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 lots of rain and leeches during the summer monsoon season 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 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 accommodation 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. 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 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.
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.
- Trek legally. If you trek independently, you are not allowed to take any staff by law. You need for this a Trekking Agency, the sole authorized to employ staff for foreign trekkers. Do not hire staff or "independent guides" through hotels, unless they have a Trekking Agent licence or offer this service through an affiliated Trekking Agent.
- For the most proper disposal available, please make sure you take all of your trash, including bottles and cans from goods consumed in restaurants, to the nearest truck-accessible road.
- Note the pollution and lack of trash management in the villages on the treks - including trash-clogged rivers and mounds of discarded beer bottles. Nepal is 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 the Thamel neighborhood of Kathmandu and provides clothes to the trekking porters.
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.
- Annapurna Circuit (18-21 days)- circling the Annapurna Mountains
- Annapurna Sanctuary - (14 days) an oval-shaped plateau located 40km north of Pokhara, at 4,000m above sea level. Trek through the sanctuary to Annapurna Base Camp.
- Annapurna Base Camp (7-10 days) - can be reached via various routes.
- Poon Hill (3-5 days), at 3,210m above sea level, northwest of Pokhara, is the most famous viewpoint in Western Nepal.
- Jomsom Muktinath Trek (5-10 days) - 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. This area is always very windy.
- The Royal Trek (3-4 days) - an easy trek with excellent views of the mountains and local villages. The trek was made famous by Prince Charles.
- Mardi Himal (5,587m) (4-7 days) - a trek that offers amazing views at the summit of Mardi Himal.
- Khopra/Khayer Lake Trek (7-14 days) - a sacred lake at 4,500masl, reachable via a moderate/strenuous hike.
- Sikles Trek (4-7 days) - a camping/homestay based trek through the villages and the Gurung settlement of Siklis.
- Panchase Trek (3-5 days) - a popular easier trek with great views.
- Kande to Australian Camp to Pothana to Dhampus to Phedi, or reverse (3-4 days) - 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.
- Gurung Heritage Trek (5-7 days) - Hike through the villages of the Gurung ethnic group, known for being humble with a great sense of humor.
- Upper Mustang Trek (12-16 days) - 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.
- Naar-Phu Valley Trek (12-15 days) - 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.
- Dolpa Trek (15-21 days) - 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.
- Manaslu_Trek (14-21 days) - Mansalu 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 5,135m (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.
Kathmandu Valley Region
- 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.
- Nagarkot (2 days) - offers a great spot for watching surrounding mountain ranges at sunrise or sunset from atop the hill.
- The Kathmandu Valley Cultural Trekking Trail (5 days), includes treks to Nagarkot and Dhulikhel
- Shivapuri Hiking Trek (5 days) displays the best of Nepal’s rural culture, biodiversity and stunning Himalayan views. Trekking Routes to Nagarkot, Gosainkunda, Helambu and the Langtang National Park.
- Indigenous Peoples Trail - a cultural delight with marvelous viewpoints through the Ramechhap district, just east of Kathmandu
Mount Everest Region
- Khumbu - Take the bus to Jiri or fly to Lukla then hike up to Namche, capital of the Sherpa lands at the foot of Everest.
- Everest_Base_Camp_Trek / 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.
- Island Peak Trek (Trekking Peak) - takes in some of the most spectacular scenery in the Himalayas.
- Mera Peak (Trekking Peak) - During the ascent of Mera Peak (6461m), enjoy panoramic views of Mt. Everest (8,848m), Cho-Oyu (8,201 m), Lhotse (8,516 m), Makalu (8,463 m), Kangchenjunga (8,586 m), Nuptse (7,855m), and Chamlang (7,319m).
- Makalu Barun 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.
- Chitwan Chepang Hills Trail (from the Trishuli River to the terai).
Far Eastern Nepal
- Milke Daada Ridge (7 days) - Spectacular views at 3,500masl and a visit to the bazaar town of Chainpu .
- 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.
Far Western Nepal
- Rara National Park (8 days) - a remote trek that is hard to get to. The mountain views are not as nice as some of the other treks, but the highlight of this trek is a view of Nepal's largest lake
- Humla and Mount Kailash (18 days) - a trek that includes entrance into Tibet.
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 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.
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. You can also check websites such as trekkingpartners.com.