Organized treks are for people who haven’t got the time or inclination to make their own arrangements, or who want to tackle ambitious routes that can’t be done independently. Booked in Nepal, they cost from around $50 a day (for a basic Annapurna or Langtang trek, staying in lodges), to around $80 (for Everest Base Camp, in lodges), or more like $100–150 a day for more remote camping routes.
Prices don’t include flights, though, and vary considerably depending on the standard of service, size of the group and whether you’re in tents or lodges. The price should always include a guide, porters, food and shelter, although cheap outfits often charge extra for things like national park fees and transport, and may cut other corners as well. The lower the price, the more wary you need to be.
A trek is hard work however you do it, but a good company will help you along with a few creature comforts: you can expect appetizing food, “bed tea” and hot “washing water” on cold mornings, camp chairs and a latrine tent with toilet paper. Depending on the size of your party, a guide, sirdar (guide foreman) or Western trek leader will be able to answer questions and cope with problems. Trekking groups usually sleep in tents, which, while quieter than lodges, may be colder and are certainly more cramped. The daily routine of eating as a group can get monotonous, and gives you less contact with local people. There’s something to be said for safety in numbers, but trekking with a group imposes a somewhat inflexible itinerary on you, and if you don’t like the people in your group, you’re stuck.
In theory, organized treks are more environmentally sound, at least in the national parks and conservation areas, where trekkers’ meals are supposed to be cooked with kerosene. Sometimes, however, cooks use wood so they can sell the kerosene at the end of the trek – and, worse still, for each trekker eating a kerosene-cooked meal, there may be two or three porters and other staff cooking their bhaat over a wood fire.
But the main advantage of organized trekking is it enables you to get off the beaten track: there’s little point in using an agency to do a very popular trek. A number of companies now offer “wilderness” or “nature” treks, which forsake the traditional village-to-village valley routes for obscure trails along uninhabited ridge-lines or through forested areas, often with experienced wildlife enthusiasts as guides. Shop around and you’ll also find special-interest treks based around Tibetan Buddhism, birdwatching, rhododendron-viewing, and trail construction or clean-up. Many companies also run trips that combine trekking with rafting, cycling and wildlife-viewing.