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written by: Kanti Khadka   |   Nov 15, 2019   |   286 views


Responsible trekking nowadays is a very popular term amongst travelers of every sort. The concept of responsible traveling basically ensures our trekking adventures don’t come at the cost of environmental or cultural damage to the people and places we visit.

The news of over-tourism and pollution in Nepal’s mountains is widespread in the media lately. With the talks going on its high time we talk about how to trek responsibly and ethically in Nepal. With a little more awareness on the issues surrounding trekking in Nepal and a few small adjustments on the way you trek, you can make a huge difference to the effect you leave on the trail.

So, How Do We Do That?

Travelers interested in trek ethically in the Himalayas, this guide contains all you need to know about traveling responsibly in Nepal including choosing the right responsible travel operator, empowering local communities and minimizing the negative impacts on the environment while on the trek.

Here’s our complete guide to ethical trekking in Nepal, with everything you need to know about how to trek sustainably and responsibly in Nepal.

Responsible Trekking In Nepal, Is It Important?

Not so long ago, Nepal opened its doors to tourism and since then it has been a dream destination for all sorts of travelers, trekkers, thrill-seekers and mountaineers. 

At the very beginning, the experience brought professional mountaineers and experienced alpinists seeking the adventure of a lifetime to Nepal. 

Over time the situation changed. These days, the hype of high-altitude adventures isn’t limited to the professionals. Each year thousands of trekkers and backpackers trudge along the trails stubbornly. While the inflow of tourists is good for the economic growth of the country as a whole, but the impacts trekking irresponsibly leaves on the particular environment are incomparable. Particularly in the Everest and Annapurna regions, the most popular trekking regions in Nepal pollution, crowding on trails, exploitation of local porters and guides, and environmental and cultural degradation can easily be observed.

This clarifies the thrill we’ve all grown to love so much comes with a cost of ethical dilemmas. In some cases, it also threatens the fragile environment and the tradition and cultures of the ethnic communities.

So, it is vital we consider responsible tourism in order to take nothing but memories and leave nothing but footprints.

Is It Still Convincing To Trek Morally In Nepal By Any Means?

Yes, certainly possible.

Trekking in Nepal boosts the local economy and helps to raise the quality of living significantly. In addition, it helps in bringing awareness and improving the quality of education among the locals.

Thus, you should not consider not trekking to the Himalayas at all. Instead, one should actively encourage travelers to visit Nepal and to return over and over again.

But when encouraging our fellow travelers to trek we must make it compulsory to travel in a responsible, respectful manner; one which considers their impact and works to benefit locals, the environment, and tourists alike.

In this way, you can support Nepal’s largest industry (tourism) in a healthy way without being a part of its unethical side.

What Are The Things You Ought To Consider Before The Trek?

Trek with a company promoting responsible tourism

The travel industry is a billion-dollar industry. Thus, there isn’t a shortage of travel agencies of all sorts.

You will never purchase anything knowing the company exploits people or places - so why should your travels be any different?

Do the research and choose a company reciprocating your values and beliefs. A few questions to assist you with choosing are:

  • Does this company help in the welfare of the communities they visit? 
  • Does it empower women and protect children?
  • Are they actively working on minimizing their impact on the environment and the planet as they travel?
  • Do they avoid cruel practices like elephant rides?

And more importantly - do they actually live by these values, or are they just words on a marketing strategy?

So, seek out operators on the ground which are responsible and sustainable in their mindset and actions such as Swotah travel and adventures which has been guiding trekkers to the Himalayas responsibly.

Try Trekking During Off-Seasons:

While it is a nice time to visit Nepal during peak seasons, traveling to Nepal in the offseason can turn out to be more beneficial.

The peak tourism seasons in Nepal are autumn during September-November and spring during March-May when the weather is warm, skies are generally clear, and conditions are at their best for outdoor activities. The monsoon (June-August) and the winter (December-February) are the off-seasons.

During off-seasons, there will certainly be fewer travelers. With that in mind, know that there are even fewer crowds and hotels often provide discounts. In fact, you might be surprised by all the benefits of travel to Nepal during the tourist offseason of year. In addition, you might just be helping the local operators earn their living during no tourist time of the year.

Opt for off the beaten trails in Nepal

Consider if it is ethical to trek to some of Nepal’s more popular hiking routes right now, including Everest Base Camp (and beyond) and the Annapurna Circuit as these are the regions adversely affected by over-tourism.

These two most popular treks suffer the consequences of over-tourism in the following ways: 

Either its firewood or gas for cooking or vegetable / edible wildflower cultivation, an increase in the number of trekkers results in a huge strain on the resources. It not only affects the community but the tourism sector itself with an unbalanced price hike on food items and others.  

An increase in the number of trekkers means a rise in the number of waste products. Inadequate recycling campaigns in the mountains, trash from the trekkers, and fecal contamination all contribute to the degradation of the local environment and increased health risks for local communities.

Obviously those communities residing on the more popular trails benefit more from tourist income than those living in other remote and not much-promoted parts. Thus, it help in equal distribution of wealth among the Nepalese community by choosing less popular routes.

Trekking to lesser-known, less-frequented routes (such as Mohare Danda, Upper Dolpo, Kanchenjunga, and Mardi Himal trek take the pressure off the environment around the popular routes such as Everest and Annapurna. Moreover, it also provides a richer cultural experience for everyone involved. 

Carry A Reusable Water Bottle 

The reusable water bottle is an ethical way of reducing plastic waste. No one necessarily needs to buy bottled water unless it is very essential. Well, it's possible you might be concerned about the safety of drinking water. Worry not, ACAP provides several UV- treated water refilling stations in the Annapurna region and Annapurna circuit.

So opt for refillable bottles and help reduce plastic waste!

Do not use Plastic 

Unfortunately, in this part of the world, proper waste management and plastic recycling programs are still not so familiar topics.

Because of the remoteness and height, a ton of the settlements don't have satisfactory waste disposal techniques and need to settle on the decision between either burning the waste or taking it away from the mountain themselves which in most cases isn't suitable.

Additionally, thousands of trekkers traverse the paths each year and that’s a lot of waste which is either being burnt each day, left on the trails, or left behind on teahouse for the operators to deal with. 

So, what can be done? Well, first and foremost, use minimal plastic products. Next, if do you come across rubbish while on a trek collect it in a bag and take it off the trails with you to dispose of properly afterward. 

Strictly Use Toilet                                                   

Human excrement, is a huge issue especially, in the mountains of Nepal, affecting human health and sanitation alongside the biodiversity of the natural surroundings. Thus, hold onto your ‘call of nature’ until you reach the next teahouse and dispose of it properly.

Use Eco-Friendly Toiletries

Switch to plastic-free, biodegradable, chemical-free, eco-friendly toiletries which won’t add to waste on the mountains, which includes:  compostable toothbrushes, switching to shampoo bars, toxin-free and biodegradable wipes.

Respect And Treat Your Porters Fairly

Porters are the backbone of almost each and every trekking. As they glide past you easily on the trails despite the heavyweight on their backs, they might seem superhuman.

Sadly though, while Porters are the backbone of Nepalese trekking, they’re also often the most overlooked and unfairly treated. Porters are most likely to be exploited, overworked, underpaid, and poorly treated (in a way such as no sleeping bag, lack of food, lack of appropriate medical care, etc).

Therefore, before you book a trek, ensure the trekking organization consents to the International Porter Association's rules for the treatment of porters and guarantee the organization provides its porters with the following:

  • Suitable warm and waterproof attire, footwear and sun security
  • Fair and stable basic pay (that doesn’t rely on tips to make it a sustainable income)
  • proper shelter (which includes a bed or sleeping mat and blankets)
  • Adequate medical care and life insurance
  • Weight restrictions (ideally 6-7 kgs per trekker, and no more than 12-14kg per porter).
  • Minimum age requirements

If You Must Take Any Sort Of Animal Ride, Ensure That They’re Well-Treated

There are certain trails in Nepal reachable only on foot or on a horseback.

Traveling responsibly doesn’t necessarily agree with the use of horses on these trails, but for those with mobility issues in more difficult terrain, this might be the only way for them to see the mountains.

If you really must take a horse, please ensure that you’re not riding them by putting the lives of these animals at risk by traveling with an unethical or cruel operator.

Respect Local Culture And Traditions

Often times, trekking in Nepal is a personal achievement and self-motivation. But during one's journey to self-exploration one should keep in mind that 6the Mountains are the sanctuary of Nepal's unique cultures and customs. Most importantly, the Annapurna region is one of the significant cultural and sacred regions in Nepal.

Nepal is generally quite conservative about the matters of religion and traditions. So, it is very important to respect it and behave accordingly.

Some of the temples and holy places require you to remove shoes before entering and know that some religious sites do not permit non-Hindus to enter the sites.

Dress modestly, take care not to offend and ask your leader if you are unsure if something is appropriate.

Treat locals how you’d wish to be treated as a guest, take your cues from how they behave and dress, and always travel with respect at the heart of your adventures.

Learn Some Local Languages And Traditional Names

No matter where you are in the world, a little bit of language goes a long, long way.

In addition to learning how to say hello (Namaste) and thank you (dhanyavad), also try to learn the traditional names for the mountains in the region you’re trekking in.

For example, Everest is the English name for what locals refer to as ‘Sagarmatha’ (‘forehead in the sky’) in local Sherpa Language, or Chomolungma (‘Goddess mother of mountains’) in the Tibetan language.

Pay Fair Prices

Perhaps the best motivation to go climbing in the Himalayas is it helps distribute money into rural villages.

While bargaining in markets is pretty common around the market (and in Nepal), be fair about how low you force vendors to go.

Positively support the livelihoods of providers in the mountains by remembering the goal is to pay the fairest price for everyone involved, not the cheapest. 

Always ask for permission before taking photographs

Nepal is an interesting country with an incredible blend of culture, customs, and nature. Everywhere is stunningly beautiful scenery, colorful stories just waiting to be captured.

However, Nepal is culturally quite conservative and religious, so it’s important to behave respectfully - especially when photographing. 

Responsible travel photography is all about placing yourself in the subject’s shoes, and contemplating whether you would feel okay if someone took a similar photo of you and your family.

Always ask permission before photographing local people, particularly when photographing the older generation).

In many temples and religious sites, photography is forbidden. Thus, be mindful. And additionally, if you photograph sadhu (holy men), don’t be surprised if they ask for money after.

Responsible travel might seem tedious with a lot of things to keep in mind but, your mindfulness now goes a long, long way. So are you reconsidering your traveling style now? Thinking of traveling responsibly? Or have you been doing as such for quite a while?? Let us know in the comment section below.


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