Nepal Stories and Tips

It Doesn’t Taste As My Starbucks Cup of Chai!

Chai at Pakhding Photo, Mount Everest, Nepal

Correct water administration is essential for the success of the trek. The issue is complex: tap water and shiny faucets would not be seen along the trek. Part of the topic is related to the trekker’s behavior while on the path; the rest on making sure the denizens at the teahouses and guesthouses behave in a responsible way.

How much water to drink? Which water is safe? How much water should I carry around? What is the best way of carrying water around? Each one of these questions has the potential to become – or to prevent – a disaster; literally, this is not an overstatement or dramatization effort.

The amount of water to drink varies with the weather, effort level and altitude. It is difficult to give a simple answer regarding how much to consume, except for providing a general guideline and a simple test for the dehydration level. For as long as walking under the sun on a rough terrain, keep drinking a liter of water per hour; it’s a lot, but the body needs that. A way of making the task easier is to add some flavor to it; the variations here are endless, flavor sachets should be brought from Kathmandu. The problem to avoid here is dehydration which can ruin the whole trip and demand afterwards a complicated treatment. A way of monitoring its level is looking at the urine’s color; if it’s clear, then everything is OK. If not, the solution is easy, drink lots of water and rest for a while, and don’t wait until arriving at the nearest teahouse. It is important to be able to differentiate between the symptoms of dehydration and altitude sickness – especially since there is some overlapping. See the Altitude Trekking entry in this journal for details on altitude sickness.

Idyllic views. Mountains, snow and clear skies. How bad can the water be? Are those eagles looking at me? Actually, the water in the streams can be very bad. Wherever humans walk in the region, there are animals nearby. Their excrements pollute every stream and source of water, regardless its appearance. Crystalline looking water can be infected with dangerous bacteria. Drinking such water is a sure way of getting sick. Since the trekker depends on local water sources, an efficient and simple method of purification should be used. The simplest one relays on iodine pills. These can be bought in Thamel, Kathmandu. The method of use is simple. One pill purifies one liter of water in about thirty minutes. Put water and a pill in a bottle, shake it and wait. There is some residual taste, but it can be masquerade with some flavor. This is a good purification method while walking in the wilderness since it allows using any water source and it doesn’t demand heavy or cumbersome equipment as more sophisticated filters do. The second method is boiling water at the teahouses and guesthouses. The first would appear every hour or two along the path; all of them sell boiled water. They have been specifically trained and their product is completely safe. However, it demands a lot of wood and damages the local forests. After seeing a few devastated rhododendron forests, most trekkers would stop using this handy source.

The next issue is how much water to carry around and how to do it. In Thamel, I bought two bottles of one liter each with an insulating sleeve for each. After two days on the path, I realized I was moving around with an extra kilogram of weight. If having iodine pills there is no point in carrying more than one liter of water. The insulated sleeve is handy if loading the bottle with hot chai before leaving the guesthouse in the morning.

Can I get the chai pumpkin flavored and with whipped drink at the teahouse?

Few beverages are more varied in their preparation, or more confused to the English speaking world than chai. Without repeating common errors, "chai" means just tea (it is derived from the Chinese "cha"); the spiced version originating in India should be called "masala chai" (literally "spiced tea").

Nepal is next to India and uses similar definitions. Most teahouses along the way would serve brewed black tea when asked for chai; the tea leaves are boiled for long time – they are just added to the kettle atop the previous batch – thus the result is quite strong. Masala chai is not popular in this area, probably due to the scarcity of resources. Milk should be avoided, or at least consumed with extreme care the first time. It may originate on various animals and for sure it hasn’t been pasteurized. Herbal tea prepared from local plants can be found mainly at the largest settlements where many trekkers pass through; Namche Bazaar is especially notable for this. It is possible to buy them in bags for the way, but they demand boiling water for the preparation, and that’s not always handy.

Been to this destination?

Share Your Story or Tip