History of Portering:
Portering has a rich history. Portering dates back to as early as 2000 BC when people weren’t aware of using domesticated animals or wheels as a means of transportation. Even the Pyramids including the Great Pyramid of Giza are said to have been built by slave laborers. It is believed that the Native Egyptians were used as a porter to transfer heavy rocks and boulders for the construction which was carried either collectively or using some sort of ancient lever system.
Then again with the introduction of wheels, transportation was made easier. But again with the advent of civilization, people were starting to move into cities on a huge scale. During this “Period of Relocating”, due to the void of mechanical transportation people heavily relied on human transportation and animals. During this relocation period where even basic transportation was difficult, humans carried supplies, necessities, and even people over small barter as payment. This was initially the start of portering.
Nonetheless, the history of Portering is largely intertwined with the growth of railroads and the onset of industry. Industrialization created high demands for the human carrier to transfer essential goods which eventually gave birth to commercial portering.
However, the history of Portering is more or less like a lost myth, or it's much like a holy grail, a lost history that is hard to trace. Today, we can only speculate that it started probably before 1700. Today the origin of portering is often seen as part of industrialization but in reality, it is older than the Egyptian pyramids.
History of Portering in Nepal:
The 'history of Portering in Nepal' dates back to way before the introduction of Tourism. Nepal has a longstanding tradition of porterage. Basic portering was involved in the daily livelihood of the people of Nepal in remote areas where there is a void of any form of transportation and daily supplies are to be transported by humans. Carrying a certain amount of load in a bamboo basket or any basic basket with the support of the forehead and lower back starts from quite an early age.
Further, portering existed since the time of kings and queens. History states that portering played a vital role during the "Salt Trade Era" between Nepal and Tibet when the "Barter System" was prominent. Progressively, Portering evolved into a form of Nepalese ritual that has ultimately been passed down from generation to generation.
Similarly, with the beginning of tourism in Nepal, the job of portering became a necessity without which exploring remote Nepal was conclusively impossible. Many porters are from rural areas, or natives from the same area and some are migrants. They are basically from the region where there is little access to education and therefore limited employment opportunities.
Besides, Portering is the only job available that does not require any education or training. Porter is an integral part of tourism in Nepal and their existence is based on their traditional occupation. They are the ones who have mastered the portering skills with years of habitual experience during their daily livelihood in the remote villages. Porter is a need in the mountains.
When tourism first began in Nepal, it consisted solely of camping trips, with hundreds of porters assigned to expeditions and trekking. As a result, thousands of them found work and became an important component of the tourism industry, their families, and Nepal's economy.
Unfortunately, the introduction of "Tea-House Trekking" and the usage of horses, mules, or donkeys have had a significant impact on the employment of porters in the tourism industry. The portering profession has been further impacted by the construction of roadways and the arrival of vehicles.
Importance of Porter in the mountains of Nepal:
The porter is a significant part of the mountainous regions of Nepal without whom one cannot imagine any wilderness expeditions in Nepal. Their roles and responsibilities can’t be measured with petty employment impressions. They certainly have greater roles to play that largely contribute to the success of every outdoor venture in Nepal.
However, their invaluable role goes unnoticed and unappreciated but they will always remain as “unsung heroes” in the history of Nepal tourism. The importance of a porter in Nepal is often underestimated, but they are a vital part of the trekking and climbing community.
- The porters have been a significant part of the trekking and expedition industry in Nepal since its inception. Nepal would not have been able to host the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit each year if it were not for their assistance. In fact, according to the International Porter Protection Group (IPPG), more than 40,000 people work as porters in Nepal every year.
- Without porters, many people wouldn’t be able to travel between remote magical villages of Nepal as it would not be possible for them to carry all their supplies themselves.
- On the other hand, having a porter with you on any of your outdoor experiences in Nepal is a luxury that anybody can afford.
- Porters make your journey much more pleasant and comfortable. They vigorously support you with your loads and supplies transferring them from one place to another over a minimum wage.
- When you are enjoying your walk with beautiful views and less bothered about your load, your porter will be there to assure you that your supplies reach your camp in one piece and on time. When you are struggling that steep hill to get over the ridge, these porters simply go past you with a load ten times heavier than your daypack.
- It’s not just the luggage they deal with, they are the only means of transportation to get the necessary supplies to high-altitude lodges and camps including in high mountain expeditions.
- While in Nepal don’t be amazed to find beer, a pool table, heavy batteries, or electric poles at the 5000m camp, in fact, they have been carried by the humans. You would be very stunned to witness these humans carrying double their body weights during Expedition time, be it Everest or any other 8000m peak climbing. They have been appropriately labeled as “ants”.
- Furthermore, these people whom we term “PORTER” and tend to overlook have saved the lives of many during times of crisis. If you look into the history of Nepal's highlands events, you would allegedly witness that these people have saved more human lives than any other mountain professionals. They have carried people to the safe shelter who were severely injured, had broken legs, or got severe altitude sickness. When you don’t have the option of any other means of transportation these people literally stood up for you and the well-being of everyone involved as a team, as a family.
- Without them, it is impossible to think of operating any wilderness activities or expeditions.
- Thus, without their presence, there would surely be fewer adventure tourism activities in Nepal. However, to ensure their participation and their safety it is essential to make sure that their rights are protected and that they are well looked after.
Life of a porter in the Nepal Mountains:
Porters in Nepal mountains:
The life of a porter is not as easy as it seems. Most assume that portering is easy that you carry the load, dump it once you reach the camp, and then relax for the rest of the day. However, reality speaks a different story. The advent of teahouse trekking in Nepal literally eradicated the system of camping treks completely. This basically implies that after they reach the trekking destination they are to seek a basic affordable shelter somewhere at local tea shops. These shelters they use are very popularly known as "Bhatti" in the Nepali language.
During harsh weather, trekkers have the privilege of warming themselves by the hot chimney stove. Whereas, porters hold on to one another as they don’t have the luxury of heating. They wake up earliest in the morning to prepare for their day ahead and start off with a basic or no breakfast. Some just start their day with a cup of simple black tea. On the way, they would most probably stop for a quick lunch, and without much rest, they start off since, as a rule, they are to reach the camp before the trekkers do.
The walking distance varies. However, for trekking in Nepal, the average load they carry can be anywhere between 30 to 40 kg (66 to 88 pounds). On tea house treks it’s most commonly clothing and other necessary gear like oxygen, Gamow bag, etc. Whereas while in camping their load may include camping equipment, luggage, food supplies, and cooking equipment among other things.
But again during the time of the expedition, they have a different story. People have witnessed these porters carrying from 60 to 110 kg (around 240 pounds) out of their own will. This is however very illegitimate but since the porters want to earn more within a short period of time for the sake of their family and their daily livelihood, expeditions open up the door for this big opportunity.
Porters are practically essential to nearly every trekking and mountain-climbing expedition in Nepal. But their work, their dedication, and their efforts are generally overlooked and go unnoticed. While most tend to think of porters as hired hands who are paid very well for lugging stuff, they rarely consider how hard their job involves. They have been known to sleep and eat in a basic facility with not much security from the bone-chilling outside temperature at night.
There are too many agencies as well who are least bothered when it comes to porters' safety and their equipment. Due to the lack of PORTER'S SAFETY consciousness and poor organization, there have been numerous tragedies and mishaps over the years.
Very truly Porters are the real "Behind The Scene Heroes" of the Nepal Adventure Tourism, hardly acknowledged for their role, but without them, it’s impossible to run any mountain adventures. But regardless of what the situation may be these beautiful people are always in a happy mood in their mindful state. They always wear a big SMILE on their face which shields all their grief, sorrows, and hardship. Even though they are extremely exhausted and at their brim of distress yet they will always be there to help you in time of need. They are humans with emotions but they are most of the time treated as machines.
What can be done for the well-being of the Porters:
First and foremost, we must all remember that porters are the foundation of our mountain journey. Without a porter, 95 percent of trekkers will struggle to accomplish any success with their Nepal mountain goals.
What should you basically do once you have decided over going into the magical mountain of Nepal?
- Make sure that you know the legitimate weight determined for the porters in Nepal i.e. 30kg / 66 pounds. Which literally means 15 kg / 33 pounds per trekker. With that in mind, you are to decide on what to bring and what not to do. Your packing makes a lot of difference for the porters when it comes to trekking in Nepal. You should be aptly equipped for the destination you are traveling to and at what time of the year but at the same time minimize unnecessary extras. Comprising your packing more systematized makes it simple for you and more comfortable for the porters.
- If you are traveling by yourself as a FIT (foreign independent traveler) it is highly recommended to travel with at least one local companion. Hire a porter directly from the region you so choose to travel to. This way the money goes directly to him which would also indirectly help the economy. When hiring a porter from a particular region or over someone’s recommendation make sure they are aptly equipped. Ensure they have the portering experience and region knowledge. If you are booked through a Travel Agency you have every right to know if the Agency is providing them with the appropriate equipment, suitable wages, and if they are insured.
- Furthermore, let all get-together and be cautious over their everyday activities – their food, equipment, their shelter, heating system, health problems, etc. We all need to observe their health issues because most of the time they tend to hide their ailments (like AMS). It's due to the fear of getting fired and not getting the wages they were speculating. There have been too many cases where they have a plan in mind with the amount of money they are going to earn from the trip. However, when fear of that expectation is not being met due to sickness they tend to pretend they are doing ok. All this is simply out of their everyday life compulsion.
- Additionally, there have been too many incidents in Nepal where porters get sick or injured or face life-threatening situations. At this time of situation, they hardly get any luxury of rescue or proper medical treatment. The privilege of such a facility is very hierarchical and porters have absolutely no privilege to as such. Even during the incident of demise they hardly receive any compensation from the government or the agencies.
However, Porter's working conditions have improved greatly in Nepal over the years. There have been numerous rules and regulations being laid down by the government and the porter welfare programs for the benefit of the Porters. Furthermore, many travel agencies and organizations like KEEP (Kathmandu Environmental Education Project) are providing porter awareness programs and training for the well-being of the porters.
However, there is still tons of room for improvement in the welfare of the porters. Many porters are still being mistreated and have been overlooked by the agencies, employers (leaders or Sirdars), or the Tea House owners. These people sometimes forget that without these mountain heroes, any adventure trip in Nepal is almost impracticable.
Porters in the mountains are the symbol of endurance and struggle, and one of the reasons why travelers love them is because they remind us about who we really are – they give us life lessons of humility and empathy. They teach us that no matter what goes on in life it has to go on and we must face every challenge that comes our way with a smile.