Travel dairies: Himalayan porters

I have always fascinated by the stories I read, heard about the porters  of Himalayas. Kedarnath trip gave me an opportunity to see them myself. When I saw their amazing ability in Kedarnath I decided I will write this down in my blog.

A women carrying a huge load on her back in a himalyan region (Saari, Ukhimath)

Kedarnath trek is a quite a lengthy one about 14kms. We packed all unnecessary  things in to three bags and left it at the hotel in Gaurikund.  When  my backpack with 3 kg  camera and lens , 2 kg tripod and a kilo of other stuff  weighing total 10 kg then I thought to myself “ really?!!!” . I was thinking to myself, and I know most of my team were , that is it possible for us to carry this much weight to 14 km and an ascent of 1500meters ?? ( we made a deal with pony guys and they carried our most of the luggage but still 6 kilo were with me ) .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A kedarnath porter carrying a women in his basket. He carries her for the whole day for total 30 KMs of walk ( nearly 1500mts ascend and descend )

Then on the way to our trek we saw these amazing porters carrying things ,heavy bags, people for 14 kms . Whenever  we make eye contact with them they give a smile. I sometimes thought they are smiling after seeing us breathing hell out of our lungs carrying very little or nothing!

What a smile! They move slow, very rhythmic, they rest for some time , they drink  tea, they chat with shop owners,  share jokes! and then they carry on!

I spoke to many porters and here are the facts I learnt/understood while walking.

  1. They have a basket strapped on the head resting on their back in which they load luggage, people ( ! Yes, people)  etc.
  2. They can carry a man of their own weight and walk 28 kms. ( 14 kms to Kedarnath and then come back 14 kms as many pilgrims want to finish the Kedarnath visit in one day ) but remember on the way it is an ascent of 1500meters. And this is at an altitude of 2000meters to 3600 meters where many like myself  find it difficult to breathe .
  1. crossing river Ganga( click and view large)

    3.  If the men/women/luggage  that porter carry weighs more than 70 Kilo.more they go one way 14 kms and take 4-5 hrs to reach to the Kedarnath temple.

    4.    I have never seen a porter who is fat. All looks thin, healthy and always smiling!

    5.    Road to Kedarnath is a nice track with paved stones ( okay, it is not nice as our village roads) . There are some shortcuts which are goat tracks and quite a risk as well. Guess what! Many porters use the shortcuts carrying all the loads on their back! While coming back from Kedarnath I could not use the shortcuts as my legs are exhausted  by walking . But I could see these porters taking shortcuts , walking past us! So humiliating!

  1. He preferred shortcuts that is goat track routes to Kedarnath!

    6.     Porters in Kedarnath work for 6 months there and go back to their villages or cities in search of work for the next 6 months as pilgrimage to Kedar stops during these 6 months because of heavy snow fall.

  1. A porter crossing a beautiful waterfall on the way to Kedarnath

7. Generally I found porters are real human beings, very helping and very soft in nature, they ask money with open-hearted but they don’t cheat. (There might be exceptional cases but  bad guys are  everywhere right ?)

  1. we enjoyed the Himalayan valley porters took care of our saftey

    Ponies are the best companions of porters

8. Lastly most important thing. Porters are tough or have a great stamina or strength as not a gift from god. They earn it by living in such extreme weather conditions and continuous hard work. A small kid in a porter family start working  so hard to earn little money in his very childhood!  There are instances lot of porters die in their very young age due to physical stress, fatigue, altitude sickness, hypothermia . So please be kind to them and don’t start loading them with all your unnecessary luggage just because you hired them for few hundreds of rupees. Take some load from them , may at least your basic stuff  and enjoy the true pilgrimage  experience while still you are young.

Pooja got married at her very young age. Her husband served as porter in Kedarnath, one of the Garhwal pilgrim places ( Hindu pilgrim places where holy river Ganga starts ) working 6 months in a year and spent rest of the year at his home. But he had the habit if drinking and that habit finally took toll on him in a one fine winter. He died in his very young age and Pooja became a widow. Now she owns a Dhaba ( roadside hotel ) in Devaria Taal, Uttarakhand. When we camped in Devaria Taal for night , she cooked for us in that zero degree cold and I cannot forget the taste of Daal Chawal ( Rice and Daal) .

A small girl from a porter family

Some very interesting historical / scientific facts about porters ( source: internet)

  • Nepalese porters are ‘world’s most efficient carriers’
  • The researchers, led by Norman Heglund of the Louvain Catholic University, Belgium, calculated the energy efficiency of eight Nepalese porters who regularly walk from the capital, Kathmandu, to a market town near Mount Everest. The distance of the weeklong journey is 100 kilometers, with total ascents of 8,000 meters and descents of 6,300 meters.( !!!!)
  • Kenyan women believed to have most efficient method if carrying but recent researches shown that Porter women carry heavier loads than Africans.
  • Researches have also shown that Himalaya porters spent only half the energy that European trekkers carrying backpacks used when either carried more than half (60 per cent) of their body weight.
  • There are instances where a 68 -70 year old porters carrying loads weighing their body weight in the Himalaya region.
  • Tenzing Norway, the first Everestee was a trekking porter in India.
  • Most of the porters can talk more than 3 languages. Some even talk  more than 10 languages. Tensing spoke 7 languages.
  • The remarkably higher performance of porters during uphill locomotion (+60% in speed, +39% mechanical power) is only partly explained by the lower cost of loaded walking (−20%), being also the result of a better cardio-circulatory adaptation to altitude, which generates a higher mass-specific metabolic power (+30%). Consequently, Nepalese porters show higher efficiency, both during uphill and downhill loaded walking.(if you want a technical , hi flying graphical studies to scratch your head  go here! source link: http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/273/1602/2791.full)
  • The first ascent on Mt Everest which  was finished by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing has a very interesting facts.  We always feel like these two guys made  it to the top but many don’t realize that it was a huge team  effort and  we even don’t know what the team looked like !!
  • So this ascent of Mt Everest included over 400 people, including 20 Sherpa guides ,  362 porters ( yes , porters, we do not know about them right ?) who carried 4540 KGs of load!
  • For every mountain climber in Himalayas , it could be Everest or a small hill , there is a porter behind him carrying amazing loads , walking slowly, sometimes guiding just to feed him and his family.
  • A porter kid at his very young playing age of 4-5 years starts learning to carry twice of their load!

He was enjoying a bidi while his customer was resting under shadow on the way to Kedarnath!

Now I feel like they are just part of my travel as I have decided to visit Himalayas at least once in a year. Whenever I plan, I dream of meeting porters , talking to them knowing their life etc. I dream of taking photos of those energetic, smiling souls . Those  people out there are just incredible!

Previous Chapter: The small colorful city called Gaurikund

Next Chapter coming:  Kedarnath  

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10 responses to “Travel dairies: Himalayan porters

  1. This post really astounded me! I can’t believe people can carry that much weight! I thought we can only carry up to 1/6th of their weight and even then, they struggle.

    Your thoughtfulness towards these porters shows in your post.

  2. Pingback: Uttaranchal Tourism: Trekking to Panch Kedar « Jaggi·

  3. Pingback: | Travel dairies: wandering in Chandrashila with the Himalayan dogs·

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