The soaring Himalayas are, to many travellers’ minds, the chief reason for visiting Nepal. The country tumbles precipitously down from the 800km stretch of the Himalayan battlements that forms its northern border, and can claim no fewer than eight of the world’s ten highest peaks – including, of course, Everest, the highest of them all. The mountains are more than just physically stupendous, however. The cultures of highland-dwelling Nepalese peoples are rich and fascinating, and the relaxed, companionable spirit of trekking life is an attraction in itself. The Himalayas have long exerted a powerful spiritual pull, too. In Hindu mythology, the mountains are where gods go to meditate, while the Sherpas and other mountain peoples hold certain summits to be the very embodiment of deities.
Most visitors to mountain areas stick to a few well-established trekking routes. They have good reasons for doing so: the classic trails of the Everest and Annapurna regions are popular because they offer close-up views of the very highest peaks, dramatic scenery and fascinating local cultures. Lodges on the main trails – some as sophisticated as ski chalets, these days – make it possible to go without carrying a lot of gear or learning Nepali, and without spending too much money, either. While trekking, you’ll likely eat and sleep for $20–30 a day. For those who put a high priority on getting away from it all, there are plenty of less-developed routes, of course, and simply going out of season or taking a side-route off the main trail makes a huge difference.
Almost two-thirds of trekkers make for the Annapurna region, north of Pokhara, with its spectacular scenery, ease of access and variety of treks. The Everest region, in the near east of the country, is one of Nepal’s most exciting areas, but altitude and distance from the trailheads make shorter treks less viable; roughly a quarter of trekkers walk here. The Helambu and Langtang regions are less dramatic but conveniently close to Kathmandu, attracting a little under ten percent of trekkers. This leaves vast areas of eastern and far western Nepal relatively untrodden by visitors. To walk in these areas you’ll need either to be prepared to camp and carry your own supplies, and live like a local, or pay to join an organized trek with tents and accept the compromises that go along with that. With a good agency, you can go just about anywhere. A Great Himalayan Trail now runs the length of highland Nepal – though it will be many years, if ever, before such a route will be serviced by lodges.