Hiking the Himalaya: Then and Now

Hiking the Himalaya: Then and Now

Valerie Parkinson has been leading Exodus adventures for 32 years. Whilst her enthusiasm for the mighty Himalaya has stayed constant, many of the other aspects of travelling in this mountain range have changed dramatically in that time.

Valerie Parkinson

“When I was first a leader there were no lodges or tea houses,” Valerie recalls of her earliest trips. “There were no hot showers or Wi-Fi or Mars bars or coca cola. When you were trekking, you were wild camping.” These days things in Nepal are more readily available – teahouses dot the trails, and though still fairly basic, come equipped with electric lights and charging points in the common room along with surprisingly well stocked tuck shops. Along the route to Everest or Annapurna, some even come with solar powered showers.

Valerie Parkinson

These days there are enough excited trekkers coming to these peaks to support numerous small businesses. Where once there were only small villages, there are now thriving economies catering to the tired trekkers’ every need. “I remember when Namche Bazaar was a small village,” Valerie says. “Now it has 54 lodges and great coffee shops.” In fact, the coffee shops and bakeries in Namche Bazaar feel like odd pockets of Shoreditch lost halfway up a mountain – you can even find familiar brands like Illy coffee on sale along the twisty, cobbled streets.

Valerie Parkinson in Tibet, 1989

“You can still find wild camping sometimes in the Indian Himalaya.” She adds, with a little glint in her eye. The stark, rocky moonscape of the Indian Himalaya is sparsely populated, and only by camping can you get access to some of the most remote and dramatic places. It attracts fewer visitors than Nepal’s bucket list routes, and as Valerie says, “It is still possible to find off the beaten track trekking. You can still find wild camping sometimes, in the Indian Himalaya.”

Valerie Parkinson on Stok Kangri, 1993

“The facilities have changed over the years on the popular trekking routes, but the mountains are still the same,” Valerie confirms. When it boils down to it, the essential appeal of being surrounded by staggering peaks is still there. The main draw, the reason people come here, remains immutable: these are the most spectacular mountains on the planet. No coffee shop is going to take precedent over that.

Vintage photo of the Himalaya

“However great the modern facilities are,” Valerie concludes, “Nothing can beat a flight over the Himalaya, whether you’re going to Leh or Lukla. That burst of adrenaline that an adventure is about to begin is unbeatable.”

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