Baikuntha Simkhada and Puskar Aryal are registered as both city guides and trekking guide. They have been with Royal Mountain Travel for the last decade or so. Besides being, Fit and well educated, they both have an openness that draws people towards them. Baikuntha and Puskar are excellent personifications of all what one would want of the ideal guide.
It goes without saying that tourists like to be guided around a strange country by someone they can trust, and who inspires their confidence. These two gentlemen fit the bill. We sat down for a tete-a-tete.
What do you have to do to become a guide?
To be a city guide, one has to undergo a 90-day course from NATHAM (Nepal Academy of Tourism and Hotel Management) which is located at Ravi Bhawan in Kathmandu. To get admitted onto the course, one has to be a graduate (in any discipline) and pass an admission test. As for being a trekking guide, it is a 45-day course. Work experience, rather than educational qualifications, are not needed for this course.
How difficult is it to get admission?
Both the courses are very popular. There are three times more applications than available seats.
How many licensed guides are there in Nepal?
It could be about 3000 although only 500 or so are usually active. Many might have emigrated. Some are guides on a part-time basis. We have been working as guides for the last 10 years.
What do you think are the attributes of a good guide?
One has to be, first of all, interested in the profession. And, one has to be very well organized. Discipline is therefore important as is honesty. A guide’s work carries big responsibilities and so, you have to do your homework well.
What occupies you more, being city guides or trekking guides? And, which is more enjoyable?
We think we do both equally. We find guiding trekking groups to be more fun, not that we don’t enjoy being city guides as well. While trekking, we get closer to the people we are guiding and get to share a lot of different experiences. We must also say that one of the pleasures of our work is that we usually have a mix of different nationalities and cultures in our groups and that makes it all the more interesting. One of the great advantages of going trekking is that you get out of the city and get to experience the fresh air and natural surroundings of the outdoors. We have seen that tourists also become visibly happier when we take them out of the city. This, in turn, makes us happy and motivated. When take groups to Tibet, in that case we are known as tour on group leaders, since the Chinese authorities provide their own guide there.
What do you think is the ideal number of people you would prefer in a group you are guiding?
Twelve to fifteen is a good number to have. Actually, most of our groups have this number.
How long are city tours and trekking tours?
We usually conduct 10-day tours of which about three days are in Kathmandu and the rest outside in places like Dhulikhel, Nagarkot, Pokhara, and so on. We have seen that most tourist just fall in love with Pokhara. We believe that it has a really bright future. Treks can be for Longer, depending where we go.
What are the trends you notice in Nepal’s tourism nowadays?
Well, we saw a big increase in number of Indian and Chinese trekkers this year. We have noticed that most mountain flights are nowadays half-packed with Indian tourists while there is a growth of 40% in the number of Chinese visitors to the country. As to the quality of tourists coming here, Nepal always has been a favoured destination for backpackers and it is true that we get less up-market visitors. In a way, this is to be expected because there is not much we can offer to such visitors. As it is, conducting a three-day city tour in Kathmandu is not that easy because what we have does not take much time to see. Sometimes, tourists are disillusioned to see the reality as compared to the pictures they see on brochures. Our tourist sites are not well maintained. While on this subject, we must say that Bhaktapur is doing a good job of using the money earned from visitors to keep the city clean and welcoming.