Trekking poles can be useful in stiff descents on rough terrain, especially if carrying around a heavy backpack. The problem is their size and shape; few travelers would seriously consider bringing them from abroad, even if they fold tightly. Accordingly, this was one of the items I shopped around for while in Kathmandu. The first question to answer was: One or two? Trekkers vary on their opinions on this; I definitely support one. Two are for those planning to ski; it makes the issue of carrying them around even more acute.
If agreeing on one, a popular solution is carrying around an umbrella. This is the favorite of Buddhist monks living in the area. It not only looks ridiculous—that explains their embarrassed looks—but it is also cumbersome when it rains and the ground becomes slippery. Then, one needs to choose between protection from the rain or support on the ground. I could not agree to such a compromise. The shops offered a wide variety of models and qualities. The best were made from light alloys and had comfy handles made of composite materials. They cost well over $100 per unit. They were designed as concentric units that could collapse into a tight stick. They were so awesome that they forced me to face reality. I was to trek in unspoiled nature; a space-era pole fir for trekking on the moon seemed a bit overboard.
Still pondering on the issue, I found in one of the shops a large wooden barrel filled with long tree branches, which had been meticulously cleaned. The vendor saw me studying them and took one of them out of the barrel. He took it out of the shop to the sidewalk and placed the sturdy contraption firmly on the ground.
"Thung," the stick exclaimed confidently. It was roughly my height and about a head taller than the vendor. It was thicker than my wrist.
Stretching his hands up, the vendor picked the stick’s top end and jumped on the air, supporting his entire weight—it couldn’t be much—on this low-tech trekking pole.
"Strong," he said, showing me his all his remaining teeth.
People were staring at us. I was smiling. Seeing his effect, the vendor repeated the antique several times. It was a tempting option. I was sure the stick could survive everything I would. Yet, it was big and heavy. Seeing my hesitation, the vendor said:
"100 Rupees, special price for you my friend!" At that time, the price equaled $1.25. I needed to decide fast. Could I take the stick into the bust to Jiri, the trek departure point? I didn’t know.
"No, sorry," I said and kept walking. Yet, the show had brought new customers to the shop. The vendor smiled at me in clear joy.
Next day I left for Jiri without a walking tick. My choice had been a good one; I couldn’t have boarded the bus even if I had picked a pencil for the task, so crowded it was.
On the fourth day of the trek (counting from Kathmandu), I left Bandar in the morning, and was supposed to reach Kenja in the afternoon. The morning was foggy and wet; the sun was hidden behind a thick cover of clouds. The ground was almost slippery; a whiff of grass separated my shoes from the wet earth. I could walk without problems, but realized a stick will be soon necessary. The weather could change sharply in the late autumn, and storms were expected. Still meditating on this, while enjoying the pastoral views, I began slowly exiting the small village. The distance between the houses was steadily increasing. I could make a walking stick. I had a pocket knife and branches abounded. Could I match MacGyver? Suddenly, one of the doors opened. An agitated girl came out running towards me as if I could disappear any moment.
"Want stick? Want stick?" she screamed in my direction, waving a few sticks while still running.
Probably I was the first trekker passing through this path this week. Most trekkers arrived here already with a walking stick, thus I was almost a miracle.
I took a look at them. They were perfect for walking and had been carefully cleaned. I would just need to wrap some tape on one end to create a handle. Even a minor MacGyver could deal with that.
"15 Rupees, 15 Rupees!" she said after she was sure I liked the item.
I paid and she ran back, screaming the news in joy to her family.
Picking it carefully, I placed it firmly on the ground and performed a first great step for humanity.