Nepal's

THE TREKS
by David Woollan


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.

Note that when trekking in the Annapurna Conservation Area, a R2000 fee must be paid in advance of your trekking. This fee will give you an ACAP pass and is valid for the length of your stay in the ACAP area. Buy the pass at the ACAP office near Grindlay's Bank on Lakeside in Pokhara.

Trekking in the Langtang National Park requires prior payment of a R1000 fee.

Until 1951, Nepal was a "forbidden" kingdom for foreigners and only a few outsiders had entered the country. Now Nepal actively promotes tourism although there are still a few impediments to total travel within the Kingdom. Up until a couple of years ago it was necessary to obtain trekking permits to visit all areas outside the Pokhara and Katmandu valleys. Luckily this is now not the case and only the areas mentioned below require trekking permits to visit.

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.

Lower Dolpa and Kachenjunga. $10 per person per week for the first four weeks and $20 per week thereafter. 

Manaslu. $90 per person per week (Sept-Nov) and $75 per week during Dec-Aug. 

Humla. $90 for the first seven days and $15 per day thereafter. 

Upper Mustang and Upper Dolpa. $700 per person for the first ten days and $70 per day thereafter. 

Royalties must also be paid to climb mountains in Nepal. These range from $1,500 per team for mountains below 6,500 meters to even more outrageous fees to scale Everest, although fees have recently been reduced.
Serious mountaineers can contact the Mountaineering section of the Ministry of Tourism at tourism@mail.com.np 


Trekking North of Pokhara - Annapurna Region :

1) The Annapurna Circuit:

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. 
Originally, the starting point for this trek was Pokhara and you can still make this your starting point if you want to but it is a much less interesting start than previously as new roads have, and are still, being constructed.
The trek is, in places, quite tough going and you'll need to take warm clothing even during the summer months. It is not necessary to take a guide although you might feel more secure with a guide cum porter as you'll need to ford rivers and walk over land slides.
Most people start the trek by catching a bus from Kathmandu or Pokhara for Dumre and then catching the local transport for Besisahar (823 metres) a large town going through a frenzied construction phase. Trekkers prefer to make the more-or-less circular trek in the anticlockwise direction, for crossing the Thorung-La is less strenuous then. Although tea houses can be found in almost all the villages you will pass, most stops for the day are in convenient five or six hour "chunks". 
The trek follows the Marsynagdi Valley north, over the pass as far as Muktinath and Kagbeni, before turning south to reach the regional capital of Jomsom, the orchards of Marpha and the hot springs of Tatapani. The exit point can be Nayapul or Beni, depending on the route taken.
From Chame to Manang the views of the Annapurnas, so close but 5000 metres above the valley are just spectacular and many people spend a couple of extra days in Manang, another regional capital.
South of Tatopani you follow the valley of the Seti Gandaki river and the course of the world's deepest gorge! 
There are plans to construct a road that will eventually connect Pokhara with Jomsom. This road has now reached as far as Beni and much digging and blasting is going on between Beni and Tatopani.


2) Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) / Annapurna Sanctuary Trek:

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.
Note that a "short cut" between Syauli Bazaar to New Bridge has now become the preferred route.


3) The Jomsom Trek:

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.
The full, "there and back" trek will take you ten days if you start from Naya Pul or Beni, but if you have more time you can always take the traditional trekker's starting point of Pokara (trekking through Sarangkot and Naudanda). 
Once you reach Ghorepani, you might like to make a side trip to Poon Hill (and watch the sunrise over the Annapurnas, at 3200 metres this is a favorite viewing point). Or you can make this your final destination, if you don't have the time to get to Jomsom. Jomsom itself is not a particularly interesting town. It is the regional capital and has an airstrip, banks, a hospital etc. Of much more interest is Muktinath, a sacred shrine and pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Buddhists. It lies a full one further days walk from Jomsom, at an altitude of 3802 metres.
On the way back from Jomsom, the same trail must be used until you reach Tatopani. Then the trail divides into two and you can either exit at Nayapul or Beni. The Beni-Baglung road is now useable by taxis so you could muster a group of four or five and come back that way - far quicker than by catching the bus at Baglung.


4) The Sikles Trek (The Eco Trek):

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.


5) The Royal Trek:

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 (March 03)
 
 The trek was of course beautiful, the upper you go, the more expensive and more beautiful it is. I really liked Manang and around Murktinat.
A good tip: you can start the trek before Besisahar and save 1 journey by bus, 3 days trek in place.
Day 1, 5-6 hours: Take a bus first to the est way of pokara to stop in a village situated around 10 km before kapunkar where you will go by walk and will spend your first night. Easy walk but the first so will damage your feet certainly, view on snow-topped montain away.
Day 2, 4-5 hours: Walk through the valley, and finish by a steneous way to dalma, and enjoy a beautiful view.
Day 3, 7-8 hours: Morning starting by the climb of a couple of thousands steps to arrive at 1900 m altitude, then going down the montain to join the normal circuit at khudi.
5 or 6 guesthouses on the way, any westeners met on the way, was great. Dal bat and room for about 50 roupia each, cheaper than on the circuit of
course.

 

Trekking East of Pokhara :

1) The Millennium Trek:

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.


2) Pokhara to Trisuli Khola: 

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.


Trekking north of Kathmandu:

1) Helambu:

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.
A real plus point about this region is that it can easily be reached from Kathmandu, although the bus journey to your starting point will probably be tedious. This is likely to be Sundarijal, Nagarkot or Malemchi Pul. A guide, available from reputable agencies in Kathmandu or locally will be able to arrange treks to suit you. The area will involve medium altitude trekking, around 2500-3000 metres at most. Bring very warm clothing in the winter months.
You will be trekking in an area whose population is predominantly Buddhist and many of the villages have monasteries. Much of the area is covered in rhododendron forest.
It is quite feasible to hire a guide and arrange a trek of seven or more days, returning to Sundarijal for your return journey to Kathmandu.
If you wanted, you could continue north and into the Langtang National Park, that nestles the Tibet border. You will need to get a Langtang pass (R1000) in advance if you want to make this journey.


2) Langtang Trek:

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!
Either by itself, or after returning from Langtang, many people make an exploration of the Gosainkund area, a southeasterly trail that is started at the Sing Monastery settlement. If you are coming directly from Dhunche be warned that it is a tough ascent to the monastery at 3200 metres. You ascend above the tree line, climbing through moraine and scree to arrive at several smallish lakes. Gosainkund itself nestles by the shore of a lake. Here you will find lodging for trekkers and pilgrims, for this is a pilgrimage destination.