Trekking is more successful if the participants are prepared and have an idea of what to expect. Foremost, trek planning to be flexible and make the best of all circumstances. Trekking is essentially hiking extended routes that generally have facilities for room and board. During a trek, travelers spend nights in well-furnished hotels, simple lodges, camp or stay in the homes of local people. In Nepal, walking is the usual means of reaching most rural destinations and the road network is one of the lowest in the world relative to area and population, but a rapid increase in road building is changing things quickly.
Do not travel alone, especially on lesser-used routes, and especially as a female (unfortunately, double standards exist). Find a trustworthy travel companion. Sexual harassment is not uncommon. Foreign pornographic media is wrongly attributed to all foreigners. Dressing as conservatively as Nepalese will gain cultural acceptance. Those trekking alone would be wise to hire a guide or a porter, especially on trails with few tourists.
Please keep in mind that rare attacks on trekkers have occurred in remote areas and usually to people traveling alone. Although lawlessness is on the rise, particularly in the southern plains, due to a succession of weak administrations, travel in Nepal is relatively safer than most modernized countries. However, there are instances of assaults, theft and harassment, and foreigners have gone missing.
Many special-interest activities are available these days with themes of art, flora and fauna, health, meditation, natural history, religion, yoga and more. Adventure sports include rock climbing, mountain biking, rafting, canyoning, kayaking, paragliding and parahawking, bungee jumping, and more. Peregrine Treks easily arrange these activities.
Certain areas, including the regions around Kangchenjunga, Upper Mustang, Manaslu and Tsum Valley, Humla and Mugu (northeastern Nepal), Dolpo, Naar and Phu (within ACAP), are only open to trekkers by booking with an agency. This is supposed to be an attempt by the government to lessen the environmental impact; however, financial reasons play an important role, too. Regulations are in flux, and there is pressure to make these areas more accessible to all tourists. Such a change would help to spread the wealth to the local economy rather than non-local trekking agencies. Until then, these areas are considered “restricted” by the government and require not the only involvement of an agency, but a minimum of two customers and supplementary permits from the Immigration Department.
Restricted areas notwithstanding, most of Nepal is open for trekking. Outside of the publicized and regulated trekking routes, are areas not covered in guidebooks and worth exploring including much of the mid-hills or Pahaad, the heartland of Nepal. This broad belt of hills and fertile valleys stretching from east to west lies between the lowland plains and the Himalaya. Most visitors will discover that areas without the choicest mountain views are at least as enjoyable as the famous destinations, culturally rich and well-endowed with natural scenery. However, before venturing into some of the more remote, less popular or unpublicized areas, a guidebook trek is recommended, and hopefully, the trails herein described will be your introduction. Proverbially speaking, the rest is up to you to discover.
When to trekking
The most popular trekking season is autumn when the rains have washed the skies and weather and views are unrivaled, followed by spring and then winter. Generally, people avoid trekking in the monsoon season which typically begins in early June and finishes by the beginning of October, but frequently drags on for much of that month. Notwithstanding late storms, views are usually clearest in October and November and thus, the busiest months for trekking. December and January are coldest but offer clear vistas, too, although haze often sits in valleys and reaches the upper heights, too, diminishing clarity of views. Much of the air pollution arises from the northern plains of India, one of the most densely populated regions on the planet. Haze drifts north from fires there and in Nepal for winter warmth, cooking, the burning of fields, and the incineration of rubbish, a common practice in greater Asia. The problem is exacerbated by vehicle emissions and general industrial output, especially brick making. February and March bring warmer weather and occasional storms but generally, it is the dry season. Toward the end of March, the airborne dust and pollution can obscure distant views. At this time, it is much warmer in regions below 3000 feet (1000 m) while April and May are hottest and haziest.
Trek Planning in Monsoon
Trekking in the monsoon (June through the end of September) can be undertaken by enthusiastic trekkers who are not troubled by getting wet. Rain and fog can be expected almost daily, making the air more oxygen-rich than it would otherwise be, and clouds part occasionally to give spectacularly evocative views of the mountains and surroundings. Generally, more rain falls in the east of Nepal as the monsoon arrives from the Bay of Bengal and moves westward. Flora is usually at its most colorful, and mid-elevation meadows are swarming with flowers and dancing with butterflies. Waterfalls are roaring at this time, too. Although clouds cloak the mountain vistas, it is undeniably a beautiful time of year—a season when the haze of pollution is absent. Be advised that there will be occasional downpours throughout the day.
When a deluge arrives, find the nearest shelter and wait it out, as cloudbursts usually do not last long—although some last for several days. The negative side of trekking during the monsoon is that you and your gear will likely get wet. Trails can be muddy and treacherously slippery. It will be hot and humid. Roads, trails, and bridges may wash out, necessitating time-consuming and difficult detours. Travel sometimes involves wading through streams or even rivers. To make matters worse, hordes of leeches tyrannize the forests above 4000 feet (1200 m) while mosquitoes are a menace at lower elevations. Certain items of equipment are essential: a waterproof cover for your pack, sheets of plastic for covering porter loads, an umbrella, a hat with a brim, a walking stick or ski pole, and footwear with good traction
Maps are an integral tool for travel in Nepal and provide vital route information and terrain characteristics. Especially important are features of elevation and settlement locations. Nepal produced, elaborate maps are available at bookstores in Nepal, especially in Thamel, Kathmandu, and Lakeside, Pokhara. Trails, villages, and some contours are shown on most of them although not always accurately; some maps have been drawn by people who have not traveled in the region. Himalayan Map House produces excellent maps of the trekking regions. Additionally, Pilgrims Books of Thamel and Patan have a wide supply of maps. Some maps of Nepal are also available at online stores; Peregrine Treks provides maps of related trekking area in free of cost for each trekker.
Daily costs on the popular routes, depending on the amount spent on food, accommodation, and extras. Rates commonly increase with elevation and remoteness. If you are traveling without porters or guides and eating food locally, $25—$30 USD per person per day might take care of necessities, although on popular routes you may need at least $30—$40 USD per day. (With a porter, add at least another $18 a day and $20 for a guide, if you hire them independent of an agency). In the Annapurna and Khumbu regions, there are more stylish hotels, and you can spend a great deal more. Carry enough funds for contingencies. There is also national park and conservation area permit costs; for example, entry into Sagarmatha National Park is 3390 NRS and ACAP 2000 NRS. Restricted areas cost much more. Additionally, since March 2010, TIMS card fees are $20 USD per person per trek ($10 for trekkers on an agency trek).
Off the main routes, daily costs will be lower. Eat locally grown food, buy locally produced crafts, and limit purchase and use of imported products (packaged foods, bottled drinks and sauces and other items brought from Kathmandu and beyond) to save costs, support the local economy and reduce unmanageable waste. You are highly recommended to take a full package from the government authorized trekking agency for cost efficiency. Hotels and lodges provide good rates for a guide rather than free individual trekkers. Also, trekking agencies provide good tea houses during trekking at the peak season too and hold the room in an advance for you. So, you can trek in the hassles free mode.
Trek Planning Schedule
In the hills, people generally rise at dawn, usually followed by a cup of milk tea and then work until a mid-morning meal around 10 AM. Work continues until late afternoon and is followed by a second meal in the evening. A light snack in the early afternoon is common. Until recently, activities coincided with periods of daylight, and people tended to retire indoors soon after sunset; however, with solar power lighting available in much of Nepal, activity patterns are changing.
Most trekkers stop before 5 PM regardless of season and usually depart mid-morning, after a warm drink and breakfast. Schedules are more affected by altitude and place to stay than by length of day, which has less variation from season to season than more northerly climes. Nepal is roughly at the latitude of Florida, USA and northern Egypt. In areas where there are plenty of trekker-oriented hotels, travelers can structure the day as they wish. Along the popular routes, lodges can be comfortable yet crowded during the high season. No effort has been made to evaluate the quality of lodges and services. Not only do travelers have widely ranging sensibilities, but standards, reliability, and ratings cannot be counted on in rural Nepal.
Food and Drink
Busy trailside hotels often hire staff from outside the region and offer extensive ‘international’ menus. Travelers can choose local food, typically daal bhaat tarakaari (rice, lentil soup, and a vegetable dish, or sometimes roti, a flatbread, is substituted for rice), which is what the hotel employees usually eat and is more energy-efficient to cook or Westernized food. Daal bhaat uses local resources and although consisting of the same general ingredients, has a range of tastes depending on specific ingredients, seasonings and preparation from place to place and even day to day at the same location. It is the safest bet for a quality meal and nearly always satisfying with a delicious variety.
Unlimited quantities of bhaat (rice) are generally included in the meal, but the daal (lentils) and tarakaari (vegetables) are rationed. In the commercialized trekking areas, second helpings of each are usually offered but not more. The custom is to have it prepared fresh, and often quantities are misjudged prior to preparation and extra helpings might not be available. Fresh fruit is uncommon and rarely to never available in the alpine heights. Weekly markets occur in some towns and are a source of fresh food, general supplies, and entertainment. The type of food available in the hills varies depending on the place and the season.
Packaged, quick-cooking noodles have become more commonplace in shops and inns throughout much of the country. They are usually insufficient as a meal replacement, contain monosodium glutamate (MSG), and vegetarians will be keen to know that the flavor packets generally contain animal by-products). Often plastic packaging is tossed away indiscriminately or burned and adds to pollution problems.
Western processed and packaged foods are available in large “supermarkets” in Kathmandu that caters mainly to tourists, expatriates, and wealthy Nepalese. You may want to bring dried fruit and nuts as a supplement, and combined with a bit of chocolate you will have a nutritious energy boost. Sealable containers are convenient to carry snacks, too.
Chiyaa, or tea with milk and sugar, is the traditional beverage. Per request, lodge owners along popular routes will make it without milk or sugar. In the higher territory, Tibetan salt-butter tea (solja) is available, although an acquired taste. You might simply ask for boiled water (umaaleko paani). Local alcoholic drinks include Chyaang (Tibetan), Jad and Raksi (Nepali) and Tongbaa (Tibetan and Limbu). Chyaang and Jaad are fermented but not distilled and the water used will not have been purified and might be unsafe to drink. Raksi is distilled however it is often then diluted with untreated water to increase volume. Tongbaa is a drink made by pouring hot water into an individual vessel (the Tongbaa is actually the name of the container itself but has become the common name of the drink, too) of fermented millet and the liquid is traditionally im bibed through a bamboo or aluminium straw, whereas nowadays plastic is used. Hot water is refilled as needed. Commercially produced spirits are available at higher prices.
Homestay can be the most memorable way of traveling and might be able to be the highlight of a journey. It will offer an insider’s view into the culture and lifestyle of your hosts, often untouched by modern amenities.
Always be sure to remove footwear before entering a home. Visitors will likely be shown where to sit and offered a drink and perhaps a light snack to begin with and something more substantial at meal time. Otherwise, try to eat when and what the family eats. You will probably be plied with questions. A private room might be offered for sleeping or you will end up on a carpet on the floor. Relax and enjoy!
Ask whether the family has a charpi (toilet) or if there is a communal latrine. In much of Nepal, there are no latrines whatsoever, and you will have to use the great outdoors. Nepalese are somehow able to time this to dawn or pre-dawn in a place near the village, and they carry a loTaa, or small container of water for necessities. Find a corner of a field or other sheltered spot away from running water and bury the “meadow muffin” at least 6 inches (15 cm), or at least cover it with stones. If you are using toilet paper (or sanitary supplies), carry a cigarette lighter or matches and burn the used paper at once. At high altitude where there is no soil, overlaying the excreta on an out-of-sight rock is best for the environment. Whatever you do, be sure to exercise appropriate modesty and stay out of view.
If at any time you are unsure how to behave in a certain situation, follow the lead of your hosts on how to proceed. After all, is said and done, when intentions are in the right place, actions will follow accordingly and mistakes, should they be made, will be easily overlooked. When departing, the amount of payment will often be up to you.
Camping along the Way
Those with gear can camp along the way. Tents and stoves will certainly attract a crowd in places that have not seen much camping equipment. National parks and conservation areas will have designated fee sites. Peregrine treks will arrange these by the agency. On your own, look near villages for campsites on terraces that are harvested or fallow or clearings in the forest.
Guides and Porters
There is a saying among independent trekkers, “No porters, no guides, no hassles!” Having a poor guide can sometimes cause needless conflict and tension and turn the journey into a struggle. That said, having an informed guide can make all the difference on a venture into the Himalaya. A guide will keep you on the correct trials and may sometimes carry a load. He or she can share a wealth of knowledge and insight on the route and culture, assist in arranging food and accommodation, and generally help to ensure your well-being. The experience can be an extraordinary introduction to Nepal.
Traveling with a porter, hired to carry a load, can also be a tremendous opportunity to get to know Nepal and its people. Porters can often be found when necessary along the trail or hired in Kathmandu before starting a trek. However, some tourists might be uncomfortable with the idea of allowing another person to carry one’s gear. In reality, having a porter is a mutually beneficial arrangement, providing a decent wage in a land with a dearth of employment. The tourist will have more freedom and ease to experience the sights and sounds and the journey will be enhanced in many ways. Not only will the trek be more comfortable, but often long-lasting friendships are made. In any event, trekkers are indirect recipients of porter labor carrying up food and goods purchased along routes. Hiring someone to carry gear will likely be a large pay increase overhauling other goods.
Porters use a conical basket called a Doko available throughout much of Nepal with a cover of plastic to keep the load dry when it rains. They carry these baskets using a wide band that goes around the forehead called a Naamlo. Even with a modern pack to carry, most porters disregard the straps and waist belt in favor of a tumpline. Items carried by porters often receive rough treatment. It is best to carry fragile items yourself. All bags carried by porters should be locked to prevent pilfering and possible recriminations. Small locks and cheap duffel bags are available in Kathmandu.
Generally, there is a two-tiered pricing system and Nepalese receive a cut rate for rooms and food. However, you may want to set a limit for the daily costs. The pay rate for guides and porters varies depending on where they are hired, the destination, the time of year, experience and language capabilities and whether the trekker provides food. It is best to have a guide who is actually from the specific area that you will be visiting. Peregrine Treks will provide experienced and well-trained guides and porters who have extensive knowledge about the trekking area, culture, flora, and fauna.
Nowadays, women, as well as men, are available as porters and guides. In order to eliminate the potential for harassment, female travelers and families with children might be especially interested in hiring the female crew.
It is no secret that in Asia, women are often given a lower status, perhaps an especially striking prejudice in the motherlands of Buddhism and Yoga, considered major pathways to liberation from ignorance. Females face disadvantages in school enrollment, control over household income and work burden, employment and earnings disparities and representation in government and policymaking. Some women, particularly in western Nepal, are kicked out of the household during monthly menses and forced to live in a shed to face hypothermia, hunger and insect and animal bites.
Peregrine Treks is ready to provide well trained and experienced trekking crew member for female travelers upon their request. Our female crew members are physically and mentally sound to serve trekkers. You need to ask a female crew member at the time of trek planning because of the limited female trekking crew member.