Your options for trekking in Nepal fall into two categories - organised or independent trekking. Here are the positives and negatives of each.

Organised treks

If the idea of an organised trek makes you shudder with thoughts of package tour-style walking, fear not. An organised trek can mean a party of just you, a guide and a porter, or even just a porter-guide. Mostly though, an organised trekking team will be made up of you and your trekking partners (the group could be assembled by you or by the trekking company), a guide and sometimes a western trek leader as well, a cook, kitchen assistants and any number of porters.

Positives to organised treks in Nepal:

  • Security -- your porters and guides will know the route and should be able to anticipate problems better. You’ll also be carrying a lighter load than if going independently.
  • Opportunity to explore -- using a an organised trek will allow you to explore the more remote upland regions of Nepal that are beyond the remit of independent trekkers.
  • Culture -- your guide should be able to inform you better about your surroundings, help you find homestays or trekking lodges and translate conversations.

Negatives to organised treks in Nepal:

  • Less freedom -- organised treks tend to have more tightly controlled schedules.
  • Cost -- you’ll pay more on an organised trek, although you’ll also be contributing to the local economy.

Life on an organised trek

Life on an organised trek starts at first light with a reviving cup of tea brought to you in bed. Often you’ll also be brought a bowl of hot water and a flannel to wash. Breakfast will be served half an hour or so later and while you tuck into steaming bowls of tsampa (delicious Tibetan porridge) the camp staff will pack away the tents and gear.

You’ll then walk until lunchtime, with kitchen staff and porters far ahead of you preparing food and hot drinks. After walking for another couple of hours you’ll normally arrive at the night stop by mid to late afternoon. Tents will have been erected and a cup of tea and biscuits or other snacks will be ready for your arrival. A big dinner will be served shortly after nightfall and then it’s an early night in your two-man tent.

028 Nepal Everest Base Camp

Independent treks

In the three most popular trekking areas of Everest, Annapurna and Langtang, where trekking lodges/teahouses are found all along the trails and the routes are clear and easy to follow, many people trek independently.

Independent trekking has a lot going for it – but it also has some very large negatives. It’s cheap, easy and a lot of fun. Trekking lodges – though normally far from luxurious – are often warmer and more comfortable than tents, and an increasing number now boast hot showers, varied menus and even WiFi. With trekkers from across the globe congregating round the heater in the dining room at night, they are also social places.

Positives to independent treks in Nepal:

  • Cost -- even at the busiest times of year, independent trekking in Nepal costs are very low.
  • Lodging rather than camping -- almost all independent trekkers will stay at lodges, which are often warmer and more comfortable than camping.
  • Time -- independent trekking allows you to travel at your own pace.

Negatives to independent treks in Nepal:

  • Routing and planning -- being responsible for your own itinerary makes planning harder. Go off route and lodging might be hard to find or full.
  • Luggage -- trek independently and you’ll have to carry your own gear. What feels manageable in Kathmandu might not be once you’re slogging up a 5,000m pass.
  • Security/legality -- get lost and you could be trouble, especially if you don’t speak the language. In some regions of Nepal, independent trekking is actually forbidden.

My advice would be that if you do trek independently, at least hire a guide/porter through a reliable trekking agency. It will only add around US $20 a day to your trip but it will make your trek that much more enjoyable – and could potentially save your life.

Life on an independent trek

Partition walls in trekking lodges are very thin and you will be woken around dawn by other trekkers preparing to head out early. With everyone trying to leave at around the same time there will be a wait for breakfast, and for the shared bathrooms and toilets.

Most people are on their way by 8.30am and will walk until around noon. Lunch is taken at another trekking lodge and again there can be quite a wait for food. Another couple of hours’ walk normally follows after lunch before arriving at your night stop and choosing your lodge.

There’s often time to explore the village and the area before gathering round the heater in the dining room for dinner, swapping stories and sharing experiences. This is when independent trekking is at its best.

Going solo in Nepal

By Stuart Butler

Stuart is a writer and photographer who has been travelling in, hiking through and writing about the Himalaya region for over twenty years. He is the author of Lonely Planet’s Trekking in Nepal, the Rough Guide to Nepal, and the Tibet chapter of the Rough Guide to China. He is currently working on the Bradt guide to Kashmir & Ladakh. Away from the Himalaya he also writes widely about East Africa and conservation issues. He is currently working on a book, Once We Were Lions, about contemporary Maasai culture and wildlife conservation in Kenya. He is based in at the foot of the beautiful Pyrenees in southwest France with his wife and two young children. His website is www.stuartbutlerjournalist.com.

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