After 12 months of rigorous training and extensive role-playing, we finally passed our exams: Nickiy and I qualified as professional tour guides. Our first victims were fresh from some harrowing experiences in India. We’d already been paid for guiding their tour, but we really needed to work the tip angle extensively. Apparently this was where the real cash was to be made.
Arriving a little late from Delhi, our clients seemed to spend hours in Kathmandu airport for no reason. Perhaps they were held up by all the locals bringing flat-screen TV’s into the country from the Arab states. When they finally emerged at arrivals we held up our sign and put on our best smiles. There was the tip to think about.
The next day we bribed all the locals in Kathmandu to pretend it was a big religious festival where you throw water and coloured powder all over foreigners. This scheme worked well because other tourists unwittingly became involved as well. Getting cold and wet didn’t help my cold much, but I figured the tip would easily cover any medical bills.
The Tour Guide Handbook rule number 4 states to “always keep the clients in a perpetual state of movement or freefall” in order to “affect a state of euphoric fatigue”. Unfortunately our female client took this a bit too literally the next day whilst stumbling around in the dark trying to find their bus.
As news of ankle damage during freefall came over the wire, Nickiy and I wrestled with our first proper tour guide problem; some of the activities involved walking and these would have to change. The solution was easy: Blame the client and let them choose what to do instead. Let them feel in control and that tip will snowball.
At Chitwan national park the next day we managed another psychological coup. Our original plan was to spend a morning doing a jeep safari then combine a dugout river tour with some walking in the afternoon. In a move of Kasparovian brilliance, we arranged for a whole day in the jeep. We then blatantly paid the difference, knowing you reap what you sow.
Paying some jungle workers to lace the jeep track with all sorts of mammal snacks also paid huge dividends. We saw 21 ‘wild’ rhinos (actually 10 real ones and 11 remote control ones), a black bear (called Peggy, on loan from the local zoo), some elephants, a leopard cut-out (pulled across the track on a wire), some pickpocket langur monkeys, and some James Bond-style crocodiles.
TGH rule number 4 kicked into action again as we located an insane taxi driver who needed to go to our next location anyway. We charged our clients the full fare for their 4 hour journey and paid the taxi driver only a fraction of this. As an added bonus his driving was so bad that they arrived absolutely shattered and were like putty in our hands.
Our bribes hadn’t worked well at the Buddhist temples in Lumbini. We continued to have parking problems for our bicycles all day. I guess Lord Buddha is too good for our money. He’s missing a trick there, as we will remove these idealists from our itinerary in future. Departing from Lumbini involved a cliff-side local bus ride for our clients to the market town of Tansen. We had planned for a day walk here but instead we filled our clients with bakery food and market sights.
Once more we bundled them on an early local bus towards Pokhara (when in fact there were later, more comfortable buses they didn’t know about). Whilst they screamed at the precipitous death-drops to their left and right, we laughed as we screamed past them in air-conditioned comfort.
In Pokhara we went balls-deep into the tourist activities; boat trip, paragliding, hilltop Himalaya viewing etc. To boost client morale I even pretended to have the worst paragliding experience of everyone, even though I’m actually a trained pilot. Because they were having such a great time, Nickiy and I managed to slip away to do some moonlighting as technical paragliding consultants on the set of a new Nepalese film. There’s a tall guy in it but he’s not on our payroll.
Next up we bundled our clients onto a rickety propeller plane operated by one of the two least safe airlines in the world. The other is Nepal Airlines. We saved big money there, plus if it crashed, our client’s insurers would have to pay us our tip. Bonus!
Back in Kathmandu we crammed them into the smallest room available with no wi-fi to maximise our hotel credits. We then managed a relentless tour of the local Tibet town (Boudhanath) and one of the better preserved durbar squares at Bhaktapur. We even got paid to do a staged breakfast photo shoot on the guest house roof terrace. This tour guide business is easy. The money was just rolling in.
Visiting Patan on the way back to the city, we made up stories of ancient construction techniques to stop our clients asking too many stupid questions. Our usual hotel was full when we returned, so in another coup we got put up in a condemned building for free. It seemed like a nicer hotel but was actually radioactive and was about to be demolished. After drinking local spirit that night, one sensitive client felt terrible after sleeping in this building. What he thought was a hangover was actually radiation poisoning! It was a perfect end to their trip.
Because of our client’s illness we had to help them pack, and as a surprise we slipped a few extra things into their luggage. The sort of things you weren’t allowed to take though customs. This was our safeguard for ensuring a good tip. We would call them at the airport and warn them before it was too late.
Luckily for them, they gave us an extremely generous tip before heading to the airport. Enough to buy a small yacht easily, I reckon. Unluckily for them, we couldn’t get through to their phone before they tried to board their plane. Oh well, I suppose we can fake their review when they are stuck in prison.
Author’s note: None of the above is true. An alternative version can be found here