Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Socialtours mentioned in SALT – the Dutch magazine for active and adventurous way of life.

The increasinly popular and one of a kind Dutch magazine SALT - for people with active, adventurous and responsible lifestyle – recently covered a story about the mother of all trails, The Great Himalaya Trail. 

Socialtours is proud to be mentioned as one of the local tour operators to book your trek with.

Our thanks go to the whole SALT team – who believe sustainable lifestyle is above all fun and a journey to discover themselves. SALT stands for authenticity, small-scale, humour, people and environment. We think alike!

Our special thanks also go to the editor Ard Krikke, who wrote this article. Ard himself is a devoted cyclist and windsurfer who recently also made his childhood dream of skating the 200km “Elfstedentocht”, Eleven cities tour, on natural ice come true. We are impressed! And we want more SALT!

With the permission from Ard Krikke and the SALT magazine, the following is a translation and partly a summary of the original article that you can read in full here (in Dutch).

THE GREAT HIMALAYA TRAIL - 4500 km on the top of the world

With the official opening of the first stretch (1700km) of the Great Himalaya Trail (4500km) a dream has come true for many adventurers. For the first time in history it is possible to trek right across Nepal by foot. Walking on the top of the world along the highest peaks also the remote mountain dwellers now have hope of some income thanks to travellers passing by. In the meantime China, Pakistan, Bhutan and India are all working hard to complete their parts of “the mother of all trails”.

Nepal is no doubt one of the most well-known outdoor countries in the world. For years already Mount Everest and Annapurna regions have had the magical appeal on adventurers seeking to get a glimpse of the highest peaks of the world. Since the successful summit of Mount Everest by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on 29 May 1953, it has been the holy grail of the Himalayas. The rest of the stretched country does not get so many visitors, and some 1.8 million poor mountain dwellers get hardly any profit from tourism. With the Great Himalaya Trail a traveller will not only learn about these unique, remote areas but will provide the people living in these remote areas a chance for an income - the last being the most important reason for the existence of the trail.

The trail is a result of joining the forces of different people - among whom a Dutch organisation SNV. This non-profit organisation worked closely together with the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) to develop the route that would join together all the Himalayan countries. Not a small task as hardly any information about the route existed. Previously only very few people succeeded to walk across the whole length of the Himalayas and even fewer succeeded to tell their story. It used to be the local traders who walked across the region with their yaks or mules in endless search of the ideal route  over the “Abode of Snow”, the Himalayas.

Until recent times there have been a few of those adventurers who “recreationally” trekked the whole route and brought back with them pieces of information about the rugged mountain range. But it was the Australian, Robin Boustead (mountain guide and travel journalist) who in 2009 with his wife Judy Smith and a few friends and with help of GPS accurately mapped the Nepalese part of the Himalayas. Robin: “It was an enormous task but I saw the potential of this route. That's why I wanted to find a high alpine route that is feasible for the “normal” trekkers.” He succeeded in this – all his findings are recorded in the book The Great Himalaya Trail.

The 10 sections

Although the Great Himalaya Trail is now only accessible through Nepal, the route will eventually be extended through all the Himalayan countries to reach a total length of 4500km. China, Pakistan, Bhutan and India are all busy mapping their parts of the trail.

The Nepalese part runs from Api-Saipal in the far west to Kanchenjunga in the east of the country. On the way one will pass by the highest mountain peaks on our planet - of which eight are over 8000 meters high - as well as the most remote villages in the world. The route is well known for its diversity in landscapes, flora and fauna, people and cultures - from snow leopards to red pandas, from subtropical jungles to frail ecosystems at extreme heights and from Sherpas to Shamanists and ancient Bon Buddhism.

As very few people will have the chance to trek the whole 1700km requiring some six months to do in a relaxed pace, the Nepalese part of the trail has been divided into 10 different, manageable sections. Furthermore, each of these sections can be further divided into smaller parts ranging anything from 10 days to a few weeks of trekking.

The choice is also between the upper trail - the highest and also the hardest parts going up to 6000 meters, or the lower trail - reaching heights of no more than 2000 meters. The lower trail is more suitable for getting to know the villages. This way the Great Himalaya Trail caters for all adventurous minds. Hiring a guide is nevertheless always advised as the route is not marked.

Do it yourself

If  attempting to do the trail on your own, you should count on a lot of preparation time. Start with getting yourself a Nepal Trekking and the Great Himalaya Trail guide (trailblazer-guides.com) with extensive information on the different areas and possibilities. However, as the route really still is in its baby shoes, unexpected things are likely to happen. The first challenge is the numerous permits necessary to enter and cross the different areas. Next to this you will need to find guides and porters who want to go with you. All this time and effort can be saved by booking your trek with an organisation, such as Pema Treks (www.pematrek.com/) and socialtours (www.socialtours.com).

Due to extreme heights, the rugged terrain in the isolated regions is a challenge even for experienced mountain trekkers. This does not mean, however, that those who never wore trekking shoes might as well forget it. The route varies so much that there are always areas and sections of it to fit everyone's condition and experience. Some parts can even be done by mountain bike!

Extensive information, including lots of photos and descriptions on each section, trail do's and dont's, maps, guides, local and international organisations with whom you can plan your trek and the latest news about the status of the trail can be found on http://www.thegreathimalayatrail.org/.

Read more about the 10 sections: http://www.thegreathimalayatrail.org/trail-sections/

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Lebenshilfe and socialtours making Nepal open to all - also those with intellectual disabilities

An exceptional holiday to Nepal opened doors for a group of Germans with intellectual disabilities.

For their 25th anniversary, Lebenshilfe, a German non-profit organisation, wanted to do something really special – bring a group of Germans - some with intellectual disability  - to Nepal!
Through support from socialtours, Lebenshilfe made this possible in March 2012 when a group of 13 Germans set foot on Nepal's soil to explore what the country has to offer and to meet the Nepalis.

The tour provided an experience of a lifetime, not only to the Germans, but also for the Nepalis. Lebenshilfe and socialtours partner organisation in Nepal, PATAN CBR, gave also an opportunity for disabled Nepalis and their families to travel into and explore another part of their own country.

The tour certainly inspired all involved and proved that Nepal is not out of bounds for those with intellectual disability and a sense of adventure. Nepal is open to everyone disabled or not - all one needs is to bring the desire for a new and rewarding experience.

As one of the guys in the group, Arthur Golz, summed it up: “The Himalayas is simply too beautiful to show only to those not disabled.”

To read the full article (in German) please click here (copyright of Zeitungshaus Bauer).

For more information on the partner organisations, please visit their websites:
Patan Community Based Rehabilitation Organization (Patan CBR)


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