Many first-timers are surprised that most treks are not wilderness experiences. The Himalayas are incredibly well settled, for the most part, and typically it’s only when crossing the highest passes, or on the final pull up to a base camp, that trails pass through barren, unpopulated country. This makes trekking relatively safe: it’s hard to get seriously lost – and stopping to chat and ask directions is part of the fun. That said, even in populated areas you are committed to walking for hours every day, sometimes in uncomfortably sweaty or frigid conditions, and occasionally on steep, slippery or alarmingly narrow trails. Some trekkers find suspension footbridges terrifying. Others find the bumpy journey by road to the trailhead – or the possibly bumpier flight to the airstrip – the worst bit (and these probably are the riskiest parts of any trek, objectively speaking).
Fitness is less of an issue than you might think, as you can walk at your own pace, ambling from one glass of chiya to the next. Most trekkers set off early each morning to make the most of the clear weather (clouds usually roll in around midday), which makes afternoons typically leisurely affairs, fitting in a short side trip or monastery visit around snacks, games of cards, reading, journal-writing and the rest. Evenings are usually cheerfully communal, as everyone tends to huddle in the relative warmth of the dining hall (or mess tent, if you’re camping) ordering a steady stream of dishes and hot drinks. Bedtimes usually come early.
Everyone treks in their own way, but there are a few tips for how to get the best from a trip. Allow space in your schedule for rest days, weather and contingencies, and make sure you do at least one side trip. Some of the most fascinating or beautiful sights – monasteries, villages, waterfalls, glaciers – are tucked away up side valleys, and walking even a few steps away from the main trail can take you back virtual decades, in terms of development and commercialization. Instead of ordering pizza from a menu, you may find yourself sitting round the fire with a local family sipping a mug of chhang. Many trekkers find they enjoy these interactions with local people as much as they love the mountains.