Trekking is by far Nepal’s biggest attraction. Pioneered by Col. Jimmy Roberts in the early 1960s, most tourists embark on some trek or the other and many do multiple treks before heading back home. Some arrive each year to do a different trek each time. A trek is also the best means of seeing the country and to understand its people. Walking through emerald rice fields; through rhododendron forests; crossing streams, camping out on a hilltop in the wilderness with towering mountains in the background, make trekking an unforgettable experience.
One can also do pony treks in some remote places, which is equally enthralling for visitors. Pony treks are offered mostly in western region of Pokhara, Dolpo and Lo Manthang (Mustang).
The two most popular treks are the Everest Base Camp Trek and the Around Annapurna also known as the Annapurna Circuit as it goes right around the Annapurna range. There are many different treks offered in the Everest and Annapurna regions. Other popular regions are the Langtang valley, Helambu, Makalu, Manaslu, Kanchenjunga and the Arun Valley. Another popular destination in the Everest region is the Gokyo valley.
The term “Trekking Peak” is a misnomer as these peaks do require proper climbing gear and climbing experience. All of them are under 7000m and permits for climbing them are issued by Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) which has its offices in Naxal. There are currently only 33 of these peaks open for climbing and the most popular are Island Peak and Mera Peak. No liaison officer is required for climbing these peaks.
Permits and Fees
No special trekking permits are required to trek in the Everest region provided that trekker’s do not climb any of the peaks. An entry fee is charged for access to the Sagarmatha National Park. This is payable at the national park desk in Thamel. For treks to the east of main Everest trail an addition permit is required to enter the Makalu-Barun National Park obtainable from the same location.
TIMS card is also required to enter this national park. It can be obtained from Nepal Tourism Board free of cost. For treks in the Annapurna region, entry fee for the Annapurna Conservation Area (ACAP) must be paid which can be taken care of either in Kathamandu or Pokhara. Entry fees are charged for entering any of the many national parks around Nepal.
How and When
Most of the trek routes in the Everest region have tea houses along the way. The routes to Everest Base Camp and Gokyo valley are perfect for teahouse treks. The trail in from Jiri is also endowed with many conveniently located teahouses although no match to their counterparts to the north where standards are high. Places like Namche Bazaar even have cyber cafes and regular pubs.
The Annapurna region is comparable to the Everest region but not so the Kanchenjunga region, where camping treks are the only option. Other trekking routes will almost certainly require the use of tents and a support team to carry the food and equipment.
When to Visit
The peak season for treks is October to November and March to May when the skies are clear and good for viewing mountains. Up in the mountains the weather is mild and generally dry during this time making walking conditions ideal. The spring season is good for wild flowers, particularly the rhododendrons, while the autumn season generally gives the best mountain views, as the air at this time is crystal clear.
Winter treks are possible but the chances of snow are higher and passes may be closed, particularly during late winter. Also during this time, many of the teahouses will close. The summer/monsoon period is generally unsuitable for trekking as the trails are slippery, leeches abundant and the mountain views are unpredictable. It can be a rewarding time, however, if you are prepared to tolerate these drawbacks, as the wild flowers are at their best around this time and there are fewer tourists on the trails making interaction with the locals easier.
It is possible to hire guides, porters or yaks at Lukla but for safety a guide from Kathmandu is preferable. The extra cost of his airfare will outweigh the possibility of not finding a suitable guide at Lukla, especially during the peak seasons. Porters are always available at Lukla. Pure yaks will not be found at Lukla, as it is too low for them to operate, but yak crossbreeds will be found there. For a small group only carrying personal gear, porters are preferable. The cost will depend on the seasonal demand for their services. If your trek starts at Jiri, then you will only find porters available there. Guides should definitely be hired from Kathmandu.
Looking after the environment
Much has been said about the deteriorating environment of the Himalaya. Over that past few years, due to effort by many overseas expeditions and organizations such as the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee and Nepal Mountaineering Association, education programmes and clean-up campaigns have, to a large extent, solved many of the problems.
The eco-system of the high Himalaya is a very fragile and is easily put out of balance. Certain initiatives within the National Park area such as the banning of glass bottles had resulted in a reduction of the amount of non-biodegradable rubbish being left behind. Much more needs to be done, however, particularly by the trekkers themselves. The KEEP code of trekking conduct is a perfect example.
Permits are issued for trekking in any part of the country except in areas restricted for foreigners by government regulation. A trekking permit is a must to visit restricted areas. The Department of Immigration located at Maitighar issues permits for tourists who intend to trek to restricted part of the country.
Although treks in Nepal can be organized throughout the year, October through May is considered good for trekking. The monsoon begins in mid-June and ends around mid-September making travel wet and warm. The mountain views may not be at their best as rain clouds and haze obscure the enchanting views. It’s a great time for botanists, however as the higher valleys and meadows come alive with blossoming flowers and lush vegetation.
Monsoons don’t mean rain all the time. Besides, some of the most frequented trails will be less crowded and you may prefer a quieter time in the mountains. The upper parts of the Annapurna circuit around Marpha, Jomsom and Muktinath fall in the rain shadow area and are perfect for trekking during the monsoon. Note: Insect repellent should be carried when trekking during the summer months.
Autumn being the best season for trekking, excellent weather and spectacular mountain views greet trekkers as they hike up. January and February are noted for cold weather with occasional snowfall at higher elevations. Some routes may be blocked by snowfall, But views are excellent.
Spring arrives in late February in Nepal and it’s the ideal time for those who are interested in flowers, birds and the splendors of nature. Many varieties of wild flowers, especially rhododendrons turn the hillside into a colorful paradise.
April and May are the expedition season and the best time for mountain climbing. It is mildly warm at lower elevations but occasional haze may obscure the view of mountains. At higher elevations over 4,000 meters, the mountain views are excellent and temperatures are quite moderate even at night.
Medical Matters & Advice
Trekking in Nepal need not be considered a risky affair as far as your health is concerned. But very little medical care along the trail is available, so make sure you are physically fit and healthy before departing.
In case of serious illness or injury, prompt evacuation to Kathmandu is the best remedy. Helicopter rescue service is extremely expensive. Neither the Government of Nepal nor your embassy nor the trekking agency (if you are trekking with one) is responsible for footing the bill. Therefore, you are requested to insure for rescue operations as well.
Altitude sickness: Altitude sickness is also known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and is a particularly important medical consideration while trekking in Nepal. Altitude sickness means the effect of altitude on those who ascend too rapidly to elevations above 3000 m.
The initial symptoms of AMS are: Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, insomnia / sleeplessness, persistent headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, confusion; disorientation, drunken gait, weakness, fatigue, lassitude, heavy legs, slight swelling of hands and face, breathlessness and breathing irregularity, reduced urine output. These symptoms are to be taken very seriously.
In case any of these symptoms appear, immediately stop further ascent, otherwise more serious problems can occur which can even cause death, sometimes within hours. The only cure for altitude sickness is to descend to a lower elevation immediately. This must be taken seriously as there is no other cure.
Acclimatization by ascending to no more than 300 to 500 meters per day above 3000 meters and proper amount of rest are the best means of preventing AMS. Literature and pamphlets published by “Himalayan Rescue Association” give detailed information on AMS.
The central Immigration Office and all trekking agencies in Kathmandu distribute these pamphlets free of cost. Since these documents also give information on the list of suggested medical supplies for trekkers, it should be included in every trekker’s’ medical kit.
Please be a responsible tourist. WE request you to, “Leave only footprints, and take only photographs.”
- Use designated routes, campsites and resting places to reduce trampling and other negative environmental impacts.
- Respect local culture and traditions, use homestays, locally owned hotels/ lodges or campsites as much as possible to support the local livelihood.
- Avoid/ minimize using firewood. Use common space for heating. Opt for alternatives to minimize deforestation.
- Maintain cleanliness and hygiene. Use the litter box locally available. Carry back your own garbage while traveling through ecologically sensitive areas.
- Encourage to place mobile toilets at a considerable distance from sources of water, river banks and springs while camping along the river sides.
- Use the services of local guides and porters as much as possible to explore more about local environment and culture.
- Money spent here will contribute directly to the local livelihood, women’s empowerment and environmental conservation.
Before you begin your journey we request you to abide by the above guidelines in order to safeguard the nature and culture of the area and be a responsible tourist.