Trekking is the gift of Nepal to the world in adventure tourism. To be one with Nature, regenerate one’s self-esteem, rediscover oneself, appreciate Nepal’s beauty, to interact with its hospitable and friendly people are some of the highlights of trekking in Nepal. It is one long-term activity that draws repeat visitors to the country. Therefore, Nepal is the ultimate destination for the adventure trek enthusiast.
It offers many possibilities – from the “short and easy” walking excursions to the “demanding and strenuous” challenges of the snowy peaks and their foothills and valleys. But however easy, moderate, or strenuous, there is something for every palate that goes with a trek in Nepal’s hills, mountains, and hinterlands. The most rewarding way to experience Nepal’s unbeatable combination of natural beauty and cultural riches is to walk through Nepal’s length, breadth, and altitudes. Trek in Nepal is as much a unique cultural experience as well as an ultimate Himalayan adventure.
As technology has advanced, the Himalayas are now much more accessible to walkers than 60 years ago. Our selection of Nepal, India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Burma’s best treks takes Nepal, India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Burma. In Hindu scriptures, it says you cannot do justice to the Himalayas in a hundred ages of the gods. So how can mortals begin to explore the Himalayas? It can be challenging to get around in a country ten times bigger than France when travelling can be costly to get there. Everest receives most of the headlines, but the Himalayas are vast, mainly when you include mountain ranges west of the Indus – the Pamir, Hindu Kush and Karakoram.
This 4,000km crescent, stretching from Kyrgyzstan to Burma, is the geography of superlatives – the highest mountains, the deepest gorges, tracts of wild forest, the high rolling plateau of Tibet plus, in Bhutan and the Indian state of Assam in the eastern Himalayas, some of the most extraordinary biodiversity on the planet. Then there are the people. It is true that in some areas, the Himalayas are wild and barely populated. Still, in most, there is an incredible diversity of cultures that have adapted to survive in an environment that can be exceptionally hostile and incredibly beautiful. These vast peaks are also the meeting point for three of the world’s great religions: Islam in the west, Hinduism in the south and Tibetan Buddhism to the north.
It’s an incredibly dynamic region. New roads and airports are making some areas more accessible while diminishing the appeal of others, like the famous Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. Political change has also altered horizons. For example, mountains along the northern border of Burma have recently become accessible for the first time in decades. In contrast, visa restrictions and unrest in Tibet have made travelling there more difficult.
Trekking is also changing. Many assume walking in the Himalayas is only for rugged types who enjoy roughing it. That was true in 1953 when Everest was first climbed, and trekking tourism didn’t exist. Now there are new ways to experience the Himalayas: luxury lodges for those looking to take in the views with a bit of comfort; treks that focus as much on culture as scenery; and new lodgings and homestays for those who want to relax and get beneath the surface of Himalayan life.
Walking is usually not too difficult, no more so than in the Lake District – apart from the altitude. However, the altitude and problems of travelling in one of the least developed regions of Asia and fears about hygiene put some people off. Also, staying healthy in the Himalayas is undoubtedly more complicated than at home. Still, if you’re used to walking and are cautious about gaining altitude, you’re unlikely to have any problems. And the rewards are spectacular.
K2, the world’s second-highest mountain, in the Himalayas mountains range of Pakistan. July and August are the best months for K2, the world’s second-highest mountain, and the rest of the Karakoram. The summer monsoon is much heavier in the eastern Himalayas than in the west. So the most popular trekking periods in much of India, Nepal and the region east of there are April and October. Skies tend to be more apparent in the autumn, although it’s colder too; that’s when Everest and other popular treks are at their busiest.
If you want to trek in the summer holidays, look further west. Zanskar and Ladakh, predominantly Tibetan Buddhist in terms of their population but politically part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, are north of the Himalayan chain and enjoy much better weather in July and August. These are also the best months for K2 and the rest of the Karakoram, including Kashmir and the Hindu Kush.
The most popular trekking areas – like Everest, the Annapurna region and Ladakh’s Markha valley – have a network of basic lodges to stay in, opening these areas to independent trekkers who don’t want to carry a tent and are on a more limited budget. It’s also possible to reach Annapurna, or Nepal’s Langtang region, by bus, without costly internal flights. Off-the-peg itineraries from specialist travel agents in the UK for those with a bit more to spend. The best of these use good local outfitters and provide a western or local guide who speaks good English. This kind of trip is perfect for those who don’t want the hassle of organising transport and accommodation, this kind of trip is for camping treks in remote areas. You can also approach a local agent directly, which is helpful if you have a group of friends who want to trek together.
Since Nepal’s civil war ended in 2006, trekkers visiting the Everest region have more than doubled to 35,000 a year. At the height of the season, around 60 flights land at Lukla airport each day. In addition, the Sherpa town of Namche Bazaar, the gateway to Everest base camp and used for altitude acclimatisation, now has better mobile coverage than much of Snowdonia. So if you go in peak season, expect a crowd. However, if you have a group of mates who want to see Everest, most companies will organise a private tour.
World Expeditions is one of the biggest operators, running over 20 treks this year, with accommodation a mixture of camping and lodges on the classic standard trek to Everest base camp. An 18-day tour costs £1,650, which can also arrange. Some of its autumn departures are already full, so hurry if you want to go in the diamond jubilee year of the first ascent. If you prefer a bit more comfort, there are now two chains of luxury lodges on the way to base camp, Yeti Mountain Homes and Everest Summit Lodges. We’re not talking five-star spas here, but an en suite bathroom and a hot water bottle are a big step up from standard lodges.
If you’re looking to beat the crowds, trekking guide Bonny Masson has this advice: “If you’ve got the time, do the original trek the British expedition took in 1953.” It started in Kathmandu, but a bus will now take you to the end of the road just beyond the town of Jiri. The trail beyond is a stricter walk than the stages from Lukla, which most people now reach by air. “You’ll get a better slice of life in Solukhumbu, and the trails are quieter.” Alternatively, you can trek out of season when numbers are down in December or February, and the trails are quieter. But you should be prepared for lower temperatures.
Adventurous types can trek to the little-visited east face of Everest inside Tibet via the Kama Valley, one of the least known but most beautiful approaches to the world’s highest peak. Unlike the Nepalese side, this wild valley has hardly changed at all. In recent years, the visa situation in Tibet has been inconsistent, but that now seems to be settling down. KE Adventure Travel offers a 20-day trip out of Kathmandu, including nine days of trekking, for £2,995.
Stunning views prompt many to go trekking, but the Himalayas is an incredibly diverse region culturally. For those who want to combine great walking with insight into how people live in such an extraordinary region, there’s now a wide range of holidays offering treks combined with other activities. Wild Frontiers, known for its stylish approach to adventure travel, now offers some fantastic journeys that include trekking. It is one of the few companies that will take you trekking in Kashmir, a wonderful place to walk in the summer, and then pamper you on a houseboat on Dal Lake. It also runs a fantastic trip to the Hindu Kush that mixes a visit to the Kalash area with trekking on the Pakistan-Afghan border along the Wakhan Corridor.
At the other end of the Himalayas, far to the east, Mountain Kingdoms is the first to offer a trek in northern Burma through pristine jungle and along rocky outcrops to reach the snow-capped Mount Phongun Razi. Trekking here mixes the jungle appeal of other parts of south-east Asia with the high drama of the Himalayas – and the opportunity to explore Rangoon and the temples of Bagan. And if you’re looking for something a bit less strenuous, there is an alternative itinerary through the foothills. Once kids get over the initial shock of the idea that a walk can last for days, not hours, trekking can be a brilliant family trip option. Exodus offers a great itinerary in Ladakh for families that visit Tibetan monasteries, rafting on the Indus and a three-day trek that crosses the Sarmanchan La, a pass that reaches 3,750m. Prices start from £1,899, including flights, and the trip is suitable for ages eight-plus.
Nepal is also a great place to take children, combining a trek with a visit to Chitwan national park, close to the border with India, where they can see wildlife and ride elephants. Steve Webster is a long-time resident of Nepal who runs Escape2Nepal, a small travel company specialising in “soft” adventures that are just right for children – its 15-day family adventure trip costs start from £1,720pp. He also has a quiet guesthouse, Shivapuri Heights, on the outskirts of Kathmandu, away from the ever-increasing noise of Thamel, the city’s tourist district. Look at social Media and Everest base camp trekking to know more about trekking.
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