From where I stand Binod Rai leads hikes in remote parts of Nepal.
Enjoying a long slog in the Himalayas
I was 13 when my father, Jagdish, took me on my first trek. It was 1983 and he had just retired from the Gurkhas to set up his trekking company, Insight Himalaya. I was at school in Darjeeling and, although I'd had the chance to study in the US, I decided to join him. I was 18 when I led my first trek over a 5,500-m pass. Now I'm 35 and married to Rupa. We have two children, Jaya, seven, and Anugrah, five, and live with my parents in Kathmandu.
In the 1960s it was an Englishman, the late Col James OM Roberts, who was the first to realise that trekking would appeal to tourists. He had spent years in Nepal attached to the British Residency so he knew the hills. In 1965 he founded Mountain Travel, the first trekking company, and began taking groups of visitors into remote places for days at a time backed up by teams of guides, cooks and porters. That is how we run our treks today.
We walk for five to six hours each day with all equipment, stores and personal possessions carried by porters or yaks, so guests have nothing to carry. We produce wonderful lunches and dinners in a dining tent and after a hot shower - which is an exciting innovation - guests sleep under canvas in a sleeping bag with a hot-water bottle. The spring months of March, April and May are busiest when the rhododendrons and spring flowers bloom. During the summer monsoon we switch to Tibet, where it is dryer, until we resume at home in the autumn.
The trend is shorter treks with smaller groups and a week is the average duration. We employ four to six guides, a cook, three to five kitchen support staff and as many as 40 porters on a single trek. We use more guides than other companies, which is better for the locals and clients. Our fees are higher, but we're more flexible. We can't keep meat fresh on the move so we buy live goats and chickens from villages along the way, which boosts the pockets of the locals.
Many of our clients come back again and again so I have got to know them. One lady always changes for dinner - she brings three suitcases. Another fine gentleman always treks in a tie. No other Himalayan country competes with Nepal because it has so many different terrains and habitats in a small area, which can take you from rice-growing valleys and mountain forests to the snowline at 3,600m. People living in the hills - most of them subsistence farmers - welcome visitors into their villages. They never talk about their work in hours, only in days. We get to undisturbed areas where people wear traditional clothes.