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Trekking in Nepal

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Everest base camp.jpg


Understand

Nepal has some of the best trekking in the world, to and around several of the world's highest mountains, including Mount Everest. Many people visit the country just to trek and the tourism industry is well prepared to facilitate all manner of trekking styles and destinations. On the one hand you could spend a year planning an expedition to wild and lofty places; on the other you could land in Kathmandu with no plans and be on the trail to Everest Base Camp (EBC) in a matter of days.

A view of Mount Everest from the Tibetan base camp
View of Annapurna Mountains from Ghorepani


Types of trekking in Nepal

Teahouse trekking along the main trails is the most common style, with decent lodges in every settlement (and between), it is possible to trek in comfort with minimal preparation, equipment and support. There is no need to camp and a selection of western style foods are readily available from a menu system. No special permits are required, just national park entry tickets and the TIMS permit. The main areas for these treks are Everest/Khumbu Langtang and Annapurna. Since 2010, the Manaslu Circuit Trek has become possible without camping in tea-houses, though it requires a US$ 50 per week permit and must be trekked with a guide. The trek to Lo Manthang in Upper Mustang is similar: no camping is required as many comfortable lodges are available, but a permit is required which keeps many budget travellers away.

Facilities available in remote areas are less extensive than in the more popular areas. Off the main trails where there are no lodges and food from menus a Nepali guide becomes essential, and it may be advisable or necessary to visit such regions with organised groups, including guide, porters and full support. Kanchenjunga, Makalu Barun, Rolwaling, Dolpo, Humla are in remote areas. Many of them also require special permits.

Only TAAN registered trekking agencies in Kathmandu and Pokhara can legally organize treks and provide the services of a guide and/or porter with insurance. 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, both tea-house and camping styles, and it is generally possible to join a group doing a trek of your choice. Independent trekking is quite easy in the main trekking areas.

Required Permits A trekking permit issued by the Department of Immigration is required to trek in any part of Nepal, except the most popular areas of Annapurna, Khumbu and Langtang/Helambu. Those areas were declared permit-free in 1999. The joy was short-lived, though, as a new system called TIMS (Trekker Information Management System) was recently created for those three areas. Be sure you have a TIMS card with you when trekking independently or organized. Individual TIMS is obtainable only from Nepal Tourism Board offices and the Trekking Agents Association of Nepal office. Not even Trekking Agents are legally authorized to obtain individual TIMS (even do many small Trekking Agents will offer the individual TIMS). Police check points and Park officers can at any time check your permits.

Several National Parks and Conservation areas like ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Project) and Sagarmatha National Park (Everest area) require trekkers to pay an entrance fee.

Restricted areas require the old trekking permit (but not the TIMS card), which are obtainable only through the organizing trekking agent for areas like Dolpo, Mustang, Manaslu, Kanchenjunga and other similar areas.

Do not try to bribe officers or police personnel; it might get you in more trouble than you think.

Pokhara Annapurna Range.jpg

Types of Trekking

Tea House(Lodge Trek): Also known as lodge trekking is a relatively cheap way of trekking in where meals and accommodation are provided in a teahouse. In Nepal, it is quite popular to trekking along the many trails, stopping each night to eat and sleep at a local Tea House. Meals depend on the menu at the tea house, usually the simple basic meals of the local people. Although many tea houses and hotels in the hills and mountains are reasonably comfortable, some may be dirty and, in areas where chimneys are rare, rooms may be smoky.

It's a great way to connect with some of the local culture and definitely suits trekkers not wanting to carry back-crushing rucksacks. The standard of lodgings can vary from very similar to a hotel, to something far more rustic.

Camping (Organized Trek): The classic style of trekking in Nepal and can be conducted almost anywhere in the country. Camping trekking is fully organized and supported with a team of guides, cooks, sherpas and porters to accompany you.

All the necessary trekking gears; 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 ablution are provided and set up. Mattresses, sleeping bags, tables and seating are arranged by staff. 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 constituting an integral part of the trip are arranged.

Prepare

  • When to go: The best seasons for trekking are either side of the monsoon season, March-June and September-November. During this time the weather is generally fine and the skies clear. It is possible to trek out of season, but expect lots of rain (and leeches) during the monsoon and severe cold and closed passes during the winter months. See also the Nepal climate section.
  • Experience & Fitness - there are treks suitable for a wide range of experience and physical fitness, for age 5 to 85. An easy teahouse trek with Nepali support (guide/porter) is quite attainable for anyone who is reasonably walking fit - if you can walk for a few hours each day for a week and are not averse to the occasional (frequent!) hill climb then you can trek in Nepal. Longer treks, crossing high passes and into remote regions do tend to demand a higher degree of endurance. For Trekking Peaks it is usually desirable but not necessarily essential to have some alpine climbing experience.
  • Equipment: the main essentials are sturdy and comfortable hiking boot, a sleeping bag and a few clothes (be prepared for a range of weather). It is best to travel light, take only what you need and leave the rest behind. If you have the services of a porter then you will need a day-pack for your essentials and the rest goes in a kit-bag or duffel to be conveyed to your next stop. It is possible to buy everything in Kathmandu and Pokhara but it is all copies.
  • Hiring support: Whether to join a group, trek 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 enquiries about the differences in service besides just the base cost. If hiring staff independently the be mindful of your responsibilities to ensure that your man is suitably equipped for the job and stays safe.
  • Permits and TIMS: "Trekking permits" are not required for the main teahouse treks. Recent rule brought in by the Trekking Associations in Nepal require that all trekkers register with TIMS ("Trekking Information Management System"), this can be done via official trekking agencies or the Nepal Tourism Board [1]. Trekking to remote areas and climbing the designated "Trekking peaks" require extra permits, these are generally obtained by the agent/guide who will be arranging your trek.
  • Arriving mid-travel: If you arrive in Kathmandu part way tour of Asia and decide to go trekking then you can easily get equipped in Kathmandu. Plenty of shops in Thamel sell (or rent) any trekking gear that may be required. The local copies of brand name goods are not good quality, but good bargains can be had on fleeces and down jackets. Whilst walking boots are readily available it would be advisable not to be breaking on Nepali made boots along the trail, comfortable and reliable footwear is essential. Permits and (if required) guides can be arranged in a day or two.
  • Rescue insurance: Before the departure check that your insurance covers trekking activities and the conditions. It would be very costly to pay a helicopter rescue at 5000 meters.

Treks

Gokyo, the lower Ngozumbar Glacier, and Dudh Pokhari lake
View from Annapurna Base Camp
Lakeside Pokhara trail

The Great Himalaya Trail [2] is the Government of Nepal's latest tourism 'product' and spans Nepal connecting all of the main trekking areas (mentioned below) with less visited areas in approximately 1,700 km of trails. There is also a lower or cultural route crossing the pahar or mid-hills of Nepal.


Main "teahouse trek" regions, in each of these areas there are a number of trail options, there is plenty of scope for short treks of less than a week to much longer if you have time and wanderlust.

  • Khumbu - Bus to Jiri or fly to Lukla then hike up to Namche Bazzar, capital of the Sherpa lands at the foot of Everest. The most popular trek is up to Everest Base Camp and an ascent of Kalar Patar. Visit the Buddhist Tengboche monastery for the Mani Rimdu festival in November. Explore the Gokyo valley with its sacred lakes and stupendous views of four 8000m peaks. Or a circuit of the region crossing the high passes or Cho La and Renjo La.
  • Annapurna - North of Pokhara, from lush middle hills into high mountains. A circuit leads up the Maryangdi river to Manang, over Thorung La (5400m) to the Hindu temples at Muktinath. Down the Kali Gandaki on the Jomsom trail enjoying Gurung and Thakali hospitality. Up through spring rhododendron blooms to Poon Hill for a dawn Himalayan vista. Trek up into the very heart of the Annapurna Sanctuary for an awesome 360' high mountain skyline. Upper Mustang is also tea-house trekkable with quite easy trails and amazing Trans-Himalayan scenery though it attracts a restricted area permit of US$500 per 10 days.
  • Helambu Langtang - a short taxi ride from Thamel to the roadhead at Shivapuri leads to a trail through the middle-hills countryside of Helambu, either circuit around and return to Kathmandu or cross the pass to the sacred lake at Gosainkhund, descend and then hike up the Langtang valley beneath mountains that form the border with Tibet. Descend back to catch a bus on a rough road through Trisuli to Kathmandu.
  • Manaslu - Unspoiled trails through remote villages and over a wild pass to circuit an 8000m mountain. Though trekkable since 1991, since 2010 this has become Nepal's newest 'tea-house' trek with the building of a lodge below the Larkya La pass (5135m). Some lodges are currently still a little basic, so it remains for the adventurous, though without the need to camp. Manaslu area and the extremely interesting Tsum side valley are still restricted and need special permits and a guide.
  • Makalu - Makalu base camp can now also be reached using tea-house accommodation.


Other more remote regions will require a bit more planning and probably local assistance, not least as the required permits are only issued via Nepali guides/agents. Camping is required on one or more nights.

  • Kanchenjunga - far eastern Nepal on the border with India, accessible via flight or bus to Taplejung (Suketar - airport closed until end 2011), from Kathmandu 40min by plane to Bhadrapur with 10 hours by jeep or bus, or 24hrs by bus from Kathmandu. This is a strenuous trek through sparsely populated country to the base camps of the third highest mountain. Note: This trek can also be done by small adventurous groups as a tea-house trek. There is accommodation and food available in all villages, though Lhonak has very limited accommodation but a tent can be rented in Ghunsa from the KCAP official.
  • Dolpa - Upper Dolpa is the remote Land of the Bon, almost as Tibetan as Nepali. Lower Dolpa is more accessible and can be reached by plane.
  • Naar-Phu Valley is a hidden Tibetan valley just north of the Annapurna Circuit which was opened to visitors in 2002. Entrance is form Koto near Chame, and exit via 5300m high Kang La pass to Ngawal. A few basic lodges, but camping style trek still recommended. 9 days form Koto to Ngawal with two days in each major village Phugaon and Naar.


Trekking Peaks require a qualified "climbing guide", permits and deposits to cover camp waste disposal. There are 33 trekking peaks in total but the two most popular peaks are.

  • Island Peak Trek - The Island Peak trek in the Khumbu region takes in some of the most spectacular scenery in the Himalayas.
  • Mera Peak Climbing - Enjoy panoramic views of Mt. Everest (8,848 m; 29,030 ft), Cho-Oyu (8,201 m; 26,910 ft), Lhotse (8,516 m; 27,940 ft), Makalu (8463 m; 27,770 ft), Kangchenjunga (8,586 m; 28,170 ft), Nuptse (7,855 m; 25,770 ft), and Chamlang (7,319 m; 24,010 ft).

Stay safe

  • Altitude sickness is a significant risk when trekking on any trails above about 2500m. Be familiar with the symptoms and do not ignore them. People who keep to a conservative ascent schedule and drink plenty of fluids should acclimatise OK. If you or anyone in your party begins to experience symptoms of AMS then do not ascend any further, and if they do not improve then descent to a lower altitude is the only option.
  • Water - The streams should be considered polluted and whilst bottled water is often available, the disposal of plastic bottles is a problem. Have some means to purify water, iodine and/or a fine ceramic filter are the best options.
  • Lone travelers - arriving in Kathmandu it is usually easy to find other like minded people with similar travel plans 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. It is not wise to trek alone (this is true not just in Nepal but anywhere). In the unlikely event that you should encounter trouble or become ill then it is far easier and safer to have some companion to help out.
  • Maoists - In recent months the political situation has changed to bring the Maoists back into government. Consequently there is no "official" justification for the old practices of "taxing" trekkers. That said, it is possible that this habit may continue and if a "donation" is demanded undeer threats then it is probably best to pay the fee in return for the "official" receipt.

Responsible trekking

  • Trek legally. If you trek independently, you are not allowed to take any staff yourself by law. You need for this a Trekking Agency, the sole authorized to employ staff for foreign trekkers. Do not hire staff through hotels, "independend guides" unless they have a Trekking Agent licence or offer this services through an affliliated Trekking Agent.
  • Please make sure you pack out all of your trash, including bottles and cans from goods consumed in restaurants. Bring the trash to the nearest truck-accessible road for the most proper disposal available.
  • Trekkers are also asked to refrain from relying on bottled water, since there is nowhere to dispose of the used bottles. Filtering or treating your water will reduce the amount of trash left behind in this fragile environment. Iodine pills are a cheap, lightweight solution.
  • Take the time to look at the pollution and lack of trash management all around you, from the trash-clogged rivers in the cities to the mounds of discarded beer bottles in the mountain villages. This is a country struggling with its rapid Westernization and hasn't yet figured out how to dispose of its waste. Don't contribute to the problem any more than necessary!
  • After your trek you can give your clothes to the porters' clothing bank which is managed by the KEEP association [3]. This bank is located in Thamel at Kathmandu and provides clothes to the trekking porters.
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