Nepal Stories and Tips

Trekking Words

Stream Photo, Mount Everest, Nepal

One of the problems of traveling in foreign cultures is the difficulty of remembering truly odd names. Often, these include words describing geographical characteristics or manmade landmarks, but that doesn’t help if the traveler doesn’t speak the local language. In one of my first solo-trips abroad, I reached a country which is characterized by very long names; these are made up by gluing together shorter words. Names containing over twenty letters are common there. In the early afternoon of my first day I left the hotel after having memorized the route to the first attraction I wanted to see; a well-known museum which occupies a house in a residential area. Considering this an orienteering practice event, I had memorized the route and even the last twenty or so letters of the street name. I thought that would be enough; after all, what were the chances the first few letters would be important in such a long name?

I found the correct street in minutes and began searching for the correct number. It didn’t exist. No other house in the vicinity looked like a museum. There was neither a sign nor an information booth. The street was desert. That made little sense, since that specific culture is known for its exactitude, the address I had should be exact to the last inch of it. Enjoying the sun, I decided to wait until a denizen would pass nearby. A few minutes later, I was getting a lesson on the local language in front of the non-existent museum. "Prefix, prefix," the man was repeating. "East-west street; east-west street," he continued methodically. He was trying to explain streets in the city were named also according to their position on the eastern or western side of the streets grid (defined by a canal) and that this fact appeared as a prefix in the name. Sadly, I had decided to give up a very important part of the street name

It was a good lesson. Since then, I always try to learn a few basic geographical terms in the language of the places I visit. These words tend to appear time and again in local addresses and names and thus this facilitates locating things and navigating in a foreign place. China is so well-structured than less than fifty Chinese characters are needed to be known in order to navigate successfully through most of its cities and terminals. With that I had been able to elucidate a railways timetable written in Chinese.

Nepal was more complex. Its highlands are settled by various ethnic groups, thus terms in different languages appear during a trek there. Yet, many words are repeated time and again. For example "la," "deorali" and "bhanjyang" mean "mountain pass." Understanding that leads to putting more emphasis in the memorizing of the most important part of the name, for example: "Lamjura," which is the first significant pass along the Jiri-Everest Trek. It also helps while communicating. You can’t approach a denizen along the way and ask "Is the deorali in that direction?" You create then a very complex situation. The denizen can probably point out for you several mountain passes in the immediate vicinity. Which one are you referring to? There is no way for the denizen to answer the first question without losing face or causing you to lose it (unless he guesses right the desired pass). The probable result would be a nervous giggle and no answer at all. Know the name of your passes and ask for "Lamjura," or "Lamjura La," if you want to be fastidiously accurate. However, "Lamjura Deorali" doesn’t work, because it mixes names in different languages.

A related issue is the pronunciation of such names. Seldom are the common transliterations useful in this. While choosing local words it is helpful to choose the easiest to pronounce. In the example above, most humans will pronounce correctly "la," but fail with "deorali" and "bhanjyang." The best way of that is early along the way, essentially while still in Kathmandu. KEEP - Kathmandu Environmental Education Project> - is the best place for getting information and advice on trekking in Nepal and related issues. There, it is possible to meet Nepali guides at the very heart of Thamel, the climbers and trekkers’ headquarters in Kathmandu. Ask one of the guides to pronounce for you slowly the list of trekking terms appearing in this article and write down the clearest way you can (and expect in-between sounds difficult to be put on paper). Once on the mountains, this sheet would be worth more than its weight in gold.

Now to the golden trekking words:

River = chhu, kosi
River Bank = ghat
Lake = kund, pokhri, tal, tarn, tsho, cho
Stream = drangka, khola

Ridge = ri
Mountain = kang
Peak = tse
Snowy Mountains = himal
Mountain pass = la, deorali, bhanjyang

East = shar
West = nup
North = chang
South = lho

Hotel = bhatti
Camping Site = bivvy, bivouac
Tibetan Stuppa = chorten
Prayer Flag Pole = chotar
Village = goan, gau
Buddhist Temple = gompa
Shelter = goth

Been to this destination?

Share Your Story or Tip