Trekking in Nepal
With eight of the top ten highest summits in the world and some of the most beautiful landscapes which are only reachable on foot, trekking in Nepal is one of the unique experiences of Asia.
Trekking is the most popular activity in Nepal, and travellers will be bombarded on the streets of Kathmandu and the trekking hub, Pokhara, with guides, organised tours and gear for sale or rent. The huge variety of options allows for people of many ages and capabilities to attempt a trek in the country. While you could spend a year planning an expedition to wild and lofty places that few would dare attempt, you could also arrive in Kathmandu with no plans and be on the trail in a matter of days.
Despite what many may perceive, trekking in Nepal is not necessarily wandering alone through an uncharted wilderness. As they walk along the well-marked trekking paths, travellers will often discover quite the opposite; hundreds of locals passing through each day as they haul food, water and other odd necessities back to their tiny villages, along with dozens of fellow trekkers. The regularly-spaced villages and teahouses allow trekkers good opportunities to rest and recover, either for a few minutes or the night. The strong culture and unreserved friendliness of the Nepalese people can also be witnessed as one traverses the hill tracks.
When to go
The best seasons for trekking are the dry and warm seasons, March-June and September-November. During these times, the temperature is bearable and skies are usually clear, although the skies are foggier and the rain begins in May-June. It is possible to trek out of season, but expect rain and leeches during the summer monsoon season and severe cold and closed passes during the winter months.
During the monsoon season, the treks are virtually empty of travellers. Most rain usually comes at night; days are cloudy with less rain. The north side of the Himalayas is in rain shadow, meaning that the mountains somewhat block the rain. Annapurna Circuit is in rain shadow after Pisang. The skies are still cloudy and it rains occasionally. In mornings the skies may be clearer, but the views are still nowhere as good as during the trekking season. Landslides may block the trekking routes.
See also the Nepal climate section.
Experience & Fitness
There are treks suitable for a wide range of experience and physical fitness. If you can walk uphill for a few hours each day, then you can find a suitable trek in Nepal. An easy trek with Nepali support (guide/porter) and teahouse accomodation is quite attainable for anyone who is reasonably fit. Longer treks, crossing high passes and into remote regions demand a higher degree of endurance. For Trekking Peaks, i.e. summitting a mountain of 5650-6500m, it is desirable to have some alpine climbing experience.
Equipment and Supplies
It is best to take only what you need and leave the rest behind. Your needs while trekking will be simple.
It is possible to buy or rent everything you need in the Thamel neighborhood of Kathmandu and Pokhara, although it is better to use footwear that is already broken in. Good bargains can be had on fleeces and down jackets but the knockoffs of brand name goods sold in Nepal are not good quality.
The main essentials to bring are sturdy and comfortable hiking boots, a sleeping bag (depending on your accommodation), a daypack, and a few changes of clothes for the varying temperatures. For cold weather, hiking pants, thermals, gloves, neck warmer/scarf, beanie, a warm inner jacket and a windproof / waterproof outer jacket are essential. It is very common for the local people to throw garbage in the nature. Please consider taking water purification supplies with you so that you don't have to buy water in plastic bottles, as you don't know what happens to the empty bottles. Other items to bring include a hiking stick or two, waterproof case, fabric bandages such as moleskin, a headlamp, altitude sickness and other medication, a camera, and binoculars.
On the popular trekking routes, everyday supplies, such as toilet paper, soap, chocolate bars, and even basic hiking supplies can be purchased along the way, though prices rise dramatically as you go higher in elevation. Try to stock up lower down and buy locally-produced products such as fruit, coconut biscuits and bon bon biscuits.
Maps are easy to find in Nepal, although they may not be totally accurate.
For the more difficult treks involving mountaineering, crampons and ice axes may be required.
Guided vs. Independent Treks
Whether to join an organized group, trek unguided with other independent travelers, or to hire your own guide and/or porter is a personal decision to be based on the difficulty of the trek and available budget. When signing up with an agency, you should speak with several and make detailed inquiries about the differences in service besides just the base cost. If hiring staff independently and without an agency, the be mindful of your responsibilities to ensure that your guide is suitably equipped for the job and stays safe.
Guided Treks legally must be organized through TAAN registered trekking agencies in Kathmandu and Pokhara. Be aware that no one else, no hotel, no street broker, no nice person you just met, not even a trekking guide is legally authorized to organize a trek. During the main seasons the agencies run regular group treks and it is generally easy to find a group doing the trek of your choice. All the necessary trekking gear, food, fuel and other goods are carried by the porters. The cook will prepare all the meals during the camping trek. Trekkers need to carry only a small bag as required for the day. At night, tents for dining, sleeping and washing are provided and set up. Mattresses, sleeping bags, tables and seating are arranged by staff. For large group treks, a Sirdar (chief guide) is employed to pre-arrange and then to oversee the entire program. All land transportation, local permits, taxes, porter insurance, port dues and entrance fees to National Parks or sites that are part of the trip are arranged by the agency.
Recommendations from others you might know who have used the services of guides or trekking companies can be very helpful. Obviously some guides or trekking organizations provide better and more professional services than others. This could affect merely your convenience and comfort or, when significant altitude gain or a difficult route is involved, could become a real safety issue. Having someone along who is experienced, professional and attentive could be very important.
If you are employing the services of guides and porters, it is customary to present a tip to the head guide at the end of the trip. This will be divided up between the various people employed in your group. Like most tips, the amount will vary depending on the quality of services provided, but it could be between 5% and 10% of the total cost of your trek.
Independent trekking is quite easy in the main trekking areas.
Police check points are numerous and unavoidable and park officers can check your permits at any time, with a fine of double the normal cost if you are caught without the proper permits. Do not try to bribe officers or police personnel; it might get you in more trouble than you think. Most of the time there will be two or 3 permits, one will belong to conservation area or national park, another will be Trekkers Information Management System (TIMS) Card and the last one is restricted area entry permit. You will need one or two or all of the permits mentioned above.
Treks in Annapurna, Khumbu, and Langtang/Helambu
Treks in these areas only require national park entry tickets (NPR2000 for a single entry) and a "TIMS (Trekker Information Management System) card", but do not require "special permits". There are two types of TIMS cards: green (for independent trekkers, NPR2,000) and blue (for trekkers who are part of a group with a guide, NPR1,000). Individual TIMS (green cards) are obtainable only from Nepal Tourism Board offices in Kathmandu and Pokhara and from the Trekking Agents Association of Nepal office. Not even Trekking Agents are legally authorized to obtain individual TIMS (even though some small Trekking Agents may offer the individual TIMS). For information on how to get a TIMS card, see TIMS Nepal. Make sure that you bring the required insurance documentation and passport-sized photographs when applying.
Treks in Restricted areas
Restricted areas such as Dolpo, Mustang, Manaslu, and Kanchenjunga require "trekking permits" (but not the TIMS card), which are obtainable only through trekking agents.
There are 33 mountain peaks in Nepal of 5,650-6,500m height classified as trekking peaks. Climbing permits for these peaks cost $350 USD for one to four members, an additional $40 USD each for the next four members and $25 USD each for the final four members. Trekking peaks require a qualified "climbing guide", permits and deposits to cover camp waste disposal.
Be sure to research the type of accommodation available on your trek before embarking.
Tea Houses (Lodges) at settlements at various points on the trek offer dorm room accommodation and simple basic meals reflective of what the local people in the area eat. Although many tea houses and hotels in the hills and mountains are reasonably comfortable, some may be dirty and rather basic. In areas where chimneys are rare, dining rooms may be smoky. Bedrooms and dorm rooms will not be heated. Note that linens are not provided by the lodges, and nights can get very cold, so it makes sense to bring a sleeping bag even for teahouse treks.
Camping can be conducted almost anywhere in the country. Camping treks can be fully organized and supported with a team of guides (who may or may not be Sherpas), cooks, and porters to accompany you.
Homestays in local villages can be organized.
Treks can be customized based on your desires. Some treks are designed to see the best mountainous views, some are designed to expose life in the villages, some are designed based around detox/healthy living programs, while others include daily yoga and meditation classes. Ask around and consult with local guides to find a trek that best suits your interests.
Detailed itineraries, including elevation and hiking time between every major stop, are available online by searching for the name of the trek. See above for required permit fees for these itineraries and be sure to research accommodation options before embarking on the trek.
The Great Himalayan Trail is a 1,700km trek that connects all the main trekking areas. It is possible to make this trek with a coterie of very good guides, cooks, porters, equipment (including technical gear) and payment of many expensive fees. The window for completing this trek is exceedingly short as snow closes the high passes for much of the year. The government is also proposing a similarly long trekking route crossing the pahar or mid-hills of Nepal; however, no one has actually trekked and outlined an actual route.
The Annapurna Region, north of the middle hills city and the trekking base city of Pokhara, includes Annapurna I, the 10th tallest mountain in the world at 8,091 meters above sea level, as well as thirteen additional peaks over 7,000m and 16 more peaks over 6,000m. All of these treks offer amazing views of this mountain range.
Kathmandu Valley Region
Mount Everest Region
Far Eastern Nepal
Far Western Nepal
Please read up extensively on Altitude sickness. Be familiar with the symptoms and do not ignore them. Be sure to keep to a conservative ascent schedule and drink plenty of fluids. If you or anyone in your party begins to experience symptoms of acute mountain sickness (AMS), do not ascend any further, and if they do not improve, then descend to a lower altitude. Carry some diamox (acetazolamide) pills, which can be bought in pharmacies in Nepal. Diamox forces the kidneys to excrete bicarbonate in the urine, therefore making the blood more acidic, which stimulates breathing, increasing the amount of oxygen in the blood. Note that diamox is not an immediate fix for acute mountain sickness; it speeds up part of the acclimatization process which in turn helps to relieve symptoms. This may take up to a day or two, and requires waiting without any further rapid ascent. It is often advisable to descend if even mild acute mountain sickness is experienced. If serious sickness is encountered or symptoms of high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) or high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) occur, descent with another trekker is A MUST.
Please consult the pharmacist when purchasing Diamox and do your own research. There is also a free talk in Manang given on altitude sickness every day during season. One thing that is often overlooked is that your body requires large amounts of water at altitude to counteract sickness so be sure to drink more than you are used to!
Water & food contamination
Buy antibiotics for stomach infections while at the pharmacy. Getting a script for bacterial and a script for amoebic infections is recommended. Pharmaceuticals are cheap in Nepal!
For drinking water, the best practice is to treat all water as being contaminated - especially water in the cities. Although bottled water is often available, the disposal of the plastic bottles is a serious problem with no easy solution. Please do not buy bottled water on the trek as there are no rubbish disposal systems on the trek. It is less expensive and better for the environment to treat your own water. The main two options for trekkers are to use the safe drinking water stations along the trek for a small fee or bring your own water purifiers. Chlorination and iodine tablets are available in the main cities. You can also use a filter with a ceramic cartridge which should remove anything 1 micron in size or larger or a UV treatment system such as a SteriPEN which takes care of any viruses, bacteria and protozoa in relatively clear water. You might want to combine the two systems just to make sure you have made the water completely safe. Use treated water for drinking and for brushing your teeth.
Always carry a head torch/lamp, water, some food, and a mobile phone with helicopter evacuation number (on Trekking Profile) in case of emergencies.
Some trails are known for encounters with desperate bandits although this is fairly rare.
Before the departure check that your travel insurance covers trekking activities and the conditions. Be aware that some insurance companies view even walking in the mountains as "mountaineering" and will not provide coverage. You may have to shop around. Most reputable trekking agencies will require proof of rescue insurance before you start on your trek. It would be very costly to pay a helicopter rescue at 5000 meters.
Make sure you trek with other people - especially on side treks with unclear paths. If a problem occurs, it is much easier to get help if others are nearby. Many people have gone missing or died on treks. If you do not have a trekking partner, in Kathmandu or Pokhara, it is usually easy to find other like-minded people with similar travel plans in and trek together. Even if you start at the trailhead alone you are likely to meet the same people along the trail and share lodges at night.