From the outset our experience with Alpine Ramble was excellent: before we had even departed our home countries, Dil Gurung was a communication superstar: he responded promptly to emails and took great care in trying to assist us and plan the perfect Manaslu and Tsum Valley 21 day Itinerary.
Though we had never before met, I was warmly greeted at the airport by Dil and our guide with a Nepalese flower garland (mala I think it is called).
Dil went over and above what I expected from a tour co-ordinator - he helped me at the hotel, changing money and finding bits and pieces I needed prior to the trek. He took time helping our group organise gear hire, and explaining the itinerary in detail.
Once on the trek, our group realised that we were trekking at different paces. This was not a problem for the Alpine Ramble team, who ensured that we could all trek at our own pace, enjoy the beautiful surrounds, and arrive safely at our destination each day.
Dil did not trek with us, but was always able to be contacted by Whatsapp, text or calls wherever we had internet/mobile reception (which admittedly wasn't often in the Manaslu/Tsum Valley area - the remoteness being one of the best features of this trek!). When we did get in touch with Dil he responded immediately and was extremely helpful.
We were lucky to have two amazing porters. In particular, Sujal Gurung was outstanding: he was one of the most helpful and humble people I have ever met. Unfortunately I had not realised just how tough the trek would be on my knees and I struggled with knee pain from about the second day. This slowed me down greatly, but Sujal walked with me every day, ensuring that I was never alone. He let me have breaks where needed and even tried to give me knee massages to ease the pain. I spent more time with Sujal than with our guide and, despite being employed as a porter, Sujal was able to teach me many things about Nepali culture. His love for Nepal is infectious, as is his personality! Sujal was happy to help with everything - not just carrying bags, but helping with the small things like bringing us our meals, finalising packing, getting hot water for drink bottles at night, even taking my drink bottle out of my bag so I didn't have to remove the whole backpack to take a drink! No job was too big or too small for Sujal, and he did everything with a smile. We were even privileged enough to enjoy his musical entertainment - singing Nepali songs throughout the trek!
The trek itself was harder than I had anticipated, with every day involving steep rocky paths up and down (even if the final destination for the day was 200m higher than the starting point, there would be both steep ascents and descents)!
We got to see some very beautiful and isolated places, as well as traditional Nepalese villages. The highlight of the trip for me was staying at a nunnery with two Tibetan nuns near Mu Gompa. We couldn't speak Tibetan with the nuns but they were kind, keeping us warm by the fire and cooking for us...and allowing us to sleep in a beautiful and very isolated temple overnight.
Dharapani was a challenge - not only was it freezingly cold at night (the water in my bottle froze and my tent did not zip up properly), the toilets were disgusting (I strongly urge against using the provided toilets...you might slip on something undesirable while trying to squat.
On the hardest day, the day we crossed Larke Pass, Sujal was like an angel for me: I was freezingly cold and tired, walking very slowly (far behind the rest of my group) and seriously considering whether exhaustion and cold was a good enough reason to call a rescue helicopter. Sujal didn't let me give up, and at times showed more faith in me than I had in myself. He walked slowly with me, reassuring me that we would go bistari (slowly) and we would be successful at Larke Pass. All the other travellers attempting the pass that day seemed to have passed me and I could hardly believe this was true. Despite my doubts, Sujal did not ever despair, even carrying me where I felt I could walk no longer. In the end Sujal's faith in me won out: we successfully reached Larke Pass (maybe 6 or 7 hours after we departed) , and I was overcome with tears of relief, happiness and gratitude: in a strange country where I knew no one, a stranger had treated me with such great care and shown so much faith in me, making me feel as though I was on a journey with a friend of many years or a family member who had complete faith in me - and was right! It is hard to describe the feeling in words, but please know that it was this feeling of trust, feeling like I was cared for/about, the positive bouncy energy of Sujal's youth and his incredible strength that got me up and over the pass.
Back in Kathmandu Dil arranged for a tour of the city for me - unfortunately it was very quick, as I was soon flying back home. The guide was extremely knowledgeable in the areas of Nepalese culture, history and religion. He had piqued my curiosity and made me want to learn and understand more - perhaps by returning to Nepal one day.
I am so grateful to both Dil and Sujal for making my trip to Nepal a happy one. They both exhibited a sense of warmth, care and humility that is not common, especially in the competitive tourism market. These are things that can't really be quantified in monetary terms, and it was this, perhaps more so than the majesty of the Himalayas, that made my trip truly special and made the goodbye at the airport extremely difficult and sad for me. Hopefully, though, it is a 'see ya later' rather than a 'goodbye', as I would love to return to Nepal and see my Nepalese family again.
I can only hope that those of you reading this review choose Alpine Ramble and have the same wonderful experience as I did.