By LB THAPA FOR ONTOTHEROAD.COM

Nepali tourism came to screeching halt when a powerful earthquake rocked the country on 25 April 2015. The earthquake, which epicenter was below Barpak, Gorkha, hit hard the 14 districts of the country. However, when the Nepali tourism was trying to stand on its feet, Indian trade embargo brought Nepali tourism on the floor. Some economists have concluded that Indian trade embargo caused more damage to Nepali economy than earthquake. Literarily speaking Indian trade embargo has pushed Nepali economy some 10 years back.

Hopefully Nepali tourism will bounce back and hotel entrepreneurs will recover their loss as well. However, there is one group of people, an inseparable part of Nepali tourism, they are always exploited, neglected and trampled. Want to know who they are! They are Nepali porters.  

Walking on high altitude with such heavy load is a difficult task. Photo: mynepaltrekking.blogspotcom
A Nepali porter is crossing a suspension bridge. Photo: dailysignal.com

Nepali porters, perhaps the most important group of Nepali tourism, have always been exploited and awfully ignored. Nepali porters do tough jobs of carrying heavy loads on their backs. They walk on the rough terrain without caring scorching sunlight or chilly cold weather. Nevertheless, they are never acknowledged for their hard work they deserve. Due to lack of an obvious policy on porters and unity among the porters fraternity, they are regularly exploited.

Poverty is the main culprit. Most of the porters in Nepal leave their villages and look for an alternative source of income. Being unskilled laborers, they find an easy way to survive by becoming porters. To become a porter they need no formal training or minimum education. If they are healthy and good stamina, they are eligible to become porters. The porters are always on rush to popular trekking destinations, where job opportunity is plump.

“I leave my village during off season when there is not enough farming works and go to Kathmandu or Pokhara, hoping to get some work. In my absence my wife and two daughters take care of household activities. However, even after spending about six months, carrying tons of loads, I end up with a paltry sum of saving and severe back pains” lamented Dil Bahadur Rana Magar, a porter from Gorkha.

Yet another disappointed porter Krishna Manandhar, 51, has made up his mind to quit this profession and going to India to make better income than working as a porter in Nepal.

“A porter’s job is not only full of difficulties, but it is also hazardous.  Walking on slippery path with heavy loads on the back is always risky. Over the years I have seen many co-porters losing their lives. However, a porter’s death makes no one sad. His load is shared by other porters and the body of the dead porter is left in the bush for the wild animals” said Krishna Manandhar.

High altitude trekking is a challenging task even for many experienced porters. Unceremonious deaths of many porters at the high altitude are not a big surprise. It is taken as a common occurrence among the high altitude load carriers.

If a trekker suffers of high altitude sickness, he/she is brought to the base by the porters, or even a helicopter is called. But a porter does not get such treatment in case of falling sick or meeting an accident. They are left there to heal their wounds.

Dekhu Gharti, 45, a local resident of Nuwakot says: “We porters are responsible for our own misery. We have cut throat competition with each other. As unhealthy competition has prevailed among us, guides and trekking agencies always take advantage of our weaknesses. Sometimes even porters agree to cheat their own fellow porter by sharing his weight. This way the poor porter is sent back, whereas the swindlers pocket his share of wage and smile at their cheat”.

Most of the porters say that guide and the sardar (head of porters) develop understanding and exploit porters. Porters are helpless as there is no one to commiserate with their miseries. Unorganized porters have almost no strength to fight for their rights. In fact, Nepal Trekking, Travels, Rafting Labour Union (NTTRLU) has been set up with a view to protect the rights of the porters. But sadly this organization has largely failed to meet expectations of the porters. The porters do feel as their miseries have no end in sight.

A porter catches his breath during a tedious trek. Photo: ecoclub.com
A picture speaks a thousands words. Photo: www.pinterest.com

Most of the time, porters are not accommodated in the hotels where trekkers and guide stay. The hotel staffs don’t treat porters humanely. Many porters eat their dinner at small hotels and take refuge in nearby caves or shades. Some porters even carry ration with them.

In the recent past, a little consideration has been made for the wellbeing of porters on Annapurna and Langtang area. There is a porter’s House in Khumbu. It is advised to set up a Porter’s House along the popular trekking destinations; so that no porters need to take refuge in caves. We have to wait and see when this ambitious plan will be materialized.

Promod Bhandari started his career as a porter some ten years ago. After spending about one year in the profession he quitted. He changed his profession to become a trekking guide. The profession of a trekking guide is not as difficult as a porter. After having spent five years as a trekking guide, he set up his own trekking shop in Pokhara. He named it ‘One stop Trekking Shop’.

“I have experienced the hardship of being a porter. This is the profession where neither porter earns a decent money or satisfaction. They are exploited and contempt” opined Bhandari.

In recent time, increasing numbers of porters have demanded for insurance. The Labor Union has demanded to pay 200 thousand rupees if a porter dies at the altitude of 17 thousand and 300 thousand rupees if it is above 17 thousand feet. The labor Union has fixed individual porters minimum wage in Annapurna and Sagarmatha regions. Sick and wounded porters should also get the same facilities as trekkers get. However, these demands have yet not been materialized.

The government did introduce Labour Act 2059. Many porters blame that they are not paid the wages and benefits as per Labour Act 2059. The Labour Act 2059 has the provision to provide one pair of shoes suitable to walk on icy trails, one jacket, one blanket and a pair of gloves. But many porters don’t have any idea of such provision and therefore they never demand such facilities. Due to illiteracy, poverty and lack of unity, porters have become an easy target of exploitation.

In order to improve the prestige of Nepali tourism in the eyes of the world, porters’ exploitation must be stopped outright. The government must take porters issue seriously. Immediate orders must be issued to all the trekking agencies for providing adequate facilities to porters. Moreover, porters’ complaints should be taken with due attention and a prompt action should be taken without further delay. 

LB Thapa, the blogger

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