The journey is more interesting than the destinationWhat started as a hobby for one Nepali has inspired a whole generation to explore their country
Kanchan Rai caught the travel bug young. During holidays, he would spend the entire day roaming around Kathmandu, coming home late into the evening, much to the dismay of his mother. She called him ‘ghumante’, a wanderer.
The obsession with wandering never left Rai even when he grew up, and the nickname stuck. Over the years he explored parts of Nepal, far from the beaten track.
Read also: Top Dasain destinations, Nepali Times
He has now built the Ghumante brand that has through social media inspired a whole new generation of Nepalis to pursue the roads less taken. “Ghumante is not an insult anymore,” says Rai. “There are now many other accounts on social media that have the word ghumante in their ID.”
Ghumante first started as a blog back in 2013. As an IT professional, Rai was aware of the emerging trends and he wanted to set up a travel blog to earn a side income from Google ads. A friend familiar with SEOs helped him to ensure rankings. He also started a Facebook page, where he crowdsourced photos from fellow travellers.
Initially he asked his siblings for photos from their travels to ensure regular posting, as he could not travel as often due to work. He also collaborated with another friend, Prakash Buda, a photographer. They also gave away t-shirts to contributors. The blog and Facebook page saw modest success.
“I was conscious about copyright, so I did not lift things from the internet, even though I could have got more followers,” says Rai. The turning point came in 2015, as the internet pivoted to video. Rai was working in Thailand and travelled to Nepal every holiday. He bought a GoPro and also found a group of Nepalis with similar interests.
Read also: Top 10 treks, Nepali Times
At the end of 2015, they went to Gupha Pokhari, and documented the trip, learning video editing and script-writing as they went. In 2019, he returned to Nepal for good, and that was when travelling became a full-time occupation. He dedicated time and resources for YouTube with a team. Then Covid-19 hit. “That was the time I wished I was a journalist. Getting travel passes would have been much easier,” recalls Rai. “But it was amazing traveling when no one else was.”
Ghumante’s YouTube channel now has 125 videos spanning the mountains and plains with a total of over 24 million views. Rai paid for it with savings in the beginning, but now they have partners and sponsors.
Planning for videos can take anywhere from 2 months to a year. The team researches the location including the altitude, settlements and whether there are clear trails, then they find local contacts who can help them navigate and introduce the village to them.
“One should travel because it broadens one’s horizon,” says Rai. “Those who don’t travel only read one page of the entire book that is life.”
He is happy that people take his video as reference when traveling but says he feels an added responsibility these days thinking of the aftermath on the environment and culture of a place when a lot of people visit a new place. “It is important to respect the culture, landscape and people when we travel,” says Rai. “We need to be responsible travellers and leave nothing but our footprints--a message we are trying to give through our videos.”
Read also: Where are you going this Dasain?, Sikuma Rai
When they travel, they also try to convince the locals to preserve their own culture and identity in food and architecture to attract the tourists--like you don’t need a cement building in community homestays, traditional architecture should be kept intact.
“We don’t need ugly view towers on mountain tops. Binoculars would be better,” says Rai, who now wants to produce full-fledged travel documentaries.
10 Ghumante Travel Recommendations
Note from Ghumante: When choosing the destination, consider time, budget, your own physical condition, and research and respect the place, its culture and customs.
1. Millennium Trek, Tanahun and Syangja
In 2000, a new trekking trail through the culturally rich Gurung and Magar villages of Tanahun and Syangja was initiated. Due to the conflict, the trail never took off. Although the highest point of this trek is no more than 1,800m, this fairly easy trail offers unprecedented views of Annapurna, Manaslu and Dhaulagiri.
2. Badimalika, Bajura
More popular as a religious destination, Badimalika can also be a pilgrimage to nature. The remoteness of the place has kept it preserved from the outside world and ‘development’ that has accompanied other tourist spots. Trek there any time, except in winter.
3. Ramaroshan, Achham
With 12 lakes and 18 alpine meadows at a height of 2,500m, the wetland of Ramaroshan is a hidden gem. Now easily accessible by road and air, travellers cross rhododendron forests and grazing horses, waterfalls, and mallard ducks in the clear waters. They can also visit Kinemini maidan, a former Maoist training ground.
Often overlooked due to the lure of the mountains, Nepal's plains offer an equally enriching experience. Home to more than 70 shrines including the Janaki Temple and numerous ponds, Janakpur boasts a rich history and culture. It is noted for its arts, languages, and literature.
5. Tharu Community Lodge, Nawalpur
Experience the rich Tharu culture and architecture against the backdrop of mesmerising sunsets reflected on the Narayani River. Hire a local guide and book a safari to the Chitwan National Park. Even better, time your visit for the annual Holi festival for an experience of a lifetime.
The Kangchenjunga Base Camp trek is enough to satisfy even the most avid traveler. Perhaps one of the most diverse treks in Nepal, the altitude goes from 200-300m in the lowlands of Jhapa to 5,140m. The trek is doable in 15-20 days.
7. Api Base Camp, Darchula
Mt Api, 7,132m, is the westernmost peak. Camp at the edge of a coniferous forest and wake up to see the sunrise to the sound of chirping birds and a gurgling brook. Off the beaten path, Api lies in the most remote and hardest-to-get-to parts of Nepal, but the people, views, and culture make the arduous journey worthwhile.
Mugu is popular because of Rara lake, but the district has much more to offer. From its beautiful pastures to Swangeri, a unique mountain with a big hole on the top, which local folklore says was made by the arrow of Pala Gopo, Mugu's potential for tourism remains untapped.
9. Pikey Peak, Solu
One of the best-kept secrets of trekking in Nepal is Pikey Peak in Solu, which offers a view of seven of Nepal's eight-thousanders from one place, including Mt Everest. The 4,065m peak was bypassed by most trekkers on the Everest trail. Now, the road from Kathmandu to Jiri and the Solu Highway has reached Phaplu via Okhaldhunga, and Pikey is accessible to trekkers of all ages.
10. Panchpokhari, Solukhumbu, Ramechhap, Sindhupalchok
There are many Panchpokharis in Nepal, most of them sacred ponds in the mountains. From lush green grasslands to colourful wildflowers and breathtaking mountain views, the Panchpokhari of Sindhupalchok is perhaps best known with shamans and pilgrims flocking the holy site during Janai Purnima. But there are other Panchpokharis in Solukhumbu and Ramechhap.