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.
Despite what many may perceive, trekking in Nepal is not wandering alone through an uncharted wilderness, going where no man has been before. 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.
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 land in Kathmandu with no plans and be on the trail in a matter of days.
When to go
The best seasons for trekking are the dry and warm seasons, March-June and September-November. During these times the weather is generally fine and the skies clear, although the skies are foggier in May-June. 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. If you can walk for a few hours each day for a week and are not averse to frequent hill climbs, then you can find a suitable trek in Nepal. An easy teahouse trek with Nepali support (guide/porter) is quite attainable for anyone who is reasonably walking fit. Longer treks, crossing high passes and into remote regions demand a higher degree of endurance. For Trekking Peaks it is usually desirable but not necessarily essential 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 Thamel, Kathmandu and Pokhara although using new footwear is not recommended. The knockoffs of brand name goods are not good quality, but good bargains can be had on fleeces and down jackets.
The main essentials to bring are sturdy and comfortable hiking boots, a sleeping bag, 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. Other items to bring include a hiking stick or two, waterproof case, fabric bandages such as moleskin, a headlamp, water purification supplies, altitude sickness and other medication, a camera, and binoculars.
On the popular treks, 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 local. Fruit, coconut biscuits and bon bon biscuits are made in Nepal, are cheap and taste great!
Maps are easy to find in Nepal, although they may not be totally accurate.
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 inquiries 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.
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, both tea-house and camping styles, and it is generally possible to join a group doing a 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.
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.
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.
Tea House (Lodge) Trekking: is a relatively cheap way of trekking where meals and accommodation are provided in teahouses or lodges at settlements at various points on the trek. One these treks, there is no need to sleep in tents. Meals depend on the menu at the tea house and are 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 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: The classic style of trekking in Nepal and 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.
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.
- 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, "independent guides" unless they have a Trekking Agent licence or offer this service through an affiliated 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.
- 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 . This bank is located in Thamel at Kathmandu and provides clothes to the trekking porters.
For all of the popular treks, you can get detailed itineraries, with elevation and hiking time between every major stop, online or in free pocket guides distributed in Nepal.
The Great Himalayan Trail is a trek that connects all the main trekking areas via 1,700km of trails. The government is also proposing a lower or cultural route crossing the pahar or mid-hills of Nepal, but no one has actually trekked and outlined an actual route. The so-called upper route doesn't really exist (i.e., there is no trail per se) but it is possible to hike along the Himalaya, however, a coterie of very good guides, cooks, porters, equipment (including technical gear) and expensive fees are needed. The window for doing it is exceedingly short as snow closes the high passes for much of the year.
Tea House Treks
- Khumbu (Mount Everest Region) - Take the bus to Jiri or fly to Lukla then hike up to Namche, 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.
- 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.
- Annapurna Circuit is an 18-day trek around the Annapurna Mountains
- Annapurna Sanctuary is an oval-shaped plateau located 40km north of Pokhara, at 4,000m above sea level. The Annapurna Sanctuary Trek is a 14-day trek through the sanctuary to Annapurna Base Camp.
- Annapurna Base Camp can be reached via various routes in an approximately 10-day trek.
- Poon Hill, at 3,210m above sea level, northwest of Pokhara, is the most famous viewpoint in Western Nepal and can be reached via a 5-day trek of moderate difficulty.
- Jomsom Muktinath Trek and related treks involve treks to Jomson, a village on the other side of the Annapurna mountains that can also be reached by air, and Ghorepani, a village that is 2,750m above sea level.
- The Royal Trek is an easy 4-day trek with excellent views of the mountains and local villages. The trek was made famous by Prince Charles.
- Kande to Australian Camp to Pothana to Dhampus to Phedi (or reverse) is an easy trek for those that do not want to try the more challenging treks. Cost for 2 people include a guide and an overnight stay is USD200. Drive to Kande at 1770m and then trek uphill. This part of the hike offers great views of the World Peace Pagoda and Lake Fewa on clear days as well as a chance to meet Nepali life in the countryside. Australian Camp and Pothana are small villages with small pubs and great views of Mount Fishtail and the large Annapurna Mountains that are over 8,000m. It is recommended to spend a night in each location to enjoy the sunrise and the sunset. The hike from Kande to Australian Camp is more steps, while the hike from Dhampus to Phedi is a dirt road, so you may want to consider doing this trek in reverse.
- Upper Mustang, the former Kingdom of Lo that has a culture very similar to Tibet, has amazing Trans-Himalayan scenery although it is a difficult trek because of high altitude, exposed terrain and continual strong winds. This trek, which is accessible via a flight to Jonson from Pokhara, requires a restricted area permit of USD500 per 10 days, making it less favorable for budget travelers.
- Langtang & Helambu - 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 is the 8th highest mountain in the world at 8,156 meters above sea level. Hike unspoiled trails through remote villages and over the Larke pass at 5135 m (stay at the new lodge) to circuit the mountain. Some lodges are currently still a little basic, so it remains for the adventurous, though camping is not necessary. This area is still restricted and you are required to have special permits and the services of a guide.
- Makalu Barun (Mount Everest Region) is the 5th highest mountain in the world at 8,481 meters above sea level. Makalu Base Camp, at 5,000 meters, can be reached using tea-house accommodation. This trek gives the opportunity to see rhododendrons, orchids, snow leopards, red panda, musk deer, wild boar, wild yak, and Himalayan thar.
- Kanchenjunga, meaning Five Treasures of the Great Snow, is the 3rd highest mountain in the world at 8,586 meters above sea level. It is far-eastern Nepal on the border with Sikkim in India, and the trek starting point is accessible via flight or bus to Taplejung. This is a strenuous trek that takes 3 or 4 weeks through sparsely populated country. There is very basic tea house 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. The threat of avalanche is nigh and the mountain receives a lot of monsoon moisture due to its location. Peak 5950 is also a more doable trek along this mountain.
These remote treks will require a bit more planning and local assistance, and will require camping on at least 1 night.
- 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. Nine days from Koto to Ngawal with two days in each major village Phugaon and Naar.
- Guerrilla Trek (travel through astonishing rural landscape that maintain unique culture and mystique very different than more popularized and commercial routes).
- Indigenous Peoples Trail (a cultural delight with marvelous viewpoints)
- Chitwan Chepang Hills Trail (from the Trishuli River to the terai).
A trekking peak is a mountain under 7,000 metres. Most require an ice axe and crampons to climb. Climbing permits 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. 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).
Please read up extensively on Altitude sickness. Be familiar with the symptoms and do not ignore them. People who keep to a conservative ascent schedule and drink plenty of fluids should acclimatize 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. Have some diamox on you just in case (this can be bought in pharmacies in Nepal). Diamox forces the kidneys to excrete bicarbonate in the urine, therefore making the blood more acidic. Acidifying the blood stimulates breathing, which increases 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 HAPE or HACE occur, descent with another trekker is A MUST.
Please consult the pharmacist when purchasing regarding Diamox use and do your own research, there is also a free talk in Manang given on Altitude Sickness every day during season which is great for knowledge before doing the pass. One thing that is often overlooked is that your body requires large amounts of water at altitude to counteract sickness, therefore keep a bottle on you at all times! The Round Annapurna Trekking Profile also has a good summary of symptoms on one of the pages.
Water & Food Contamination
Pick up some antibiotics for stomach infections while at the pharmacy, getting a script for bacterial and a script for amoebic infections is recommended. Luckily pharmaceuticals are so 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. 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 or a UV treatment system such as a Steripen which should remove anything 1 micron in size or larger . You might want to combine two of these systems just to make sure you have made the water completely safe. Use treated water for drinking and for brushing your teeth.
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.
Always carry a head torch, water, some food, and a mobile phone with helicopter evacuation number (on Trekking Profile) in case of emergencies. People have gotten lost and have died on many treks, especially if feeling the effects of altitude sickness. On all side treks, which have unclear paths and facilities, make sure you trek with other people. In addition, 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.
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. 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.