The Great Himalaya Trail
The 'Great Himalaya Trail' is a theoretical long-distance network of trekking trails which have been proposed to span the entire Greater Himalaya Range from Namche Bawa in Eastern Tibet to Nanga Parbat in Pakistan at the western end. The term is also used to refer to a subset of those trails spanning the width of Nepal.
To date, no such unified and demarcated trail network exists on the ground or has been recognized officially by the concerned governments, despite the promotion of the concept by various parties. However, it is conceivable that a very well-organized group with several months, a significant budget, and tremendous patience for navigating bureaucratic obstacles would be able to orchestrate a trek across the entire Himalayan range, or at least the part of it that falls entirely within Nepal.
As of June 2011, sections of the proposed GHT have been undertaken and documented by well-funded international non-government organisations intent on making this concept into a reality in Nepal and Bhutan. Research is ongoing, but a contiguous route is a long way from being demarcated and followable.
The proposed upper route would pass from East to West through established trekking areas of Kanchenjunga to Makalu Barun, Solukhumbu (Everest Region), Rolwaling Himal (Gaurishankar Conservation Area), Helambu, Langtang, Ganesh Himal and Manaslu region, Annapurna, Dolpa, Rara Lake and Humla currently finishing on the border with Tibet at Hilsa.
A trail route was walked and documented in Autumn 2008 and Spring / Summer of 2009 by Robin Boustead and a team (including Pema Tsiring Sherpa, Lakpa Sherpa and Karma Sherpa) with him "every step of the way."
The Government of Nepal, along with funding by international development organisations, has promoted the proposed trail and its sections as a way of bringing tourism dollars to remote communities. Tourism is an industry where the consumers come to the producers and so it might be a useful tool in poverty alleviation. To make this work, the concept of the Great Himalaya Trail is being promoted by development organisations as "responsible tourism" , and trekkers are being encouraged to be responsible tourists, but using local guides and porters, and local food and accommodation where possible.
Walking the full trail requires excellent logistics and planning. It also requires anywhere between 57 and 160 days to complete depending on route and walking speed. Consequently, most people will walk sections of the trail over different seasons.
It's safe to say that the trekking permit system in Nepal can be confusing. For the popular treks, usually only a single National Park permit plus a TIMS card is necessary.
These are not restricted areas. These are protected areas.
Conservation Areas and National Parks
The divisions of the sections are based roughly along lines of geography, with many areas being a 'himal'. Unlike many popular long distance trails where the route and points along it can be reached by vehicle, many section require a trek in from road head or airport. Choosing a section trek depends on time available, the season and your ability (fitness, skills on ice and snow and ability at atlitude).
Its a 12-day hike in to Kanchenjunga Base Camp. Then it is approximately 20 days to connect with Makalu Base Camp.
12 days hike in to Makalu Base Camp. 7 days to cross to Everest region and a further 3 or 4 to the airport at Lukla.
Flying in from Lukla, approx 25 days to connect to Barabise or The Last Resort on the Kathmandu Lhasa Highway.
Helambu & Langtang
17 days from Barabise to Syabru Besi including the Tilman Pass.
Approx. 18-20 days from Syabru, or Arughat (the traditional start for the Manaslu Trek). Approx 25 days to combine with part of Annapurna circuit to Jomsom.
Annapurna Circuit trek is around 2 weeks to Jomsom, though roads are shortening the time needed. Mustang trek is usually 10 days (minimum permit length) from Jomsom. The exploratory high route to Mustang via Saribung, Nar and Phu (6,328m) can be done in a 30 day round trip from Kathmandu.
It’s 17-20 days to reach Phoksumdo Lake and Juphal from Jomsom. There is a longer, high route trek from Dolpo to Mugu.
From Phoksumdo lake, Rara lake can be reached in about a week via Jumla.
From Rara, it’s around a week to Simikot and a further week to the border and return. Additionally, the fabulous Limi Valley trek can be completed in about two weeks from Simikot.
NB: these figures are a rough guide and will vary according to level of acclimatisation, route choices and weather. Additionally travel to and from Kathmandu has not been included and that typically requires a day for destinations close to Kathmandu, to two to three days when flights are involved.
Fly to Kathmandu International Airport, or travel overland from India or China. Depending on the section you trek, it maybe necessary to arrange permits in Kathmandu. This requires a working day (including Sunday) and arranging through a registered trekking agency or outfitter.
From Kathmandu travel either with internal flight or by road to the start of the trek.
It is never a good idea to walk alone. Nepal is generally thought of as safe for travellers and reports of attacks or robbery are not common, but do happen occasionally. There are annually reports of solo travellers going missing, possibly slipping from the trail or getting lost in remote terrain. These kind of accidents are less likely to happen travelling in a group.
Do always carry a map, compass, whistle, torch and other safety gear while trekking. Always inform someone about where you are going and when you should be expected to return.
Depending on where you leave the trail, you'll need to walk to the road head or a local airport to be transported out.
This supposed upper trail (and lower trail for that matter) is not without controversy; mainly in light of the current lack of an actual physical route. Beyond the significant issue of a lack of a contiguous route, walking cross country along the ramparts of the Himalaya calls for expert guidance and support including local guides for the many different areas of the country for route discovery, technical crew and porters to haul food and equipment through remote, uninhabited areas. Other logistical concerns include brief seasonal windows of time for traversing high elevation areas with technical passes filled with snow and ice and requiring mountaineering equipment and skilled alpinists.
Among detractors to this well-funded and well-promoted ‘trail’ is Alonzo Lyons, avid Himalayan trekker and author of several guidebooks on Nepal’s trails and attractions including The Guerrilla Trek and Yarsa Trails--Off the Beaten Path in Rugged Western Nepal. He maintains that the GHT is merely conceptual at this time, and perhaps will be developed into something less abstract in the future. He critically touches on the subject and the downsides of indefinite aid to developing economies on his blog post titled, The Great Himalayan Fairy Tale. In it, he outlines the risky experience of an elite, world-class trail runner (and subsequent Nat Geo Adventurer of the Year) who attempted the so-called trail and was lost within a few days, losing personal effects but maintaining health and returning quickly to Kathmandu, lucky to not have incurred personal harm.