They may cross six countries and contain many colossal mountains such as Everest and K2, but journeying through the Himalayas isn't just about making it to the top. The following five treks will give you more than just sore feet and lots of photos of snow-capped peaks.
Lucky, Nicky and Dicky are a bit of a legend in Nepal. Having opened a restaurant and guesthouse overlooking Lake Fewa in the trekking capital of Pokhara, the three Chhetri sisters broke with taboo in this traditional society by establishing their own trekking company. They and their female guides and porters take groups on a variety of different treks, including through the famous Annapurna, Everest and Langtang ranges. Some of their groups are women only, others open to both sexes; all their trips, however, are refreshingly free of the obsession with “getting there” that some testosterone-heavy hikes to the summit can exude. At a slower pace, you’ll have time to really enjoy the spectacular surroundings; after all, it’s a long way up.
For details of treks and accommodation visit www.3sistersadventuretrek.com. The sisters also offer women-run rafting and safari trips to Chitwan.
As they seem to prefer standing alone atop freezing mountain ridges, few people ever get very close to a yak. On a “yak safari” with Spiti Ecosphere, however, you’ll get to ride one. With a surefootedness suited to the rocky paths and alpine pastures, the hairy beast will transport you over the Spiti Valley in northern Himachal Pradesh. You’ll stay overnight with families in remote villages, dining with them and chatting with some of the local farmers. Once the lifeline of isolated rural communities scattered about Himachal Pradesh, the yak is now slowly disappearing, as modern farming tools obviate the need for it. The emergence of yak safaris, however, has ensured that the hirsute animal has regained its value. Long live the yak.
Ecosphere also offers several walking and mountain-biking trips in the valley, plus rafting trips down the Spiti River.
Going to Tibet (or not) is a thorny issue for travellers, as if you visit from inside China your only realistic option is a state-sanctioned tour. One way round this is to go on a trip with The Himalayan Adventure Company, which starts its tour in Kathmandu, exploring its winding lanes and ornate temples, before setting off on a long drive into Tibet. Along the way, you’ll break for village visits and a dip in another deeply revered site – the salty Lake Manasarovar. The highlight of the trip is Mount Kailash, a hulking mountain of black rock from which spring four major rivers: the Indus, Bramaputra, Sutlej and Karnali.
Trips run from April to October. For prices and details of itineraries visit www.thehimalayanadventurecompany.com.
The Himalayas are home to some of the world’s most physical trekking, but if you’re after a gentler approach, head for the Annapurna region. A trek here takes in spectacular views of Machaupuchare mountain and involves a morning on Poon Hill, watching the sun rise over the Daulaghiri peaks. With plenty of other trekkers on the path, you could easily negotiate the trek alone. But if you do it as part of a two-week Annapurna Trails and Homestay trip with The Responsible Travellers (who invest all their profits in local charities), you’ll also spend four days visiting Kathmandu and the medieval town of Bhaktapur. The trip concludes with four nights living with a Nepalese family.
The fifteen-day trip starts and ends in Kathmandu. For itinerary details and prices see www.theresponsibletravellers.com. For a similar experience, but trekking through the foothills of Everest, see handsupholidays.com/cities/everest-region/.
The ideal time to look for the snow leopard is late autumn and early spring, when there’s enough food to tempt it out of hiding but there’s still snow on the ground to reveal its tracks. After a few days acclimatizing in Ladakh’s capital Leh, you and your local guide, an expert mountaineer and snow leopard researcher, head off into the Hemis Valley National Park to spend four days in pursuit of this most elusive of cats. Sightings are not guaranteed, but even if you don’t spot one, the rugged mountain scenery is populated by enough other animals, including the ibex and Himalayan marmot, to keep you happy.
For more information, see www.imaginetravel.com/imagine-asia