A guides story from Nepal - Ujjwal Rai
How did you become a mountain Guide?
I always wanted to go to the mountains but I never could afford to do so when I was younger because it was very expensive. This is how I got involved in the tourism industry. I first started off as a porter (carrying a client's bags on the 12 day Everest Base Camp trek) this was extremely challenging but seeing the breathtaking scenery made it all worth it. After my first trek as a porter, I was promoted to Assistant Guide after getting positive feedback from the client on my English skills. I worked as an Assistant Guide for two years before becoming a Lead Guide.
What motivates you as a guide?
This is the only job which allows me to travel for free and brings me closer to nature and the mountains. I also like to share Nepal's culture, history and practices with people visiting my beautiful country.
Where are your parents and family from? What was their life like?
My family is from a district called Sankhuwasabha which is in the eastern mountains of Nepal. My family members were farmers and lived in a small village.
Where were you born and what was your childhood like?
I was born and raised in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal. My childhood was very difficult because I was raised by a single mother and she had to work 14 hours a day to support us. Since my mother worked a lot, I didn't have time to learn enough from her so I had to learn from looking at what others were doing. Because my mother earned around $5-$10usd per month, we needed to find the cheapest possible place to live so we ended up moving around a lot as each year rents were raised. I went to many different schools growing up.
I actually had my first solo travel adventure when I was 12. I ran away from home with 100 Rupees to go to Rara Lake (a famous lake in Far West Nepal). I never ended up making it to the lake due to the civil war which was happening at the same time, but ended up getting a lot of life experience and traveling for 9 months with a political party, helping them run campaigns (dramas, dances etc) in villages all over Nepal.
Due to the hardships I experienced growing up, I have become strong and don't get phased by difficult or challenging experiences.
What makes you proud to be Nepalese?
I am proud to be Nepalese because Nepal was never colonized by any other countries.
What are your favorite local dishes?
My absolute favorite dish is Dal Bhat, which is basically the national dish of Nepal. It consists of rice, lentil soup and vegetables and most Nepalis will eat this twice a day! I also love Momos (steamed or fried dumplings with chicken or buffalo meat inside) and accompanied by a spicy tomato based pickle.
What is your personal favorite trek in Nepal?
This is tough but I would say the Langtang trek. This is an eight day trek in the Langtang National Park directly north of Kathmandu. I love this trek because it is short, very close to Kathmandu but there is a lot of variety of landscapes from forests to mountains.
What is your favorite cultural site in Nepal?
It would have to be Bhaktapur Durbar Square. The Kathmandu Valley previously consisted of three kingdoms, one in Bhaktapur, one in Kathmandu and one in Patan. The ancient royal palace and buildings in Bhaktapur Durbar Square are among the best preserved in Nepal as the local ethnic group (Newars) have taken great care to ensure the buildings remain as they were when they were built 600+ years ago.
What Global destinations are top on your travel list?
Norway (because it is very beautiful and also modern), Russia (I want to see Lake Baikal and climb Mt Elburs), and the Philippines (because I love water and there are a lot of lagoons!). I also would love to go to Utah and Montana, and also British Columbia in Canada to see the beautiful scenery. I also want to do the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) once in my life.
A place in Nepal you haven't seen or visited?
There are many places I haven't been so far. I would love visit the Far West of Nepal (the district of Humla) and visit Kanchenjunga in the Far East. I would also like to do the Upper Dolpa trek. These regions are some of the most remote yet most beautiful in Nepal.
Is it difficult to live in Nepal?
For poor people, it is very difficult since there are limited job opportunities and many people migrate abroad to find work. However, the Nepalese people are very resilient having overcome a number of challenges such as the 2015 Earthquake and 10 years of civil war and have a very positive attitude. People who are skilled have access to many opportunities and life for these people can be very comfortable.
What is your best advice for travelers visiting Nepal for the first time?
Prepare yourself by getting fit and being active before coming to Nepal (if you plan on doing a trek). Never compare the Himalayas to mountains in your home country, because they are completely different- don't underestimate the problems you could encounter due to high altitude. Just be prepared and do research before you come to make sure you know what you are getting in for.
What is your favorite time of year to trek in Nepal?
My favorite time to trek in Nepal is from November until the end of March, because there aren't many tourists during this time. However, it is winter so it can get quite cold and can snow a lot during this time.
Top off the beaten trek adventure a traveler should consider in Nepal?
I would recommend treks such as Makalu Basecamp, Rolwaling, Upper Dolpa and Kanchenjunga Basecamp as these are lesser known but still beautiful treks which take you to remote places.
Ujjwal Rai manages FlashpackerConnect operations in Nepal.