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.Read More
Your impact, as a trekker, is heavier than you might imagine. It’s not just a question of litter, sanitation and path erosion: outside conservation areas where wood-burning is prohibited, it’s estimated that one trekker consumes, directly and indirectly, between five and ten times more wood per day than a Nepali. The following are suggestions on how to minimize your impact on the fragile Himalayan environment.
- Where the choice exists, eat at places that cook with kerosene, electricity or propane instead of wood. If trekking with an agency, complain if wood is being used.
- Bring plenty of warm clothes so you (and your porter) are less reliant on wood fires.
- Try to coordinate meal orders with other trekkers; cooking food in big batches is more efficient.
- Avoid hot showers except where the water is heated by electricity, solar panels or fuel-efficient “back boilers”.
- Treat your own drinking water rather than relying on bottled or boiled. Plastic bottles are not recycled in Nepal.
- Use latrines wherever possible. Where there’s no facility, go well away from water sources, bury your faeces and burn your toilet paper (or use water, as Nepalis do).
- Use phosphate-free soap and shampoo, and don’t rinse directly in streams.
- Deposit litter in designated rubbish bins, where they exist. Elsewhere, carry back all non-burnable litter: tins, plastic bottles and especially batteries.
Trekking with children
Trekking with children
The potential problems when considering whether to go trekking with children are obvious: will they walk? Will they let a porter carry them? What if they get sick? What if the weather is bad? Yet trekking with kids may be one of the best things you or they ever do – especially if there are lots of children together. Delights lie round every corner: chickens, goats, jingling donkey trains, frogs, bugs, waterfalls, caves, temples, prayer wheels – all that plus being the centre of attention everywhere they go.
Routes Stick to easy ones and don’t take a young child above 3500m due to the risks of AMS. The standard treks generally offer more comforts and easier access to emergency services, although a good agency can help you take children off the beaten track.
Pace depends on the age and sportiness of your youngest. Plan on modest days, stopping by mid-afternoon. That said, many children are up for much longer walks than they might be willing to try at home.
Health and safety Trekking has most of the same hazards as a weekend camping trip. The extra concern is tummy bugs: teach kids to drink only boiled or purified water, keep hands and foreign objects out of mouths, and wash hands frequently (sanitary wipes come in handy). Establish clear ground rules about not wandering off, not running, not venturing close to drop-offs, and staying clear of animals. Bathroom arrangements in the more primitive trekking inns may put children off.
Food and drink Some kids love daal bhaat – they can eat it with their fingers – but of course many turn up their noses. Familiar Western dishes are found on the main trails. A water-purifying travel cup is a handy device, or consider bringing neutralizing powder to remove the taste of iodine from purified water.
Transportation Spending hours on winding mountain roads is a recipe for car-sickness and misery. If possible, rent a more comfortable vehicle, or fly.
Porters Consider a porter for each child. Almost all porters are great playmates/babysitters, despite the language barrier, and they can carry the child for all or part of the trek in a customized doko. Make sure any porter you hire is agile, conscientious and sober, and treat him or her well.
What to bring Bring the same range of clothes for your child as for yourself, only more and warmer – and don’t rely on renting locally. Bring a few lightweight games or toys; crayons are ideal. You probably won’t need as many books as you might think, as bedtime comes early.
Treks at a glance
Treks at a glance
This list omits treks that require agency or extensive porter support. Note that the length in days quoted here does not include transport to and from the trailhead.
Trek Days Best Months Elevation (m) Difficulty Comments Jomosom/Kali Gandaki 5–7 Oct–April 1100–3800 Easy to moderate Spectacular, varied but commercial and somewhat undermined by the new road. Helambu 3–8 Oct–April 800–3600 Moderate Easy access, uncrowded, varied; only modest views. Poon Hill 4–6 Oct–April 1100–3200 Moderate Easy access, excellent views; very commercial. Macchapuchhare 5–7 Oct–April 1100–3700 Moderate Easy access; a little-trekked route through fields and forest. Siklis 4–7 Oct–April 1100–2200 Moderate Easy access; uncrowded village trek. Rara 6–8 Oct–Nov, April–June 2400–3500 Moderate Fly in; must be prepared to camp; pristine lake and forest. Langtang 7–12 Oct–May 1700–3750 Moderate Beautiful alpine valley close to Kathmandu. Annapurna Sanctuary 8–12 Oct–Dec, Feb–April 1100–4130 Moderate to strenuous Spectacular scenery, easy access; acclimatization necessary. Annapurna Circuit 12–21 Oct–Nov, March–April 450–5380 Strenuous Incredible diversity and scenery; high pass requires care and acclimatization; jeep descent from Muktinath makes “half-circuit” possible. Everest (Lukla fly-in) 14–18 Oct–Nov, March–May 2800–5550 Strenuous Superb scenery; flights can be a problem; acclimatization necessary. Manaslu Circuit 13–20 Oct–Nov, March–May 550–5100 Strenuous Spectacular, remote and still little-trekked due to its high pass, though it’s becoming an increasingly popular alternative to the Annapurna Circuit. Gosainkund 4–7 Oct–Dec, Feb–May 1950–4380 Strenuous Sacred lakes; usually combined with Langtang or Helambu. Everest (Shivalaya walk-in) 21–28 Oct–Nov, March–April 1500–5550 Very strenuous Wonderful mix of hill and high-elevation walking, but with a lot of up-and-down; can save time by flying one way. Everest (Eastern route) 28+ Nov, March 300–5550 Very strenuous Similar to above, but with an even greater net vertical gain.
Names, places and pronunciations
Names, places and pronunciations
The spelling and pronunciation of Himalayan place names has given many a traveller a headache. There are competing systems for transliterating from Nepali into English, and many names in mountain regions are taken from Tibetan dialects or even unwritten languages, so the possibilities can proliferate chaotically. When reading from maps and guides, or asking for directions, keep an open mind as to what might mean where. In general, we follow the most widely used spellings, but significant alternatives are given in brackets.
As regards pronunciation, there’s not even agreement on what to call the country – or its mountains. Should it be Nuh-pawl, as it has been in English for a century or so, or Nay-paal, imitating Nepali pronunciation? Is the range a singular Hi-maal-ee-yuh (reflecting the local word for mountain, himal) or Him-uh-lay-ers? Actually, that one’s easy: the name derives from the Sanskrit hima laya, or “Abode of Snow”, not himal, so the stress should be fairly even; and in English mountain ranges are usually plural, like “the Alps”. Hee-maa-lay-ahs it is, then.
bhanjyang pass, col
cho, tso lake
chorten stone religious monument/reliquary
deurali meeting point, often of paths on the saddle or side of a hill
himal mountain range
la mountain pass
lekh watershed range of hills, ridge
mani wall of stones inscribed with prayers
phedi settlement at the foot of a hill
Nepal’s mountain peoples
Nepal’s mountain peoples
The inhabitants of Nepal’s northernmost, highest-altitude regions are culturally close to their Tibetan cousins, on the other side of the range. While many have developed their own local identities, most famously the Lo-pa of Lo (better known as Mustang) and the Sherpas of Khumbu in the Everest region, Nepalis collectively call these peoples Bhotiya. This means, broadly, “Tibetan”, but usually conveys an unfortunate derogatory sense of “hicks from the sticks”.
Farmers, herders and trans-Himalayan traders, the highland peoples eke out a living in the harsh climate by growing barley, buckwheat and potatoes, and herding yaks and yak hybrids. Their villages vary in appearance: those in the west are strongly Tibetan, with houses stacked up slopes so that the flat roof of one serves as the grain-drying terrace of the next, while in the east houses are more likely to be detached and have sloping, shingle roofs. Like Tibetans, they traditionally take their tea flavoured with salt and yak butter, and married women wear trademark rainbow aprons (pangden) and wraparound dresses (chuba). That said, jogging pants with a fleece or down jacket is practically a uniform in tourist areas.
Almost all highland ethnic peoples are Tibetan Buddhists. Their chortens (stupa-like cremation monuments), mani walls (consisting of slates inscribed with the mantra Om mani padme hum), gompa (monasteries) and prayer flags (lung ta: literally, “wind horse”) are the most memorable man-made features of the Himalayas. Unencumbered by caste, highlanders have fewer restrictions than many Nepali people: women, in particular, play a more equal role in household affairs, speak their minds openly, are able to tease and mingle with men publicly, and can divorce without stigma. Trekkers are likely to encounter many highland women running their own tourist lodges and businesses while their husbands are off farming, yak herding or guiding.