Trek In Nepal ?
The Himalaya, the "abode of snows", extends from
Assam in eastern India west to Afghanistan. It is a chain
of the highest and youngest mountains on earth and it encompasses
a region of deep religious and cultural traditions and an
amazing diversity of people. A trek in Nepal is a special
and rewarding mountain holiday.
Just as New York is not representative of the USA, so Kathmandu
is not representative of Nepal. If you have the time and energy
to trek, don't miss the opportunity to leave Kathmandu and
see the spectacular beauty and the unique culture of Nepal.
Fortunately for the visitor, there are still only a few roads
extending deeply into the hills, so the only way to truly
visit the remote regions of the kingdom is in the slowest
and most intimate manner - walking. It requires more time
and effort, but the rewards are also greater. Instead of zipping
down a freeway, racing to the next "point of interest,"
each step provides new and intriguing viewpoints. You will
perceive your day as an entity rather than a few highlights
strung together by a ribbon of concrete. For the romanticist,
each step follows the footsteps of Hillary, Tenzing, Herzog
and other Himalayan explorers. If you have neither the patience
nor the physical stamina to visit the hills of Nepal on foot,
a helicopter flight provides an expensive and unsatisfactory
Trekking in Nepal will take you through a
country that has captured the imagination of mountaineers
and explorers for more than 100 years. You will meet people
in remote mountain villages whose lifestyle has not changed
in generations. Most people trust foreigners. Nepal is one
of only a handful of countries that has never been ruled by
a foreign power.
Many of the values associated with a hiking
trip at home do not have the same importance during a trek
in Nepal. Isolation is traditionally a crucial element of
any wilderness experience but in Nepal it is impossible to
get completely away from people, except for short times or
at extremely high elevations. Environmental concerns must
include the effects of conservation measures on rural people
and the economic effects of tourism on indigenous populations.
Even traditional national park management must be adapted
because there are significant population centres within Sagarmatha
(Mt Everest) and Langtang national parks.
Trekking does not mean mountain climbing.
While the ascent of a Himalayan peak may be an attraction
for some, you need not have such a goal to enjoy a trek. As
far as most people are concerned, trekking always refers to
walking on trails.
While trekking you will see the great diversity
of Nepal. Villages embrace many ethnic groups and cultures.
The terrain changes from tropical jungle to high glaciated
peaks in only 150 km. From the start, the towering peaks of
the Himalaya provide one of the highlights of a trek. As your
plane approaches Kathmandu these peaks appear to be small
clouds on the horizon. The mountains become more definable
and seem to reach impossible heights as you get closer and
finally land at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan Airport.
During a trek, the Himalaya disappears behind Nepal's continual
hills, but dominates the northern skyline at each pass. Annapurna,
Manaslu, Langtang, Gauri Shankar and Everest will become familiar
names. Finally, after weeks of walking, you will arrive at
the foot of the mountains themselves - astonishing heights
from which gigantic avalanches tumble earthwards in apparent
slow motion, dwarfed by their surroundings. Your conception
of the Himalaya alters as you turn from peaks famed only for
their height to gaze on far more picturesque summits that
you may never have heard of - Kantega, Ama Dablam, Machhapuchhare
What Is a Trek?
A Trek is Not a Climbing Trip
Whether you begin your trek at a road head or fly into a remote
mountain airstrip, a large part of it will be in the Middle
Hills region at elevations between 500 and 3000 meters. In
this region, there are always well-developed trails through
villages and across mountain passes. Even at high altitudes
there are intermittent settlements used during summer by shepherds,
so the trails, though often indistinct, are always there.
You can easily travel on any trail without the aid of ropes
or mountaineering skills. There are rare occasions when there
is snow on the trail, and on some high passes it might be
necessary to place a safety line for your companions or porters
if there is deep snow. Still, alpine techniques are almost
never used on a traditional trek. Anyone who has walked extensively
in the mountains has all the skills necessary for an extended
trek in Nepal.
Though some treks venture near glaciers, and even cross the
foot of them, most treks do not allow the fulfillment of any
Himalayan mountaineering ambitions. Nepal's mountaineering
regulations allow trekkers to climb 18 specified peaks with
a minimum of formality, but you must still make a few advance
arrangements for such climbs. Many agents offer so-called
climbing treks which include the ascent of one of these peaks
as a feature of the trek. There are a few peaks that, under
ideal conditions, are within the resources of individual trekkers.
A climb can be arranged in Kathmandu if conditions are right,
but a climb of one of the more difficult peaks should be planned
well in advance.
A Trek Requires Physical Effort
A trek is physically demanding because of
its length and the almost unbelievable changes in elevation.
During the 300-km trek from Jiri to Everest base camp and
return, for example, the trail gains and loses more than 9000
meters of elevation during many steep ascents and descents.
On most treks, the daily gain is less than 800 meters in about
15 km, though ascents of as much as 1200 meters are possible
on some days. You can always take plenty of time during the
day to cover this distance, so the physical exertion, though
quite strenuous at times, is not sustained. You also can stop
frequently and take plenty of time for rest.
Probably the only physical problem that may make a trek impossible
is a history of knee problems on descents. In Nepal the descents
are long, steep and unrelenting. There is hardly a level stretch
of trail in the entire country. If you are an experienced
walker and often hike 15 km a day with a pack, a trek should
prove no difficulty. You will be pleasantly surprised at how
easy the hiking can be if you only carry a light backpack
and do not have to worry about meal preparation.
Previous experience in hiking and living
outdoors is, however, helpful as you make plans for your trek.
The first night of a month-long trip is too late to discover
that you do not like to sleep in a sleeping bag. Mountaineering
experience is not necessary, but you must enjoy walking.
A third style of trekking is to gather sherpas,
porters, food and equipment and take off on a trek with all
the comforts and facilities of an organised trek. On such
a trek you camp in tents, porters carry your gear, sherpas
set up camp and cook and serve meals. You carry a backpack
with only a water bottle, camera and jacket.
Trekkers who opt for this approach, particularly with a small
group of friends, often have a rewarding, enriching and enjoyable
trip. You can use a trekking company in Nepal to make some
or all of the arrangements, though you may have to shop for
an agency that suits you. Some Nepalese trekking companies
offer equipment for hire, some will arrange a single sherpa
or porter and some will undertake only the entire arrangements
for a trek.
If you want to have everything organised
in advance, you can contact a Nepalese trekking company by
mail or fax and ask them to make arrangements for your trek.
There are more than 300 trekking companies in Kathmandu that
will organise treks for a fee and provide all sherpas, porters
and, if necessary, equipment. Unless you have a good idea
of what you want, it will require a huge volume of correspondence
to provide you with the information you require, to determine
your specific needs, to define your precise route and itinerary
and to negotiate a price that both parties understand. Mail
takes up to three weeks each way to and from Australia, the
Americas or Europe, so it's better to use fax or e-mail. Be
specific in your communications and be sure that the trekking
company understands exactly who will provide what equipment.
It is most embarrassing to discover on the first night that
someone forgot the sleeping bags.
One solution is to go to Nepal and simply
sort out the details in an hour or two of face to face negotiations
with a trekking company. You should be prepared to spend a
week or so (less, if you are lucky) in Kathmandu settling
these details. An alternative to endless correspondence with
Nepal is to use a trek operator in your own country.
Trekking with a Trekking Company
Companies specializing in trekking can organize
both individual and group treks. One major advantage to dealing
with someone close to home is that it's easy to communicate
by phone and the agent can assist you with travel to and from
On an arranged trek the group must stay generally on its prearranged
route and, within limits, must meet a specific schedule. This
means that you may have to forego an appealing side trip or
festival and, if you are sick, you will probably have to keep
moving with the rest of the group. You also may not agree
with a leader's decisions if the schedule must be adjusted
because of weather, health, political or logistical considerations.
You will be trekking with people you have
not met before. Although some strong friendships may develop,
there may also be some in the party you would much rather
not have met. For some people, this prospect alone rules out
their participation in a group trek. The major drawback, however,
will probably be the cost. Organised treks usually start at
US$35-80 per person per day of the trek. One of the major
expenses is the services of a Western leader who acts as guide,
cultural interpreter and social director. On the positive
side, by fixing the destination and schedule in advance, all
members of the group will have prepared themselves for the
trip and should have proper equipment and a clear understanding
of the schedule and terrain. Read the brochures and other
material prepared by the agent to see if it is likely to attract
the type of people you'd get along with.
Most prearranged treks cater to people to
whom time is more important (within limits) than money. For
many, the most difficult part of planning a trek is having
the time to do so. These people are willing to pay more to
avoid wasting a week of their limited vacation sitting around
in Kathmandu making arrangements or waiting along the way
for a spare seat on a plane. A trekking agent usually tries
to cram as many days in the hills as is possible into a given
time span. Trekking agents make reservations for hotels and
domestic flights well in advance. Thus theoretically, these
hassles are also eliminated.
Because the group carries its own food for
the entire trek, a variety of meals is possible. This may
include canned goods from Kathmandu and imported food bought
from expeditions or other exotic sources. A skilled cook can
prepare an abundant variety of tasty Western-style food. The
meals a good sherpa cook can prepare in an hour over a kerosene
stove would put many Western cafes to shame.
A group trek carries tents for the trekkers.
This convenience gives you a place to spread out your gear
without fear that someone will pick it up, and probably means
that you will have a quiet night. In addition, a tent also
gives you the freedom to go to bed when you choose. You can
retire immediately after dinner to read or sleep, or sit up
and watch the moon rise as you discuss the day's outing.
Money and staff hassles rarely surface on
an arranged trek. The sirdar is responsible for making minor
purchases along the way and ensures a full complement of porters
every day. Unless you are particularly interested, or quite
watchful, you may never be aware that these negotiations are
A group trek follows a tradition and routine
that trekkers and mountaineers have developed and refined
for more than 50 years. You can travel in much the same manner
as the approach marches described in The Ascent of Everest,
Annapurna and Americans on Everest, a feature not possible
with other styles. If your interest in the Himalaya was kindled
through such books, you still have the opportunity to experience
this delightful way to travel. There are many reasons why
these expeditions went to all the trouble and expense to travel
as they did.
It is an altogether refreshing experience
to have all the camp and logistics problems removed from your
responsibility so you are free to enjoy fully the land and
the people which have attracted mountaineers for a century.
A Note of Caution
If you trek on your own, remember that you will be far from
civilization as you know it (including medical care, communication
facilities and transport), no matter how many local hotels
or other facilities may exist. It is only prudent to take
the same precautions during a trek in Nepal as you would take
on a major hiking or climbing trip at home, and carry a basic
medical kit. There will often be nobody but the Sherpa crew
and your own companions to help you if you are sick or injured.