Main navigation:
Main content:

Friday, April 16, 2010

My First Trek: The Interplay of Culture and Cuisine

I lived in Nepal for five years, have done over 50 treks there, and organized hundreds of treks for thousands of our travelers there. The seed for all of that was planted when I undertook my first trek there in 1972. It was a formative life experience, to say the least, and many memories from that trek are indelibly imprinted in my soul. One of the more amusing experiences relates to the meeting of two different cultures and cuisines.

The Annapurna Circuit was getting upwards of 100,000 trekkers annually by the mid-90s, but in 1972 I was one of only 600 or so trekkers on the trail. In those days, there were very few trekking lodges along the trail, and many of them were informal to the point of not even having a sign board. The ‘tea house trekking’ style of travel was a natural metamorphosis of foot travel in Nepal that had existed for centuries before foreigners ever showed up. Virtually all Nepalis who traveled did so for trade or pilgrimage. When a Nepali arrived in a village and was unable to reach the next village before dark, he could assume that he would be taken in by a local family, and provided with dinner, a choice spot by the fire to sleep, and a cup of tea in the morning. The cost for such service was either a nominal sum, or simply stories from places up and down the trail that the hosts might never see in person. When foreign trekkers began arriving in the 1960s, the same custom continued and evolved first into informal B&Bs and eventually trekkers’ lodges.

My third night on the trail I stayed at a home inhabited by a mother and her son, whom I estimated to be about five years old. My Nepali was rudimentary at best, but included important dietary words like rice, curry, and tea. On waking the next morning, the son came to my bedside and asked if I’d like a cup of tea. I accepted his offer, and had my first experience of a Nepali favorite called ‘bed tea.’ To my surprise, he served me what’s commonly called Tibetan tea, which is made with rancid butter and salt. The more common Nepali tea is brewed with milk and sugar.

After finishing my first ever cup of Tibetan tea, I got up and packed up my sleeping bag. The mother then appeared from the family’s bedroom and asked me if I’d like a cup of tea. I gladly accepted, and was now given a cup of the much more familiar Nepali tea. The first sip had barely reached my stomach when I experienced what the source of a volcano must feel like. The two teas agreed to disagree in my stomach, and I lurched for the door to avoid vomiting inside their kitchen. The mother knew immediately what had happened and set about scolding her son for, I assume, having given me the wrong tea earlier or for not having told her he’d done so. With limited Nepali language and hand gestures and facial expressions, I reassured the mother that everything was okay, I wasn’t sick or upset with them, and things immediately returned to normal.

I’ve since had countless other cross-cultural experiences in Nepal and elsewhere, and count them as some of the greatest treasures in my life. I feel fortunate to have been able to introduce so many of our travelers, and their hosts, to similar experiences that help us to realize that understanding different cultures can bring richness and depth to our lives. It’s still the primary reason that I continue my travels today.

~Steve Conlon
Above the Clouds

Share |

Post a Comment

No Account Needed! To post a comment without any kind of account, you can type in a name or nickname and an email (which is not displayed) then select “I'd rather post as guest.” We’d love to hear from you!

comments powered by Disqus

Related Posts

It is the combination of mountains and people that have long made Nepal one of the most treasured adventure travel destinations on the planet.

Check Out Our Sample Nepal Itineraries:

  • The Forbidden Kingdom of Mustang

    • Come explore what the Dalai Lama has called the last bastion of living Tibetan Buddhism.

  • Trekking Everest

    • The valley leading to Everest (also called the Khumbu) offers a variety of treks ranging from one week to three, all providing wonderful exposure to the indigenous Sherpa culture and access to the biggest mountains on earth.

  • Trekking Manaslu & Tsum Valleys

    • Nestled into the base of the Himalayas, these valleys are located close to the major hubs of travel in Nepal but are also not frequently visited. With lots of trekking and heli-trekking options, this is area is prime for adventure!

  • Trekking East Nepal

    • Remote, rarely traveled and absolutely beautiful! This corner of the Himalaya boasts fabulous views, tribal villages and unique experiences that can be done in a week or up to a month.

Check Out Our Other Destinations Too!