Nepal

The country at the top of the world

With the spectacular Himalayas running down its eastern side, it’s no surprise Nepal is known as the roof of the world. Getting out into these vast panoramas with their immense snowy peaks, flower-strewn meadows and sparkling lakes — while also making time to relax at chilled out Pokhara — is reason enough to visit. But there's far more to Nepal than just mountains and trekking.

Down on the hot lush plains of the Terai, you'll find a brace of magical national parks where rare beasts like one-horned rhino and tiger roam and the trees twitch with birdlife. Your chances of seeing rhino are surprisingly high if you visit in the spring. Then there are the cultural jewels, a scattering of ancient cities stuffed with serene temples, cobbled alleys and hidden squares. In parts of Bhaktapur, Patan and the vibrant capital Kathmandu, it feels like life hasn't changed in generations.

When to go trekking in Nepal

Best months for trekking and hiking in Nepal

Nepal weather & climate

The all-powerful Indian monsoon is the defining feature of life and tourism in Nepal.

October to April is the dry season and, overall, this is the best time to trek in most of Nepal. But within that, the ideal trekking time is really from October to early November when the skies are crystal clear and the visibility excellent. It’s warm in the valleys and cool to cold up high. However, this is also the busiest time on the main trails, and villages can be overwhelmed with trekkers.

Avoid the monsoon season from May to September, when trekking routes close and paths become dangerous. If visiting Nepal during monsoon, stick to the major cities, which are often much quieter than during peak periods.

Nepal trekking month-by-month

October to November is the most popular time to trek in Nepal, with the weather at its mildest and the temperatures manageable. However, routes can be busy during these months and trekking lodges full, so make sure you plan your stops in advance.

December to February is also an excellent time to trek, when trails are much quieter and visibility is still excellent. However, it can be bitterly cold up high, and some passes can be snowed in. Treks in the Annapurna circuit and to Everest base camp are still possible at this time.

March to early May can be another good time to trek. It’s much warmer up high, but uncomfortably hot lower down. Rhododendrons turn the slopes aflame with purples and reds. On the negative side, heat haze builds up and the air is less clear. The first pre-monsoon storm clouds build up and you’ll probably get soaked by intense thunderstorms.

May is a superb time to trek areas which lie in the Himalayan rain shadow. Trails in areas like Upper Mustang and Dolpo are quieter than in June to September, and the mountain views are better. By late May the thunderstorms become more frequent and it remains dangerously hot at lower levels.

In June the monsoon really starts to make its presence felt. In Nepal the torrential rain and massive thunderstorms last roughly from late-June to mid-September. For much of the country this is a very bad time to trek. Many trekking lodges will be closed, mountain views obscured, and trails become a quagmire of mud and leeches. However there are exceptions and places such as Upper Mustang which lie in the Himalayan rain shadow can still be trekked.

Nepal_festival

Events and holidays

Trekking in Nepal isn’t just about the mountain views and awe-inspiring passes. Along the way, trekkers will also pass through many Nepalese villages and interact with local communities. This is an opportunity to partake in Nepalese festivals and events.

Lasting 15 days between September and October, Dashain is the biggest cultural festival in Nepal. Celebrated by Hindus and Buddhists alike, this festival sees music, dancing, kite-flying and colourful processions of Hindu and Nepalese gods. A word of warning - animal sacrifice to appease the gods is a part of the festival.

October and November sees the Mani Rimdu festival, a 19-day event that culminates in a three-day public holiday. This is a great time to be trekking around Tengboche or to Everest base camp, as you’ll witness celebrations as local Sherpa and Tibetan communities join forces with Buddhist monks. You’ll witness folkloric dancing and singing, religious ceremonies and, if you’re lucky, the renowned mask dance at Tengboche monastery.

The pre-monsoon months of February and March sees Nepal welcome the Hindu Holi festival, a colourful celebration welcoming spring and the defeat of the Hindu demoness Holika. Join devotees in throwing coloured powder and water - but make sure to not wear your best clothes.

Nepalese food is a blend of different cultures and traditions, with Chinese, Indian and Tibetan influences. Although not traditionally seen as one of the world’s foremost cuisines, Nepalese food is slowly becoming more recognised.

Vegetarians will have no problem finding a decent meal in Nepal — its Hindu and Buddhist influences mean that vegetarians are well catered for. Trekkers will find little meat available in lodges, with the ubiquitous dhal the main source of protein.

Nepal-Food-cart

What to eat and drink

Trekkers staying in teahouses on the major Annapurna, Langtang and Everest routes can rely entirely on hotels for their meals, which saves essential backpack space. Lodge menus are a mixed bag, with those on major routes offering a mix of local and international cuisine. Those in more remote regions will focus on four staples — potatoes, pasta, rice and noodles. Meat, if offered, is likely to be chicken or occasionally mutton, but never beef (forbidden to Hindus).

Be aware that most Nepalis have a simple breakfast of tea before eating a heavier brunch at around 10am. If you choose to wait for lunch until 12pm, you may find yourself with a long wait as the hotel-keeper cooks fresh rice for you.

The basics

By far the most common meal in Nepal is dhal bhat takari — rice with dhal soup and a side of potato or vegetable curry. Expect the occasional pickle, fresh chilli or poppadom on the side. In the border regions near Tibet, tsampa (a porridge like mix of roasted and ground barley mixed with salty butter tea) and thukpa (noodle soup) are the staples, with vegetable stews upping the nutritional value.

Dhal and pulses

While two meals of dhal bhat can get a bit monotonous over a long trek, the positive side is that each serving will be spiced differently and it is cheap and nutritious. In bigger cities, you may even get dhal served with meat or fish for added protein.

In higher regions, you may find dhindo, a paste made from buckwheat and butter that is eaten with vegetables and dhal.

Nepal-Food-3

Meat dishes

Meat becomes increasingly hard to find the higher up Nepal’s ranges you progress. Chicken is the most likely option, with goat, mutton or buffalo also popping up on menus. Look out for traditional Nepalese momos, dumplings filled with meat, vegetables or cheese and then fried or steamed. A delicious snack, momos are served plain or with a chilli or curry sauce.

If visiting in winter, try Gorkhali lamb, a slow-cooked lamb curry made with spices, potatoes and onion and served with roti.

Fruit and vegetables

Nepal has plenty of vegetarian dishes, often flavoured with chilli, turmeric, cumin and other spices. Look out for tangy aloo achar (pickled potatoes), vegetable thukpa (noodle soup) and mustard green bhutuwa (stir-fried mustard greens).

As for fruits — try the tangy, sour pulp of lapsi, which can be pickled or turned into fruit tarts, and the dried flesh of bel (wood apple), which makes a refreshing drink when juiced with lime.

Nepal-Food-Chai

Sweets and desserts

Nepali desserts are similar to Indian sweets and are often tooth-achingly sugary. Look out for bright orange jalebis, the cashew nut based barfi and the thick, rich gud pak (a porridge like mix of edible gum, nuts, sugar and flour). The most common dessert is khir, a rice pudding flavoured with cardamom and dried fruits.

What to drink

Tea is one of the best ways to stay hydrated while trekking around Nepal. From masala chiya (tea with condensed milk and spices) to soja (Tibetan butter tea) and all manner of herbal teas, this is a refreshing way to get to know your Nepalese neighbours.

Alcoholic drinks are widely available in Nepal, with local homebrews such as chang (barley beer) and rakshi (rice wine) vying with international brands of beer like Everest, Gorkha and Carlsberg.

One note of warning — avoid drinking tap or stream water. Bring iodine tablets to treat drinking water.

Will I need a visa to go trekking in Nepal?
Visas for most nationalities are available at major air and land borders on arrival. Prices for 15/30/90 days are US $25/40/100. You can pay in US dollars, euros, British pounds and some other major currencies. You can also apply online at https://online.nepalimmigration.gov.np/tourist-visa which, in theory at least, reduces time queuing on arrival in Kathmandu.

How much do treks in Nepal cost?
There are a few variables you’ll need to consider when budgeting for a trek in Nepal. Porters cost between US$ 10-25 per day. A guide will charge USD$ 30-40 per day. You’ll also need to factor in permit costs, depending on the region you choose to trek in. You can see a full list of permits and prices here.

How do you train for treks in the Himalayas?
Depending on where you choose to trek in the Himalayas, you can expect a significant physical challenge. The best way to prepare for a trek is to hike, trek or climb any mountains or hills near where you live. This will get your body used to walking uphill. Stamina is more important than speed, so train yourself to walk long distances at a pace that suits you.

How accessible is the internet and wifi?
In Kathmandu, Pokhara and other larger towns, almost every hotel offers free wifi. Internet cafes get fewer in number each year. On more popular trails such as some of the Annapurna and Everest routes, an increasing number of trekking lodges offer wifi. Sometimes it’s free, sometimes there’s a token payment. Connection speeds are better than you might expect. Elsewhere in the mountains internet is virtually non-existent, but in some larger towns such as Jomsom, Namche Bazaar and Manang it’s available.

Will ATMs accept my card and how do I get cash in Nepal?
Banks and ATMs accept foreign cards in all larger Nepalese towns and cities. Bigger banks will change cash (dollars and euros are best). Travellers’ cheques are rarely accepted now. The best way of accessing money is from an ATM. However, it’s wise to have some emergency cash with you in US dollars or euros. It’s harder to get cash once on the mountain trails. Some lodge owners might change dollars or euros, but don’t rely on it. Take more cash than you think you might need.

What time zone is Nepal in?
Nepal is 5hrs 45min ahead of GMT.

Will my mobile phone work?
Mobile phones are ubiquitous in Nepal. If your phone is unlocked, you can buy a cheap pre-pay Nepalese SIM card and a bundle of credit for talk time, text messages and internet. Take your passport with you to buy a SIM card. Reception is excellent in lowland areas and large towns and cities, but on the mountain trails you are highly unlikely to have a phone signal. Locals have phones that work but they use a special service not available to tourists.

70713796_l

Nepal is not the only Himalayan country, but as the home of Mount Everest and more than half of the planet’s other 8,000m-plus mountains, it is the country most intimately associated with the Himalayas.

Nepal was closed to outsiders and most foreign influences for the first half of the 20th century and when the first western mountaineers and trekkers arrived in the 1950s they were enchanted by what they discovered. The country was living in a medieval time warp and even the capital, Kathmandu, was little more than a collection of temples, shrines, palaces, markets and red brick townhouses. There were almost no roads in the country and those first mountaineers and trekkers had to walk from Kathmandu’s Durbar Square to Everest and the other big peaks.

Things have come on a long way since then. Kathmandu is now a sprawling mega-city, the ever-expanding road network fans out across much of the lower and flatter parts of the country and the trekking industry is second to none. One thing that hasn’t changed though is the magnificence of the mountains, the sheer beauty of the countryside, and the unending warmth of welcome displayed by the Nepalese people. These are what continue to attract mountain junkies from across the world.

Nepal_Trekking Regions

A trek in Nepal can mean a gentle amble from village to village in the richly fertile Middle Hills, meeting yak herders in the high summer pastures, visiting holy lakes and a myriad of temples, slogging over snow-bound passes, drinking butter tea with Buddhist monks in a setting that’s more classically Tibetan than Tibet itself, and dawdling through stands of old-growth forest on the way to a high mountain basecamp.

A Nepalese trek can be as hard or as easy as you like. Those who want it challenging can set off with a backpack, guide and camping equipment for an exploratory trek along trails generally only trodden by nomads and snow leopards.

For the rest of us though, the going can be much easier. There are innumerable trails where comfortable trekking lodges line the route, getting lost is almost impossible, and there’s the reassurance that at the end of the day a hot meal awaits. Whichever type of trekking you choose, be warned. Trekking in Nepal is an experience that will mark you for the rest of your life and leave within you an insatiable urge to return.

Nepal-Ebc-Day-10-Khumbu-Glacier-From-Kalapather

Trekking around Mount Everest

The most popular treks in Nepal's Khumbu region

Mount Everest, (8,848m) the highest mountain on Earth, exerts a magnetic pull on trekkers, mountaineers and armchair adventurers alike. The main trekking trails here can be busy and even commercialised, but for sheer awe nothing comes close to the trails threading through the Khumbu, the area around Everest.

Everest-Region

Trekking the Everest region

Although the focus on these treks is naturally on Everest, the surrounding giants — Lhotse (8,501m), Nuptse (7,861m), Lobouche West (6,145m) and others — are often more beautiful and more inspiring.

The Everest region has long been the most popular trekking region in Nepal. The trails are well-developed, the trekking lodges excellent (there are a growing number of genuinely luxurious places to stay), the variety of food impressive and the organisation and information as good as it gets. With no complicated permits required and — unless you attempt to do something really offbeat — no need for any form of camping equipment, this is independent trekking at its best. However, most trails take you up high (well above 5,000m) and the risk of acute mountain sickness on many routes is real. Therefore, don’t hurry on any of these routes, build in plenty of rest days, and take the time to enjoy this outstanding place.

Everest-BC

The best Mount Everest treks

1. Everest basecamp trek

This is probably the most popular trek in Nepal, and for good reason. Over two weeks you will hike through green foothills, past Buddhist monasteries, through stone-walled, slate-roofed villages and right into the heart of the mountains to arrive among the moraines of Everest base camp.

Facilities on this trek are as good as anywhere in the Nepalese mountains. Most lodges have varied menus, heating, separate rooms, electricity, hot showers and even wi-fi. There are genuinely luxurious lodges available. On the flip side, you’ll never walk alone on this route. Tens of thousands of trekkers walk this trail each year and sometimes local culture can be overwhelmed by international trekking culture. If you value peace and quiet, avoid this trek.

The standard route begins from the airstrip at Lukla and follows the valley of the Dudh Kosi up to Namche, the centre of trekking in the Everest region. All trekkers should pause here for a couple of nights to acclimatise. There are villages, monasteries and a museum to visit.

From Namche the trail heads northeast for seven or eight days before reaching Everest base camp and the amazing viewpoint of Kala Pattar. On the way to that high point you’ll pass Tengboche with its important monastery, Pangboche gompa with what are said to be yeti relics, and bleak trekking villages. The scenery will become steadily grander. Base camp, when you finally get there, is something of an anti-climax.

You can’t see Everest from base camp and with its masses of semi-permanent expedition tents the area resembles a festival site (indeed in April 2017 British DJ Paul Oakenfold played a live gig here!). Even so it’s an interesting place, especially in the April-May climbing season (in the October-November trekking season it’s mainly deserted). For most people the real reward of this trek is not base camp but the nearby Kala Pattar viewpoint (5,545m) which at dawn, before the clouds tumble in, offers a view of Lhotse (8,501m), Nuptse (7,861m), the Khumbu Icefall and, standing grand behind them all, Everest itself.

Most people return back the way they came but it’s possible to follow parts of the Three Passes trek over to Gokyo

Everest basecamp trek

  • Difficulty: Moderate-hard
  • Trek Duration: 12 days+
  • Max. Elevation: 5,545m
  • Accommodation: Trekking lodges.
  • Start/End Point: Lukla

​2. Gokyo Lakes trek

With scenery every bit as spectacular as that on the Everest base camp trek but with far fewer crowds, this trek, which leads to a series of high glacial blue lakes, is arguably one of the best in Nepal. Note that altitude problems can be an issue. Go slowly and allow as many extra rest days as you can.

The trek follows the Everest base camp trail for the first couple of days to Sanasa, a half day walk beyond Namche Bazaar. From here, while the masses plod towards Everest, Gokyo trekkers skip up the Dudh Kosi valley. Forested at lower levels, the valley becomes increasingly forbidding as it passes herders’ camps and yak pastures and enters a realm of moraine and ice circled by looming peaks.

After about eight days of hard walking you’ll arrive at the Sherpa village of Gokyo with its end-of-the-world feel. Allow for a couple of nights here to do some of the incredible day treks. The obligatory one is to the lofty viewpoint of Gokyo Ri (5,360m) which rewards with one of the definitive Himalayan vistas: A necklace of sapphire blue lakes shimmering at the foot of glacial tongues, against a backdrop of some of the highest mountains on the planet including Everest.

With another day at Gokyo you can walk almost as far as your legs will carry you (and at this altitude that’s not normally very far) for a circuit around all the sacred lakes and a climb up to Scoundrel’s Viewpoint (5,000m) on the way.

To return to warmer climes, walk back the way you came, or with more time and strong legs, link up the Three Passes trek.

Gokyo Lakes trek

  • Difficulty: Moderate-hard
  • Trek Duration: 12-14 days
  • Max. Elevation: 5,360m
  • Accommodation: Trekking lodges.
  • Start/End Point: Lukla

3. ​Three Passes trek

For those with stamina and time the formidable Three Passes trek is by far the most exciting, rewarding and challenging trek in the Khumbu region. In fact, for sheer mountain awe this is perhaps the single best trek in Nepal for independent trekkers reliant on lodges. Having said that, the nature of this trek makes it highly advisable to take a guide and porter as well as crampons, ice-axes, ropes and camping equipment because of the very real possibility of getting stuck out for the night due to bad weather.

As the name suggests this trek crosses three passes, the Kongma La (5,535m), Cho La (5,420m) and the Renjo La (5,360m). Along the way you will be rewarded with the Gokyo lakes, Everest base camp, Kala Pattar and Gokyo Ri viewpoints as well as the grand pass scenery. For reasons of acclimatisation most people do this trek from Dingboche via the Kongma La to Lobuche and on to Cho La and the Gokyo Lakes, before finishing with the crossing of the quiet Renjo La. It’s also possible to shorten this trek by dropping the Renjo La.

Three Passes trek

  • Difficulty: Strenuous.
  • Trek Duration: 18-20 days but this trek rewards those who allow extra days for side-trips and acclimatisation.
  • Max. Elevation: 5,535m (5,545m if you climb to the Kala Pattar viewpoint)
  • Accommodation: Trekking lodges.
  • Start/End Point: Lukla

​4. Jiri or Shivalaya to Lukla trek

A world apart from the main Everest region trekking routes, this route, following in the footsteps of the first climbers who headed to Everest, harks back to the days when the Nepalese hill country was almost road free and early climbers had to walk from Kathmandu to whichever mountain they were intending to climb.

It’s a wonderful way to reach (or leave) the Everest area and though it doesn’t offer the same kind of high altitude mountain scenery of the Khumbu, it does offer peaceful walking with barely a single other foreign trekker around, beautiful rural vistas and mountain views, traditional village life (the Rai are the main ethnic group in these hills), gorgeous terraced fields and a sense of cultural interaction that’s rarely possible on the higher Everest trails.

Other advantages of this trek are that you can bus to the trailhead from Kathmandu and aren’t reliant on flights to Lukla, and altitude related problems are rare. However, don’t underestimate this trek. There’s an exhausting amount of steep up and down into often searing hot valleys. The route can start from either Jiri or Shivalaya (knock one day off the trek time if starting from Shivalaya), and as road construction continues, it’s possible that the trek can be reduced even further if you’re in a rush.

The lodges and food on this trek are far more basic than on the main Everest trails. A guide is a good idea.

Jiri/Shivalaya to Lukla trek

  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate.
  • Trek Duration: 9-10 days.
  • Max. Elevation: 3,530m
  • Accommodation: Trekking lodges.
  • Start/End Point: Jiri or Shivalaya/Lukla

​5. Makalu to Everest via the Three Passes

The most challenging and dangerous trek in the Everest region and perhaps all of Nepal, is the crossing from the Makalu trek (itself one of the harder treks) to the Everest region via the lung-busting Sherpani Col at 6,146m, West Col (6,143m) and Amphu Labtsa (5,848m). The alpine scenery is second to none but this is not a trek for the average person. It’s very tough, with many nights of camping above 5,000 or even 6,000m and no real escape routes. However, it offers stunning views of Everest itself and the chance to experience a truly remote trek.

In places, this is more mountaineering than trekking. You will require a lot of time (allow a month), plenty of high-altitude walking experience and the services of a very clued-up and experienced agency. Not one for the faint-hearted.

Makalu to Everest via Three Passes

  • Difficulty: Very strenuous.
  • Trek Duration: 30 days
  • Max. Elevation: 6,146m
  • Accommodation: Trekking lodges and camping.
  • Start/End Point: Tumlingtar/Lukla

6. ​Numbur Cheese Circuit trek

A fairly recently developed route and a great option for hardy trekkers looking for peace and quiet with a warm welcome in the villages. The trek begins from Shivalaya and climbs through near pristine old-growth forest rich in spring flowering rhododendron, to Khimti Khola and the sacred lakes of Jata Pokhari and Panch Pokhari. Beyond the lakes lies the Panch Pokhari pass (4,607m) and Gyajo La, the highest point of the trek at 4,880m.

From both of these passes there are memorable mountain views, but you don’t venture to the base of any massive mountains. Wildlife is abundant — you could see red pandas, musk deer and masses of birds. As the name suggests, this is a big yak cheese producing area, and along the way you can stop at artisanal cheese producers. Accommodation is split roughly 50-50 between very basic trekking lodges and homestays, and self-sufficient camping.

Numbur Cheese Circuit trek

  • Difficulty: Moderate.
  • Trek Duration: 14-16 days
  • Max. Elevation: 4,880m
  • Accommodation: Camping and basic trekking lodges.
  • Start/End Point: Shivalaya/Those

​7. Island Peak trek

Not technically a trek but a mountain climbing expedition, Island Peak (6,189m; more accurately called Imja Tse) is one of Nepal’s official trekking peaks. It’s a relatively easy ascent compared to many other trekking peaks and its proximity to the main Everest trekking trails means it’s by far the most popular. This is no stroll in the park though. Ropes, crampons and ice-axes are all needed and there’s a short stretch that involves ice-climbing. The mountain is accessed from Chhukung, a short detour off the main Everest base camp trek. Many agencies in Kathmandu offer Island Peak expeditions which last about five to seven days including pre-ascent training. Many of these agencies can also build an Island Peak ascent into a longer Everest trek.

Island Peak trek

  • Difficulty: Strenuous. Mountaineering skills required.
  • Trek Duration: 6 days
  • Max. Elevation: 6,189m
  • Accommodation: Camping.
  • Start/End Point: Lukla
028Ac-123Rf-12014599_Xl

Everest trekking highlights

Everest

Known in Tibetan as Qomolangma (Mother Earth), Everest, which was first summited in 1953 by Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary, asserts its dominance over all other peaks in the Khumbu region. Even when you can’t see it you can almost feel its presence. A trek to Everest base camp is as much a pilgrimage as a straightforward trek.

High passes

Trekking in the Everest region involves crossing some of the highest mountain passes open to “normal” trekkers anywhere in the world. Clambering slowly upwards, your breathing will be laboured and the cold will sting the back of your throat. But when you reach the top the reward will be a grandstand view over a rock and ice wilderness. For the ultimate Everest challenge, try the daunting Three Passes trek which links the finest parts of the standard Everest treks and crosses three 5,000m passes in the process.

Viewpoints

From base camp the views of Everest are not all that great, but from the top of nearby Kala Pattar (5,545m) you can see one of the planet’s finest mountain vistas and the single best view of Everest from Nepal. And wait till you stand atop Gokyo Ri (5,360m). The turquoise lakes, glaciers and the panorama of peaks will make you gasp. After Gokyo Ri, it’s well worth taking a day walk to the Scoundrel’s Viewpoint for more breathtaking views.

Challenges

Any trek in this region is a challenge. Most are long, high and cold. The only one that isn’t, Shivalaya to Lukla, is challenging simply because it takes you well off the standard trails into a more traditional Nepal where you won’t have some of the comforts you get on the main trails. If you really want a challenge then there can only be the spectacular Three Passes trek, or the Makalu to Everest route.

Sherpa culture

The Khumbu is the home of the Sherpas, Nepal’s best known ethnic group, and one of the joys of trekking here is the chance to get to know something of their lives. Visit the gompas (Tibetan temples) and monasteries (Tengboche is the best-known), time your trek so you can drop in on one of the colourful Sherpa festivals such as Gyalpo Losar (Tibetan New Year, late February to early March) or Mani Rimdu (October to November) both of which have fabulous masked dances, or simply walk through traditional stone villages on the quiet Jiri, or Shivalaya to Lukla trek.

Side trips

Some of the most exciting days on these treks are the side trips off the main trails. Around the Namche Bazaar area there are warm-up treks to several attractive villages such as Khunde and Khumjung. On the Everest base camp trek, build in a couple of extra days to explore the Imja Khola valley and viewpoints of Chhukung. After you’ve marvelled at the view from Gokyo Ri on the Gokyo trek, continue into the valley to the stunning lakes you were earlier looking down on. On the Three Passes, veer up the Bhote Kosi valley which lies along an ancient trade route to Tibet.

Trekking peaks

Standing on the summit of the world's highest mountain might be beyond the capabilities (and finances) of most of us, but there are Himalayan peaks that mere mortals can attempt in the Khumbu area, known as trekking peaks. Note that all these are serious endeavours that require time, preparation and the services of trained guides. The best-known and easiest is Island Peak (6,189m), a couple of days off the Everest base camp trail. Other, more challenging climbs include Lobuche East (6,119m), Kongma Tse (5,820m) and the most demanding of the lot, Kusum Kangru (6,367m). Contact Kathmandu agencies in advance if you want to attempt one of these.

Everest-view

​Everest trekking FAQs

Are permits required to trek in the Everest region?

All treks require a TIMS card, and all except Jiri/Shivalaya to Lukla, and Numbur Cheese Circuit, require a Sagarmatha National Park permit. The Jiri/Shivalaya to Lukla trek and Numbur Cheese Circuit both require a Gaurishankar Conservation Area Project permit. Makalu to Everest via the Three Passes trek requires a Sagarmatha National Park permit and a Makalu-Barun National Park permit.

When is the best time to trek around Mt Everest?

Trekking is best between October and April. Between late November and late February it’s very cold at high altitude and higher passes may be impassable, but plenty of people still trek at this time. Weather-wise October to early-November is the best time but the main trails get very busy, therefore December and late February through to March would offer the best chance of clear skies and fewer trekkers. Avoid trekking during the monsoon period of late-May to early September.

What are the teahouses and lodges like around Mt Everest?

The main trails here have numerous trekking lodges of a very high standard. Hot showers and wi-fi are common. There are also a number of genuine luxury hotels, most of which are clustered around Namche and Lukla. Agencies in Kathmandu can organise luxury Everest treks.

Where to the Everest treks start/finish?

Most of the treks mentioned here start and end from Lukla and one of the biggest hurdles you might face is getting there. Most trekkers fly there in small prop planes from Kathmandu, but the flights are weather dependent and cancellations are common which can mean a backlog of people waiting to fly. It’s vitally important to allow an extra day or two at the end of your trek to cover flight delays. Flight cancellations are most common at the start and end of the trekking seasons when the weather is more unpredictable.

For these treks – Jiri/Shivalaya to Lukla; Numbur Cheese Circuit; and Makalu to Everest via the Three Passes – it’s possible to bus to the trail heads from Kathmandu (flights are also available to Tumlingtar at the start of the Makalu to Everest via the Three Passes trek).

The best treks in the Annapurna region

Recommended Annapurna trekking routes

From the lakeside resort town of Pokhara, a great wall of white fills the northern horizon. This is the Annapurna range, which tops out with the 8,091m Annapurna I.

Annapurna-Region

Trekking in Annapurna

There’s a huge variety of treks here from simple walks in the flowery foothills, to legendary hidden valleys that feel like Tibet and require special permits to visit. But whatever trek you choose, one thing is for sure: the mountain scenery will blow you away. Standing in the heart of the cirque at the end of the Annapurna Sanctuary trek could move you to tears, and the wilderness around Tilicho Lake will probably be the best mountain scenery you’ll ever lay eyes on. And then there’s the Annapurna Circuit, the classic walk of Nepal, and one that for many years was hyped as the single best trek on the planet.

The scenery here is second to none, and there’s the added advantage that most treks are simple to organise, trailheads easy to get to by public transport, and accommodation and facilities abundant and of a very high quality. So forget the glory of Everest. Annapurna is where it’s at!

Annapurna-view

Annapurna trekking highlights

Thorung La Pass

The high point and highlight of the legendary Annapurna Circuit trek. You crest the brow of the Thorung La Pass (5,416m) to be greeted by a panorama of prayer flags and mighty mountain peaks stretched across the horizon. Drop down its far side and you enter a drier world that feels more like Tibet.

Mountain views

Sit among flowering rhododendrons and watch the first rays of sunrise turn the Annapurna range pink and orange. Be overawed by the splendour as you stand, surrounded by some of the highest peaks on the planet, in the mountain amphitheatre of the Annapurna Sanctuary. In the Annapurna region the mountain views come in all forms: huge and daunting to distant and inviting.

Tilicho Lake

Your knees will wobble with fear as you tip-toe carefully across avalanche-prone sheer shale slopes and your lungs will burn with the effort required to get there, but when you eventually reach the often frozen Tilicho Lake you’ll gasp in amazement at the kind of view normally reserved for mountaineers.

Nar-Phu

Sheltered from mainstream Nepali life by deep, dark gorges and still rarely visited by trekkers, the valleys of Nar and Phu are a hidden world (indeed in Tibetan Buddhist scriptures these valleys have long been considered a baeyul, or hidden paradise land) of medieval villages populated by a yak herding and strongly Buddhist people.

Side trips

It’s worth building in some spare days to any Annapurna hiking itinerary. Chances are though, these won’t be spent lazing about — not when there are remote passes, silent high altitude lakes, Himalayan base camps and gorgeous villages to explore just off the main trails.

Muktinath and Kagbeni

Put the trekking poles down for a day and follow the Hindu pilgrims to the holy town of Muktinath. They’ve come from across the Indian sub-continent to bathe in the freezing spring waters and pray at the eternal flame which lies at the heart of the temple complex. A day’s walk further downhill is Kagbeni, a quiet desert oasis village that you can visit without an expensive permit.

Annapurna-view-range

The top Annapurna treks

1. Annapurna Sanctuary trek

Probably just beating Everest base camp for the title of most popular trek in Nepal, the Annapurna Sanctuary trek is a 10-day extravaganza of non-stop mountain vistas culminating in a great cirque of massive mountain peaks seven to eight kilometres high.

If you’re looking for a short, relatively easy and simple to organise trek that doesn’t venture too high (4,130m), and with unusually comfortable accommodation, then the Annapurna Sanctuary ticks all the boxes. The straight there and back route starts in the lush sub-tropical hills to the north of Pokhara, taking you through oak, birch, rhododendron and bamboo forests before hitting the Alpine zone on day five around Machapuchare base camp (which is actually a collection of trekking lodges — for religious reasons it’s forbidden to climb Machapuchare).

From here to the Annapurna Sanctuary the views get more stupendous with every corner passed. Once you reach the Annapurna Sanctuary there are a few viewpoints above the lodges which reward with views over glaciers, moraine fields and an amphitheatre of peaks including Machapuchare (6,993m), Annapurna South (7,219m), Annapurna III (7,555m), Gangapurna (7,454m) and, just poking up behind the others, Annapurna I (8,091m), the first 8,000m mountain ever climbed (in 1950 by legendary French climbers Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal).

The facilities for trekkers are as good as anywhere in the Nepalese mountains. Most lodges have varied menus, some form of heating, separate rooms, electricity, hot showers and even wi-fi. However, this combination of unsurpassed mountain scenery, great facilities and easy access means that tens of thousands of trekkers can walk this trail each year and sometimes local culture can be overwhelmed by international trekking culture. Lodges can be booked out in high season. Try to get to the night stop early, or join an organised camping trek and avoid the worry of finding a bed.

To avoid this being a straight there and back trek, do the Poon Hill trek first and then on day four link on to this walk. That would give a total of about 12 comfortable days of walking.

Annapurna Sanctuary trek

  • Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
  • Trek Duration: 10 days
  • Max. Elevation: 4,130m
  • Accommodation: Trekking lodges.
  • Start/End Point: Naya Pul or Dhampus

2. Annapurna Circuit trek

This, one of the world’s classic treks, takes you through virtually the whole range of Nepalese landscapes: From sub-tropical valleys where banana plants and gushing, murky jungle rivers are the defining features, through gorgeous woodlands, and across Alpine meadows and conifer forests, to the rock and ice wastes higher up.

The high point is the often snow-covered Thorung La Pass (5,416m) with its utterly sensational mountain views. From here you drop rapidly down towards the fascinating Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage site of Muktinath and then into a drier, region of eroded river gorges, lush oases and castle-like monasteries around Kagbeni and Jomsom (look out for ammonite fossils in the Kali Gandaki river bed — evidence that the top of the world was once at the bottom of a prehistoric ocean). Many people finish the trek at Jomsom (there are jeeps and buses to Pokhara or scheduled daily flights), but for the devoted, the trail winds slowly downhill into warmer, greener and lusher countryside. The sense of satisfaction of walking the entire circuit is second to none.

Facilities along the Annapurna Circuit are excellent with comfortable trekking lodges and good, varied food. Many lodges have hot showers and wi-fi. It’s busy in high season and the demand for beds can exceed supply. You can avoid the problem by joining an organised camping trip, and miss the crowds by overnighting at midway points between the major stops.

In the past few years road construction has eaten into parts of the original Annapurna Circuit route, but the effects of this construction has been mitigated through the creation of new trails away from the roads. In many cases these new trails offer even more impressive scenery than the original routes.

Most people walk the Annapurna Circuit anti-clockwise, starting from Besisahar or Bhulebule and finishing in either Jomsom or, for the more committed, Naya Pul. Going this way round allows more time for acclimatisation and the approach to the Thorung La Pass (5,416m) is a little less steep. Fitter trekkers going clockwise will be facing into the best scenery during the descent from the Thorung La. However, if you do go this way, it’s wise to be a part of an organised trek so that you can spend one night camped at the grassy clearing halfway between the lodges of Chabarbu and the Thorung La, which is better for acclimatisation.

Annapurna Circuit trek

  • Difficulty: Moderate-hard
  • Trek Duration: 12-18 days
  • Max. Elevation: 5,416m
  • Accommodation: Trekking lodges.
  • Start/End Point: Besi Sahar or Bhulebule/Jomsom or Naya Pul

3. Poon Hill trek

Mixing heart-stirring mountain views with enchanting villages and beautiful forests with a thousand blooming rhododendrons, this is a fabulous introduction to trekking in Nepal.

The highlight is Poon Hill itself, an hour’s walk above the village of Ghorepani. Watching the sunrise from here is an almost obligatory Nepalese experience. As the first beams of light shine across a panorama that includes Dhaulagiri I (8,167m), South Annapurna (8,091m) and Nilgri (6,940m), it rarely disappoints.

The trailheads are only about an hour’s drive out of Pokhara and there are excellent trekking lodges along the route plus some luxury hotels. The trek can be done clockwise or anti-clockwise and it makes a good add-on to the more challenging Annapurna Sanctuary trek. It’s also an ideal first time trek for families and those who don’t want to go too high. But do keep in mind that there’s a lot of steep up and down.

Poon Hill trek

  • Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
  • Trek Duration: 5-6 days
  • Max. Elevation: 3,210m
  • Accommodation: Trekking lodges.
  • Start/End Point: Naya Puk/Phedi

4. Khopra Ridge trek

Also known as the Khopra Danda trek, this is well off the standard Annapurna trekking routes and offers a low-key, peaceful trek to lofty viewpoints on the flanks of Annapurna South. There are a number of different route variations.

The trails pass through charming villages with simple private and community lodges and lots of pretty forests. Khopra Ridge itself is an impressive dome with an exposed trail running along it that feels much higher than it really is (especially when covered in snow). The views across to Dhaulagiri I (8,167m) are unforgettable. From the ridge it’s possible to make a very long and challenging 10-hour day trip to the high altitude Khayer Lake (4,600m). Given the 1,000-metre height gain in a day, plus the beauty of the lake, it’s much more advisable to go on an organised camping trek and sleep on the lake shore.

Khopra Ridge trek

  • Difficulty: Moderate.
  • Trek Duration: 5-6 days.
  • Max. Elevation: 3,660m
  • Accommodation: Camping and limited trekking lodges.
  • Start/End Point: Ghorepani/Tadapani

5. Tilicho Lake trek

The short, but challenging hike to Tilicho Lake, one of the highest large lakes in the world, is one of the most impressive walks in the Annapurna range. It’s a four or five-day round trip detour off the main Annapurna Circuit trail starting from Manang and heading rapidly upwards, firstly through pine forest and then across scree slopes before a final climb to a pass (5,005m) overlooking the lake. Pushed right up against the great wall of the Annapurna range, and with glaciers crashing down into it, the lake is frozen over for months on end and can be a bleak and scary place. When it is ice-free (normally June to early November), the astonishing turquoise colours of the water clash with the dark rock and white glaciers behind it. For sheer high mountain drama it’s hard to beat. However, the route up to the lake is not for the faint-hearted.

The path rises very steeply from Manang and altitude-related problems are very common. Also, a large part of the trail is high up on an almost sheer shale slope where rock falls and avalanches are almost daily occurrences. Needless to say it can be very dangerous, especially after rain. People suffering from vertigo will probably not enjoy this trek. Although there are a number of decent trekking lodges along the trail to the lake there’s nowhere reliable to stay on the lake shore. By coming on an organised camping trek you can spend a magical night camping along the lake’s northern edge with only snow leopards for company.

After reaching the lake it’s best to turn back the way you came rather than going all the way back to Manang though you can take a small shortcut that will get you directly to the lodges at Yak Kharka.

Note that many maps and some trekking agencies talk about a route directly from Tilicho Lake to Jomsom via the Mesokanto pass. No matter what any map, sign or trekking agency tells you, this is not a route to be taken lightly. It involves ice-climbing down two huge, vertical glacier walls followed by a hair-raising and utterly exhausting climb up a loose scree slope which makes those you crossed on the way up to Tilicho seem like child’s play. Do not attempt this route without mountaineering experience, ropes, ice-axes and crampons as well as a guide who knows the route — very few do.

Tilicho Lake trek

  • Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult.
  • Trek Duration: 4.5 days
  • Max. Elevation: 5,005m
  • Accommodation: Trekking lodges.
  • Start/End Point: Manang/Manang or Yak Kharka

6. Nar-Phu trek

Most Annapurna Circuit trekkers heading through the village of Koto won’t know that a trail off to the east leads to a magical, hidden world. The Nar and Phu valleys were closed to tourism until 2002 and when they finally opened up the first trekkers discovered a landscape of narrow gorges, 7km high mou

ntains, timeless stone villages festooned with prayer flags, and a distinct local culture based on yak herding and trade with neighbouring Tibet.

Still rarely trekked (a restricted area permit and camping gear is required), the route follows a dark, deep and shady gorge up to the medieval village of Phu, which consists of around 40 or 50 mud and stone houses and red painted monasteries huddled together on the top of a hill. Entry to the village is via a spectacular old gateway.

It’s worth allowing a couple of nights in Phu to explore the upper valley. To leave, you have to retrace your steps halfway back down the valley before veering west up the Nar valley, over yak pastures to the large traditional village of Nar where there are four gompas (Buddhist monasteries) worth visiting. Independent trekkers relying on lodges will probably have to turn back here and retrace their steps to Koto, but camping groups can make the exciting two-day crossing of the Kang La (5,320m) down to Ngawal back on the Annapurna Circuit.

This trek works well either as an add-on to the Annapurna Circuit or as a short, stand-alone trek in its own right. For adventurous trekkers with all the correct permits on fully-organised camping treks, it’s possible to take a wild, difficult and very rarely walked route from the village of Nar into Upper Mustang via the taxing Teri La Pass (5,595m).

Nar-Phu trek

  • Difficulty: Moderate-difficult.
  • Trek Duration: 7-9 days
  • Max. Elevation: 5,320m
  • Accommodation: Camping and basic trekking lodges.
  • Start/End Point: Koto/Ngawal
Annapurna-village

Annapurna trekking information

All these treks require a TIMS permit (Trekkers’ Information Management System) and an Annapurna Conservation Area Permit. The Nar-Phu trek also needs a restricted area permit (seven days Sept-Nov/Dec-Aug US $90/75, additional days, US $10). You must be in a party of at least two trekkers and be accompanied by a guide.

All these treks except Nar-Phu are best tackled between October and November, and from late February to April. Between late November and early February, it’s very cold at high altitude and the Thorung La Pass will probably be impassable due to snow. The routes to Tilicho Lake will also be snowed in at this time and lodges at higher elevations closed. There’s a real avalanche risk on the Annapurna Sanctuary and Tilicho Lake routes in spring. Avoid trekking most of this area during the monsoon (June-early-Sept)

Nar-Phu is unusual because it lies in the Himalayan rain shadow, and it’s possible to trek here during the monsoon — although you should still expect some rain and obscured mountain views. From November to early March, most valley inhabitants leave for lower and warmer climes and trekking lodges will be closed. The Kang La Pass will also be buried under snow and impossible to cross in mid-winter. This pass can also be complicated in spring with late and/or melting snow and ice. April-May and September-October are great times for Nar-Phu.

The main trails here have numerous trekking lodges of a very high standard. Hot showers and wi-fi are common. Nar-Phu and Khopra Ridge are earthier with limited and very basic homestay style lodges which fill up quickly. These areas are best trekked on a fully organised camping expedition.

Access to trail heads for most of these treks is fairly simple and all but Nar-Phu and Tilicho Lake start and end a short bus or taxi ride from Pokhara. An ever-expanding road network is changing routes in this region and many people skip the first couple of days of the Annapurna Circuit by driving up the valley.

An equally large number finish the trek at Jomsom from where there are regular buses and jeeps back to Pokhara as well as early morning flights. However, be warned that landslides can block the road for days on end and flights are frequently cancelled due to unfavourable (ie terrifyingly strong) winds. Allow an extra day or so in your schedule.

Treks in the Upper Mustang Region

Quieter hikes through Nepal's cultural heartlands

North, beyond the highest Himalayan peaks, is Upper Mustang. Long shrouded in mystery and closed to outsiders until 1992, the Kingdom of Mustang (the much-loved last king sadly died in December 2016) is a high-altitude desert of multi-hued gorges, green oases, fairy-tale gompas, prayer flags and blood red fortified monasteries.

Upper-Mustang-Region

This is a land so rich in traditional Tibetan Buddhist culture that it can often feel more classically Tibetan than the modern Chinese region of Tibet itself.

It’s worth noting that Mustang doesn’t have the same awe-inspiring close-up views of the mountains as many of the other main Nepalese trek areas and that walking here is as much a cultural experience as a mountain one.

Mustand_shrine

Upper Mustang trekking highlights

Traditional Tibetan Buddhist culture

With classical Tibetan Buddhist culture severely restricted in Tibet itself, Upper Mustang is now one of the best places to see it flourishing. But take note: Traditional life is changing here too, thanks to

increased road construction and development.

Walled town of Lo Manthang

The walled capital of Upper Mustang, Lo Manthang, is a web of narrow white-washed streets and imposing monasteries and palaces. It’s one of the few remaining walled towns in the Himalayas and viewed from one of the surrounding hilltops, as the sun sinks low in the evening sky, it’s simply unforgettable.

Ancient Buddhist cave art

The sandstone cliffs, canyons and gorges of Upper Mustang are riddled with caves, many of which once housed monks, ascetics and entire communities. The former occupants of some of the caves left behind extraordinary frescos. Getting to many can be a real adventure and it’s likely that more remain to be discovered.

Monasteries and Buddhist architecture

Many of the fortress-like monasteries of Upper Mustang lie alongside former trans-Himalayan trade routes running from India to Tibet, and grew rich on this trade. Visit one of these monasteries today and you can see masterpieces of Tibetan Buddhist art and hundreds of glittering icons and statues.

Nomadic culture

Nomadic culture clings on in Upper Mustang and you’re likely to pass some of the dark, felt hair nomad tents — but beware of the often ferocious Tibetan mastiff dogs standing guard. If you get the chance, pop in for a cup of salty yak butter Tibetan tea, and a chat about nomadic life.

Colourful gorges

Although Upper Mustang doesn’t offer the high peak drama of many other Nepalese trekking regions, it does have gorges of glittering rainbow rock: Red, white, black, yellow and even blue, Upper Mustang is like the Grand Canyon with tins of paint thrown over it.

Exploration possibilities

The classic trekking route is straight up and down along the western, and more developed, side of the valley to Lo Manthang. Increasingly though, trekkers are making an epic loop up the west bank to Lo Manthang and then down the higher, wilder and far more remote eastern side. For those who really want to go off kilter though, Upper Mustang has a couple of highly adventurous routes including the crossing of the Teri La or the even more daunting Saribung La. Very rarely trekked, neither one is for normal trekkers; both require full expedition support and a willingness to blaze your own trail. It’s also possible to walk from Upper Mustang into the Dolpo region by one of several routes, though all are extremely demanding and take three to four weeks.

Tiji Festival

The spring festival of Tiji (or Tenche) is a three-day event in Lo Manthang during which masked dancers re-enact the battle between Dorje Jono, a Buddhist deity, and his demon father, to save Mustang from a terrible drought. Monks burn an effigy of the demon in order to rid the town of bad spirits and a huge tongdrol (a traditional Tibetan Buddhist painting) is unfurled from the palace walls. The main dancer (known as Tsowo) completes a three-month retreat before the festival, which also sees members of the Mustang royal family join in the sacred dance.

The festival normally takes place in May and the town gets very busy with trekking tour groups. Book accommodation in advance or be prepared to camp.

Top Upper Mustang Tteks

1. Upper Mustang standard Ttek

The standard 10-day trek is straight up and down from Kagbeni to Lo Manthang (You can start walking directly from the airstrip at Jomsom. For this part of the walk you don’t need the expensive restricted area permit of Upper Mustang).

The standard route takes you up the western, more developed, side of the Kali Gandaki river and passes multi-coloured canyons and over wind-blasted passes (the highest is 4,325m). Each night you will stay in a small fortified village built around a monastery with accommodation in guesthouses rich in Tibetan atmosphere. It takes four days to walk from Kagbeni to Lo Manthang and the same for the return leg. This allows two full days in Lo Manthang, which is really the minimum required to explore the town and nearby monasteries and caves. Road construction along the western side of the Kali Gandaki is quickly bringing change to villages along this route.

Upper Mustang standard trek

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trek Duration: 10 days.
  • Max. Elevation: 4,325m
  • Accommodation: Homestays.
  • Start/End Point: Kagbeni

2. Upper Mustang loop

A more rewarding but longer trek is the 12-day Upper Mustang loop. The first part of the trek to Lo Manthang follows the standard way up the western side of the Kali Gandaki. For the return though you follow a much wilder route down the eastern side of the Kali Gandaki. There’s much less development on this side of the river and no road construction. Villages tend to be more traditional and there are fewer trekkers. The scenery is also more impressive than the western route, but the walking is tougher, fresh water harder to find, and villages more spaced out with some long days of walking.

Vertigo sufferers should be aware that there are some terrifyingly steep and windy cliff faces to clamber up and down on this route. It’s worth building in an extra day to detour to the fabulous Luri Gompa, a hidden cave complex filled with Buddhist frescos and 14th century chortens (shrines). You can finish back in Kagbeni or in the major Hindu pilgrimage centre of Muktinath (on the Annapurna Circuit). Although there are comfy homestays in all villages along this route, there’s one night when you will need camping and cooking equipment: The night halt is in a yak pasture with no facilities.

Upper Mustang loop

  • Difficulty: Moderate-difficult
  • Trek Duration: 12 days.
  • Max. Elevation: 4,380m
  • Accommodation: Homestays.
  • Start/End Point: Kagbeni/Kagbeni or Muktinath

3. Teri La and Saribung La

This is only for the most adventurous and experienced hikers with full expedition support. The Teri La (5,595m) and Saribung La (5,600m) passes connect Upper Mustang with the valleys of Nar and Phu (see Annapurna, p.56). Each trek is around three weeks long and requires several nights camping well above 4,000m. Ropes, crampons and ice-axes are likely to be needed. Before committing to either of these very demanding treks ensure that your chosen trekking company has experience of these routes. Many claim to, but in reality very few do. Local guides are likely to be needed as well, but these can be very hard to find and even harder to convince to come along!

Teri La and Saribung La

  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Trek Duration: 18-22 days.
  • Max. Elevation: Teri La 5,595m, Saribung La 5,600m
  • Accommodation: Homestays and camping.
  • Start/End Point: Kagbeni/Koto
Mustang_valley-2_v2

Upper Mustang trekking information

TIMS permit required. Upper Mustang is a restricted area. A US $500 per person, 10-day permit is required. Additional days after day 10 are charged at US $50 per day. A minimum group size of two people is required and you must be on an organised trek.

Unlike much of Nepal, Upper Mustang is totally within the Himalayan rain shadow and this means that the best time to trek is May to October, unlike most other parts of the country.

While it’s not impossible to trek here in mid-winter you’ll find many passes snowed in, accommodation closed and many villages almost deserted as local people leave the area for lower, warmer parts of Nepal. Be aware of the unrelenting afternoon winds which can make trekking – and camping for those not wanting to stay in teahouses — unpleasant.

Homestays are available in villages along the main trekking routes and they are often wonderfully atmospheric. Due to the lack of rain, the people of Mustang (known as the Lobas) build their houses out of compressed earth on stone foundations. Much of the countryside is made up of endless yellow and grey hills that are being eroded by the biting wind. Self-sufficient camping is necessary outside of the main villages.

Road construction is eating away at the standard route and changing life fast on the western bank of the river valley and in Lo Manthang.

Treks in the Langtang Region

The most accessible trekking in Nepal

Often visible from Kathmandu city centre, the Langtang range offers the most accessible trekking in Nepal. If the city pollution and traffic wasn’t so off-putting, you could start walking from your guesthouse straight to the mountains.

Langtang-Region

This accessibility, easy-to-follow trails and lots of lodges has meant Langtang has always been, alongside Everest and Annapurna, one of the big three independent trekking areas.

The 2015 earthquake caused massive damage and loss of life in and around the Langtang Valley. The beautiful stone wall village of Langtang was buried under a huge avalanche. Today, all the trekking areas have re-opened and once again there are lodges along the routes. But the reminders of the disaster are still there. Where there were yak pastures, pine forests and the village itself, there is now a grey wasteland of rubble stretching for at least two kilometres.

But don’t be put off. This is a beautiful area to trek with high Alpine pastures, rewarding side trips, holy lakes, stunning mountain views, cultural interactions, relatively few other trekkers, and easy and cheap access with no internal flights needed. And the local people desperately want trekkers to return to help them rebuild their lives and their businesses.

The Langtang trek is a fantastic place for those with limited time, with the shortest routes taking just a week (or even slightly less) including travel time from Kathmandu. There are also many ways of combining treks to create routes lasting several weeks.

Langtang-Valley-view

Langtang trekking highlights

Variety

The Langtang area has it all. Start walking from Kathmandu and before you know it, find yourself in a tranquil mountain village, breezing through flower meadows, picnicking in the shade of pine trees, crossing rushing rivers, and a snowbound pass, and standing atop a minor Himalayan peak.

Kanjin Gompa day trips

The small village of Kanjin Gompa (3,860m) at the head of the Langtang Valley, might be the official end point of the Langtang Valley trek but in truth this is where the fun really starts. Numerous day and overnight trips fan out from the village. You can make the almost obligatory hike up to the Kyanjin Ri viewpoint (4,600m) for sensational views, or have a rollicking day’s adventure to the glaciers and yak pastures of the Lirung Valley. A bigger challenge is the long and exhausting day trip to the Tsergo Ri viewpoint at 4,984m, or, for the adventurous, an overnight camping trip to the summit of Yala Peak, which at 5,500m often requires ropes, crampons and an experienced guide.

Gosainkund Lake

The holy lake of Gosainkund (4,400m) has a black rock sticking out of it that Hindus believe is the head of Shiva, and the lake attracts scores of Hindu pilgrims particularly over the August full moon. Like any good pilgrimage, the trek to Gosainkund is a challenging one involving a high pass crossing and memorable scenery. Once at the lake there are a number of side trips to other lakes and high viewpoints.

Local life

Helambu and the Tamang Heritage Trail offer a delightful combination of mountain views and pretty villages. The latter offers a real insight into local life thanks to an exciting tourism-based community initiative in which trekkers can stay as guests in village houses, and traditional dances and events are laid on. Both these treks are (for the Himalayas) fairly low level with little risk of altitude-related problems.

Ease of access

The Langtang area offers the most accessible trekking in Nepal. Take a taxi across Kathmandu to the Shivapuri National Park and start walking the Helambu Circuit within an hour of leaving your guesthouse. If you’re heading straight to the Langtang Valley, Ganesh Himal or Tamang Heritage Trail, a day’s bus ride from the city will get you to the trailheads.

Exploration

Don’t think that because the Langtang region is so popular there’s no adventure left. Grab some tents and a guide in Kanjin Gompa (or bring them from Kathmandu) and walk for a day or so further up the Langtang Valley to Langshisha Kharka and towards the Langtang glacier, and you’ll feel as if you have the Himalayas all to yourself. The nearby Ganesh Himal is perhaps the most overlooked range in the Nepalese Himalayas. You could trek here for days without meeting another foreigner.

Top Lantang treks

1. Langtang Valley

Before the earthquake, this was one of Nepal’s most popular trekking routes. The trails have been repaired or re-routed and trekking lodges reconstructed. And despite the obvious damage this is still one of the most delightful walks in Nepal. The basic trek takes eight days including travel time from Kathmandu, but add in another couple of days for side trips from Kanjin Gompa.

The standard route follows the Langtang river up a steep and narrow valley. On day two the trail passes over the rubble fields under which Langtang village is buried and on day three the valley opens out to arrive at Kanjin Gompa and big views of Langtang Lirung (7,246m), Langtang II (6,581m) and, perhaps the most distinctive mountain in the valley, the pyramid shaped Mt Gangchempo (6,387m). Kanjin Gompa can be a base for many different day and overnight side trips.

Most people go back the way they came but with more time it’s possible to link up with the Gosainkund and Helambu treks.

Langtang Valley

  • Difficulty: Moderate. The trail climbs quite rapidly so there is a risk of altitude sickness.
  • Trek Duration: 6 days from Syabrubesi but allow another 2-3 days for side trips from Kanjin Gompa.
  • Max. Elevation: 3,860m
  • Accommodation: Trekking lodges. Camping required for any overnight trips beyond Kanjin Gompa.
  • Start/End Point: Syabrubesi

2. Gosainkund

The most popular add-on to a Langtang Valley trek, and a fantastic short trek in its own right, is this haul up through pine forests where red pandas live to the Hindu holy lakes of Gosainkund. Although you don’t come face-to-face with the high mountains, you do get grandstand views of the Langtang and Ganesh ranges, as well as crossing the often snowbound and challenging Laurebina La (4,610m).

There are a number of different approach routes to Gosainkund, but to acclimatise it’s best to do the Langtang Valley trek first. Then, from close to the teahouses of Doman, cut across to Gosainkund and descend back to Kathmandu via the Helambu Circuit. Some people go directly to Gosainkund from Dhunche but the elevation gain is great and altitude sickness is common. Starting from Helambu and walking to Gosainkund is a long uphill drag that also invites altitude problems.

Gosainkund

  • Difficulty: Moderate. The trail climbs quite rapidly so there is a risk of altitude sickness.
  • Trek Duration: Minimum 8 days depending on route options.
  • Max. Elevation: 4,610m
  • Accommodation: Fairly simple trekking lodges.
  • Start/End Point: Syabrubesi/Dhunche or Sundarijal

3. Helambu

The closest trek to Kathmandu — it starts from the northern outskirts of the city — takes you on a fairly gentle amble through terraced fields, wild forests, flower meadows and through lots of little villages with views of the mountains. The highest point reached on this trek is 3,640m, so it can be done as a mid-winter trek when higher routes might be snowed in. You can make an enjoyable week-long circuit (a good option for those with little time and/or trekking experience), but most people choose to use Helambu either as a walk in or out route to Gosainkund and the Langtang Valley.

However, be aware that doing this will involve crossing into Helambu via high-altitude passes at either Laurebina La (4,610m) or Ganja La (5,106m). Trekking on these routes involve steep climbs and big changes in altitude, posing a real risk of AMS.

Helambu

  • Difficulty: Easy/Moderate.
  • Trek Duration: 7 days but increasing road accesses means you can cut the trek short at a number of points and bus back to Kathmandu.
  • Max. Elevation: 3,640m
  • Accommodation: Fairly simple trekking lodges.

4. Tamang Heritage Trail

This route aims to highlight the culture of the Tamang people as much as the mountain scenery. It’s a real community project with money generated from trekkers going into local development projects and trekkers being hosted at night by families in their village houses.

The trail starts from Syabrubesi and is a five to six-day loop close to the border of Tibet. Highlights are the pretty Tamang village of Gatlang, the hot springs at Tatopani, and the fine mountain views over the Ganesh and Langtang range from Nagthali Ghyang. The highest point is 3,300m, so this is a good mid-winter trek when higher routes might be snowed in and it also suits those with limited time.

The Tamang Heritage Trail is very easily combined with the classic Langtang Valley trek. For those with more time, it’s possible to add in Gosainkund and the Helambu treks to make for three weeks of hiking.

Tamang Heritage Trail

  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate.
  • Trek Duration: 5 to 6 days.
  • Max. Elevation: 3,300m
  • Accommodation: Homestays.
  • Start/End Point: Syabrubesi

5. Ganj La

The most challenging and dangerous trek in the Langtang region is the crossing of the high (5,106m) Ganj La pass, which links Kyanjin Gompa at the head of the Langtang Valley with Tarke Ghyang on the Helam

bu Circuit. This should only be attempted by very experienced trekkers with a good support team. You will need camping equipment, a guide who knows the route well, ropes, ice-axes and crampons.

There are no facilities along the route. Note that the pass is, at best, only open between October and November and March to May, but even during these months it’s often snowbound and impassable. Make sure you have a back-up plan in case the pass is closed. Avalanches are a very serious risk on the approach to and from the pass.

Ganj La

  • Difficulty: Very strenuous and dangerous. People have died attempting this crossing.
  • Trek Duration: 4 days from Kyanjin Gompa.
  • Max. Elevation: 5,106m
  • Accommodation: Camping only.
  • Start/End Point: Kyanjin Gompa/Tarke Ghyang

6. Ganesh Himal

Named after Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu go

d of fortune, Ganesh Himal lies directly between the Manaslu and Langtang ranges, and is one of the great unknowns of Nepalese trekking. With stunning mountain scenery, attractive and welcoming villages, hot springs, waterfalls and a genuine sense of being well off the beaten track, the Ganesh region really has a bit of everything — except crowds of other trekkers.

A handful of homestays and trekking lodges have started to open up, but for now the trails are still largely empty. Because formal accommodation is still so scarce, an organised camping trip is the best way to tackle this trek.

There are a couple of different trekking routes in the Ganesh region which you can access from Manaslu and the Tsum Valley in the west, but the standard trail starts from Syabrubesi and follows the Tamang Heritage Trail to the gorgeous village of Gatlang before crossing the Pansang La pass (3,842m).

Ganesh Himal

  • Difficulty: Moderate.
  • Trek Duration: 2 weeks
  • Max. Elevation: 3,842m
  • Accommodation: Camping only.
  • Start/End Point: Syabrubesi/Tripura Sundari
Langtang Gangchenpo

Langtang region trekking information

Apart from the TIMS card, no special permits are required for the treks in this area. The Langtang, Gosainkund, Ganj La and Helambu treks all enter the Langtang National Park for which there is a Rs 3000 entry charge. The Helambu trek also enters the Shivapuri National Park for which there is a Rs 500 entry fee.

The best time to trek the Langtang trails is from October to April. It can get very cold in December and January but lodges remain open and the trails are quiet. In April, flowering rhododendron add a palette of red and orange to the slopes. Few people trek here in the monsoon but during the Janai Purnima festival during the August full moon, thousands of Hindu pilgrims (including lots of sadhus and other holy people) make their way to the holy Gosainkund lakes to bathe. This makes for an interesting experience for those who aren’t bothered by the lack of mountain views.

The region suffered very badly in the earthquake but all the trekking trails have been repaired and trekking lodges rebuilt. Camping gear is only required if you’re exploring the Ganesh Himal, attempting the Ganj La pass, or heading further up the Langtang valley from Kyanjin Gompa. However, for safety and enjoyment reasons, a guide is a good idea on all these treks.

Access to this area from Kathmandu couldn’t be easier. Simply hop on a bus in central Kathmandu and by the end of the day you’ll be in Syabrubesi or one of several other trailheads. There is no scheduled air access to the area.

Treks in the Manaslu Region

From exhilarating passes to traditional villages, the Manaslu Region has it all

The trails around mighty Manaslu (8,156m), the world’s eighth-highest mountain, have it all. Steamy lowland valleys and fields of rice give way to ice-coated passes haunted by leopards and much more.

Manaslu-Region

There are mystical valleys rich in Tibetan culture and monasteries stuffed with treasures. There’s exhilarating walking with relatively few other trekkers and exciting day-long side trips to glaciers, base camps and hidden gompas. The Manaslu region didn’t open up to foreign trekkers until the early 1990s ( the neighbouring Tsum Valley opened even later), but it was an instant hit with those wanting a challenging and less developed trekking area. Anyone who has walked in the shadow of Manaslu will probably tell you that overall, this is one of the most rewarding trekking areas in Nepal.

There are trekking lodges all along the standard routes in Manaslu but for now, they are a lot more primitive than those on the Everest and Annapurna treks. Getting to the trailheads in this area is easy and cheap with frequent public transport from Kathmandu and Pokhara.

Himalayas-mountain-landscape.-Mt.-Manaslu-in-Himalayas

Manaslu trekking highlights

Larkya La

Wonders never cease on the Manaslu Circuit trek, but the best part is near the end. The Larkya La (5,160m) isn’t the highest trekking pass in the Nepalese Himalayas but it’s certainly one of the most dramatic. It’s a draining climb up to the pass but the reward is a sweeping view over dozens of mountains.

Tsum Valley

Only opened to tourists in 2008, the Tsum Valley is an isolated Tibetan realm with beautiful gompas, traditional villages and exciting exploratory treks. It’s considered a baeyul, or hidden paradise land, in Tibetan culture.

Side trips

There are some fabulous side trips on both the Manaslu Circuit and the Tsum Valley treks and you should allow three or four extra days to enjoy them. Chances are that treks to Manaslu base camp, to the high passes along the Tibet border, or to crystalline lakes and atmospheric monasteries will turn out to be the most memorable part of your trek.

Village life

Being a relatively recent addition to the Nepal trekking scene and, for now, relatively quiet, the Manaslu area offers the chance to see traditional village life where agriculture and yak herding play a more important role in local economies than tourism.

The top Manaslu treks

1. Manaslu Circuit

When the Manaslu Circuit opened to trekking tourism back in the early 1990s it was an almost immediate hit. The first trekkers returned with tales of stupendous mountain scenery, fascinating and varied village life and challenging walking. It soon gained a reputation as the new Annapurna Circuit — and as that walk was long considered the world’s best trek, it was a big claim indeed. Now, after 25 years of trekking, the Manaslu Circuit continues to live up to expectations. This walk really does have it all. Over two weeks the scenery — and the people — gradually change. Hills turn to mountains, fields of wheat to pine forests, glaciers, and high mountain wastelands. You start among Hindus and later meet Tibetan Buddhists. There are several exciting day trips off the main trail and the crossing of the Larkya La pass (5,160m) is one of the most thrilling in Nepal. This is a trek with a real sense of journey and achievement, worthy of all the praise.

Bear in mind though that although the Larkya La is a little lower than similar passes on the Annapurna Circuit or Everest base camp treks, this is generally harder and facilities are much more basic than on the other two. Don’t expect apple pie and wi-fi at the end of the day.

If time allows, it’s highly rewarding to tack the Tsum Valley trek on to the Manaslu Circuit. Otherwise, the Manaslu Circuit trek finishes on the main Annapurna Circuit. So if one high pass isn’t enough for you, you can carry on up and over the Thorung La and down to Jomsom, from where another world of possibilities opens up.

Manaslu Circuit

  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Trek Duration: 14-18 Days (It’s best to allow 18 days to enjoy the many side trips and to acclimatise properly).
  • Max. Elevation: 5,160M
  • Accommodation: Trekking Lodges.
  • Start/End Point: Arughat or Soti Khola/Dharapani or Besi Sahar

2. Tsum Valley

Tucked up to the northeast off the main Manaslu Circuit, the Tsum Valley has only been open to trekkers for a decade. The views are wonderful but they are not the attraction here (although if you have camping gear then an overnight trip to the Ganesh base camp at about 4,000m rewards with a stunning view of mountains). Instead, this is all about venturing off the beaten path and discovering an older pace of life where the farming seasons and Tibetan Buddhism are all-important.

There is a set trail that takes about seven days but much of the delight of the Tsum Valley lies in making your own routes. Add in overnight excursions to the frozen Tibetan plateau at the head of the valley and veer off to explore Milarepa’s Cave, Lungdang gompa and the stunning Ganesh Himal base camp, and you’ll need at least 10 to 12 days to see this fascinating region. The Tsum Valley rewards time and patience and the more of it you have, the more you’ll be enchanted.

Note that the trailhead is Lokpa which takes two to three days’ walk along the Manaslu Circuit to reach. You need to include this into the minimum time frame below. For the ultimate Tsum and Manaslu experience, when you’ve finished in Tsum head up the Manaslu Circuit and over the Larkya La.

Tsum Valley

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trek Duration: 7-17 Days
  • Max. Elevation: 3,709M for main trek; about 4,200M for side trips.
  • Accommodation: Homestays, Camping.
  • Start/End Point: Lokpa

3. Rupina La Trek

For those on organised camping treks, a fabulous alternative route for the first half of the Manaslu Circuit is to start trekking from Chanaute or Barpak, both of which are north of the town of Gorkha. Cross over the Rupina La (4,720m; April to November only), and join the Manaslu Circuit at Lokpa. This is a real wilderness trek with around five days away from all human habitation except for the occasional herder with his yaks. The trail skirts the Gorkha and Boudha Himal and has impressive mountain views.

Rupina La Trek

  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Trek Duration: 4-6 Days
  • Max. Elevation: 4,720M
  • Accommodation: Camping
  • Start/End Point: Chanaute or Barpak/Lokpa
Manaslu-circuit

Manaslu Region trekking information

For the Manaslu Circuit trek you need a TIMS card, Manaslu Conservation Area Permit and a restricted area permit (seven days, September to November/December to August, US $70/50. Additional days, US $10/7). For the Tsum Valley you need the same permits plus a Tsum Valley permit (seven days, September to November/December to August, US $35/25. Additional days, US $3.50/2.50). Technically, for any of these you must be in a party of at least two trekkers and be accompanied by a guide. However, it’s possible to pay for a second “ghost” trekker permit.

All these treks except the Tsum Valley are best between October to November and March to May. Between late November and late February, the Larkya La and the Rupina La will be buried under snow and almost impossible to cross. Avoid trekking most of this area during the monsoon.

Being slightly in the Himalayan rain shadow, the Tsum Valley is possible to trek between March and early November. During the wettest June to August period, mountain views are likely to be obscured. April to May and October are perfect for Tsum.

Trekking lodges along the Manaslu Circuit are improving fast. For now, the Tsum Valley is all homestays. It’s a good idea to come to the Tsum Valley with camping gear as that opens up interesting overnight side trips. The Rupina La trek is a camping-only trek.

There are no flights to trailheads, but getting to the start and end points of any of the treks is possible by vehicle from either Kathmandu or Pokhara.

Treks in the Dolpo Region

Far off-the-beaten-track trekking routes in the west of Nepal

A vast and little-known area of western Nepal, Dolpo is a magical region of frozen desert, piercing blue skies and unnamed peaks. There are hidden monasteries stashed with treasures, yak caravans passing along the old salt trade routes to Tibet, high passes where the air is so thin it pierces the lungs, snow leopard tracks and stone walled villages seeming to blend into the mountain slopes.

Dolpo-Region

Here, time is measured by the ripening of crops and the arrival of the first snows. You won’t find any trekking lodges, apple pies or crowded passes, but you will find scenery to make you gasp and people welcoming you with open arms.

There are, however, a few things to remember. Getting there, nearly always by small twin-prop plane, is difficult, expensive and unreliable. Most of the walks are demanding, long and high with no creature comforts and must be undertaken with an organised camping group. Lastly, permits are complicated and expensive to obtain. But if you have the stamina, patience and finances, Dolpo will leave you enchanted.

Dolpo-Ancient-Bon-stupa-in-Saldang-village-Nepal

Dolpo Region trekking highlights

Shey Gompa

An idea as much as a place, the mythical Shey Gompa and nearby Crystal Mountain became a part of Himalayan folklore for many westerners after Peter Matthiessen wrote so lyrically about it in his book, The Snow Leopard. The monastery and its treasures remain remote, hidden behind the furthest Himalayan peaks, like some shangri-la.

Phoksundo Lake

Nepal’s most beautiful lake (and that’s saying something) is surrounded by pine forests and its shores are dotted with Bön monasteries (the original religion of much of highland Nepal, which predates Buddhism) and buzzing with wildlife.

French Pass & Hidden Valley

Everest’s Three Passes trek too mellow for you? The loop around Dhaulagiri (8,167m) makes any other trek in Nepal seem like a stroll in the park. The highlights are crossing the frozen French Pass (5,360m) and admiring the superlative mountain views from the bleak Hidden Valley. But take note: This is one tough trek, much of it borderline mountaineering.

Do Tarap

Time has stood still in this valley. Its villages, ochre and white gompas and monasteries are all reminiscent of the Tibet of yesteryear. And when you watch a mule caravan laden with goods from the northern border descend from the high passes, you’ll realise that you’re in a very special corner of Nepal.

Adventure

Perhaps no other region in Nepal offers such scope for wild adventure as Dolpo. Few foreigners walk the trails here and in many cases there’s still a sense of blazing your own routes — especially when undertaking the epic month-long walk from Dolpo to Jomsom (or Upper Mustang) along the roof of Nepal.

Village life

Meeting the locals of Dolpo is as much an adventure as straining your lungs to cross the high passes. It’s a real ethnic and religious puzzle out here: One valley will be traditional Tibetan Buddhist; the next, ancient Bön, and some of the lower southern villages will be Hindu.

Dolpo_caravan

The top Dolpo Region treks

1. Phoksundo Lake

This short and sweet trek follows the Suli Gaad river through pristine forest to the beautiful Phoksundo Lake. It is 4.8km long, 1.8km wide and, at over 600m deep, the deepest lake in Nepal. Being a national park, it is rich in wildlife. Many of the villages here follow the ancient Bön religion, and villagers and the monks at the monasteries will be happy to explain how it differs from Buddhism.

The trek to the lake is a short one — five to six days on a straight there and back route. But there are plenty of opportunities to combine this trek with others. The two most popular are either over to the Do Tarap valley or, if you can afford the expensive restricted area permit, up to the legendary Shey Gompa.

Phoksundo Lake

  • Difficulty: Easy-moderate
  • Trek Duration: 3 days to the lakes. 5-6 days return.
  • Max. Elevation: 3,730m
  • Accommodation: Camping, basic homestays.
  • Start/End Point: Dunai

2. Do Tarap Loop

The most popular trek in the Dolpo region — although often you’ll be the only trekker on the trail, the Do Tarap Loop avoids the pricey restricted area permits of other areas, but the scenery and sense of wonder is no less rewarding. The walk begins in forested country along the narrow Thulo Bheri Valley and meanders up to the remote Tarap Valley with its beautiful monasteries and old villages of pure Tibetan culture. Most people pause for a day or two in the valley before walking for three inspiring days over high passes (Numa La, 5,290m and Baga La, 5,170m) and through wilderness to arrive at the forested shores of Phoksundo Lake. From here follow the return leg of the Phoksundo Lake trek back to the airstrip at Juphal. If you have the correct permits, it’s possible to head north from either the Tarap Valley or Phoksundo Lake to Inner Dolpo and Shey Gompa.

The walk times below are a minimum. This is one region where it really pays to allow extra days for side trips and explorations (and unreliable flights).

Do Tarap Loop

  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Trek Duration: 10 days to Phoksumdo Lake and 12 days for the full loop.
  • Max. Elevation: 5,290m
  • Accommodation: Very basic homestays, camping.
  • Start/End Point: Juphal

3. Shey Gompa & Inner Dolpo

Before Peter Matthiessen wrote about his journey to Shey Gompa in The Snow Leopard, this was a little-known area. Even now, high permit costs (US $500 per person) and difficult access keep visitor numbers down. But for those willing to pay, the incredible trek to Shey Gompa over the Sehu La (5,160m) from Phoksundo Lake, or the longer and harder route from Do Tarap, are absolute wonders, taking you across yak herding country and into a Tibetan-influenced world that has almost ceased to exist anywhere else. You don’t get the same massive mountain views that you do on treks further east in Nepal, but the high desert scenery is still out of this world.

The standard route to Shey Gompa is a six-day straight line hike from Juphal to Phoksundo Lake and on over the Sehu La to Shey Gompa. For the return, there’s a choice of tempting routes. You can either return the way you came, in which case the entire trek can be completed in 13-14 days with a couple of rest days. But it’s far better either to loop across to Do Tarap via one of a couple of different routes (allow 18 days at least), or, even better, take the exploratory high route over the roof of Nepal to Jomsom or even Upper Mustang. You’ll need at least three weeks for the Juphal to Jomsom route, and a month to Upper Mustang and then back down to Jomsom.

Shey Gompa & Inner Dolpo

  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Trek Duration: From 13 days
  • Max. Elevation: 5,160m for standard route. Other routes go higher.
  • Accommodation: Camping and some very basic homestays
  • Start/End Point: Juphal

4. Dolpo to Jomsom or Upper Mustang

You want adventure? Here it is: The epic three to four-week long Dolpo to Jomsom or Upper Mustang trek. Starting from the airstrip at Juphal head north to Phoksundo Lake (you can also go via Do Tarap), over the Sehu La (5,160m) to Shey Gompa and then east, up and over several massive 5,000m-plus passes, through desolate high-altitude desert. The only other people you’ll meet will be the occasional herder with his flocks, or a yak caravan and trader returning from Tibet. There are one or two tiny villages along the way. Almost completely cut off from the rest of the world, this is a fascinating insight into old Tibetan culture.

There’s no set route and any company offering this trek will largely create their own. Make sure they have guides who know the area. The route to Jomsom takes you into the shadow of mighty Dhaulagiri and is the slightly shorter walk (three weeks all in). It also doesn’t require quite as many restricted area permits, which makes it a little cheaper. The more rewarding route though would take you up along the border of Tibet to Lo Manthang in Upper Mustang, and from there back down to Jomsom. Allow a month for this walk. You will need the Inner Dolpo and the Upper Mustang permits.

This trek is a true expedition and should not be attempted by inexperienced trekkers.

Dolpo to Jomsom or Upper Mustang

  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Trek Duration: 21-30 days
  • Max. Elevation: 5,550m
  • Accommodation: Camping
  • Start/End Point: Juphal/Jomsom

5. Beni to Dolpo

Most Dolpo trekkers fly in to Juphal, but for a more rewarding arrival in the region, try the offbeat Beni to Dolpo trek. This starts in the green farmland and forests around the busy town of Beni, a short bus ride west of Pokhara. After crossing several passes draped in prayer flags, it finishes at the edge of outer Dolpo. Along the way, you will pass through Alpine meadows, rhododendron forests and villages of differing ethnicities and religious leanings.

Road construction is eating into this area and although the trek traditionally starts from Beni, it’s now possible to carry on up the snaking road to at least Darbang or even a little further. This would knock a day or two off the standard 12 days.

Beni to Dolpo

  • Difficulty: Medium-Difficult
  • Trek Duration: 10-12 days
  • Max. Elevation: 4,540m
  • Accommodation: Camping
  • Start/End Point: Beni, Babiyachour or Darbang/Dunai or Juphal

6. Jumla to Dunai

An alternative, and again rarely trekked, route in or out of Dolpo is from the Jumla airstrip to Dunai, from where you can join the Do Tarap trek or continue down to Beni. Jumla is set on the banks of the Tila Khola, which is one of the biggest rice-growing areas in the world.

While there are no face-to-face encounters with huge mountains and no especially high passes to negotiate, this trek rewards with flower-filled valleys, friendly villages and shady forests with exotic wildlife.

If you want to add a challenge and you’re aiming for Phoksundo Lake, you can detour off the main trail and clamber over the frigid and bleak Kagmara La (5,115m).

Jumla to Dunai

  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Trek Duration: 6 days
  • Max. Elevation: 3,820m
  • Accommodation: Camping
  • Start/End Point: Jumla/Dunai

7. Dhaulagiri Circuit

Dhaulagiri is the seventh highest mountain on the planet (8,167m) and this extraordinary and very challenging circuit around it is one of the unsung mountain wonders of Nepal. This is not a trek for the average person. Two very tough weeks await anyone taking on the Dhaulagiri Circuit, with several nights camping on ice and snow at over 5,000m. The French Col (5,360m) and Dhampus Pass (5,240m) are the official highpoints of the trek, but many people also attempt to summit Dhampus Peak (6,060m).

Anyone attempting this trek should have lots of high-altitude trekking experience. Mountaineering experience would be useful too. Be prepared to use crampons, ropes and ice-axes.

Dhaulagiri Circuit

  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Trek Duration: 16 days
  • Max. Elevation: 5,360m
  • Accommodation: Camping
  • Start/End Point: Beni/Jomsom
Dolpo-7

Dolpo Region trekking information

Permit requirements for the Dolpo region can be quite complicated and costly to obtain, and all trekkers here need a TIMS card. The Phoksundo Lake and Do Tarap treks require a Lower Dolpo Restricted Area Permit, and a Shey Phoksundo National Park permit.

The Beni to Dolpo trek requires a Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve permit. The Jumla to Dunai trek doesn’t need any permits.

The Dhaulagiri Circuit requires an Annapurna Conservation Area permit. The Shey Gompa & Inner Dolpo and the Dolpo to Jomsom or Upper Mustang treks require much more paperwork and cost a lot more. Both require the Lower Dolpo Restricted Area permit, a Shey Phoksundo National Park permit, and an Inner Dolpo Restricted Area permit (US $500 for 10 days and US $50 per day for additional days).

The Dolpo to Jomsom trek also requires an Annapurna Conservation Area permit and the Upper Mustang trek needs an Upper Mustang Restricted Area permit (US $500 for 10 days and US $50 per day for additional days).

With any of the treks requiring a restricted area permit, you must be in a party of at least two trekkers and be accompanied by a guide. However, it’s possible to pay for a second “ghost” trekker permit.

Most of this region lies within the Himalayan rain shadow and all these treks are best tackled between May and October. The Jumla to Dunai trek can be walked from late March.

The Dhaulagiri Circuit is best in April/May, and September/October. Even though much of this region is a desert and rainfall is sparse, it’s still best to avoid the July/August period as some rain does make it over to the far side of the Himalayas. Keep in mind that flights to Dolpo’s airstrips are frequently cancelled due to bad weather. From November to April most routes will be snowed in and villages sparsely populated.

Although there are a few basic homestays along the Phoksundo Lake route and in the Tarap valley, all these treks are essentially camping only. Make sure that any agency you use has a working knowledge of the area and the trails. This is especially important on the Dolpo to Jomsom or Upper Mustang trek, and the Dhaulagiri Circuit.

Small planes fly from Nepalganj to Jumla and Juphal. There are buses from Pokhara to Beni for the Beni to Dolpo trek and the Dhaulagiri Circuit.

Treks in Far Western Nepal

This remote region of Nepal is rich with unspoilt landscapes and little-explored trekking routes

In terms of development, the far west of Nepal comes at the bottom of almost every list, but for adventure and wonder, the region is near the top of the class. This is a landscape of deep, dank forests, sparkling sheets of water, lonely ice and snow-covered mountains, narrow canyons and ancient villages.

Far-West-Region

It’s a land of pilgrims and trade routes with goods still carried to and from Tibet by mule and yak, and Nepalese pilgrims head through the region en route to the Holy of Holies, Mount Kailash in western Tibet.

For a trekker, western Nepal offers many challenges and logistical nightmares, but the payback is a vast swathe of untouched mountainous country waiting to be explored. You need patience and to be on a fully supported camping trek, but if you’re looking for something truly different then the far west of Nepal will probably suit.

Far-West_Rara-lake

Far Western Nepal trekking highlights

Rara Lake

Camping alongside the shores of Rara Lake, Nepal’s largest, is a real wilderness experience where you’re more likely to see a musk deer or even a bear than another group of trekkers.

People

Entering a village is a cue for a memorable cultural exchange. So few trekkers come here that people will fall over themselves to try to talk to you and invite you into their homes for a restoring cup of tea. Accept these invitations with gratitude. They’ll make for some of your fondest trekking memories.

Villages in the Limi Valley

Walking the Limi Valley rewards with spectacular mountain scenery, but some of the villages along this route are as impressive as the mountain views. Halji, Til and Jang are all medieval time capsules straight from a Himalayan fantasy.

Kailash extension

The home of the gods, the birthplace of four of the great rivers of Asia and the centre of the universe for followers of Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism, Bön and Jainism. Mount Kailash is said to be the holiest natural site in the world and every year thousands of people from across the Tibetan plateau and Indian sub-continent make the arduous three-day pilgrimage around the mountain. With the correct (and very complicated) paperwork, foreign trekkers can cross from Nepal into western Tibet to walk the Kailash kora (pilgrimage route).

Off the beaten track

Every trail in western Nepal is off the beaten track and no two trekking agencies are likely to run the same trips. This makes any trip to the far west an authentic adventure.

Top Far Western Nepal treks

1. Rara Lake

The focus on the trek to Rara Lake isn’t so much on the high mountains (though these are always the backdrop), but rather on unhurried village life and the variety of ethnic groups found along the way. The thick forests that surround the lake provide a home to musk deer, black bears and other wildlife. The area around the lake is a national park with few signs of human habitation and there are some delightful wild camping spots. This is a genuine wilderness trek.

It’s easy to underestimate this trek and although you don’t go very high compared to most treks in Nepal, there are still passes of nearly 3,500m and snow is common in the winter. A great way of expanding this trek would be to link it to the Dolpo area treks by walking the Jumla to Dolpo route in reverse.

Rara Lake

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trek Duration: 9-11 days
  • Max. Elevation: 3,480m
  • Accommodation: Camping
  • Start/End Point: Jumla

2. Limi Valley Trek

Of the very few people who trek in Nepal’s far west, most walk the Limi Valley route (often with a foray over the border to Tibet to complete the Mt Kailash pilgrimage). Tucked right up into the far northwest corner of the country, the Limi valley is about as far as you can get from Kathmandu, physically and metaphorically. The villages here, which are strongly influenced by Tibetan culture, are often beautiful fortified stone wall affairs. They can spend months on end cut off from the rest of the world by snow and ice.

The route follows the dramatic Humla Karnali river valley to the Tibetan border at Hilsa. You will probably pass pilgrims heading for Kailash and mule, yak and sheep caravans heading to and from Tibet with goods to trade. From Hilsa, the route loops over some daunting passes and through lightly populated country before returning to the airstrip at Simikot.

Depending on travel restrictions in Tibet, it’s possible to cross the border at Hilsa and make for holy lake Manasrovar and on to Mt Kailash. The mountain is said to be the home of Lord Shiva, and pilgrims, and a few foreign trekkers, circumnavigate the mountain on a three-day pilgrimage. Independent travel is forbidden in Tibet and in order to add in this extension, you will need to coordinate with agencies in Kathmandu and Lhasa. Allow at least six weeks to obtain the required travel permits for Tibet and Kailash.

Limi Valley Trek

  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Trek Duration: 17 days (allow an extra week if adding the extension to Mt Kailash.
  • Max. Elevation: 4,990m
  • Accommodation: Very basic homestays, camping.
  • Start/End Point: Simikot

3. Saipal Base Camp Trek

This very remote trek leads through pristine conifer forest to the base camp for Saipal (7,031m), western Nepal’s highest mountain. This is possibly the quietest trek listed in this book and any agency offering this will probably have their own variation of the walk (it’s also possible to reach base camp from Simikot). Whichever way you come though, you can be assured of big mountain vistas and an exciting crossing of the 4,709m Sakya Lagna pass. Villages in these parts are few and far between and the countryside remains fairly unaltered by humans.

There are absolutely no facilities for trekkers along these routes. Bring everything you might need with you from Kathmandu and don’t expect to find local porters.

Saipal Base Camp Trek

  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Trek Duration: 18 days
  • Max. Elevation: 4,550m
  • Accommodation: Camping
  • Start/End Point: Cahinpur
Far-West_Sapial

Far Western Nepal Trekking information

TIMS permit is required for all treks. For Rara Lake only, a Rara National Park permit is needed. For the Limi Valley trek required permits are the Humla Remote Area permit and Limi Restricted Area permit. For Saipal Base Camp an Api Nampa Conservation Area permit and a Humla Restricted Area permit are both needed.

Most of this region lies within the Himalayan rain shadow and all these treks are best tackled between May and October. The Rara Lake trek can be walked from late March to early November. It’s best to avoid the July to August period as some rain does make it over to the far side of the Himalayas and flights to western Nepal’s airstrips are frequently cancelled due to bad weather on the windward side of the mountains. From November to April, most routes will be snowed in and villages sparsely populated.

Although there are a few very basic homestays along the Limi Valley route all these are essentially camping-only treks. Make sure that any agency you use has a working knowledge of the area and the trails.

Small planes fly from Nepalganj to Simikot and Jumla. Cancellations due to bad weather are very common so allow a day or two for flight delays. For now there’s no road access to any of the other trailheads but that could change as road construction continues apace. This is especially true of the Limi Valley route where roads are starting to allow easier access to the Tibetan border.

Treks in the Makalu Region

Stunning and strenuous Nepal trekking for more hardened mountain goers

One of the great forgotten trekking routes of Nepal, the strenuous two-week march straight to the base camp of the world’s fifth-highest mountain, the daunting Mt Makalu (8,463m) will delight those who revel in tranquil mountain trails, a sense of being off the beaten path and, most importantly, awesome mountain views.

Makalu-Region

The route zig-zags up and down along the Arun and Barun valleys taking in isolated villages, forests hung in mosses and orchids, high yak pastures and, finally, the rock and ice wastes around the base camp area. The reward is some of the most inspiring mountain vistas in Nepal.

A combination of logistical problems, the difficulty of the trekking and the lack of side routes and connecting trails means that only a few hardy groups come out this way. Most leave with the smug smile of people who’ve just experienced the magic of an older, more dramatic corner of Nepal. This is definitely a trek for the discerning walker.

Makalu Region trekking highlights

View points

The name Makalu is derived from the Sanskrit, Maha Kala, which is a name for the Hindu God Shiva. When you stand at base camp and stare up at Makalu you could feel as if you’re in the presence of the gods.

Local life

As with other treks in the far east of Nepal, the villages and trails of the Makalu region are a mish-mash of peoples, cultures and religions. In the higher villages live the Buddhist Sherpas, originally from eastern Tibet, while the Rai people, many of whom still follow the ancient Kiranti religion, live at lower levels. Whatever their background the welcome is always a warm one.

Biodiversity

Makalu forms the heart of the Makalu-Barun National Park, a super diverse 2,330sq-km protected area with an 8,000m vertical spread of elevation, ranging from tropical river valleys to the frozen summits of some of the world’s biggest mountains. Not surprisingly, there’s a huge diversity of life here, including some 3,100 (and growing) species of flowering plants (including over 40 species of orchids and 25 rhododendrons). There’s also the full spectrum of wildlife, from snow leopards to red pandas; black bears to sunbirds.

Exploration possibilities

Almost all of the (very few) people who trek Makalu take a simple up and down route along the same path. For those with plenty of time and stamina, and who are very well-equipped with a full, experienced expedition-style support team, there are wildly exciting treks to Kanchenjunga or even Everest.

Makalu

Top Makalu treks

1. Makalu Base Camp

There’s only one standard route to Makalu base camp and it’s a simple there and back along the same trail. But this is a real wilderness trek and there are only permanent villages for the first and last couple of days. Most of the time the only other people you’ll meet are herders with their yaks. One of the highlights of this trek is camping in gorgeous spring flower meadows well away from other people and waking to soaring mountain views.

Once you clear the villages the route climbs steeply through forests, crosses the high and often snowy Shipton Pass (4,127m; named after Eric Shipton who followed this route with Sir Edmund Hillary during the 1952 Everest reconnaissance expedition) and then goes along the Barun Valley past rapids and waterfalls. Eventually, after crossing scree fields and landslide debris, the valley opens out and you arrive at base camp.

The view at base camp will send shivers of wonder down your spine, but climb up to the nearby ridge on Peak 3 for even more stunning Makalu views as well as side views of Lhotse, Lhotse Sar and Everest. You’ll probably be the only person up there.

Makalu Base Camp

  • Difficulty: Difficult. Lots of steep up and down and the fast elevation gain means the risk of altitude sickness is high.
  • Trek Duration: 14 days
  • Max. Elevation: 4,870m
  • Accommodation: Camping; very basic herders’ tea houses.
  • Start/End Point: Num

2. Makalu to Everest

One of the most challenging treks in this book is the Makalu to Everest traverse via the very high passes of Sherpani (6,135m), West Col (6,143m), Baruntse Base Camp (5,700m) and Amphu Laptsa (5,850m) before descending into the Everest region at Pangboche. You should allow a minimum of three weeks for this trek and a lot more if you want to explore the Everest region in depth. You will need full expedition equipment, an experienced team, mountaineering experience and to be prepared for many nights’ camping above 4,500m.

Makalu to Everest

  • Difficulty: Very strenuous. Borderline mountaineering.
  • Trek Duration: Minimum 21 days
  • Max. Elevation: 6,143m
  • Accommodation: Camping; very basic herders’ tea houses, trekking lodges.
  • Start/End Point: Num/Lukla

3. Makalu to Kanchenjunga

In recent years a few daring groups have launched expedition-style treks that link Makalu with Kanchenjunga via the 5,160m Sumba Lumba pass. It takes almost four weeks and a lot of determination, but for most people it’s a slightly more realistic proposition than the Makalu to Everest trek mentioned above. Like that trek, you need to approach it as a full expedition and have experience at high altitude and basic mountaineering skills.

Makalu to Kanchenjunga

  • Difficulty: Very strenuous/borderline mountaineering.
  • Trek duration: 25 days
  • Max elevation: 5,160m
  • Accommodation: Camping/basic tea houses
  • Start/end point: Num/Taplejung
Makalu-hiker

Makalu trekking information

TIMS Permit, Makalu-Barun National Park permit. If you do the connecting routes to Everest or Kanchenjunga you will need the national park permits for those areas.

Best between October to mid-November and March to April. Between late November and late February the air is clear and trekking is possible, but it’s very cold at high altitude and all accommodation beyond the last villages will probably be closed. Makalu to Everest or Kanchenjunga is likely to be impossible between late November and late February due to snowbound passes.

By and large people walk Makalu Base Camp as part of an organised, camping-only trek. However, almost all villages along the route have very simple accommodation (normally a room in a private house). Beyond the last villages there are very few basic teahouses with dorm-style rooms, but these close during the colder months. In all cases accommodation is aimed more at porters and herders than trekkers. Don’t rely on finding a bed for the night; for now at least, it’s sensible to come on an organised camping trek. Bring porters from Kathmandu as there aren’t many available near trailheads.

The trailhead is from the village of Num and the nearest major town is Tumlingtar. There are flights from here to Kathmandu and sometimes Biratnagar. Rare jeeps run from Tumlingtar to Num. You might have to charter transport. Allow a full 24 hours to travel to the trailhead from Kathmandu using a combination of plane and bus/private vehicle.

Treks in the Kanchenjunga Region

Dense mountain vistas in Nepal's east around the third highest mountain on Earth

Way out in the east of Nepal a wall of rock and ice rises up over eight and half kilometres into the sky. This is Kanchenjunga and at 8,586m it’s the third highest mountain on Earth. The hike to the base camp of this daunting peak is one of the most exciting treks in Nepal.

Kanchenjunga-Region

Over a couple of weeks you pass through pretty farming villages with terraced hillsides, through sub-tropical river valleys and misty, old-growth coniferous forests, and then across Alpine tundra until you come face-to-face with the glaciers and fluted peaks of the Kanchenjunga massif.

This is a scenically wild trek, but it’s also culturally diverse. You will find yourself settling down in pretty villages to drink tea with a heady mix of Limbu, Rais, Sherpa and Gurung peoples.

The distance from Kathmandu and the unrelenting up and down terrain means that very few people trek out here, although it is becoming more popular. Between October and November and March to April, very basic herders’ teahouses and village homestays are available along most of the route. At other times, most tend to be closed and you will need to be fully self-sufficient with camping gear and food.

Kanchenjunga

Kanchenjunga Region trekking highlights

Off the beaten track

As a trekking destination, Kanchenjunga is little known and the number of visitors tiny compared to the numbers who pace the Everest and Annapurna trails. It’s this peace and quiet that is perhaps its biggest draw.

Mountain vistas

Whether you choose to head to Kanchenjunga North or South base camp, when you tilt your head back to stare up in awe at the sheer rock and ice wall rising thousands of metres above you, one thing is for certain: This is one of the best mountain vistas in the Himalayas.

Pristine forests

The Kanchenjunga region is a botanist’s dream. In spring, the slopes are ablaze with the purples of budding rhododendrons and at any time of year the steamy valley floors are a tangled web of tropical forest plants. This is one of the few places in Nepal where you might find the elusive Himalayan blue poppy. And the old forests beyond the last villages are soaked in mist, mysterious and utterly beautiful. They’re some of the most pristine forests in the Himalayas.

Local life

The lower slopes of eastern Nepal’s mountains are densely populated. The hills are a tapestry of terraced fields and the villages are made up of blue and white wooden houses with walls and timber balconies covered in maize drying in the sun. With tourists so few and far between, the people will welcome you into their houses and teashops and sit you down to talk.

Wildlife

With this trek covering such a diverse range of habitats, climates and altitudes, you’ll see plenty of wildlife — or at least, clues to their existence. The forests are filled with pheasants, the scree slopes clatter with the hooves of blue sheep and the occasional snow leopard slips like a shadow over the high passes. Lower down, where the air is hot and humid, the forest sings to the sound of insects, colourful birds and crashing langur monkeys.

Exploration

Any trek in the Kanchenjunga region is something of an adventure, but for something really challenging, try the epic high altitude, three to four-week-long trail that links both north and south base camps via the Mirgin La (4,663m) or the even wilder Lapsang La (5,160m). You’ll need to be well equipped and totally self-sufficient. Not enough of a rush? In recent years, a few groups have launched expedition-style treks that link Kanchenjunga North with Makalu via the 5,160m Sumba Lumba pass. It takes four weeks and a lot of determination.

Top treks In Kanchenjunga

1. Kanchenjunga North

There are two main Kanchenjunga treks and the three-week trek to the Kanchenjunga North base camp is the longest, hardest and by far the most spectacular. The trail drops down into forested valleys and climbs again over ever higher and steeper hills. In the earlier stages, it’s a rural village to village affair with lots of cultural interaction, but eventually the path clears the last village, crosses the tree line and wends its way across Alpine pastures to the base camp at Pang Pema (5,140m), which is set among fields of scree at the foot of the soaring north face of Kanchenjunga. From the base camp an exhilarating day walk can be made up to the summit of Drohmo Ri (5,915m). The views are as good as you’ll get without venturing into the realms of mountaineering, but the risk of altitude sickness is high.

The one drawback with the trail is that once you’ve made it to base camp there’s nothing more to do but spin round and return the way you came.

Kanchenjunga North

  • Difficulty: Hard. Lots of steep up and down.
  • Trek Duration: 18 days
  • Max Altitude: 5,140m
  • Accommodation: Camping is best; some very basic herders’ lodges.
  • Start/End point: Taplejung

2. Kanchenjunga South

The shorter, and slightly lower of the two trails takes you straight to the belly of the mountain and the south base camp at Oktang. In many ways, this is a similar walk to the northern base camp — lots of diverse scenery, interesting villages and ever-changing vegetation. Although you don’t go as high on this walk (maximum altitude is 4,800m), there is a huge amount of very steep up and down, which makes it exhausting. The route gives you a day or so less in the high mountains than the northern route, but the scenery, with giant peaks reflected in frozen lakes and shimmering glaciers all around is mesmerising. Again, at base camp, most people retrace the same route back down again.

Kanchenjunga South

  • Difficulty: Hard. Lots of steep up and down.
  • Trek Duration: 14 days
  • Max Altitude: 4,800m
  • Accommodation: Camping best; some very basic herders’ lodges.
  • Start/End point: Taplejung

3. Kanchenjunga North to Kanchenjunga South

A round trip taking in both north and south base camps is possible. You won’t have to retrace your steps and you’ll have around five days in the high mountains sleeping well above 4,000m. It involves crossing either the Mirgin La (4,663m) or the Lapsang La (5,160m). Neither route should be taken lightly; snow is common late into the trekking seasons.

Kanchenjunga North to Kanchenjunga South

  • Difficulty: Strenuous. Lots of steep up and down and several nights camping at high altitude far from any facilities.
  • Trek Duration: 24 days
  • Max Altitude: 5,160m
  • Accommodation: Camping best; some very basic herders’ lodges.
  • Start/End point: Taplejung
Kanchenjunga_view-2

Kanchenjunga trekking information

TIMS card required. Kanchenjunga trekking permit US $10 per person per seven days; Kanchenjunga Conservation fee Rs 3000. Permits only issued to groups of at least two people on an organised trekking tour.

Best between October to mid-November and March to April. Between late November and late February, the air is clear and it’s possible to trek, but it’s very cold at high altitude and all accommodation beyond the last villages will probably be closed.

It’s commonly said that Kanchenjunga is an organised, camping-only trek, but this isn’t completely true. Almost all villages along the route have very simple accommodation available (normally a room in a private house). Beyond the last villages there are a few basic teahouses with dorm-style rooms.

In all cases accommodation is aimed more at porters and herders than trekkers, but you’ll certainly be welcome to stay. For the moment at least, it’s sensible to come on an organised camping trek. Bring porters from Kathmandu as there aren’t many available near trailheads.

To get to and from Taplejung, fly or take a very long bus ride from Kathmandu to either Biratnagar or the border city of Bhadrapur. Both have frequent transport links to the tea producing town of Ilam, and from there less frequent transport to Taplejung. Allow a full 24 hours to travel to the trailhead from Kathmandu using a combination of plane and bus/private vehicle. There’s also an airstrip at Suketar that has recently been black-topped.

Nepal trekking resources

Logistical information to help with planning your Nepal trekking trip

Organised vs independent trekking

There are two types of trekker on the more popular routes: Those walking independently and those on an organised trek, and there are pros and cons to both.

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, a cook, kitchen assistants and any number of porters.

A fully organised trek is often a camping trek (as opposed to staying in teahouses/homestays), which allows freedom in deciding where to stop for the night and allowing you to avoid the busy overnight lodges used by most independent trekkers.

An organised trek also means security. Your guide and porters should know the route and they will know about problems up ahead that an independent trekker might be oblivious to. Having porters means you only need to walk with a light day bag. Other advantages are a more diverse range of food and having a cultural and language translator at hand.

Organised treks don’t have to be camping only. Even on more remote routes there is a growing number of wonderfully atmospheric homestays — Upper Mustang (p.74) is especially good for this — and very basic trekking lodges aimed more at local herders. The Kanchenjunga (p.124) trails are well endowed with these. It’s possible to tell your trekking company that you want to mix it up a bit with a combination of homestays, camping and basic trekking lodges. This gives you the best of all worlds.

The biggest advantage of an organised trek is that it allows you to explore huge swathes of upland Nepal that independent trekkers relying on lodges simply cannot reach. You can explore for longer in more remote, higher and, dare we say it, more exciting areas of Nepal.

The disadvantages of an organised trek are that your schedule can be tightly controlled, especially if

you’ve joined a group put together by the trekking company and there can be fewer opportunities to meet villagers.

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. The kitchen staff and porters will normally have reached the lunch halt long before you. A hot drink will be waiting followed by a big lunch. 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.

Depending on the size of your group and the level of luxury you opted for, it’s common to sleep in small two-man tents and to eat in a larger, communal dining tent. Normally there will be tables and chairs and sometimes a toilet tent as well. If you’ve tried to keep costs down you might not have these luxuries.

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.

A fully organised trek is often a camping trek (as opposed to staying in teahouses / homestays), which allows freedom in deciding where to stop for the night and allowing you to avoid the busy overnight halts used by most independent trekkers.

An organised trek also means security. Your guide and porters should know the route and they will know about problems up ahead that an independent trekker might be oblivious to. And having porters means you only need walk with a light day bag. Other advantages are an often more diverse range of food and having a cultural and language translator at hand.

Organised treks don’t have to be camping only. Even on the remoter routes there is a growing number of wonderfully atmospheric homestays – Upper Mustang is especially good for this – and very basic trekking lodges aimed more at local herders. The Kanchenjunga trails are well endowed with these. It’s possible to tell your trekking company that you want to mix it up a bit with a combination of homestays, camping and basic trekking lodges. This gives you the best of all worlds.

The biggest advantage of an organised trek is that it allows you to explore huge swathes of upland Nepal that independent trekkers relying on lodges simply cannot reach. You can explore for longer in remoter, higher and, dare we say it, more exciting areas of Nepal.

The disadvantages of an organised trek are that your schedule can be tightly controlled, especially if you’ve joined a group put together by the trekking company, and there can be fewer opportunities to meet villagers.

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 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.

Costs, even at the busiest times of year, are very low. Most lodges charge only a couple of hundred rupees (US $2-4) per person for a bed in a basic twin room and you are expected to eat in the lodge. If you choose to stay in one lodge but eat in another, expect to answer to an annoyed lodge owner. Because most food has to be carried in by porters, food costs more the further you walk from the trailheads. Even so, it’s still cheap on an international scale with dhal bhat (lentil curry and rice, Nepal’s national dish) costing around Rs 200-300 (US $2-3). Items such as steaks and beers (when available) cost much more.

Staying in trekking lodges means you don’t have to carry tents and cooking equipment. Many independent trekkers don’t bother to hire porters or guides and this also helps to reduce costs. A final, huge advantage of independent trekking is that you can change your schedule as you see fit — brilliant when someone you meet on the trail tells you about a beautiful side trip you really mustn’t miss.

However, there are a number of major drawbacks to independent trekking. The most obvious is that you are limited as to where and when you can trek. Attempt an unusual route and you could end up with nowhere to sleep and nothing to eat. On the busy routes, trekking lodges fill quickly. If you arrive late and find all the rooms taken, you might have to sleep on the floor of the dining room. That would never happen with an organised trek. In addition, in many parts of Nepal, independent trekking is actually forbidden.

Other drawbacks are that if you choose to trek without a guide and/or porter, you’ll have to carry all your own gear. A bag that feels light in a Kathmandu hotel feels very heavy indeed when you’re slogging your way up to a 5,000m pass. Trekking independently also increases the chances of getting lost, caught out in storms or making the wrong decisions when it comes to altitude-related difficulties. You might also encounter language problems without a guide.

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 a 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. Most people head to their often draughty wooden rooms by 8 or 9pm.

Permits and paperwork

Trekking permits in Nepal

TIMS (Trekkers’ Information Management System)

All trekkers in Nepal must buy a TIMS card. The most convenient place to buy the card is at the Nepal Tourism Board office in either Kathmandu or Pokhara. Bring a copy of your passport and two passport-sized photos and be prepared to disclose your trekking route, entry and exit points and emergency contact information.

At the time of writing, free individual permits cost R 2,000 per trekking route per entry, while group trekkers pay R 1,000 per person.

A certain number of permits and other paperwork will be required for every trek in Nepal. All treks require you to get a TIMS (Trekkers Information Management System) card. The idea is that it allows the authorities to know where every foreign trekker is hiking and makes them easier to trace in an emergency. There are rumours that the cards will be done away with, but for now, they can be obtained quickly, cheaply and easily, in Kathmandu or Pokhara.

For the main trekking areas (Everest, Annapurna and Langtang) other paperwork required includes the relevant national park permits, which can be obtained in an hour or so in Kathmandu or Pokhara. For other treks, additional permits might be needed including Restricted Area Permits. In some cases, these permits are fairly cheap and fast to obtain (the Kanchenjunga area being a case in point), but in other areas such as Upper Mustang and Inner Dolpo they are very expensive (US$ 500 per person for 10 days and a minimum of two trekkers are required to get them). All Restricted Areas require you to be a part of an organised trek, but “organised” can be as low-key as you, a companion, a guide and porter or two.

If you’re on an organised trek your trekking agency will deal with all the required paperwork while you go sightseeing in Kathmandu. Independent trekkers will have to face Nepalese bureaucracy alone but in most cases, it’s pretty painless. You will need copies of your passport and a spare passport photo.

Unfortunately, none of the permits can be obtained at home before leaving for Nepal so it’s unlikely that you will be able to get off the plane and straight on to a bus to the trailhead. Allow at least a day to get the papers in order after you arrive.

Staying healthy

Trekking in the mountains of Nepal generally presents few health problems bar those of altitude and weather. Food poisoning and other tummy troubles aren’t as big an issue as they are in Kathmandu, Pokhara and the Terai lowlands. Be careful what you eat in those areas before going on a trek. The last thing you want is to start walking with a dodgy stomach.

Malaria and dengue fever, both of which are present in the Terai lowlands, are non-existent in the mountains. However, it’s important to be aware of problems brought on by altitude, or from getting too cold or hot.

Fitness and preparation

Many people worry that they won’t be fit and strong enough to trek in the Himalaya. In reality only moderate fitness is required on most of the standard trails (especially those open to independent trekkers). However, for a first time trek, it's best not to take on anything too long, high, or remote.

The more pre-departure training you can do the better, but aim to be comfortable walking several hours a day. Those short of fitness should opt for shorter and easier treks, and start walking at first light in order to give the maximum amount of daylight to cover the day’s walk.

Remember to break in new boots at home before using them on any trek.

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)

By far the biggest threat in the higher (above about 3,000m) routes in Nepal is altitude sickness, or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). This potentially fatal condition is caused by a combination of reduced oxygen and lower atmospheric pressure reacting with the body.

Almost everyone who treks above 3,000m will get very mild symptoms, such as light dizziness or headaches and difficulty sleeping. Normally it only lasts for a short time and is more a sign of your body adapting to the lower oxygen levels at altitude. Take it easy and drink lots of water or ginger tea, and it should pass.

If symptoms persist or get worse and a strong headache and vomiting start to occur, then it’s likely that moderate or severe altitude sickness is striking. The best thing to do is to descend to a lower elevation as fast as possible — even if it’s the middle of the night. A porter might have to be hired to help get the victim down the mountain fast. Ignoring AMS can quickly lead to severe problems and even death.

It’s not clear how or why AMS strikes. There have been cases of Sherpas who climbed Everest a number of times but got severe AMS at just 3,500m. And it doesn’t necessarily strike the old or unfit first. There is some evidence to suggest that young people get it more commonly than older people, although that might just be because younger people are more likely to be gung-ho about climbing higher and faster than recommended.

The golden rule with high mountain trekking is to go slowly and never ascend too high, too fast. Most experts agree that above 3,000m you shouldn’t ascend more than around 300-500m in a day and that you should allow for frequent rest days above 3,500m (a rest day doesn’t actually mean having a rest. On these days it’s wise to hike to a higher altitude and then descend back down again to sleep). Following these simple rules will greatly reduce the chances of AMS.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia is not as common as you might expect on a Nepal trek but it’s certainly a risk for the under-dressed and unprepared. Symptoms are pretty similar to those of AMS with slurred speech, loss of concentration and fatigue all being key signs. Get the victim into a warm place, wrap them in sleeping bags and use your own body heat if necessary, and give them hot drinks and food.

Sunstroke and heat stroke

Sunstroke and heat stroke are both common, especially when walking all day in bright sunlight through the hotter, lower valleys and slopes. At such times try to rest in the shade, drink lots of water, eat something salty and wear a wide-brimmed hat.

Water and sanitation

The golden rule anywhere in Nepal is do NOT drink tap water without treating it first. The vast majority of trekkers carry packets of water purification tablets to treat their drinking water. In the Annapurna area many lodges have vats of pre-treated water and for a nominal fee you can fill up your own water bottles. Buying bottles of drinking water as you go is terrible for the environment at the best of times, but up in the Nepalese mountains with few recycling facilities it’s even worse.

Don’t expect much opportunity to wash while trekking. Showers, when available, are often cold which ain’t a lot of fun in the snow at 4,000m. On more popular routes hot, solar heated showers are sometimes available, but most people just wait until they get back to Kathmandu.

Packing List

The most important advice is – keep things light and minimal. When you’re slogging your way up to a mountain pass you will regret every extra kilo you’re carrying. The following is a list of recommended items, some of which are more essential than others.

Hiking boots

You’ll need boots. Not shoes or trail running shoes. Make sure they’re waterproof, very sturdy and above all, comfortable. Don’t buy a cheap pair, and make sure you break them in before leaving for Nepal. Whatever you do, don’t hire boots in Nepal as they probably won’t be up to scratch and will give you blisters. Nothing will ruin your trek more than blisters.

Winter jacket

A thick, warm, waterproof and breathable but lightweight jacket is another must. It needs to keep you warm as toast in sub-zero temperatures. These can be rented in Nepal but most are inferior knock-offs of respected brands. They’re okay for a one-off trip but if you’re likely to go mountain trekking again, it’s worth buying your own jacket.

Sleeping bag

It gets bitterly cold at night, even at comparatively low altitudes in winter, and the thin, gap-riddled walls of trekking lodge bedrooms provide little protection. Get the warmest yet lightest one you can afford. When a manufacturer says a sleeping bag can be used down to minus-10 degrees the reality is you won’t be comfortable in it below about plus-five. Aim for one that says it will keep you warm down to minus-20 or lower. A really good sleeping bag is expensive. Bags can be rented in Nepal but as with jackets, they’re very rarely of good quality.

Trekking Poles

If you’ve never trekked before then you might consider trekking poles as something that just old people use. Well trust us, if you don’t use them after a few days clambering up and down steep Himalayan slopes you’ll forever walk like an old person… Poles help save energy going up and take the strain off your legs on the way down. They also stop you falling and twisting ankles as much.

Water bottle

Take two of at least a litre each and refill whenever possible. Don’t rely on bottled mineral water. It’s often not available and it’s environmentally unfriendly, particularly up in the mountains where there’s little chance of recycling.

Water purification pills

Get enough to treat at least three litres of water a day

. On more popular trekking routes some lodges provide pre-treated water but don’t rely on this always being available.

Thermals

Two or three thermal tops of different thickness and even a pair of thermal under-trousers are worth their weight in gold.

Fleeces

Two fleeces, one thin and one thick, are vital.

Walking trousers

Don’t try to skip around the Annapurna Circuit in a pair of jeans (yes, we’ve seen people try. And fail). Get some comfortable walking trousers. Two pairs should be sufficient for the longest treks.

T-shirts/shirts

Many people recommend specialist quick-dry shirts designed for trekking. However, we’ve used a combination of these and normal shirts and T-shirts and never noticed much difference. Don’t over pack. You probably won’t change your shirt more than once in a two-week trek!

Socks

Specialist hiking socks are supposed to reduce blisters and are worth buying. However, changing your socks frequently seems to reduce blisters as much as any clever equipment. Take at least three pairs for a two-week trek. Also pack a thick, warm pair of ski socks to keep warm when you arrive at camp.

Sandals

Most people appreciate being able to remove their boots at the end of the day and don some sandals (with or without thick ski socks, depending on how cold it is).

Hats

A sun hat is vital for hotter, lower elevations, and a winter hat or balaclava for up high.

Gloves

Take a thick warm pair of skiing gloves and a thin, cotton pair of under gloves. You won’t be able to use your camera or eat properly with thick gloves but you can with the thin ones, and they’ll keep your hands warm for a few minutes.

Sun glasses

An essential bit of kit at all elevations. The sun reflecting off the snow can quickly frazzle your eyes.

Suncream and sunblock

Slap on lots of sun cream no matter what the weather or elevation. Use total sunblock on lips, nose and ears.

Wash kit

Keep this minimal as you won’t get much chance to wash. A small lightweight travel towel isn’t a bad idea.

Torch

A head torch is a must.

Books

The evenings can be long. Bring a good book, not a tablet or Kindle as power sources can be erratic and batteries drain very fast at altitude. Don’t forget a guidebook. We recommend the Rough Guide to Nepal, which covers the country and gives details of the main treks. For specific trekking information try Lonely Planet’s Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya.

Camera

Even non-photographers will want photos of this stunning scenery.

Spare batteries

Bring spare torch, camera and phone batteries. Below a certain temperature and above a certain altitude (which vary from product to product), batteries drain very fast or don’t work at all. Above about 3,000m put the batteries in your sleeping bag at night to keep them warm and reduce drainage.

Snacks

A few biscuits and chocolate bars might give you the energy boost you need to get over that pass.

Backpack

To carry all this you’ll need a decent, comfortable trekking backpack. Don’t consider any other kind of bag. If you’re using a porter you’ll need a small backpack for your day gear and you’ll have to provide a bag for the porter to carry - a holdall is best.

Travel Insurance

You’d be utterly insane to go trekking in the Himalayas without a decent travel insurance policy. Make sure it covers trekking above a certain altitude and helicopter rescue.

Leave the gadgets at home

Don’t bother taking computers, tablets, etc. They get easily broken on the trail and the batteries probably won’t work at altitude. More importantly, most people don’t want to see fellow trekkers glued to their tablets in a lodge at night.

Nepal Trekking FAQs

Visas

Visas for most nationalities are available at major air and land borders on arrival. Prices for 15/30/90 days are US $25/40/100. You can pay in US dollars, euros, British pounds and some other major currencies. You can also apply online at www.online.nepalimmigration.go... which, in theory at least, reduces time queuing on arrival in Kathmandu.

Internet

In Kathmandu, Pokhara and other larger towns almost every hotel in all price ranges offers free wi-fi. Internet cafes get fewer in number each year. On more popular trails such as some of the Annapurna and Everest routes an increasing number of trekking lodges offer wi-fi. Sometimes it’s free, sometimes there’s a token payment. Connection speeds are better than you might expect. Elsewhere in the mountains internet is virtually non-existent, but in some larger towns such as Jomsom, Namche Bazaar and Manang it’s available.

Money & banks

Banks and ATMs accept foreign cards in all larger Nepalese towns and cities. Bigger banks will change cash (dollars and euros are best). Travellers’ cheques are rarely accepted now. The best way of accessing money is from an ATM. However, it’s wise to have a some emergency cash with you in US dollars or euros. On the mountain trails you won’t be able to get hold of cash easily. Some lodge owners might change dollars or euros, but don’t rely on it. Take more cash than you think you might need.

Time

Nepal is 5hrs 45min ahead of GMT.

Telephones

Mobile phones are ubiquitous in Nepal. If your phone is unlocked you can buy a cheap pre-pay Nepalese SIM card and a bundle of credit for talk time, text messages and internet. Take your passport with you to buy a SIM card. Reception is excellent in lowland areas and large towns and cities, but on the mountain trails you are highly unlikely to have a phone signal. Locals have phones that work but they use a special service not available to tourists.

Trekking In Nepal

Nepal's best treks and hikes

The mighty Himalaya have occupied a special place in the imaginations of adventurers and intrepid travellers for generations. And nowhere more so than the nation of Nepal: land of the Sherpa and home of Mount Everest (plus eight of the world’s other 10 tallest peaks!) A country that embodies the allure and romance of these unimaginably vast mountains.

View this guide

Things to do in Nepal

Our recommended experiences and activities

Nepal trips

Suggested routes & itineraries from our experts

Why Horizon Guides?

Expert travel guides

Our guides are written by the leading experts in their destinations. We never take payment for positive coverage so you can count on us for reliable and impartial travel advice.

Authentic experiences

We curate exceptional trips in underrated places, organised by the very best tour operators who live and breathe their destinations and are passionate about authentic, responsible tourism.

Give back to mother nature

We'll plant 50 trees for every trip booked via the Horizon Guides site in partnership with the International Tree Foundation, who carry out sustainable community forestry projects in Africa.