After being wracked with a sudden onset of anxiety on the streets of Pokhara, Nepal, I’d finally managed to drag myself into one of the city’s many trekking agencies.
This agency, it turned out, was Eastern Light Trekking.
I couldn’t have told you that at the time—I was hardly paying attention to where I was placing my feet, let alone the names of the trekking shops. Although it might seem important to a TripAdvisor traveler, when you’ve showed up in a country with no fixed plans and no intention to arrive anywhere, one trekking agency is as good as another. After all, most of them just say “Trekking” on the outside anyways; you’d only know which is which by looking at the paperwork they give you.
All I knew was I was walking into a trekking agency.
“Namaste, my friend,” the man behind the counter said.
“Namaste,” I answered with a smile. It was impossible to return that greeting without cheering up.
The office was a small, dim affair—par for the course in Nepal, it seemed. By virtue of having two desks, this trekking agency was twice as big as the one I’d visited in Kathmandu—although, I didn’t take this to mean much. Posters of snow-capped mountain ranges, people riding elephants, and whitewater rafters covered the walls. Nepal’s main tourism sources: trekking, rafting, and Elephant safaris in Chitwan National Park. This place did it all.
“What can I help you with?” the man behind the counter asked me.
“I’d like to trek ABC,” I said. “As soon as possible.”
“Ah, we have a trip leaving tomorrow,” the man said, flipping through some papers. “One other person. You want guide?”
“Yes,” I said. Although when I arrived in Nepal, I had planned on trekking independently, that was no longer my goal. My encounters with the people of this country— the man with no shoes, the man by the lake, Sujan in Kathmandu— they had all left me with the impression that these people needed the money more than I did. If I came to this country, toured around the poverty, and refused to even throw down a hundred dollars or so to keep a Nepali trekking guide in work? I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself.
“Porter?” the man asked.
I shook my head. No. I had some self-respect. I would carry my own load.
“Ok,” the man said. “As I said, we have a trek leaving tomorrow… but we will need passport photos for your paperwork, and we need those 12 hours in advance—“
“I have passport photos,” I said, handing him a pair. I’d been carrying a few extras around just in case.
“Oh, ok, good…” he said. “We can have you trekking tomorrow then, if you want. There is one other client, a Malaysian. That would be good, you could split the cab fare to the mountains.”
“And how long is the trek?” I asked. “I need to be back in Pokhara on the 14th.”
“Yes, yes, you will return on the 14th,” he assured me, double-checking a calendar.
“When?” I asked.
He wavered. “Should be… around mid-day or so?”
My interview was not until the evening on the 14th, but I would have liked to finish trekking on the 13th, to have some time to recover.
“Is that ok?” the man asked me.
“Yeah, that’s ok,” I said. “You are sure I will be back early on the 14th? I have an appointment I can’t miss.”
“Yes yes, I will tell the guide,” the man said.
I felt a flutter of anxiety at scheduling things so close, but I managed to quiet it. I’d be in the Himalayas tomorrow. That was worth something. The interview would sort itself out, one way or another.
I asked the man to sketch out the schedule for the trek. He took out a map, and pointed to lots of towns with unfamiliar names. “Ulleri Day 1. Ghorepani Day 2. Poon Hill Sunrise. Sinuwa Day 3. Then to ABC—up here—and back.” He listed off a few more towns I had never heard of. I nodded along. The route hit both Poon Hill and Annapurna Base Camp, so I was happy. I nodded, agreed on a modest price to be paid tomorrow morning, and told him I’d be back at 8 a.m.
And that was all it took to arrange a trek in Nepal.