Get to Know Adventure Guide Maila Gurung

From September to December, Maila Gurung epitomizes what it means to be an Energizer Bunny: he’s on the go, building camps alongside Nepal’s staggeringly beautiful rivers, kayaking, cooking, and tending to the never-ending list of other bits and bobs one tends to on kayaking expeditions to make them tick, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Maila, an adventure-guiding-veteran, knows all there is to know about whitewater, Nepal, and the art of, well, living life to the fullest. Read on to learn how this Kayaking-genius became one of the world’s best adventure guides.

Maila GurungThank you for taking the time to chat with us about your awesome lifestyle, Maila. From your profile, I see you have been in the guiding industry for almost two decades. First, wow, that’s impressive, and second, would you mind detailing how you got interested in being a tour guide?

I grew up alongside the Trisuli river, which is the most popular river in Nepal for rafting. I would go down there every day after school to help the raft guides pack up the gear, do the washing up, anything really to make myself useful. I was desperate to start working as a guide myself; it seemed like so much fun riding the rapids and meeting people from all over the world. When I was about 10 years old, one of the guides put me in a kayak to see how I did, and all the rest is history. I’m fortunate I found my calling from such a young age.

Having worked in Nepal, India, England, and Switzerland, there’s no doubt you’re quite the explorer. Of all these places, which has been your favorite, and why? 

Am I allowed to say Nepal? I know it is my home country, so, for the sake of skirting the issue of bias, I should probably pick one of the other countries, but if I’m perfectly honest, Nepal is my favorite place. There are so many incredible spots to explore here, and there is so much history and culture. To top it off, the people are so friendly, it’s relatively easy and cheap to travel around, and there’s something for everyone to enjoy, be it exploring the expansive, open land via horseback, the rivers by boat, or the charming homesteads by foot.

What draws you to being an adventure guide in different countries?  

I went to India to work for 7 years when I was young, and while I was there I gained  invaluable experiences. With that, I caught the travel bug, and since my work is seasonal (our busiest time is in the Fall), I have the rest of the year to explore. Currently, I’m in the States trying my hand at skiing for the first time! From a professional point of view, however, it’s also good to travel to see how things are done in other countries. The best guides are those who have many skills and unlimited knowledge, and traveling the world will give those to you.

In working for GRG’s Adventure Kayaking, what has been the biggest highlight?

I always dreamt of running my own company, but never dreamed we would be so successful. A highlight for me has been having the World Class Kayak Academy paddle with us for three months. We ran their entire program, and it was the most incredible experience. We love running big groups like that; the more, the merrier.

Other highlights include the look on people’s faces when you take them rafting for the first time, and that we get to camp under the stars for most of the season. Perhaps the biggest highlight is that first cold beer upon returning from a long trip down the river!

I’ve always been fascinated by Nepal, but I have yet to travel there (it’s on the bucket list!). What are your top three things about the country?

  1. The weather: I love hot climates, so Nepal is perfect.
  2. The Sports: Nepal is quickly becoming the most popular place in Asia for adventure sports, be it whitewater rafting, kayaking, trekking, paragliding, canyoning, mountain biking, you name it.
  3. The festivals: Nepal is predominantly a Hindu country, so we celebrate some really colorful festivals. If you can time your holiday during either the Tihar, Dashain, or Holi festival, you’re in for a real treat.

On your “Tamur River Expedition,” you not only trek through remote villages with incredible view of the Himalayas for three days, followed by a seven-day paddle down the mighty Tamur where you’ll camp under the stars on white-sand beaches, you’ll also get the chance to observe local wildlife, and, wait for it…track tiger footprints! Have you ever come across a wild tiger, and, if so, what was the experience like?

I saw a tiger once when driving back from an expedition with the Indian Army. It was around 8pm in a very remote area, and as soon as he saw us he ran down the cliff. Even though I was inside the car I could feel the adrenaline pumping through my body. I have also woken up to footprints surrounding my shelter when kayaking in Nepal. When we know we are in Tiger territory, we tend to light several fires around our camp to make it look like we are a bigger group; tigers don’t often come down when they see too much action.

What are some tips you have for visitors to Nepal? Are there certain customs travelers should pay particular attention to?

There are many customs and cultures in Nepal to be aware of. In fact, I recently wrote a blog article about this very topic. It’s called Cultural Do’s and Dont’s when traveling to Nepal.” To be honest though, as long as you are friendly and polite, people won’t mind if you make a mistake.

What does a typical workday look like for you?

A typical work day? I don’t think I’ve ever had a typical work day! A standard day on the river would be to wake up at 6AM, get breakfast ready for the clients, make sure there is hot water ready for tea, coffee etc., have the raft loaded by 10 in the morning, and then set off down the river. We kayak and/or raft until 1PM, at which point we stop on the riverbank for lunch. After an hour or so, we’re back on the river, and we paddle until around 5PM. Once we get off the river, we set up camp, set up the kitchen, collect drift wood, start a fire, and start cooking dinner. At 7, we enjoy dinner with our clients, and after, we make sure all the equipment is secure before we sit back and relax around the campfire. Let’s just say that from September to December we work every day non-stop. It’s exhausting, but so worth it, and it never gets old.

What is the best trip you have ever lead?

Probably a trip I lead in Ladakh back in 2009. I travelled from Nepal to Northern India with 8 kayaks, which, in and of itself, was a bit of an expedition. We paddled the Tsarap Chu River, Upper Indus and the Lower Indus within three weeks. It was totally different to any trip I had led before, and it made me a much stronger paddler. The landscape up there is out of this world. We finished the trip by riding Royal Enfield motorcycles on one the highest roads in the world. We’re talking 5000+ meters high!

What’s the most bizarre experience you’ve ever had on a guided tour? Ever had any odd requests from clients?

Once we had a group that were very short on time, but had a lot of money, and I’ll tell you one thing: that’s a killer combination; after all, to fit a 3-day trip into 12 hours, we had to bring in a helicopter. That’s right, to save time spent driving, we helicoptered the group to and from the river! To top it off, they also wanted champagne for breakfast, and they requested very specific foods too.

Since I’m a stranger to your part of the world, I’m curious as to what the cuisine is like. What’s your favorite Nepalese dish?

Our local dish is called Dal Bhat, which is basically steamed rice and lentil soup, served with spinach, a pickle, and a meat or veggie curry. Locals normally have it twice a day. It’s very tasty, what with all the herbs and spices, and the bonus is that it is very good for you.

When it comes to jobs, the bottom line is that no job is perfect. Would you mind sharing some of the downfalls of being a guide in Nepal?

The long hours. In season, we work 24/7, and after, from January to March, there are barely any trips, so that’s when we catch up on rest. We go from all to nothing.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

Next on my list is Norway. It’s a place in Europe I have never been, and the whitewater sounds absolutely incredible. I’d like to spend a month or so there in the summer.

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