Sunday, August 7, 2011

Great Himalaya Trail: Interview with Robin Boustead

Sujoy Das in conversation with Robin Boustead, the man behind the Great Himalayan Trail

SD:  What is the Great Himalayan Trail (GHT)?
RB: The Great Himalaya Trail is as much a concept as  a walking route. The idea is to have a trail network along the great Himalaya range that offers trekkers and adventure tourists a range of route options to suit the sort of experience they seek and, at the same time, to bring sustainable, responsible tourism to remote communities. The GHT therefore requires a unique combination of skills, knowledge and experience - that's why so many people are involved and passionate about the idea.

SD:  How long is it?
RB: The highest feasible route (upto 6200m) along the entire Great Himalaya Range is about 4500km and runs from near Namche Barwa to Nanga Parbat. However, the documented trail network will be more than double that by the end of 2012, so there are many route options!

SD: Has the GHT been created and conceived by you?
RB: No, the idea of a trans-Himalayan trail along the length of the range has been around since the 1970s. But it is only recently that many of the individual himals (ranges) have opened to tourists, thus making trans-country routes possible. My dream is see a trans-boundary route so trekkers can cross country borders in the mountains with ease.

SD: Were you inspired at all by other great trails like the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail etc?
RB: The trail that has influenced me most is the Camino network in Europe. The concept there is that your trek begins with making the decision to go to Santiago and your journey begins with your first step from home. I really like the idea of people developing their own agendas, itineraries and priorities in the Himalaya... there is just so much to see and do!

SD:  How much of the GHT has been mapped and what is remaining?
RB: I published (through Himalayan Map House) a range of comprehensive maps for the central third, Nepal, earlier this year and I am now working on Bhutan and India which should see some results next year. I have also approached Pakistan about making some GHT maps so the last major section undone is Tibet.

SD: Can the GHT be done in parts only as the whole trail must take months/years to complete?
RB: As the GHT is a trail network it easily lends itself to being trekked in sections, for example Nepal can be broken into ten treks from two to four weeks. This means that trekkers can 'grow' into the trail by developing fitness, skills and field-craft over time. Of course, if you have both time and money then trekking long sections is a fantastic way to really experience the vastness of the Himalaya!

SD: Is the GHT meant for experienced climbers and trekkers only or can first timers also try some parts of the trail?
RB: Some sections of the trail are very easy and ideal for novice trekkers, for example, the Tamang Heritage Trail in Nepal or the Darma Valley in India. The higher routes tend to be more technical and some require serious mountaineering skills, for example the high route between the Makalu and Everest regions. What appeals most to me is that the GHT allows the trekker to 'evolve' their expertise over time.

SD: Where can one find more information on the GHT?
RB: A Dutch NGO has made a general information website about the GHT in Nepal ( and I have been building a website with trekking information for the entire trail ( I have also written a guide book to the trail in Nepal (, a coffee table picture book on the GHT in Nepal and produced a range of GHT Nepal maps ( India and Bhutan are in progress. I should add that all my royalties from products contribute directly to a GHT Alliance training program that is designed to make trekking more professional and safer throughout the Himalaya

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