"Did you just walk?" was the strange question one of the early readers of this journal did. There is more to a trek than walking, yet that action is at the very heart of the adventure and some attention should be given to the way it is performed. "Walking like a Nepali" is the best way to enjoy the adventure.
At first I was surprised; later I found the same behavior in Bolivia and concluded highlanders walk differently. Most of us would try to find the flattest path between two points. Walking around the peak is better than climbing to its summit and then descending. That’s not so in Nepal.
Most paths follow the shortest possible way between two points regardless the slopes. It is tiring, but unless the trekker is ready to create new paths, that’s the only option. Such an approach demands a different type of walk. A Nepali kind of walk.
I found a group of porters minutes after leaving Jiri, on the first day of my trek. The sight was unbelievable. The tiny men – none of them was above 1.6m – were carrying two rice bags each (90kgs) in big baskets placed on their backs. The rice weighted more than them. Peculiar walking sticks helped them to balance the weight; later I saw them sitting on the large horizontal handles of the sticks. Some of them were without shoes. Yet, despite the wet, slippery ground, they seemed to advance effortlessly.
In the following days, I met time and again groups of foreign trekkers leaving as early as I did, but running ahead in hyperactive rush. They would disappear behind the horizon in a matter of seconds. "Would kryptonite weaken them?" I thought, but kept silent.
Invariantly, I would meet them a few hours afterwards fighting for the scarce oxygen and complaining about strained muscles. Their faces - distorted in pain - focused on my improvised walking stick. Invariantly, I made longer walking days than them; each day I met different people. It was like walking back in time; each successive group had begun the trek before the previous one.
Both events carried lessons about how to walk along the specific paths of the area. Keeping a steady pace is the best way of covering large distances there. The best way of learning it is watching the porters for a while.
The recommended speed varies with the terrain conditions, but the average speed should not cross the 2 kilometers per hour mark; it may sound slow, but keeping it for eight to ten hours per day – day after day - in a mountainous area is difficult.
A constant temptation is rushing downwards at every opportunity. That’s not only dangerous – falling down and suffering damage is a real possibility here - but also may lead to overstrained muscles. At the first opportunity, measure the time it takes you climbing a hill and then how long the descent takes. A proper pace is if the way down took 80% of the time the way up took. If it takes less, then it’s too fast.
A good technique for achieving that involves watching your steps. Make sure you place the next step on the driest, solidest and softest piece of ground ahead of you (the last two are not mutually exclusive). That makes sense and has a strange effect: it is easier to achieve that in the way up than otherwise. Easier means faster; that means it creates a natural way of balancing the speed between the ways up and down.
Depending on the season and the time of the day, the trekker may encounter extreme temperatures. Cold is worse a problem than heat, since if the muscles cool down too fast after a walk, beginning walking again is difficult.
Strange as it may seem, that’s the reason for the location of the porters’ teahouses along the way. They are roughly located an hour away from each other – that is if you walk like a Nepali. These simple huts are immediately recognizable: the smoke rising from them is a clear sign of their having a fire inside. Here, fire means tea. Moreover, they are always located along the way. Strange platforms next to them allow the porters to put the heavy baskets down comfortably.
The point is walking 55 minutes of any given hour and resting the other 5 minutes next to a cup of steaming, sweet tea. No more than five minutes, otherwise the muscles cool down. No more, otherwise you get sleepy and the day is lost.
Make It Venti, Pumpkin Flavored
The teahouses welcome trekkers; don’t worry about language barriers. They serve only tea. "Tea" is "chai." No Problemo. Make it venti, pumpkin flavored, and with whipped cream, please.
"Did you just walk?"
No, I didn’t just walk. I enjoyed the landscape. I met a different culture with an interesting cuisine. I saw the Ultimate Stuppa and many of the most beautiful mountains on the planet. And I learned to walk like a Nepali.