I didn't think it would be that bad. But what I saw in Khumbu last week not only left me appalled at the discrimination fellow Nepalis faced, but also made me wonder whether the tourism industry which is supposed to benefit us, is actually doing so.
Whether it's taxi drivers and touts harassing foreigners fresh out of the tarmac, or hotels offering different rates for domestic and foreign tourists, differential tariffs are a given in Nepal. While there is no doubt that foreigners with higher income have higher spending capacity, and perhaps it is characteristic of capitalism to give priority to those who can pay, no one seems to be giving enough thought to those who can't.
"We have rooms for the foreigners but none for Nepalis," the manager of a hotel we had booked in Namche told me, rather obnoxiously. Fortunately, our veteran guide knew the hotel owner personally and coaxed¬ the manager into giving room to the Nepalis. Talking to the porters in our group, I realised that they were being accommodated elsewhere. Never before and nowhere else in Nepal, had I felt more ostracised in my own country than here.
Fellow Nepalis may not have learnt bathroom etiquette that modernised Nepali hoteliers think all westerners have, but they are still Nepalis. If tourism entrepreneurs are really serious about developing the industry here, they should be training those Nepalis involved in the tourism industry how to better present themselves, not putting up discriminating signs that reek of racism in an industry that is supposed to promote 'hospitality'.
Outside of Lukla and Namche, however, I noticed that not all lodge owners discriminated against Nepalis. Guides are welcomed as old friends and called into the kitchen to be served food and drinks with the foreigners, allowed free charging of cell phones and camera batteries, and even given some snacks for the way.
They might have to sleep in the dining halls for lack of rooms, but they are not asked to use the outhouse. If those promoting tourism really want to ensure Nepal's tourism industry gets a good name, they should be investing more on the backbone of that industry: the guides, porters, kitchen staff and even the yak, jokyo, mule, or donkey herder.
As the media made headlines of trekkers stranded in Lukla last week, I wondered what the Nepali guides I met on the way were doing. No one in the Kathmandu media obsessed with 'stranded tourists' spared a thought for them, perhaps unsurprisingly.
They come from all over the world, they are dentists, engineers, risk management consultants, businessmen and physical trainers. What brings them together is that they all live and work in the countries of the Gulf, love a bit of adventure. And they all care for children.
For the past decade, Gulf for Good (G4G) has raised more than $2 million through 700 Arab and other nationals participating in treks in Nepal. The charity is currently helping 35 projects around the world,¬ including raising $110,000 from the Everest Base Camp Challenge for a hospital in Ilam which was completed in 2004.
This time, 21 participants took part in another fund-raiser trek to support the construction of an orphanage in an eco-farm in Panauti. As a means of fundraising, members accepted the challenge to trek up to Everest Base Camp at 5,380m.
A trek to EBC and back is not a walk in the park. But the 21 G4G charity challengers took it in their stride. They trekked past dramatic signs of glacier retreat caused by global warming.
Landing in Kathmandu from Lukla, the group headed straight to Panauti with Brian Wilkie, the initiator of the G4G project. The orphanage currently under construction is located in the eastern end of the beautiful valley in Kavre district.
Younger ones in the group like the soon to be dad Floyd Meenan, his best mate Tom McNulty and fellow Irishman Brian Hempenstall, felt such a sense of accomplishment that they are already talking about taking up next year's G4G challenge to Mt Kilamanjaro.