs of stuff, walking and climbing for 8 hours per day, in high altitude. If you wouldn’t want to carry it on your back for ten or more days, don’t make your porter carry it either.

A big part of Nepal’s economy comes from tourists. This does not mean you, as a tourist, are entitled to anything. Please respect the culture as it is. Respect the people. And respect the porters.Most Nepalese people know at least 2 or more language. Maybe they live with no hot water but that does not mean they are ill educated or uneducated. I am emphasizing respect because I have witnessed a lot of disrespect on the trail towards porters and the local people.

Be considerate. Take only essentials. Take care of yourself, and take care of each other on the trail.

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