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Fair Trails Explorer Tours – A Report

Fair Trails, a business venture between Ennovent, Trail Angels, and Pilum Digital, promotes sustainable travel experiences. The partners work towards designing trails, training local partners and managing a fund to implement sustainable projects along the trails. After the travel restrictions following COVID-19 were lifted, the Fair Trails team embarked on its most recent Explorer Tours in Nepal in March 2022.

Günter Mussnig, Partner, Fair Trails, explains what an Explorer Tour is – “Once a new trail has been scouted and the core services designated by the Fair Trails Team, an Explorer Tour is set up to test, evaluate and improve the product along with selected clients. So, clients offer detailed feedback to the Fair Trails team.” This March, the Fair Trails team set out on two Explorer Tours, which covered three travel experiences in the Chitwan, Manang, and Khumbu regions of the Himalayas, i.e., the Snow Leopard, Local Life, and Sherpa Heritage Trails.

The Explorer Tours were led by guides from the Fair Trails team with a local Sherpa guide. The group also consisted of a trail expert, a photographer, and a videographer, and a group of 7-8 explorers picked on a first-come-first-serve basis. The Sherpa guides came from our local tour operator partner Himalayan Sherpa Nepal, who also helped us identify and book homestays throughout the trail. “We were keen to choose small family-owned lodges and did not want big hotels. That was the mandate we gave to Himalayan Sherpa Nepal”, says Günter.

Local Life and Snow Leopard Trails

The first group of explorers, led by Günter, embarked on an ambitious tour where they packed two trails – the Local Life and the Snow Leopard Trails. Key participants included:

  • Prashanta Khanal, climate activist, restaurant owner, and book author, was the local life expert on this tour who helped the group learn more about the ethnicities and food along the trail
  • Mingma Sherpa was our local guide
  • Tashi R. Ghale, field biologist, wildlife photographer, and entrepreneur, was the expert on the snow leopard trail
  • Gabish Joshi, Country Director, Ennovent Nepal, was the impact expert

The Local Life trail was meant to span an overall experience of the diversity of Nepal from the high mountains to the subtropical lowlands and to experience daily life as is in these regions. The group got the opportunity to understand the living of the Chepang people, a group of indigenous people to Nepal, and immerse themselves into the lives of the Tharu people, another group who have adapted themselves to the way of life in the jungle.

“We also got to explore some of the popular delicacies of the Tharu community; it was a unique experience for the entire group,” says Gabish.

The tour continued towards Manang for the Snow Leopard Trail, where along with Tashi Ghale, the group trekked for three days tracing snow leopard footprints and locating snow leopard hotspots. The tour continued further with a hike to the Thorung La pass, which is at 5416 m above sea level, and Mukteshwar and ended with a road trip to Pokhara.

As part of this tour, we had earlier identified that people from the Chepang community had difficulty accessing clean drinking water. As part of the impact project for this tour, we donated easy-to-use water purifiers to two schools and two communities in the region.

Sherpa Heritage Trail

The Sherpa Heritage Trail, along the Khumbu region of the Himalayas, offers a sustainable high-intensity trekking experience. This tour was led by Stefan Lieb-Lind, IVBV Mountain Guide, from Trail Angels and other participants included:

  • Nanga Sherpa (a former monk) and Nuru Sherpa (8-time Everest summiteer) were the trail experts along with various Sherpas along Namche and herders on the high pastures
  • Nawang Tshering Sherpa, the local guide

Along the tour with seven others, the group understood and observed people living in their challenging environment alongside wolves and bears for generations. In one notable experience, the 14-year-old daughter of the host in Khumjung showed the group around the local school. She also gave insights into the arduous process of potato farming at 3800 m above sea level. This 17-day tour also included a deep indulgence into the lives of Sherpas, including sampling their local food, witnessing cultural programs, including their folk dance, and meeting with other monks along the trail – all of which provided an insight into their lives.

As part of the impact project, we monetarily supported the local yak farming community in the Khumbu region to help them procure good-quality shoes and jackets.

Learnings and Future Plans

An Explorer Tour is meant to collect feedback and contribute to improving future tours. “From this tour, we learnt that our client selection process based on fitness levels needs to be more intensive, which we are learning to implement for future tours,” says Guenter when asked about the learnings from these tours. “We are also planning a shorter route along the Local Life trail to make it accessible to more people,” adds Gabish.

With this experience, the Fair Trails team is now confident about offering these tours as sustainable “Fair Trails Experiences” for newer clients. Based on the learnings and feedback from the clients, the team is currently working out the final travel program for all three trails. As these Fair Trails Experiences are set to launch next year, we currently have two more Explorer Tours to embark upon this year – Explorer Tour Ladakh and Buddhism Sanctuary Trail in Nepal. Head to the respective links to know more about them and sign up to join the exploring group!

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