Trek for change – Sunil Tamang roams solo across Nepal’s Himalaya
This February, as Shawn Forry and Justin Lichter, and the team from World Expeditions were all making entries in the Great Himalaya Trail history books, one young man from Syabru Besi – the village at the beginning of the Langtang Trek – was making his own Great Himalaya Trail adventure, starting on his 20th birthday.
The inspiration for Sunil Tamang‘s adventures is close at hand. His father has worked in tourism for the last 20 years, firstly as a porter, and more recently as a trekking guide, and Sunil remembers as a young boy him telling stories from the trails.
The stories left a lasting impression, enough to motivate Sunil to walk for 128 days, alone, with an impossibly heavy pack from the east of Nepal, the Kanchenjunga region, to the Rara Lake in West Nepal. But he has a history of dogged determination. When he was a boy in Syabru, seeing that some trekkers had taken it upon themselves to sponsor children in the schooling, he kept on asking passing tourists if they would sponsor him. Someone finally said yes, and now more than a decade on, he’s passed all his exams with flying colours, won a scholarship to one of Kathmandu’s best colleges and there finished in the top few of his class.
Earlier this year, freshly returned from his adventure, we asked Sunil some questions about him and his trek.
Why did you decide to do this trek? You called it Trek for Change.
“I wanted to promote the spirit of adventure among young people. In Kathmandu there are sometimes problems with youngsters with drugs, smoking, alcohol and so on. I wanted to do something to inspire other youths, those who lack confidence and are unsure of themselves.
“For the trek I needed strong willpower, confidence, patience, determination and I wanted to show others they can do it too. Sometimes I ran out of money but had to keep going, I said to myself, ‘You can do it! You can achieve it!’”
You ran out of money? How did you fund the adventure? Were you sponsored?
“Getting sponsorship was difficult – sponsors were unconvinced as I am so young! They didn’t think I could do it and that it would be too much of a risk. But I email friends from the past treks I’d been on and from their generosity I managed to get the equipment I needed. The food I managed myself – almost!
“I didn’t always have money for food so I brought an article from the Annapurna Post that I was covered in and a letter of recommendation from my village. In that way I got free food and lodging at army posts and monasteries. In tourist areas, tourists also were generous me with food when I told them my story.”
Where did you walk on your trek and which were your favourite places?
Did people believe you were a tourist?
“Almost whole trip, people thought I was Japanese or Korean. I even had to show my citizenship card. But when people discovered I was Nepali, they greeted me warmly. I speak Tibetan so was easy to communicate in Dolpa and Mustang.”
What was the most adventurous part of your trip?
“Well I tried to cross the Tashi Labsta pass alone with a 35kg rucksack. I thought as the Great Himalaya Trail was a trekking route that it would be easier than it was. It wasn’t easy. I had an ice axe but no crampons.
“I started at 3am from Thengbo and followed a French couple with two Sherpa mountain guides in the distance.
“Near the top, I saw a big glacier, and they were climbing it. It was, of course, very icy. When I reached it I slipped at the top and fell down 3m and my rucksack ripped open. I thought it was the end! I thought I can’t go up, and I can’t go down. I thought of my family.
“But I tried, I smashed away ice with my ice axe and managed to climb up. It was still two or three hours to top and I was very hungry. After three hours, I reached the top and there were lots of crevasses on the way. A dog had followed me from Thengbo. I was exhausted but if I stopped, he would bark.
“Getting down the other side was just as much adventure!”
What next for Sunil?
“I think I am going to study Environmental Management at college. There’s no professional outdoor training here in Nepal – if I could get a professional outdoor training opportunity, then I’d really love to join that instead. Meanwhile, I will try to lead some trekking groups and show them the area I am from.”
Sunil is currently writing up his adventures for his website http://www.suniltamang.com/. You can contact Sunil via the contact form there.
Also read another interview with Sunil in Nepal’s Wavemag.