Sunday 19th March 2017
From the challenge of climbing mountains to the challenge of management, Gelu Sherpa explains what it’s like being a trekking guide and Operations Director for Volunteer Society Treks Nepal.
Bearing a last name that’s synonymous with trekking in Nepal, Gelu Sherpa certainly lives up to it: he’s been working as a trekking guide all over Nepal and Tibet for fifteen years, after growing up in the shadow of the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest.
Gelu Sherpa comes from Solukhumbu, the high altitude region around Everest that’s home to Nepal’s famous Sherpa people. “Most Sherpa work in the trekking line, and most of my family work with trekkers,” he explains, “When I was young, we young boys trek around Solukhumbu … now I trek around all of Nepal.”
Ajamber, the Communications Manager in the VSTN office, looks up from his desk: “Did you know that Sherpa people don’t get altitude sickness? It was proven by medical scientists, you can look it up on google!”
“Is that true?” turning back to Gelu, I look for confirmation, “You never get altitude sickness?”
“Yes, only a little headache sometimes, but no sickness,” He confirms with a smile. Over the generations Sherpa people, like the Tibetans to the north, have adapted to life at extreme altitudes. Most of Solukhumbu’s villages lie at around 3500m above sea level, a height that can already cause problems for foreign trekkers.
“For trekkers in Nepal, guides are very important,” Gelu continues, “If there are any problems, anything happens, the guide will help. Guides are trained and hold government licenses, and also have different types of training: first aid, mountain sickness, culture, history, different things.”
“For fifteen years I’ve been a trekking guide for different companies. I like very much to do trekking because I can meet many different peoples from many different countries, and they all have different experiences. Every group has so many nice stories. Til this time I did 15 years of trekking, and most of the time there was very good weather, not any problems.”
“It sounds like you’ve had very good luck!” I point out.
“Yeah, yeah no big problems, nothing serious happened. Not only to the tourists, but also with the other staff and porters, nothing serious has happened.”
“What’s the hardest part about being a tour guide?”
“The hardest is … to communicate with others. And then … to know the name of places, name of mountains and heights, to know altitude sickness. There is a lot to know, a lot to remember.”
“Communication is hard. Some of the tourists from Europe, they are young and speak good English, but the older ones …” Gelu grimaces a little but turns it into a wide grin, “I worked with a German group too, so I can speak some German. Not fluently, but just for trekkers and hiking. Sometimes it’s necessary because the older people don’t speak English, so I need some other language to communicate with them.”
“You’ve been a manager now in the VSN office for about nine years, right?” Gelu nods, “Which do you prefer, being a trekking guide or a manager?”
“Both. Because I miss a lot of walking in the mountains when I’m managing, but managing is also a challenge. I want to do something challenging, and something different. It’s human nature, to want the challenge.”
“What do you hope to achieve now as a manager?”
“I want to make our trekking different from others, with the volunteering. And I want to have more tourists, then when we earn money some parts of it can be spent on housing orphan children or on women’s literacy, and all these things we want to do that can make a difference for others.”
“We have a lot of poor people in Nepal, and they don’t have education. Education is very important, and that is a part tourists can help with; when they travel with us, part of their money goes to supporting education for local people.”
“That’s a great ambition. One final question: where is your favourite place to visit?”
Without pausing for breath, Gelu replies “Pokhara. Because there is a lake, mountains, everything is green … I also love mountains, I love to walk in the mountain areas, but the lake is something so different.”
It seems clear that Gelu is no sheep when it comes to exploring Nepal and developing Volunteer Society Treks. Searching for what’s different and what’s challenging, is something that makes his work and VSN stand out from the rest.
Written by Becky Carruthers