O, Nepal… I love this country. I love its mountains and valleys, the views and the temples and also the simple food… but most of all, I really like the Nepalese people. A friendlier, more affable and genial people never graced the surface of the earth — or so I like to think. And I am certainly not the only one who does so: almost everyone we have met during our eleven or so trips through the Nepalese mountain ex-kingdom agrees (only people who catch a bad case of Delhi-belly or are felled by a severe attack of mountain sickness tend to disagree, but of course that's an entirely different matter).
Our first visit was back in 1994, October/November. We did a four-week trek through the Everest region and we had been in two minds about whether to go there at all: friends of ours had been trekking in Nepal the year before and they had utterly disliked the whole experience (bad food, altitude sickness, cold…). And they were the sporty, super-fit type! So if they were having such trouble, we might fare even worse.
Fortunately, we dismissed these thoughts and went to Nepal anyway (in the end, you simply have to check for yourself). And we've never looked back. On the contrary, we decided to return for the autumn of 1995, to do the Annapurna Circuit and the Sanctuary. In 1998 we did the Helambu/Gosainkund/Langtang area and in 2001 the Manaslu Circuit plus the Annapurnas once again. We've now done the Everest region four times (and always managed to discover something new).
The longest trek?
The longest trek we ever did in Nepal was in autumn 2008: a 45-day walk from Jiri (a roadhead) to Namche Bazar (gateway to the Everest region), with three weeks in and above Namche, and then walking out via the Salpa-Arun route, first down to Tumlingtar and finally up the Milke Danda until we finished in Basantpur (there's a road there, so no point in going on). Altogether we covered almost 1000km; it was one of the most enjoyable treks we ever did. I've prepared a rough overview map of the main trek; there is also a page with links to more detailed maps and some further information.
But of course Nepal is a lot more than a trek to Namche Bazar and Everest Base Camp. Sure, someone who flies into Kathmandu, takes a small plane to Lukla (nearest airport to the Everest region), does the two-week trek up to EBC and flies back home has done a really nice trek. But arguably, he or she hasn't seen Nepal: the region up from Lukla has nothing much to do with the “real” Nepal. Walking in from Jiri or from Tumlingtar (or walking out to these places) will show a completely different picture of the country, its people and their diverse ways of living. The Khumbu above Lukla is nowadays (and I say that as someone who loves the region) a beautiful outdoor museum: nice to walk through, unforgettable views, but largely artificial.
There are three main commercial trekking regions in Nepal: the Khumbu/Everest, the Annapurna Circuit and the Helambu/Gosainkund/Langtang region (with the first two receiving the majority of trekkers). Trekking through these areas is easy and uncomplicated as there's almost no red tape involved: you simply drive to the roadhead and start to walk, on your own (the Helambu trek actually starts in the Kathmandu valley!). It's also feasible (though not really necessary) to do these treks with a guide and/or porter or even with a group. Each of the three areas requires a time budget of at least three weeks if you don't want to hurry it. More time buys more sights, more impressions and more enjoyment (for instance, you could walk out of the Khumbu via the Arun river or add the Annapurna Sanctuary to the Circuit).
Beyond these three “standard” routes there is a wealth of possibilities. There are more Circuits (the Manaslu or Dhaulagiri rounds come to mind); there are the high valleys of Mustang or Upper Dolpo; there are the icy Base Camps of the Makalu and the Kanchenjunga; there are, last but not least, many “undiscovered” treks through the middle hills. Almost all of these treks will require some preparation and most involve red tape in the form of permits. A general rule in these cases is that if a certain area requires a permit, you will have to do the trek with a full crew of guide, cook, porters etc. The reason for that is that trekking permits are only available through Trekking Agencies and the Agencies are required (and in any case very much want) to sell you the complete package. A “full-service” trek invariably turns out to be a lot more expensive than a simple self-organised Everest or Annapurna trek: three weeks around the Annapurna for two might involve 40000 to 50000 rupees (that's around 330 to 420 Pounds Sterling) whereas three weeks for two around the Manaslu probably means shelling out a minimum of 1500 Pounds.
On the other hand, most of these treks weave their way through pristine countryside. There won't be many other tourists (Mustang and Dolpo see quite a few, though); for the most part there won't be electricity or any lodges either (that's why you need tents, a cook and porters in the end); there even won't be shops selling Mars bars and Coca Cola. In short, such a trek may be quite expensive but then again, it could be the experience of a lifetime.
It's probably a good idea to test the water first and go off on one or even two of the more conventional hikes; but once you've got some experience under your belt, these more remote treks and areas are really something to consider. (And I have not yet started to talk about the Nepalese “Trekking Peaks” which are really misnomers: all so-called Trekking Peaks (which range from about 5800m up to 6600m in height) involve serious mountaineering.)
Annapurna? Or Everest?
A final word for those keen to go on a trek but unsure whether to choose the Everest region or the Annapurna Circuit as their first Nepalese outing. I am myself still not quite sure which of the two regions I prefer; however, here are a few hints: the Everest region has higher, more famous and more spectacular mountain ranges; the Annapurna offers a lot more in the way of local culture and non-icy, non-rocky countryside. Everest is infested with groups (and stubborn yak trains), Annapurna is perhaps more frequented by individual trekkers (and stubborn mule trains). Almost the whole area above Namche Bazar is freezing cold and can be miserable in bad weather, whereas the Annapurna Circuit starts and finishes at a very balmy altitude (below 1000m where you'll find banana trees beside the trail) and tops out at 5400m at the Thorung La, thereby visiting many cultural layers as well as climatic zones with a diverse flora. Then again, the area above Namche is a mountaineer's dream: so many ridges, valleys, glaciers, knolls and knobs to explore. On the other hand, the Annapurna villages are a lot more authentic nowadays than the saturated Everest region. In a word: if you're after mountains, do the Everest; if you're after people, do the Annapurna.
Still confused? Well, either do both — or go to the third region, the Helambu/Gosainkund/Langtang area: even more authentic than the Annapurna, with fewer tourists around and some solid mountains.
Wanna know more?
I've collected a few hints re Nepal and especially trekking in Nepal. I have also prepared a few photos about the country: the first set of pics deals with landscape and scenery, the second set with culture and people.
However, even the best run of photos can't possible show you this lovely country as it really is. Nepal has to be experienced to be believed. Go there and either fall in love… or prove me wrong!
$updated from: Nepal.htxt Sat 18 Jan 2014 13:14:23 thomasl (By Thomas Lauer)$