A General Safety Guide While Traveling/ Trekking in Nepal
Traveling or trekking is a fun adventure if one can fully blend in with his or her destination and has open eyes for the numerous new experiences. While most of the things related to trekking are safe, there are things that can go wrong if approached with a careless and reckless attitude. There is no complete avoiding of the potential risks involved in trekking, but we have to keep in mind about the safety and health precautions. What do you think about the most important thing about traveling? Is it money, time, or destination? I would say a fully functional body that is ready to tackle the ups and downs of the journey. Especially in the case of trekking, the routes, the places we stay, the people we meet might not always satisfy our needs or standards. This requires physical and mental flexibility. One wrong decision can harm you both physically and mentally.
I know, you might have planned to climb through the rough snowy paths of Mt. Everest or Peru's Inca Trail or conquer the Kilimanjaro hill. But, a determination is not the only thing that is going to help you reach your destination. It is very essential that you learn to keep yourself level-headed in most situations. Acting solely on the basis of impulse or anger might put you and your companion's life in danger. Considering these circumstances, we have come up with a simple guide that can prevent several misfortunes for our readers. You don' have to memorize the things written in this article or anything. I would not say the rules or these guidelines are mandatory, but it's better to be somewhat educated on the pros and cons, isn't it? Let's start with some grounding rules or start-up advice before you head towards your next trekking route.
Some Things to Keep In Mind
1. Going on trekking means you will most likely come across some high altitude places. As a matter of fact, you will surely run into such heights once in your journey. The winds are chilly, the roads are slippery due to snow, and you might have to face some untimely rainfall. So, it is absolutely necessary that you have proper clothing for variable climatic conditions. Make sure to pack up warm jackets, mufflers, woolen caps, gloves, raincoat, and a good pair of shoes suited for trekking. Trust me, having to regret later due to poor packing choices kind of sucks out the enjoyment from the tour.
2. Trekking means you will be walking for long distances. Be it snowy weather, rainfall, or scorching heat of sunlight, one must keep moving towards the goal. Some might have the privilege and finances to stop by if the weather doesn't fit their standards, but not all of us have such choices. While traveling, the body excretes fluids in the form of sweat and depending upon the person's health the volume of sweat differs. As such, keeping oneself hydrated is a must. Another mistake most trekkers make is using the water they find while traveling for drinking purposes. Unless you have purification methods like tablets, purifiers, or carbon filters, do not drink water from natural sources. Remember, an upset stomach, later on, can be really troublesome.
3. Let's talk more about the personal hygiene topic, shall we? During trekking or traveling, try your best to not get sick. I mean, no one deliberately likes to get sick, but what I really meant is, do not ignore your personal care routine. A simple habit of disinfecting your hands with sanitizers or soap before you grab your snack can help you in the long run. As we mentioned before, use any type of purification method necessary to clean the water before you put it in your mouth. The water coming from glaciers look very white and clean, but along the way, they might have carried several organisms which are harmful to the human body. Your immunity might prevent you from getting a serious disease, but why take chances?
4. So, you reach the destination and the view from the spot is marvelous. What urges do you feel first? Or you get lost during your adventure and have no one to help you, what is the most essential thing? Yes, it's the communication with your loved one. Sharing joy and pain is the most common reason for communication. As such, carry a mobile device with you always. You never know, when it might come to your aid. There is one problem though; mobile devices almost get helpless in high altitudes due to network problems. But there are places that catch the signal. If you happen to catch the signal at the right time, you will be thankful for carrying that piece of technology in your pockets. Keeping this problem in mind, some people like to carry satellite phones.
5. Okay, you are carefully moving forward and you have all the things mentioned before. Suddenly your feet slip over a big pile of stone covered with snow and you cut your knee. I might be making up scenarios, but these things can actually happen while trekking. For times like these, always carry a first aid kit with you. If it's too heavy, you could divide the items with your group mates. In any case, you have to have a first aid kit with you that includes some disinfectants, bandages, and some commonly useful medicines. The most important thing is moving on and if you halt the progress of your teammates because of your cut and you don't have the necessary treatment, the situation is going to get really awkward.
6. Part of getting closer to nature means you will get exposed to several natural elements to a larger degree. Take the sun, for example, a mild sunbathing after you take your shower might be pleasant, but if you have to take the heat for four hours straight then it might feel a bit too much. And trekking will most likely pose this problem for most of you. Since the favorable climate for trekking is spring, the skies are clearer and there are no clouds to intercept the meeting of the sun's rays with your body. So, what can we do? We can minimize the exposure by applying sunscreen on our face, shading with sunglasses, or a light hat. These small steps will prevent over sweating and chances of developing sunspots in your skin.
7. There are many things that we have started taking for granted the abundance availability in our daily lives. It is still relevant in Nepal, but some people have rarely gone through the difficulty of staying without electricity for hours or for some days. It's not that you don't care, but you have never been in that situation that makes you totally new to such experience. Trekking involves going to remote places and traveling through the dark due to time and other restrictions. Be sure to carry a torch with you. Of course, mobiles have torches, but save your batteries for emergency calls. Also, charging requires electricity.
Things to Consider During Travel
1. While traveling, you will come across different types of animals. Some are wild animals while the majority of them belong to somebody. In high altitudes, animals are used for dairy products, meat extraction, wool, and for transportation. Yes, transportation comes down to one of the major reasons for animal husbandry in the Himalayan region. Due to extreme terrains, it is difficult and dangerous for people to carry their daily life essentials on a regular basis. Instead, they use mules and yaks as support. The thing you must keep in mind during travel is that you always let these animals pass before you. One, these poor animals have more of an urgency to reach the destination that you and another is that they might accidentally bump you off the cliff.
2. Okay, we needed to talk on this matter. I get it, you are on an adventure with your friends or loved ones and the scenery makes you crave for some alcoholic beverages. Well, you just walked for seven hours so drinking might sound reasonable for relaxation purposes. But here is the thing, filling your bellies on alcoholic beverages will dehydrate you from the inside. Stick to low quantities if you just can't resist. You have just exercised the whole day for Christ's sake! Eat a decent and nutritious meal and take plenty of rest. This will make you prepared for the next day. Another thing to keep in mind is that a person has a higher risk of getting altitude sickness above 3000 meters if he or she is dehydrated. So, I would say, moderation is the key here.
3. Trekking requires ascending high altitudes on a daily basis. While this might not sound that much of a problem, you need to give time for your body to adapt to the environment. Getting all hyped up in the initial days and then getting sick due to Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS doesn't seem that courageous to me. Professionals suggest keeping the altitude climbing from 3 to 500 meters vertically in a day. This will provide just enough time for your biology to cope with the changing variables of the surroundings. If it feels like you have walked for a considerable amount of time, just take the day off and rest in the nearby civilization. Enjoy the local foods and give your body proper time to rest. This little advice might raise your expenditure a bit, but your body will thank you in the long run.
4. We have already talked about getting exposed to too much sunlight. If you keep walking in sunlight with no means of rehydrating yourself, you will soon find yourself dizzy due to the loss of glucose. My suggestion, carry some supplements with you that will elevate the nutritional value of your drinks. A Vitamin C additive might help you fulfill your daily requirement of Vitamin intake and provide you the energy for the rest of the journey. In any case, do not dehydrate your body. This might invite other problems if carried on without much thought.
5. Another thing that travelers need to take care of is proper navigation skills. The roads on most of the trekking trails are very confusing and similar. Most of the trails have separate markings for different destinations, but it is not necessary that everyone knows how to read the markings. As such, take a detailed map of the place you are going. If you are comfortable traveling with a compass, then carry a functional compass to help you with map reading. GPS is also an option for not getting lost in these terrains, but the problem is about the network. High altitudes often come in between good GPS services and leave adventurers helpless. In any case, carry enough equipment that will help you find your way in case you get separated from your crew or guide.
Some Specific Diseases That Makes Trekking Difficult
Let's face the facts; there are some things that are way out of our control. Well, I can't hope to go trekking if I am completely blind or have paralysis from my waist down. I don't mean to discourage people with disabilities, but some pieces just do not fit together with no matter how hard we try. For traveling, health is of topmost priority and we should not push ourselves if your bodies do not want us to. There are people with some rare diseases that make them unfit for such extreme sports. I know, it's kind of unfair, but we cannot resist our mortal drawbacks. Here is a list of some diseases that get in the way of traveling or hiking.
1. Sickle Cell Disease: Sickle Cell disease is an unusual kind of disease which can also be seen as a disorder of sort. As we know that the red blood cells in our bodies have an important task of transporting oxygen to several parts of our body. Unfortunately, people with this disease lack the proper functioning of red blood cells. These cells are normally round and flexible and can easily move through the blood vessels, but people having such disorder have sickle or crescent moon shaped blood cells. They get sticky, rigid, and might get stuck in the blood vessels. This means the body parts do not get enough oxygen flow. While trekking, poor flow of oxygen in the body can result in disaster.
2. Pulmonary hypertension: Another disease related to blood is pulmonary hypertension. This disease revolves around the case of high blood pressure. People suffering from this kind of condition have problems on the right side of their heart and the arteries in the lungs. This means the lungs do not get enough blood flow and thus the heart has to work harder to pump blood to this area. All this extra work increases the blood pressure and eventually makes the cardiac muscles weak over time.
3. Obesity hypoventilation syndrome: While trekking or traveling in higher altitudes, it is important for a person to maintain the breathing and thus the oxygen flow in the body. Unfortunately for people with obesity hypoventilation syndrome, this might be a little hard. The disease causes breathing disorders in people, especially in obese patients. For people struggling with this problem, their blood has too much carbon dioxide and insufficient oxygen. Thus, trekking in such a situation might be life-threatening or cause severe health issues.
4. Carotid Surgery: Carotid surgery is also known as carotid endarterectomy in strict medical terms. This procedure involves surgically removing the deposited plaque in the carotid artery of the neck. This will help the patient to maintain healthy blood flow and prevent strokes which is generally due to the reduced flow of blood. As such, trekking for such patients is hard to imagine. It is not impossible, but you would rather consult the doctor before stepping into high altitude.
5. Congenital Heart Problems: The congenital heart defect or CHD is also known as the congenital heart disease or the congenital heart anomaly. Whatever the moniker, this problem is a kind of birth defect in which a person is born with a defective structure of the heart. Usually, the hearts of such people have great vessels which trouble the person in various ways. The symptoms are generally different as per the type of defection. With that said, a person with such a problem has a higher chance of getting High Altitude Pulmonary Edema or HAPE and are at a greater risk of deteriorating their health at risky situations.
6. Pregnancy: Do we even need to talk about this? Pregnancy and the time duration of these nine months, especially in the later months are very fragile for women. Going into risky places and high altitudes not only puts your own body at risk but the little one growing inside you. Waiting nine months and then a few more months for recovery might put some adventurous ladies at a disadvantage. But, we can't help it, can we? It's best to tackle nature when you are at your best physical condition.
Immunization (Necessary or Optional)?
Let's face it; most people do not care about immunization before planning their next trip. It's as if we grow up and just leave our bodies to handle the diseases after our childhood immunization vaccines. While there are not that many cases of tourists getting infected with tetanus or rabies from any kind of wild animal, there is still a probability and no one likes to be on the sharp end of the knife. However unnecessary it might seem, take important vaccines before you go out in trekking adventures. Better than regretting the infection; why not take preventive measures from the beginning? It's your own body and it will thank you in difficult situations for getting that extra injection shot. For your convenience, we have picked out the most important immunizations before you put your foot in the rocky terrains.
1. Chickenpox: Okay here is the truth; most of you guys might not have heard the word chickenpox in ages. First of all, it is more likely to infect children and another thing, most countries immune their children at the time of birth to prevent the likelihood of them getting this infection. Chickenpox might not sound like a big threat, but the rural areas of Nepal have some cases of Chickenpox to this day. It generally starts with a mild fever, itchy pimples on your skin that gradually turn to blisters and shed scab. If you are not comfortable with such infections, then you better get immunized against it.
2. Typhoid fever: Typhoid is a commonly known term around the world. This is a type of infection caused by bacteria and the symptoms might start after 6 to 30 days post the exposure. The cases can be mild to severe depending on the timely medication and body immunity. So, be sure to carry enough antibodies against this bacterium in your body before getting your passports ready.
3. Hepatitis A and B: While Hepatitis B only transmits via the blood of the infected person, Hepatitis A is pretty easy to catch. It can spread if the infected person shares food or water with a healthy person. Whatever the case and transmission methodology, you would not want to get yourself infected with these diseases especially while traveling. Be prepared against them via proper vaccination.
4. Influenza: Influenza is something you should not neglect if you are trying to plan your next trip to the Himalayas. As we all know, the virus causing influenza attacks the respiratory system, and by that I mean the nose, lungs, and throat. As the symptoms get stronger, people get problems like diarrhea and constant vomiting. Just get to your doctor and take the vaccination shot in case you have missed on previous ones.
5. Tetanus: Tetanus is a commonly faced bacteria yet very dangerous. When you are traveling`, you might cut yourself with strangled metal pieces, barbed wire, or any stray nails on the ground. The bacterium responsible for this infection affects the nervous system and makes your muscles stiff. It is far better to get your body protected against this problem facing the symptoms.
6. Rabies: To this day, Rabies stands as a viral disease that causes inflammation in the brain of mammals, including humans. Early symptoms include fever and tingling kind of sensation in the wound. People also start getting afraid of water or be hydrophobic. Nepal has several stray dogs and cats in the trekking regions. It's best to vaccine yourself against Rabies for precaution.
Other Potential Problems Related to Health and Environment
Vaccination might protect you from the commonly known health hazards, but there are several other problems that might arise while traveling. It is highly likely that you will not meet these circumstances, but it is better to get informed.
1. Khumbu Cough: This problem is only known to a small percentile of travelers and rarely troubles the trekkers. Don't worry; this is not some kind of disease that will lead you to bed rest. The person that gets affected generally starts with continuous coughing. We all can bear some coughing, but Khumbu Cough just does not leave the body. After a series of coughing sessions, it will start getting painful. And the most painful thing about this problem is, there is no cure to it. Wait, what? Yes, these problems are generally due to the person having some kind of bronchial inflammation to the cold, dry air in the higher altitudes. One thing you can do is try to cough through your nose as coughing via the mouth will intensify your condition. To prevent this from happening, use a mask that helps you breathe the humid air. If you don't have one, you can use your handkerchief for covering your mouth. Also, make sure to keep your body warm while traveling even if you are sweating on the inside.
2. Knee Problem: A commonly faced problem among tourists. We know, you have not worked that poor little knee for years sitting on the office chairs. Suddenly, you are hundreds of meters up and have to walk hundreds of miles to reach your destination. This will definitely push your knees more than they have experienced for a long time and hence invite the knee problems. Another mistake most novice travelers make is that they rush through downhill. We get it, you have just climbed a big hill and you want to award yourself with a rush to the base of the hill, but remember, doing so will put a lot of strain on your knees. Actually, the knees suffer more strain while going downhill than climbing uphill. So, keep your pace steady and slow. You are here to relax, not create world records as the fastest hiker.
3. Snow Blindness: You might have seen people wearing a special type of sunglasses while they are out in the snow. So, what do these glasses protect them from? The last time I checked getting snow on your eyes does not make you blind. As it happens, these glasses protect you from the harmful UV lights coming from the snow. The light gets reflected on the pure white snow and harms your eyes. It does not matter if the day is cloudy; just keep your glasses on. Also, make sure the straps on your glasses are firmly binding your head. Even if you do get snow blindness, do not panic. This is not something permanent and will eventually wear off after a couple of days. All you have to do is prevent extra exposure of light to the sun rays during this period and not rub them. We all know rubbing our eyes just makes the condition worse in every situation.
4. Blisters: How can we complete our list of potential problems without mentioning the good old blisters? Most of us have come across blisters on our feet and hands at some point in our lives. They take time to heal, hurt a lot and give us nightmares while getting shoes on and off. Make sure you take measures to prevent yourself from getting blisters during trekking. People have to walk hundreds of miles during such adventures and getting a blister or a two will hinder your progress. So, what can we do? First and foremost, never wear shoes that are not your size.
Always find the right fit for you and wear thin socks underneath your main sock if possible. This will protect you from getting unnecessary blisters. Another problem that hunts the travelers is the chafing and this mostly targets two areas- the inner thighs and the collarbone. The inner thighs get something like a rash with constant rubbing with each other and the collarbone gets the same problems with bag straps. Use light trekking trousers that provide enough airflow to the inner thigh area and for straps, use a sock underneath to reduce friction. If you get chafing anyways, use calamine lotion for relief.
5. Frostbite: Frostbite is a serious problem that haunts the trekkers going in an extremely cold environment. You have to make sure not to get your hands and feet exposed to extreme cold as frostbite cannot be reversed or cured. You can seriously lose limbs or fingers. So, what exactly happens to the body while you get frostbite? When your body gets extremely cold, it triggers a defense mechanism that keeps the body warm by limiting blood flow to the extremities. The parts of the body that is farther from the heart will first start to see the symptoms of the frostbite. These include the nose, lips, eyes, feet, and fingertips. In such cases, make sure to keep these parts moving to increase the blood flow. In such cases, you can also wrap your body parts with extra clothes to conceal the heat and save them from severe environmental conditions. While these are the immediate options, your main motto should be finding a lodge or warm shelter. If you happen to find one, immediately treat your infected areas with lukewarm water which is around 105 degrees Fahrenheit or 40 degrees Celsius. This treatment method is absolutely necessary if the parts of your body are getting whitish or waxy. Whatever you do, don't rub those parts as they will degrade the situation further. Instead, repeatedly treat with warm water until those areas start turning orange.
6. Avalanches: Let's talk about the most dangerous and likely occurring natural disaster in the Himalayan region. Avalanches are scary and if you get caught in the wrong moment, you can literally die out there. But statistics have shown that there are very low cases of avalanche victims after all these years. So, does that mean they were lucky? No, unlike the movies where they show avalanches coming down at any random moment, these natural calamities have specific prone areas. In Nepal, Annapurna Base Camp is the most red-zoned area for a possible avalanche. Most avalanches come after 10 am and there are several gullies that direct the snow to another direction which is safer. Specifically speaking, the place between the Machhapuchhre Base Camp and Dhobhan is the place one needs to be careful around. I mean, the place is not off-limits, but there are comparatively dangerous gullies in the area. The only thing that gets people killed in an avalanche in their carelessness. Do not wander off on your own just because you see a beautiful spot for a selfie. Always ask your guide for permission or the selfie might prove to be the last memory of your adventure. Use safe trails and don't loiter around for unnecessary reasons. The one thing that gets depicted by the media right is the way the avalanche rolls down. Like rainfall, snow also gets funneled which makes them likely to follow the same path. If the place you are crossing has just received fresh snow or rainfall, then it is a good idea to cross the place before 11 in the morning. Despite all the odds, if you happen to get caught in an avalanche then here are some tips that will keep you alive:
· Don't panic or try to run from the snow. Avalanche moves down at an extreme speed and considering the surface, you will not get anywhere far. Just take your arms and make a pocket-like structure in front of your face. Whatever the situation ahead, you will need oxygen to keep you alive until help arrives.
· If you are lucky and get slammed somewhere near the surface, try to keep that position. You can either try swimming or exert some pressure on your limbs. This way, you are easily visible to rescuers and have a higher probability of getting out of the situation alive.
· Just after you get rolled over with a huge blast of snow, let the situation calm down a bit. Then take a deep breath and use your arms to make some space for you. If you wait long enough, the snow starts hardening and you might get stuck without proper mobility options.
· As I suggested in the first point, do not panic. I know, it’s a life-threatening situation, but crying and getting frustrated won't help either. Be calm and wait until someone arrives for help.
So, there are a lot of potential risks while trekking, and the best thing we can do is learn about the problems before and prepare for such cases. Also, what you can do is get yourself a trekking or travel insurance in Nepal. Trust me; this will help you a lot in case you get stuck in some nasty situation.
Insurance for Safe Traveling in Nepal
If you plan on trekking to higher altitudes and don't have travel insurance in Nepal, then you are literally asking for problems. If the situation gets worse, this blunder will not only cost you your health but also your bank account. The most commonly observed problems while traveling are broken bones and sprained ankles. There are hundreds of such cases yearly in Nepal. While these are the most common ones, some get serious problems like food poisoning, appendix ruptures, altitude sickness, hypothermia, respiratory problems, and skin infections. If you happen to get the problems mentioned above at a height of 4,900 meters then I would suggest not trying to return back to Kathmandu. This will take days or weeks depending on your location. What you will need is a helicopter service that will take you to safety first. To be totally honest, a one-time helicopter evacuation will cost you no less than $5000 USD. And this excludes the now mandatory hospital treatment and in-flight medical treatment expenses.
To avoid such physical and financial disasters, be sure to get travel insurance before setting your foot on the Himalayas. While you are at it, check to see whether your insurance covers for adventure activities and the altitude you are reaching for. The fact is, most insurance companies do not provide services above 4,000 meters. This sounds ridiculous when you think about the fact that most of the popular trekking routes like Annapurna Circuit and Everest Base Camps are above 5,000 meters. Also, note that most of the credit card based travel insurance firms or the cheaper ones do not cover your trekking finances at those altitudes either. The wise thing you can do is call your insurance company in person and ask them about the limitations of your insurance frankly. If you hesitate to do so, the consequences might turn out pretty bad. The policy should cover you up to the maximum height of your journey.
So, these are the essentials of traveling and exploring in Nepal. While most of these things sound scary, they are actually guidelines so that you can enjoy your travel in a relaxed state of mood. If you have doubts on your mind, then you will constantly think about the fact, often enlarge the situation in your mind and in turn, ruin your whole trip. Just keep a positive attitude and move forward. Traveling should be fun, not a worry or guilt trip.