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The History of Trekking in Nepal

Luxury Camping trek, Himalayas

The word trek was adapted from the Afrikaans word trekken, which means to haul or pull. So the Dutch settlers of South Africa spoke it. It means a long, challenging journey.

The Nepalese had always been walking to get anywhere in this mountainous nation for several centuries.

Enchantment with the mountains has existed in humankind for as long as it can be remembered. Nepal’s trekking history began with mountaineers’ teams who came on expeditions to climb the majestic peaks. Nepal became known as a trekkers’ paradise when British adventurer Bill Tilman managed to get permission from the then King to go on several treks in 1949. He explored the Kali Gandaki, Helambu, and Everest regions. Maurice Herzog was another early visitor of Nepal. He led a successful French mountaineering expedition on Mount Annapurna 8091m. The Americans in 1950 and the British in 1951 led mountaineering expeditions to Mount Everest.

Colonel Jimmy Roberts, a retired Gurkha Officer and a Military Attache at the British Embassy in Kathmandu saw great potential in trekking as a business. He had spent a great many years hiking in the hills of Nepal. He even accompanied Tilman on his first exploratory trek. As a result, Jimmy Roberts founded Mountain Travel, Nepal’s first trekking company, in 1964, giving birth to Nepal’s mountains’ commercial adventures. His idea was revolutionary for that era.

The trekking expeditions were done in a fully supported camping style. The clients were accompanied by a Western leader and a Sherpa support team from a Sirdar (foreman), his assistants, a cook, kitchen boys, and numerous porters to carry all the camping equipment and food.

This trekking style in Nepal made it a luxurious experience and possible for a more adventurous to whom the price was no object of visiting Nepal in ‘comfort.’ Mountain Travel remained Nepal’s only trekking company until 1968. The first commercial trekkers were three American ladies who were expatriates in Calcutta. These ladies were a sporting trio of enthusiasts, according to Jimmy Roberts. He was joined by Mike Cheney and Dawa Norbu Sherpa at Mountain travel.

Sir Edmund Hillary stated, “Nepal is the only country in the world which is also one of the world’s great trekking paradises and one of the nicest countries in the world for trekking.”

His overseas pioneer partners were Allen Steck, Barry Bishop, and Leo LeBon from the U.S.A and Australian Warwick Peacock, the owner of “Ausventure.” They began to send clients regularly from their respective nations to trek in Nepal.

Mountain Travel became an inspiration for other tourism entrepreneurs when their business prospered; this was the beginning of more trekking and adventure companies starting in Nepal. Trekking is popular as it is less taxing physically than mountaineering.

It was not easy in those days, but they managed to lure the rich and the famous into this mysterious and remote Kingdom with vivid imagination and creativeness. Despite the disadvantages of using telegram, crackly telephones, Nepal became trendy, and a sought after destination for the American and European adventurers.

Nepal became a regular visiting destination for superstars and celebrities as they could enjoy privacy in the peace of the mountains of Nepal and away from the media coverage.

At Responsible Adventures, we have been working on innovative and pioneering ideas to keep this tradition alive to provide exceptional experiences to the trekkers who value their trekking vacation.

Some quotes from our pioneering forefathers of tourism in Nepal,

“I would rather handle half as many tourists with each spending twice as much,” was Jim Edwards’ mantra. Moreover, Jimmy Roberts used to rue: “Why are we selling our beautiful mountains so cheap?”