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….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nepal Facts and Statistics (per Save the Children):
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.