Boasting the world’s highest mountain range – the Himalayas – as well as pristine lakes and mighty rivers, Nepal is blessed with a wealth of natural beauty. The country is also a unique cultural melting pot that fuses Hindu and Buddhist traditions, where numerous ethnic groups live alongside one another. It’s unsurprising that Nepal is a number one bucket-list destination for many backpackers, travellers and adventure seekers.
As such, tourism forms the backbone of Nepal’s economy. In 2018, more than one million visitors entered the country, including over 90,000 tourists from the US and over 60,000 from the UK. Many were embarking on trekking holidays, paying big money for guided trips on classic trails like the Annapurna Circuit or to reach the iconic Everest Base Camp.
Life as a porter
This lucrative trekking industry is built on the backs of local porters, who support the trekking trips and expeditions by hauling crippling loads of up to 100 kg for as little as $15 a day. The porters pay for their own food and accommodation while on the route. They are utterly reliant on tourist tips at the end of the trips for survival. A generous client might give them up to $200. Some will give them nothing.
Their lives are rarely publicised. Unlike the equally hard-working Sherpas, the high-altitude porters who support summit expeditions, the lower-level porters receive little recognition. Many porters come from other Nepalese ethnic groups such as the Tamang.
In March 2019, American college graduate Nate Menninger lived with Tamang porters, becoming one of the first non-native porters to aid an expedition. He taught himself their language, Nepali, and asked them to treat him as they would one of their own.
The Porter film
He hoped to raise awareness of their working conditions and poor pay. The resulting film details his experience as a porter on an 11-day trek from Lukla, about 9,400 feet above sea level, to Everest Base Camp (altitude 17,600 feet) and back.
Menninger lost 20 pounds during the trek. Using a head strap called a namlo, he set out carrying about 25kg, adding more weight every day or two. On the 11th and final day of the trek, Menninger carried 100kg for one section of the route – an impressive feat, but not particularly unusual load for the porters.
“There are hard jobs all around the world,” Menninger says. “This is just one. It’s a job that’s very necessary for the environment. It’s just [unfortunate about] the way that they’re paid. I’m not trying to say their work is bad. In fact, a lot of the people are proud of it. They’ll say, ‘How much do you carry?’ That’s a huge thing. Just like on an athletic field: ‘How much are you lifting? How fast are you running?’ You can be very proud of that, but you should just get compensated fairly, I believe. And this isn't fair.”
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