Guides & Porters
On a trek like the Manaslu and Tsum route, there is no need of a guide for orientation purposes. The way is straight forward; most will only hire a guide because it is a prerequisite to obtain the relevant permits.
Most people believe, as the hiring and employing party, to have the ability to dictate daily schedules and to be more or less free to organise their hike as they deem fit. This is not true. Guides have a fairly set approach to trekking, ranging from the length of stages to the walking formation, to lunch and other breaks timing, to accommodation choices, and so on. Obviously, this perceived “correct” way to do things includes a share of common-sense, a share of arbitrary habits, and a share of personal and vested interest, even more so as guides and porters shepherding various groups discuss guest and other organisational matters with each other and become even more set on how best to drive their wealthy flocks.
Although the vast majority of guides will strive to offer the best service possible, we witnessed some interesting exceptions; a very rough and unscientific guesstimate would put the very good guides at 30%, the ok ones at 30%, the mediocre but manageable ones at 30% and the really bad ones at 10%. Incidentally, the same percentages are probably applicable to trekkers' behaviour ratings.
Incentives for guides to supply a good service include the final tip and a possible negative feedback to the agency, making future employment less by image weary trekking agents less likely.
At the very least, a good guide will put his clients interests first, rather then try to push and organise stages around the lodges and tea houses that offers him the best kickback, sleeping arrangements or best food; a good guide will do his best for his clients to complete the hike successfully, and will not promote scaremongering or just give up on hearsay of inclement weather.
The guide's leverage comes from the fact that you will pay the totality of the guide fees to the agency before setting off and getting the permits. That means that there is no turning back if things get unpleasant, and some guides are very much aware of that. Once on the trail, you cannot split ways with your chosen guide; they are the one that get you through the police checkposts set along the way, that deal with the lodges and so on. The only way to get rid of a rotten guide is to backtrack or get the agency to send an other one out- at your own expenses time and money wise.
It is therefore extremely important that you clarify potential thorny issues prior to departure, such as: who chooses the accommodation, what is the expected length of stages (the only proper hiking guide to the region by Sian Pritchard & Bob Gibbons states hiking time about twice longer then they are in reality for the average trekker, something many agencies exploit to sell smaller stages and more trekking days!). On the other end if you want to do very long hiking days and stages, or hike without the constant chaperoning of your guide and meet him only at lunch and dinner, you should make this clear before leaving town... it might incur an additional fee.
Most Nepal trekking guidebooks include a list of specific items to be checked prior to hiring a guide, such as insurance, accreditation and so on. It is best not to bypass these basic but important steps.
Porters will usually be chosen by your guide, and you probably will have only minimal interaction with them, as most do not speak any English.
The accepted weight carried by a porter employed by tourists is 15 kg; he will have to carry his own gear, so his total load is usually around 25 kg. Porters employed by tour operators sometimes carry twice this amount, whilst porter employed for local trade can be seen carrying more then their own weight.