The leading lines of a mule train in Nepal

Ailsa of Where’s my backpack hosted yet another mind racing travel theme this week called “leading lines”. I thought long and hard about this topic and couldn’t think of anything to post. Yet this morning laying in bed I got a voila moment. Yes, the leading lines of the infamous mule trains of the Nepalese Himalayas! So here it is….

Map of Annapurna Trek.
Source: Google Maps

If I sit here now and close my eyes, I can see and hear it now. The soft, melodic jingling of the bells and the passing of the mule trains. In a magical mountainous country where roads are few and mountains occupy over 64% of the total land, mules are the primary source of transportation of people and goods. Like trucks in the States, mules carry much needed supplies to the remote villages throughout this breathtaking Himalayan country.

Passing through a remote village along the Annapurna track in Nepal.

In a highly impoverished country in which 55% of population live below the international poverty line of US $1.25 per day (UNICEF 2000-2009 figures) and less than half the women are literate (48.3% women, 73% males are literate per CIA World Factbook 2010 census), these mule trains are sometimes the only food and supplies that get into the most remote parts of the country.

Mule trains heading up the steep slopes of the Annapurna trek. Usually they are in groups of 20-30 with one herder.

The further and further I trekked inside the Annapurnas, the more I realized how unbelievably remote it was. Over 82% of Nepalese live in rural villages that are only accessible by foot. That means schools, health facilities and goods are usually days away. These mule trains are many Nepalese only supplies that often take days to reach their villages.

Along with the mules, there were also sheep trains. Sheep herders would move their sheep from village to village trying to make a sale. I also saw men carrying a cage full of chickens on his back. He would start out hiking early with 8-10 chickens, for up to 8 hours, and would only return to his village once he had sold every chicken. Rough way to make a living.

What inspired me the most about Nepal was the utter resilience of its people. They always walked along the steep, rugged trails often wearing flip-flops and old, hand-me-down western cloths. They didn’t have the latest hiking gear like we tourists did. They had nothing in comparison monetarily like we did. However, they had one thing that most of us didn’t: Resilience and the strength to fight adversity. The life of a rural Nepalese villager is a hard one. They are poor, hungry and lack education. But one thing they do have that can never be taken from them is their dignity and will to survive.

Entering a remote village in Nepal that caters to trekking tourists (note the bakery on the lefthand side of the photo). The mule trains continue…

Mule trains passing the tea house we spent the night in while a Nepalese woman watches them pass by.

Mule trains taking a rest for the night, right outside my window at the tea house.

By day eight of our hike, we had reached the highest point of our trek: Thorung-La at 5416m/17,769 ft, the highest point I’d ever been in my life. The oxygen was low, it was cold and barren. There was nothing at all even remotely nearby except the dirty, cold teahouse where we’d spent a rough, sleepless night crammed with hundreds of other trekkers.

At 3 am, we rose to make the final ascent over Thorung-La. I had maybe two hours of sleep and was already freezing cold wearing everything I had inside my backpack. As a long line of trekkers climbed the steep edge of the trail in complete darkness save for a sliver of moonlight and the dotting lines of headlamps winding up the mountain, I heard the telltale jingling of the mule trains. The mules who brought all our food and supplies to one of the remotest places on earth. I couldn’t believe it.

They were heading down the low trail back to civilization: The village of Muktinath and then two more hours walking to Jomson where there was an airport out and back into the world. I thought about the mule trains and their importance in this Himalayan world. They have brought life to these people for centuries. Now if they can only bring hope for a better life.

Mule trains heading over the path and moving hours down to the nearest village, Muktinath.

Nepal Facts and Statistics (per Save the Children):

Population: 29,890,686
Child Death Rate: 50 per 1,000
Infant Death Rate: 43 per 1,000
Life Expectancy: 68 Years
Poverty Rate: 25%
Underweight Children: 39%
Human Development Rank:157
Maternal Death Risk: 1 in 80
Girls’ Education: 8 Average Years in School
Clean Water Access: 89%

To read more entries to the travel theme, click here.


    • Thank you so much for your comment! I remember when I got home to the airport in the States and after only three weeks I couldn’t believe how new and clean everything was. There were clean nice toilets (not squat) and drinkable water and electricity. It hit so close to home and made me feel incredibly guilty. Hopefully I can continue to give back to those who have less yet more maybe in other ways.

  1. What an experience that must have been. I really hope to make that trek myself some day. And the insight into Nepalese daily life in those mountains was very interesting. I didn’t realize they had such high levels of poverty and illiteracy. I have to admit, I’m pretty ignorant regarding that region of the world (at least in comparison to others). Thanks for sharing, Nicole!

    • You definitely should! It was life changing but then again you have already done a lot of life changing things yourself in the last year. I’ve traveled all my life yet Nepal was that one place that struck a special chord in my heart. Seeing the poverty changed me and made me change my viewpoint on life and how I would to pursue it. I didn’t know much about it either until I spent three weeks there myself. Its a big world out there with so much to see and learn! 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment! Where do you live in India? I really would love to someday explore it more. As for blogging, I am a stay-at-home mother of two children. They are 5 and 7. I usually write a bit early in the morning, then a bit more in the afternoon while they are playing and again at night. I worked for several years in business but once I had children I was able to choose to stay at home. I feel very fortunate to be able to pursue my dream! On another note, I also write for a blog WORLD MOMS BLOG and we have an Indian writer who I adore, The Alchemist. You should check here out. I also love Madhu from The Urge to Wander, another Indian from Chennai. 🙂

      • Yes ! , i am blogging about the books i’ ve read and the movies i loved to discuss . I am an Engineering Graduate and just started the blogging .

        But , i love to blog it in my regional language ” Gujarati ” , as i love my language the most – my mother tongue –

        so , if you visit it , you may not understand it , but still i insist you visit it once .

        Bye . .

  2. Wonderful photos, Nicole, that one of the mules passing by the tea house is really beautiful. I have an amazing image in my mind of you trekking by the light of the moon. What an adventure.

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