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, or you could land in Kathmandu with no plans and be on the trail to EBC a matter of days.
"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. The main areas for these treks are Everest/Khumbu, Annapurna and Langtang/Helambu.
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 to visit such regions with organised groups, including guide, porters and full support. Mustang, Kanchenjunga, Manaslu, Dolpo and Humla are in remote areas. Many of them require also special permits.
There are lots of agencies in Kathmandu and Pokhara who are always keen to broker the services of a guide and/or porter. During the main seasons the agencies run regular group treks, both teahouse and camping styles, and it generally possible to join a group doing a trek of your choice. Independent trekking is quite easy with straight forward preparations.
- 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 leaches) 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.
- 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. 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.
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.
- 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.
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, accessible via Taplejung (from Kathmandu 40min by plane, 40hrs by bus), a strenuous trek through sparsely populated country to the third highest mountain.
- Dopla - Upper Dolpa is the remote Land of the Bon, almost as Tibetan as Nepali. Lower Dolpa is more accessible and can me reached by plane
- Manaslu - Unspoiled trails through remote villages and over a wild pass to circuit an 8000m mountain
Trekking Peaks require a qualified "climbing guide", permits and deposits to cover camp waste disposal
- 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).
- Altitude sickness - a significant risk when trekking on any trails above about 2500m. Be familiar with the symptoms and do not ignore them. If you keep to a conservative ascent schedule and drink plenty of fluids then most people can acclimatise. If you or anyone in your party begins to experience symptoms of AMS then do not ascent, and if they do not improve then descent to a lower altitude is to only option to consider.
- 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 tail and sharing lodges at nights. It is not wise to trek alone (this is true not just in Nepal but anywhere). In the unlikely event that you should encounter troubles or become ill then it is far easier and safer to have some companion to help out.
- Maoist "taxes" - 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 "tax" is demanded with threats of menace then it is probably best to pay the fee in return for the "official" receipt.