Jun 23, 2012

Mule Train

Mule Train, photo credit: Subbotsky
The Nepali alternative to rail cars in the Himalayas are mule trains. Villages deep in to (or high above) the Nepali Himalayas are inaccessible by motorized vehicles, let alone railway. Helicopters and small planes have emerged as a new option in recent decades. Mostly to be used in search and rescue operations. Trekking and riding stays predominant modes of traveling for personnel, while mules serve as the most common and effective options of cargo.

Mule trains start operating early in the morning
Loading a mule train

Groups of about ten mules walking in a single file are often found on the trail, I've named this formation a mule train. One or more mule drivers guide the herd. The mule train walks up and down the mountain trail, crosses rivers on cable bridges, climbs the stairs all while carrying heavy loads on their backs. They move at a convenient speed. But tend to slow down or stand still if the driver falls behind. This might lead to a problem if a standing mule blocks a narrow trail on a ledge. The mules are tame and easy to guide, so its not very hard to get them going again. All you have to do is say "Chhaahh!!". It's a very Nepali sound which can hardly be transliterated using English letters. Pay attention to the mule herders on the trail to learn it. Don't try scaring the mules away, Nepalis never do that and they don't like anyone else doing that either. In fact, they appreciate and take care of their animals as best they can. The affection shows even in the working gear prepared for the mules - combination of colorful blankets, harnesses and wooden stirrups. Have a look at the colorful working gear of the mules.
Working gears of the mule

get out of the way like Subbotsky does here. Photo credit: Subbotsky
Another likely problem is when you are on a narrow trail and a mule train approaches from the same or opposite direction. Get out of their way, on the higher side of the trail. If the trail also happens to be ledge, press your back against the wall. This is for your own good, you don't want to be on the open side of the ledge and be kicked in to the gorge by a nervous mule. But this entire scenario can be avoided altogether. Mules usually have a brass bell tied around the neck. Chime of the bells signal arrival of a mule train minutes before they are within eyesight. Giving plenty of time to find a good spot to tuck yourself in.

Subbotsky's post here provides another good advice. Firmly hang on to the side cable for support if you happen to find yourself on the cable bridge with a mule train. The mules tends to shake the entire bridge and one's simple balancing tricks might be inadequate, specially when you carry a backpack.