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How Should You Choose Your Trek Operator

 

 

Read On !! as by the end of this blog, you will know how to operate your own treks and plan your self organized treks, and if not, at least estimate the cost by yourselves and then start comparing operators on the basis of cost and various other important factors involved in a Himalayan Trek.

 

Why this blog at all ? That too from a TREK OPERATOR, revealing his job secrets ??

Well there are reasons..

 

Firstly, that itself is the difference. Educating trekkers and serving to the community of trekkers in our country is our foremost intention. If you browse our site throughout, you will get enough evidences of our motives. We ourselves like to travel with educated, self aware, knowledgeable and respectful travelers. On the other hand, we also promote self supported treks.

 

Secondly, often people compare us and mostly because of the price we offer for a smaller group. Sometimes high, and sometimes too low when compared to the 'so called market standard' Thanks to some big operators taking huge groups into the peaceful Himalayas banking on the 'makes it easy' mentality of the trekkers. So here we thank those who asked us this question and let us clarify. On the other hand, we thought we need to put it up for those who don't ask us and make an opinion

 

Let me clarify straight away that this blog is not about US. Its a general blog in which I am trying to help answer a question on How to choose a trek operator with lots of option these days in the market. Some even do not have the basic qualification to run a organization like that, and this includes some big old organizations as well !!  Sadly our country has NO REGULATION on this.  

 

As far as we ( Himalayan High ) are concerned, I can say that we are more efficient and given the size of the batch which other operators take to the mountains, we need not work for rest of the year if we just operate 5 - 6 batches on that price !! But the fact is, WE WONT DO THAT. Our principle is different. We are not here for VOLUME, as for volume you will get lots in our country and we do not need another Himalayan High to add to that. We are here for Quality. A Quality Himalayan Experience definitely does not come with a bigger group size. Well, that's for our part.. lets come out of it and talk further

 

Thirdly, we are not against comparison, but against PRICE being the only factor of comparison between any two operators. Sadly, in the present scenario, that's the TRUTH. Tired of answering this question again and again, on call or email, I thought I did better write on it, and with it, I can also raise awareness a bit.

 


 

So how will I do it ?? Its a complex topic after all..

... and when you are travelling you DO NOT want to put your head into these things, right ? But you need to..  as planning is a very interesting part of any journey..  because everything easy fades away sooner !! and as much as you involve yourself, you will make it further interesting and memorable.

Before getting started, I think I need to give you all an idea of the various cost factors which are involved to operate a trek in the Indian Himalayas. To be transparent, I will also mention a price range for these cost heads so that you can work out the approximate cost by yourself too !!

Prior to that, I will also try to justify if I am at all the correct person to talk on this topic.

 


 

My Experience Of Operating Treks In The Himalayas

It might sound bit off for me talking about this without you knowing if I at all qualify to talk on this topic . So I think here, I need to say I have some adequate experience of operating treks in the Himalayas to enable me to talk on it. Infact, I just love operating a trek and making it efficient.
  1. While initially I used to trek in a self arranged trek with friends, we used to manage everything by ourselves. Some of us used to handle accounts and payments, some with equipment, some with local resourcing and some with ration, fuel and vegetables, etc. This was way before the THIRD PARTY ORGANIZED TREK CULTURE even started in our country. A time when the people of the mountains knew only Bengalis and Marathis or Foreigners as trekkers in India. ( this does not mean others did not trek though. It was concluded such because of the volume of the people the locals saw in the mountains )
  2. Since I had a knack of operations apart for loving trekking and mountaineering, I liked operations part of it very much. Watching "The Conquest Of Everest" made me love it further. A black and white documentary of the first successful climb of Mount Everest which was a result of multiple failures and tremendous efforts by each individual in different areas of the expedition rather than just arriving and climbing like we do now. My this interest made me pay a lot of attention in the ways the courses of Nehru Institute Of Mountaineering or Himalayan Mountaineering Institute are conducted. I learned a lot from them. We are taught expedition planning too !
  3. When I trekked on my own, unguided, I needed to take care of all of the things by myself. That threw a lots of light on the minute areas of planning which probably goes unnoticed with other major things, but becomes a matter of life and death when confronted with a diverse situations. 
  4. My natural affinity for the local people make me very friendly with them and I have learned a lot by interactions with them. They are the masters of this game !! While working for Indiahikes, we were instructed not to mingle with the locals and keep a distance. However, me not following their idea made me their friends and they loved to work under me, which further made me a successful operator compared to the rest. I am still friends with all of them and that's a part of me !! the person I am, and no employer should even demand to change that. It feels good when I get a call from far Kashmir or some corners of Uttrakhand and Sikkim seeking information on how am I and checking my good health and life.
  5. When I worked with Indiahikes, I handled a major part of their operations on the field. This was perhaps my great experience where I could use my previous experience and test myself. I excelled and was very happy with myself. To their surprise, I knew everything from before, and most importantly, did not require their meaningless training on this field. Meaningless, because it is taught by those who weren't related to this field or were mere followers of instructions. I improved their system and made it efficient a lot !! The first thing I did significantly was to start with paper work and make everyone responsible !!  To my surprise, that simple work had never been done before !! Before I joined they were in a mess with the locals everywhere from Kashmir, to Uttrakhand to Sikkim. I resolved many of their conflict with the local interest single-handedly. A better communication and respect for them was the only requirement which I showed towards them, to resolve the issues and turned the business into a profit making machine again. As soon as I took over, the profit doubled and with that, the experience of the trekkers improved too !! I was perhaps the only Trek Leader who worked with them without undergoing through their meaningless screening procedure and was selected straight away, just by my CV, experience and command of the details in this field. With my operations expertise, I gave them profit percentages as high as 73% when I was just asked to deliver 70%. On the other hand, my operations gave the locals bonuses and equalized post operation tips as well which never had been the case before !! It used to go to some few pockets and missing accounts. The staffs were so happy for being treated equally !! So you know, its not just about making profit, but to do it with respect for locals and high work ethics. 
  6. Its been a while I am running the operations for Himalayan High and all my experiences are being used in it. I am still learning. The most funny part these days are calls from some other new operators asking me what to quote to their clients and how to work out the task on the ground !!

 


 

Various Cost Heads Involved In Operating A Trek In The Himalayas

Operating a trek in the Himalayas requires immense knowledge of the field. Few people might talk a lot about the amount of work involved in running a trek and even post photos on social forums, but let me tell you. Its more planning than work. For work, you have various hands, but if the work is not following a plan, than things can turn into a mess, and in return EXPENSIVE to cover for the mess created by the planner. With that said, I want to draw you attention to the planner, his knowledge of the field, expertise of the sport and most importantly his EXPERIENCE - which has no supplement !! 

So here is the list of cost heads which are required for to operate a trek. All the fields mentioned might not be required for all the trek and this is just a guide to make an approximation.

 

Hotel Expenses:
250 to 1000 per day, per head. Mostly in price is between 300 - 600 for just lodging alone. Uttrakhand being the cheapest and Manali, Ladakh being on the expensive side.
 
 
Guide Fees:
700 to 1400 per day. Himachal and Ladakh being on the higher side. Rates are higher for peak treks above 6000 meters and range from 2000 - 3000. You need to pay for their transport as well. Usually operators in India just have a single guide whatever the team size be. Even 30+ Some even suggest not to hire a guide and manage by the cook. So, for example, for a 7 day trek, if the guide cost is 5600, a team of 5 shares the cost and per head cost becomes - 1120 for the trek. Whereas, for a team of 20, the per head cost becomes just Rs. 280 for the entire trek !! Similar calculation can be used for all the local resources used on a trek.
 
 
Cook Fees:
600 to 800 per day, higher for difficult treks 1000 - 1200. You need to pay for their transport as well. One cook is ok for the entire team. For a bigger team, he needs to be supported by a helper
 
 
Helpers for Cook:
500 - 600 per day, difficult to find and higher rate for difficult treks 700 - 900. You need to pay for their transport as well. Number of helpers depends on the group size. One helper for a team less than 8, 2 for more than 8 and 3 for more than 15. 3 should be enough
 
 
Trail helper or sweeper:
500 - 600 per day, difficult to find and higher rate for difficult treks 700 - 900. You need to pay for their transport as well. Usually very few hire these important helper on the trail and leave the task on the single guide and a confused trek leader. Hence, we read stories of being left out alone on the route.. the trek leader and guide takes the blow for a complain. But the actual culprit is the irresponsible cost saving mentality of the planner.
 
 
Trek Leader:
most underpaid profession in our country. justified fee can be from 1000 - 2000 for easier treks and 2000 - 5000 per day for difficult and remote treks. On the other hand, trek leaders must be responsible, be technically sound and operationally expert. They should be able to take their own decision when situation demands to bring the team out of a bad situation. Very few are. Else most of them like the designation more than the responsibility part of it. They follow and depend on the guide for the matters of the field. Mostly because of their lack of experience and knowledge. In that case, its better to have 2 guides in a team with 2 different roles, rather than a trek leader who is kept there just to talk about the brand and preach the brand name with his soft skills..
 
Also rethink, if you are a experienced trekker and actually confident of yourself or your group, do you really want to spend on a trek leader ?? Why don't you be self dependent ?? and hire only those services from a reliable operator which you actually require ?? like guide, porter, equipment, etc
 
 
Ration and fuel:
depends on the type of food you have on the trek. any amount between 200 - 350 is good one. more food means more weight and more people to ferry it. Porters eat more for the work they do. So do calculate that in the price too !! They will eat simple food but double or even tripple the quantity of a normal trekker. Your food cost should also count the cost of food of the staffs as well.
 
 
Equipment Cost:
equipment usage has a cost. Better the equipment, more the safety and comfort. more the cost. The cost depends on the number of days the equipment will be used till it returns to the base again. The group divides the cost of the common equipment. Individual equipment like sleeping, mattress, etc can cost between 150 - 250 per day. The common equipment can have a cost of 500 - 1500 per day, depending on what you hire or is required for the trek. Bigger team does not mean the equipment cost increases by a huge amount. On the other hand, a small team does not mean u just require tents and sleeping bags !! Basic set of equipment is required for any team irrespective of team size. A smaller team of 5 trekkers pays about Rs. 180 per head, per day. Whereas, as team of 20 pays about Rs. 60 per head, per day for the common equipment.
 
 
Equipment Movement:
Equipment movement has a cost and the operator will bring it out from the group itself. Here reduction of transportation cost requires efficiency.
 
 
Camping Equipment Load Ferry:
this happens through mules, horses, yaks or porters. cost per day is between 450 - 600. Mules carry more weight ( 40 - 50 kg, ethically ) but cannot negotiate a technical or semi-technical trek. Porters carry not more than 20 kg and can negotiate technical treks. However, a cost of food and transport is associated with them. While, 4- 5 mules will have a single mulesman. If you are running a porter heavy trek, do keep the food cost at a bit higher number
 
 
Baggage Offload:
if you are offloading your load, it adds up to the cost. Usually a porter can take 2 bags upto 20 kgs. Mules can carry more bag.
 
 
Permits and Camping:
Most of the treks wil have these forest and camping charges. Camping charges are usually 50 - 100 rs for small tents. Permits are usually 50 rs. per day or 100 rs. overall.. Some treks, even locals need permits. Not all treks requires this
 
 
Transport:
the cost required to reach the base camp and leave the end point. Mostly it is left to the individual to sort out for himself. You can reduce this cost by using public buses and shared vehicles. You also have the choice to hire a chartered vehicles for yourself. It will be expensive, but be comfortable and personal.
 
 
Miscellaneous Expenses:
you should always have it included. can range between 5000 to 10000 depending on the trek and group size.
 
 
Operator Service charge and profit:
Finally, one has opened the business to earn some profit and how much one earns is his/ hers own choice. While some work on 10 - 20 %, some does for 50%, some for 70 - 80 %

 

Now that I have listed the cost heads, its translates the knowledge to you as well so that even you can work out the cost for yourself. If you are an operator, you already know this or for the new ones, you have learnt this now. If you are a trekker dependent on an operator, you know where your money goes.

You should now have a better idea to understand that when you trek in a group of less numbers you need to pay more. But what is the optimum number ??  Let me not debug the cost here and tell you what exactly is the group size required to work on that price which is mostly the same for all of the operators running a Copy Paste business. I leave that up to you. However, for a hint, I can just say that the number is below 10. 

 


 

Now we know that what we generally do is pay either double or tripple to trek in a group of 20 - 30 trekkers. We miss to think that for the same price, we could have gifted ourselves a better experience and carry more of the Himalayas with us on return !!

 

I always feel that, if Himalayas are the reason for you to trek, trekking in smaller groups should always be your most important concern !!

 

If for a HIGH ALTITUDE SOCIALIZING PARTY, then I am not perhaps the best person to even try to attempt answering your questions.

 


 

Finally, How Should You Choose Your Trek Operator

Let me finally come down to the question on hand. Listed below are few points which should also be taken into consideration before you make an opinion of a trek operator !!

  • The itinerary Design: Check if altitude gains has been properly taken care of and the most beautiful points in the region are touched. Recheck of you are finishing the trek too quickly or if you are making it too slow to put more days into the trek. Ask questions to your operator. These are signs of a experienced trekker. You won't go to that location for another time sooner may be !!
  • Number of days on trek. A very important factor for cost calculation. 
  • Compare the group size - A very important factor. You do not want to go for a rave..  you will be going to find serenity in the Himalayas. Witness its magical charm on you. In the process, you want to be safe and being taken care of as well !!
  • Guide to Trekker ratio on the trek. Ask for it, not to the organizers, but on social forums.
  • Knowledge of the region is important, Compare it. Call the operator and speak to them. Check their website to find out their knowledge and views on the sports.
  • Expertise of the sport is important too !! Enquire for it. Check if the trek leader has adequate qualifications and practical experiences. 
  • Be careful !! Neither the website nor do people in office working from their cities run the treks. The trek leaders and the local staffs does it on the field. Nobody owns them !! 
  • Ethical Practices: Bigger the group, more unethical it tends to be.
  • You have a responsibility too !! Towards the environment.. Towards the next generation. Don't play a role ( unknowingly perhaps ) in harming the ecology. If you can, always travel ECO - Friendly. No Doubt !!  Smaller group is the first step towards travelling in a eco-friendly way. Your responsibility does not stop there.  Try to create a negative impact wherever possible by doing some clean up as well.

 

THE ABOVE POINTS ARE NOT ABOUT CHOOSING ONE OPERATOR IN PARTICULAR, BUT A GUIDE ON DECIDING WHOM TO CHOOSE AS YOUR TREK OPERATOR AND ON WHAT FACTORS SHOULD YOU CHOOSE THEM RATHER THAN JUST CHOOSING ON THE BASIS OF PRICE 


 

Further Reads:

Be Responsible. Trek In Smaller Groups

Impact Of Trekking On The Environment

Leave No Trace - Camp Eco Friendly - Camping Etiquettes

Making A Low Impact Camp Fire In Your Himalayan Treks

 

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View User Profile for Suman A Loyal Himalayan Lover, Trekker, Mountaineer, Photographer and Researcher. A Computer Science Engineer by education and Ex. Software Developer for the IT companies. He has learnt from mistakes and not from books - His Own, his friends, whom he met and lots of other trekker friends whom he lead for treks deep and high in the Himalayas. Having born and grown up in the lap of the Himalayas, playing with different elements of the Himalayas, its undoubtedly his best friend. Having said that, he is very biased, protective and caring of the Himalayas. Few of his friends say he is strict, in following rules and safety practices on a Himalayan trek. That's very true. It has come from the practical teachings by the Mighty Himalayas and he takes no chances, specially when he is leading a group.

He is the founder of Himalayan High and with it, his intentions are much bigger, wider and future thought, as a step to preach responsible trekking and make trekking sustainable, pass on this beautiful sport to the next generations. Learn more about Himalayan High on About Himalayan High

Posted by Suman Chowdhury Thursday, May 12, 2016 11:59:00 AM
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