Urbanization is underway in Nepal as it is in most parts of the world. A population that hitherto had lived off the land in the village in which they were born sees more advantage for them and their families in the towns and cities. The drift to the cities is moving apace. But, and this must be understood, Nepal is still overwhelmingly a rural country; some figures put the rural population at 80% of the population. And given that away from the southern plains - the Terai - the land is mostly hilly or mountainous, road building for this poor nation is difficult and usually out of the question. So the vast majority of the population are quite used to walking, at least for part of the way, to get to their destinations. Nepal is almost a paradise for walking enthusiasts. I say almost because some restriction on where foreigners can walk or how handsomely they pay for the benefit apply, but these have been significantly reduced in the last three years and there are few restrictions now.
About 20 years ago, Nepal started to promote this Nepali activity, walking to get from A to B, as a tourist activity and the industry that grew out of it has hardly looked back since then. Along the most popular routes (e.g. the Annapurna circuit) lodges started to offer beer and western food, then the lodges offered solar showers. Some villages today (e.g. Tatopani) wouldn't look out of place as an extension of Pokhara's Lakeside. Nowadays treks can be divided into two types: tea house treks where you can expect to be fed and housed at the day's end and guide/porter treks where you take tent and provisions. Sometimes a trek will be a mixture of the two. Many times, if you are taking your own provisions, you will find a villager who can supplement your meal with a chicken or some goat meat, especially during festivals, but don't count on it.
Where are the treks ? They are everywhere the trails are! Of course, there are favorite treks, "recognized" treks and treks that are catering specifically for tourists. But there is no reason why you could not pinpoint two villages on a map and decide to walk between them. You might need to camp for lack of lodges, you almost certainly would feel happier with a guide, may have to take provisions for part of the way, but it would be a fine adventure! The most popular treks are summarized below.
So, what to bring with you? Take very careful note of the season in which you are trekking and of the altitude of the route. Warm clothing is a must on high altitude treks. And spend time in gaining altitude to avoid Acute Mountain Sickness. Bring a stout pair of walking shoes because the "duplicates" (as the Nepalese say) that come from China and are on sale in the country are just not up to the job. But note that most of the villagers you will pass are wearing sand shoes (flip flops) and they slip and slide no more frequently than you will. No, you don't need a $199-per-pair of walking poles but a stout wooden stick will help prevent the worst falls. An umbrella is as good as any Gore-Tex jacket.
While in Pokhara or Kathmandu, ask others about their trekking
experiences. If you are planning a guide/porter trek then it might be wiser to stick to registered trekking agencies, although no number of people will approach you and say that they are guides, and they'll show you several testimonials from satisfied customers. On tea house treks a guide is not usually necessary because the trail is clear, but a good guide can help with translation, talk about local flora and fauna, help with prices to be paid and keep you company. In short, travel more as the locals do and not as an ostentatious show of foreign opulence and consider hiring a local guide.
Trekking permits are issued by the Department of Immigration in Katmandu or Pokhara. Trekking agencies can also obtain the permit on behalf of the trekker.
Unquestionably the "classic trek" of Nepal, undertaken by thousands of intrepid travellers each year! This trek, of between 17 to 21 days duration will take you from a tropical 600 metres to the Thorung-La (pass) at 5416 metres and back down again to the tropics. Accommodation is in tea houses, some of them quite fancy and you will even be able to check your emails when you reach the town of Jomsom.
Another trek that requires the ACAP conservation pass fee, this trek is sometimes undertaken as a
"side trip" by people on the Jomsom or Annapurna Circuit treks. From Gandruk one follows the Modi Khola valley northward, gaining in altitude all the time. It is a fairly tough trek, and the weather can be lousy but the views of the Annapurnas on all sides make this trek a perennial
favorite. One climbs through small villages and bamboo forest until the tree line, then across scree to the Machhapuchhre Base Camp. The trail then heads west to the Annapurna Base Camp at 4100 metres. In the cooler months the last section from MBC to ABC, the trail can be indistinct as one may be walking hip deep through snow. Tea houses can be found along the way during the height of the trekking season.
This is actually the last half of the Annapurna trek described above, and probably the most popular trek in Nepal, as it is easily reached from Pokhara and there is the option of flying in or out of Jomsom.
This trek is generally made with a guide, porter and camping equipment and lasts between four and seven days, although some people vary the route a bit and stretch the trek to nine days. I have also met a couple of people who have taken a chance and walked into the area without tents, trusting to the local inns and people's houses. The destination is Sikles, the second-largest Gurung village in Nepal, which lies at 1980 metres. You enter the Annapurna Conservation area just northeast of Pokhara, and so the R2000 ACAP fee must be paid in advance of the trek. The trailhead starts at Begnas Taal and follows northward to the Madi Khola and on to Sikles. Sikles itself is a clean and prosperous town, testament to the relative wealth members of the British Army's Gurkha regiment have brought. After Sikles the trail heads west through rhododendron forest and then descends to Ghachok to exit on the Pokhara-Baglung road, although your guide may choose various other variations.
A shorter trek than the Sikles trek, again generally made with a guide and porter. The trail starts at Kau Khola on the eastern suburb of Pokhara and the route ascends to the village of Kalikasthan. From here you walk along the ridge to Thulakhot, Begnaskhot and Chisopani and then westward once again, following the ridge that straddles Begnas and Rupa Taal. From Begnas Bazzar buses leave every 30 minutes for Pokhara.This is an easy trek and, as many new tea houses have opened up in the region one that could probably be made without bringing a tent. The ACAP permit is not required for this trek.
Backpacker's Tips : Aurelien Reys, France
Another easy trek, but one almost unknown to the trekking community as the area is newly opened for trekking. The trekking area is the Tanahu district, some 30 kms east of Pokhara, just south of the Prithvi Highway. The trailhead is Dulagauda just south of the Seti Khola (river), near to a Hindu temple that has a mysterious "tidal flow" pond. Several villages are interlaced with trails and one can vary the itinerary to arrive in the afternoon at these remote villages. Accommodation will be in family houses. The general aim is to head west, exiting around Kolma or Syangja. This is a low altitude trek of about four or five days. Almost certainly you will want to take a guide with you on this trek, but make sure that he/she knows this area or you may arrive at a village not set up to cater for trekkers.
A friend of mine who operates one of Pokhara's better trekking agencies mentions that this was a
favorite trek in the years when tourism was just starting in Nepal. An easy, tea house trek that requires no ACAP fee, all done at low altitude, you work your way east from Pokhara along any number of tracks. My friend recommends walking through Begnas, Kalikasthan, Chisopani, Nalma, Besisahar and then heading south via Ghanpokhara to reach Gorkha in five days. Other than at Begnas and Gorkha you will probably be the only non-Nepali on the trail.
This is a trekking area rather than a recognized trekking route and there are no end of variations on a theme that you can "pick and choose" from, to suit your own itinerary.
This is another one of the "recognized" tea house treks although, if you want to explore the upper reaches of the Langtang valley you need to arrange for camping equipment at Kyangjin (3750 metres). Most people start the trek at Dhunche (1950 metres), 8 hours by bus from Naya Bus Park, Kathmandu, although you might like to stay on the bus until Syabrubensi (1417 metres) to shorten the trek. Following Syabrubensi you ascend the lower valley through
rhododendron forest which gradually change to scree and moraine slopes. At the settlement of Rimche it is possible to "double back" to the Bhote Kosi river, if you don't want to ascend further. However, a further day up the valley brings you to the lovely Bhotiya, nominally Tamang village of Langtang (3400 metres). Beyond Langtang you can ascend further to the next village of Kyangjin which has a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. This village lies at 3750 metres. Plenty of lodging can be found here. This is a good place to base yourself as it allows you to explore the nearby Langtang glacier and climb some peaks. You may also hire horses for easier exploration. Guides and climbing gear can be hired here if you want to cross the Ganja La (pass) at 5122 metres, but this is not for the weak hearted to attempt!