Initially, I wasn’t going to write about our trekking experience in Nepal. I wasn’t happy about many aspects of our porter, but I was willing to chalk it up to the luck of the draw when hiring a someone without references upon landing in Lukla. That is until our porter, Karma Sherpa, sent Sheri a particularly nasty message on Facebook. It was difficult to understand because his English is atrocious, but we managed to get the gist of it. In it he makes some reference to the Japanese trekker who died just days after we started our trek, further saying that the Japanese and Chinese are not strong and that Sherpas in the mountains are strong. He goes on to say he doesn’t like Chinese or Japanese and he didn’t think we were good tourists because he says we didn’t tip him. He also included a graphic of a person with a fish head which is a derogatory depiction for Japanese, because they eat a lot of fish. In response to his rather racist message to us, I’m posting his Facebook page and photo here so that others don’t make the mistake of hiring him upon arrival to Lukla.
First of all, let me point out that our porter was just a porter and not a guide, despite what he might claim. Compared to the porter I had on my last trek through the Himalayas, our porter on this trip was inept and unprofessional. Not every person whose name is Sherpa is actually a guide. For the record, he has not attended university, has no formal training as a guide, and has no training to deal with medical emergencies. He was with us for 8 days which included two rest days in Namche Bazaar where he didn’t do much. We paid him for 9 days which amounts to a 12.5% tip, which I felt was generous and much more than he deserved. He wasn’t at all concerned with our health. Not once did he actually ask us how we felt or if the pace was to our liking. During our 8 days, he only carried one 8 kilo bag and did next to nothing as a guide. He didn’t provide any information about our surroundings, explained very little about the culture, history, or even the recent earthquake. Basically, he just carried our bag.
As we hiked, I took notice of how other guides stayed with their clients, usually walking behind them, and explaining about many of the things they were seeing. In fact, the only time we learned anything was when we listened to other people’s guides. Our porter was nearly always far in front of us, quite often out of sight of us. If something happened to one of us on the trail he wouldn’t even know it unless he came back to check. We stopped many times, and only once did he come back to check. That was at a point where the trail took a less than obvious left turn. Furthermore, he was often carrying our water and we would go for quite some time without available water. Karma was only interested in getting to the next teahouse as quickly as possible. We told him that we weren’t in the mountains to have a tour of teahouses. We wanted to enjoy the scenery, take our time and try not to get affected by the altitude. Of course, he didn’t understand what I said because, in reality, his understanding of English was very poor. Our inability to understand his heavily-accented limited English made it difficult to actually communicate.
However, Karma had an ulterior motive too. He queried us about many things to gauge just how much money we had: how big was our house, how many cars do we have, what did we do for a living. Why? Because he was trying to get sponsorship to go to the U.S. or Australia. Once he realized we had no interest in helping him with his travel plans, we became just another client to get up the mountain and back, with the least amount of effort. As someone whose name is synonymous with the Himalayas, Karma is an embarrassment to other Sherpas. I am surprised that his own community doesn’t do more to keep people like this from tarnishing their good name.
There are many independent guides and porters looking for clients at the Lukla airport. Some are actually quite good. However, there’s a reason someone like Karma Sherpa doesn’t work for a trekking agency or company based out of Kathmandu: he is not knowledgeable and those companies value smart guides; he has no formal training and is relying on his Sherpa name; he is lazy and only does the bare minimum necessary for his clients; he is ungrateful, complaining on Facebook that we didn’t tip him when, in fact, we were quite generous given his poor attitude; and finally, he doesn’t have even a basic understanding of good customer service that is vital in such a client-oriented profession. He is typical of people his age who have a misplaced sense of entitlement, as if he shouldn’t have to work his way up to his goals; that the pay and respect he expects should simply be dropped in his lap. And that is why he is not a professional guide.
My recommendation is to contact an agency in Kathmandu and hire a guide through them. You have a much better chance of getting a trained guide. Be sure your guide is already in the mountains as you don’t want to be paying for an additional person on your flight (although it is much cheaper for locals). The other reason you want a guide already in the mountains is that there is less chance of them getting altitude sickness since they are already acclimatized. You might have to pay a bit more going through a middleman in Kathmandu, but your chances of getting a knowledgable guide who is concerned with your welfare are much better.