This article was written in collaboration between Rath Jessen & Henry Rohmer.
Complete with jagged peaks, fathomless gorges, an extensive variety of flora and fauna, and a unique climate, the Himalayas are the greatest mountain range in Asia. In the region, 110 peaks rise to elevations of 24,000 feet above sea level, including the highest peak in the world, Mount Everest, which exists in a realm of perpetual snow. The mountains run uninterrupted for about 1,550 miles between India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, and Nepal, dividing the Plateau of Tibet to the north and the alluvial plains of the Indian subcontinent to the south.
For thousands of years, the Himalayas have been profoundly important to the peoples of southern Asia. Since pre-recorded times, the boundless and glaciated heights have attracted pilgriming mountaineers of India, who coined the Sanskrit name Himalaya, from himal and aya which translates to endless/eternal snow and place/adobe. Nowadays, the Himalayas offer the world’s greatest challenge to mountaineers across the globe.
Historically there has not been an efficient or easily accessible way to travel through the Himalayas and interact with the many people who reside in the mountains. There was no system where travelers could simply head into the Himalayas and move from town to town while learning from lesser-known cultures and communities – other than to embark on intensive mountaineering conquests – that is, until Robin Boustead started the Great Himalaya Trail.
The Great Himalaya Trail (GHT) is an initiative born of the desire to engage adventurers with the Himalayas and its inhabitants. A captivating motto from the GHT website reads, “The best guide is a local and the kindest place is a home; the essence of travel is the relationship between a guest and their host.” The GHT offers tourists an easy way to educate themselves about the mysterious journey through mountains and their ancient kingdoms, and in doing so find themselves situated in a place of unimaginable beauty.
The trail isn’t biased to one country, and there is no one trail nor one way to do the hike. Robin wanted it to be a network of different ways to walk through the Himalayas and have it connect communities with each other and hikers. The trail also provides an opportunity for the communities economically, as hikers pick up local goods and services along their travels. The backbone of the trail is its network of people – without them, the trail would be nearly impossible. There is no corporate ownership and the GHT itself is not a company, they are adamant that the trail will always belong to the locals.
People have a lot to say about the exceptional trek, and their website reads: “The Great Himalaya Trail is unlike any hike you ever dreamed of.” Some of the reasons it is so spectacular are the “engaging communities, humbling hospitality, inspiring wilderness, [and] spectacular trails.” In other words, they tell you to “just imagine the most amazing adventure you can think of and then make it Himalayan.” Stressed beyond everything else is the people met along the way, as “everyone returns home from the GHT wealthy with tales of epic times, and of people so welcoming that it’s hard to believe.”
The GHT began as an accident of sorts. Robin Boustead wanted to do a journey called the K to K – Mount Kanchenjunga to Mount Kailash – through the Himalayas. However, due to security reasons in response to a free Tibet demonstration on Cho Oyu peak on the Nepalese-Tibetan (Chinese) border, Robin could not get all the way to Kailash, the final destination for his hike. According to legend, the mountain lets you come, you do not choose to go, and this reigned true for Robin but left him inspired. In the following weeks, Robin spent hours producing his first picture book and finalizing a map series. While doing so, the GHT was born.
Network is a keystone phrase here and it keeps responsible tourism at heart. While hiking, you might stumble across people up in the hills living their lives as you roam, as this land is their home. One of the most beautiful aspects of the trail is that you physically cannot do it without the help of the locals. They often give you places to stay and food to eat, but most importantly they teach you an uncommon and effortless instinct to be hospitable. There exists an unprecedented level of generosity among the folks in the mountains.
It is an almost ineffable feeling to receive so much generosity from those who would appear to have so little to give. To them, karma is the ultimate gift one can give to another, but folks need to take responsibility personally, and the desire to help others is paramount in these communities. Robin emphasized that there is a level of entitlement in talking about other people needing to be responsible. In order to work past this, travelers should look inward, releasing their expectations of others. There is also a deep connection with the environment that is shared and subsequently transferred to the hikers. It is a truly inspiring and soul-stirring draw to the trekking experience.
The trail’s income is generated by MyGHTi, pronounced mighty, whose motto reads ‘empower, transform, and regenerate’. The GHT website explains, “MyGHTi is a project born out of years of coordinating tourism along the Great Himalaya Trail. We want to improve the quality of life and liveable environment for communities and individuals in remote villages across Nepal, Bhutan, and India.” The income is put directly into the local economy and gets money out into communities, rather than an individual’s pocket. Outside operational costs, at least 80% of generated money ends up back in the communities that serve the trail with their hospitality, assisting communities to thrive. They receive a way to craft a form of living preservation because they can continue to act as stewards for the region and for the mountain range.
Robin and his mission in the Himalayas embody much more than trekking. His goals extend to all facets of life in kindness, generosity, and an untainted love for nature. He hopes that, through the GHT, people from all walks of life can find what he has in the Himalayas and bring a newfound sense of connectedness back to their home, implementing it into their everyday lives.
The lessons learned along the GHT will inspire, humble, and connect trekkers – all of which are invaluable concepts for someone looking to have a positive impact on their life and the lives of others.
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