Treking

The Everest region has always been popular among trekkers. You’ll meet few trekkers who haven’t been up that route. The name Everest evokes awe. Located in eastern Nepal, the Everest region offers a wide range of trekking experiences. From the Everest Base Camp trek (listed as one of the ten best trips in the world) to treks in remote semi-wilderness areas, there is much to choose from. 
 
Solukhumbu district is the home of the legendary Sherpas and also the most popular region in the Himalaya. The northern part of the district (Khumbu) lies within the Sagarmatha National Park, which was established to protect the fragile ecosystem of the alpine region. To the east of the Sagarmatha National Park is the Makalu-Barun National Park, a remote and wild stretch of mountain peaks and deep, densely forested valleys. To the west is the Rolwaling valley, a well protected microcosm of cultures. The southern part of the district, Solu is less frequented by tourists but could be a very rewarding destination in its own right.  

Mount Everest naturally is the major attraction here, but there are other 8,000 meter peaks in the region such as Lhotse, Cho Oyu and Makalu besides the many lesser peaks which are no less stunning. There’s more to Khumbu than just mountains. The stark beauty in the form of glacial lakes, resplendent rhododendron forests, native flora and fauna, charming villages and ancient Buddhist monasteries all add up to make this region an irresistible tourist destination.  

Permits and Fees 

As long as trekkers refrain from climbing up mountains, no special trekking permits are required for visiting this area. An entry fee paid before entering the Sagarmatha National Park is all one needs to pay and this can be taken care of at the National Park desk in Thamel. However for treks to the east of the main Everest trail, an addition permit is required to enter the Makalu-Barun National Park obtainable from the same location in Thamel. Visitors must also carry a TIMS card obtainable free of cost from the Nepal Tourism Board office when they enter this national park.  


Getting There

Access to the Everest region is generally by air or on foot as the road head stops at Jiri which is 8 to 10 hours by bus from Kathmandu. An alternate route is a trek via the Arun valley where the road head is at Basantapur. These are no tourist buses to these destinations hence taking the local bus is the only option. Buses to Jiri leave from the old bus park in central Kathmandu. For the alternative route, buses leave from the Gongabu Bus Park for Hile, from where there are local buses to Basantapur. By air, the most popular destination is Lukla which has daily flights leaving from Kathmandu. The other option is to fly up to Phaplu air strip, which is also served by daily flights from the capital city. This is ideal for treks in the southern parts of the region or for Everest trekkers who want to take their time acclimatizing. 

People and Culture 

The heart and soul of the Everest region is the Sherpas. This is their heartland and their cultural influence is seen everywhere; in their traditional costumes to their distinctive houses and village monasteries. There are also minorities of various other groups, notably Rais, Limbus and Tamangs in the lower hills and the Brahmin and Chhetri farmers of the valleys.  


Flora and Fauna 

The region ranges in altitude from less than 2000m above sea level at Jiri to the high peaks of the Himalaya at over 8000m. Hence the flora and fauna is diverse with dense forest of pine, oak and the flowering rhododendrons up to 4000m. The latter are one reason to make a trip to Nepal in the spring when the hills between 2000 and 3500 m are a riot of colors. 

Crops under cultivation depend on the season that you visit but expect to see wheat, barley, corn and potatoes at some stage. Villagers here keep cattle, buffalo, goats and pigs and the all-purpose beast of mountains, the yak  
Wildlife seen here is mostly in the form of birds including the national bird of Nepal-the Impeyan Pheasant, (danfe in Nepali), which is quite commonly found around Namche Bazaar. Other notable birds include the ravens and crows of the middle hills and the coughs which soar to seemingly impossible heights in the mountains. Look out for flocks of snow pigeons wheeling about the hillsides.  
Land animals in these regions are elusive, so keep an eye out for mountain goats (most common are the Himalayan tahr) and if lucky, you may chance upon the rare musk deer or the common barking deer in the forest.  


How and When 

Trekking in the Everest region depends entirely on the route that you have chosen. On the main trekking trails to Everest Base Camp or the route to the pristine Gokyo valley a teahouse trek is perfectly possible and the easier choice. The trail in from Jiri is also endowed with many conveniently located teahouses although generally not of such high standards as those to the north. Other trekking routes will however, almost certainly require camping gear which means organizing trekking staff and equipment. See the following individual route description for detail.  


When to Visit 

The best time to trek in this region is from October to November and from March to May which are peak season time. At these times, the weather is mild and generally dry, making walking conditions ideal. The spring season brings out the wild flowers, particularly the rhododendrons, while the autumn season is generally good for clear mountain views, as the air at this time is crystal clear.  
Winter treks are possible but risky particularly in late winter as chances of snow are high and passes may be closed at short notice as snowfall cannot be accurately predicted. Teahouses also may be closed for the winter. The summer/monsoon period is generally unsuitable for trekking as the trails are slippery, leeches abundant and mountain views are unpredictable. However, it can be a rewarding time if these drawbacks can be tolerated, as the wild flowers are at their best around this time and the fact that there are fewer tourists encountered on the trails is an added advantage.
  

Hiring Staffs 

Given the hardship of finding a guide at Lukla, you are better off hiring one in Kathmandu before departure. The extra cost of his airfare will outweigh the possibility of not finding a good guide at Lukla, especially during peak season when it is practically impossible. Porters are always available at Lukla. Pure yaks however are not available, because of its low altitude, but yak crossbreeds can be found. For a small group only carrying personal gear, there is no need for yaks, so porters are preferable. The cost will depend on the seasonal demand for their services. 

If your trek starts at Jiri, then look for your porter there, it’s the only place where they are available. As for guides, bring them from Kathmandu.  


Looking after the environment 

The deteriorating environment of the Himalaya has been the subject of much debate. Consequently, action has come in the form of environmentally conscious overseas expeditions and organizations such as the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee and our own Nepal Mountaineering Association, who organized education programs and clean-up campaigns that have, to a large extent, solved many of the pollution problems.  

However, the environment of the high Himalaya is a very fragile eco-system that is easily put out of balance. Certain initiatives within the National Park area such as the banning of bottled beer and soft drinks, has shown promising results with a reduction of the amount of non-biodegradable rubbish accumulating. However, temporary measures like these are not sufficient and a concerted effort on a regular basis must be made, particularly by trekkers, in order to make a difference. The KEEP code of trekking conduct is a perfect example and should be followed.







  • Everest Base Camp

The Everest Base Camp trek is quite simply the classic trek in Nepal. High in the priority list of trekkers, the Everest Base Camp is one of the most visited regions in the Himalaya. The two week trek starts and finishes at Lukla, an airstrip to the south of the region better known as the ‘Gateway to Everest’. 

Starting from Lukla, a gentle two-day trek up the Dudh Koshi valley leads to the famous Namche Bazaar. The route has an abundance of tea houses. Phakding and Monjo are the popular stopovers on the first day and just beyond Monjo is the entrance to the Sagarmatha National Park at Jorsale check point. Permits are checked here. The trail that followed the Dudh Koshi River starts going uphill from the suspension bridge just a few minutes from Jorsale. After a 3 hour hike, Namche Bazaar is reached. 

Namche Bazaar, one of the popular stops along the Everest route is a Sherpa dominated trading centre that seems to have it all. Besides a good number of hotels, restaurants and equipment stores, one can even find a proper pub and cyber cafe. It is good to halt here for a couple of days to acclimatize by walking in and around Namche as acclimatization cannot be done in a hurry. A visit to Syangboche or some Sherpa villages such as Thame, Khumjung and Khunde just a few hours walk from Namche are good options for whiling away your time here. 

Leaving Namche Bazaar, the trail follows the valley of Imja Khola with spectacular views of Thamserku, Kangtega and Ama Dablam mountains, and dominating the skyline ahead are the giants, Lhotse and Everest. The most common night halt after Namche is at the top of a steep climb from the Imja Khola at Thyangboche. The Thyangboche Monastery is one of the most famous monasteries, probably because of its unrivalled backdrop, Mt. Ama Dablam. This Buddhist monastery was burnt down in 1989 and rebuilt replacing the old building with a more solid structure. Tours of the monastery are conducted every afternoon. Following the Imja Khola from Thyangboche, the trail ascends through Pangboche until Pheriche or Dingboche is reached, where the days trek ends. Another day of acclimatization follows with a fascinating side trip to Chhukung which is about a 3 hours walk from Dingboche. 

From Dingboche or Pheriche a 6 hour walk leads to Lobuche which sits on the lateral moraine of the Khumbu glacier. What follows is a roughly 3 hour hike from Lobuche to the last settlement on the trail known as Gorak Shep. The few tea houses at this place provide shelter for the night before one undertakes the final leg of the trek over the glacier to Everest Base Camp. Above Gorak Shep can be seen the popular view point known as Kala Patter, from where many a trekker has captured the image of the world’s highest mountain and gazed up in awe. The trek along the glacier to base camp can take up to five hours. This is treacherous ground and one must walk through this area cautiously, as finding a route through can be tricky and the risk of falling on the ice is great.   


  • Jumla to Rara Trek

A journey into the Jumla region and the beautiful Rara Lake, is probably one of the most rewarding and fascinating treks in all the Himalayan range given its tranquility and the un-spoilt splendor of nature. Rara, situated at an altitude of 2,990 m, is the biggest lake in Nepal. This sparkling lake with brilliantly clear water is surrounded by a spruce and juniper forest and lies within the Rara  National Park. The easiest means to reach Rara is to take a flight from Nepalgunj to Jumla, from where your destination is 2-3 days walk away. Start this refreshing trek in the hilly village of Jumla where apple orchards stretch out over the hills. The trek leads through remote countryside toward the Tibetan border.  You then enter the Rara National Park, which is the smallest national park in Nepal.  Surrounded by blue pine, black juniper, West Himalayan spruce, oak and Himalayan cypress, Rara  Lake is also a popular pilgrimage site for Nepalis. This spectacular scenery and its serenity will bring inner peace to any visitor.

Since few tourists and natives visit the Rara Lake, there are no tourist facilities either along the trekking route or inside the park. So camping is the only option and trekkers must be self-sufficient in all their needs.

  • The Dolpo Trek
Dolpo lies in the north-west region of Nepal (situated behind the Dhaulagiri massif) and is one of the most remote and least exposed areas of Nepal. These unexplored, high altitude valleys were not opened until 1989. Isolated by the difficult topography, the people in this region have preserved their lifestyle, remaining almost untouched by the trappings of modern society. This trek is an opportunity to meet people who follow a lifestyle that goes back centuries. Dolpo was popularized by Eric Valli’s film “Caravan” which was nominated for an Oscar. 

The people of Dolpo are of Tibetan origin and maintain their Tibetan culture with monasteries that follow closely the Buddhism of Tibet. The proximity with Tibet has ensured that little has changed since their forefathers crossed the border into Nepal. The trek is enlivened by the sight of yak caravans that even today travel long distances through difficult terrain to barter goods. The people of Dolpo have a primitive lifestyle with their own dialect and culture. During this wonderful trek you can visit several unique monasteries (gompas) like Shey Gompa (The Crystal Monastery) which is an important pilgrimage site for Tibetans. A special permit is issued for treks in this region and trekkers should be physically fit as there are long and strenuous stretches en route. 

Lower Dolpo: 

This is perhaps the most popular trek in western Nepal. The trail passes through Shey-Phoksundo National Park for which an entry fee should be paid in addition to the trekking permit fees.  The most convenient means of reaching Lower Dolpo is to fly to Juphal airstrip, which is a 4-hour walk from Dunai, the district headquarters of Dolpo. There are regular flights to Dunai from Nepalgunj. However, if you wish to trek all the way, the trek begins from Dhorpatan which in turn can be reached from Pokhara or Tansen. 

The trek can be completed between 8-12 days depending upon weather conditions and side excursions. The Lower Dolpo Circuit can be done either clockwise or anti-clockwise, depending on your preference. The highlights of the trek are the pristine Phoksundo Lake, featured in “Caravan” and the enchanting Tarap valley.  
The same trek taking the anti-clockwise route starts from Juphal and follows the valley of Barbung Khola through Dunai and Tarakot. The trail now heads north towards the Tarap valley.  The two-day trek up the Tarap valley to Dho Tarap is relatively difficult as you reach altitudes of 4000m. From Dho Tarap, two of the highest elevations are traversed before reaching Ringmo and Phoksundo lake. 
From Ringmo, it is another two or three days of trekking back to Juphal passing through the villages of Sumduwa, Sepla and Hanke.  

Upper Dolpo:

Compared to the number of visitors to Lower Dolpo, few trekkers enter the upper section of Shey-Phoksundo National Park. A special permit must be obtained to enter this region. What attracts visitors to Upper Dolpo is the wilderness and the pristine landscape. Being a part of the Tibetan plateau, it is dry, cold and sparsely vegetated. The park, and particularly the northern part, is home to some rare and endangered wildlife such as the musk deer, snow leopard, and blue sheep. This region is also well known for rare Himalayan herbs.  





  • Jiri to Lukla

  • Those who wish to follow in the footsteps of Tenzing and Hillary must do the Everest trek from Jiri. This is a much longer trek compared to the one that starts from Lukla. Jiri, an idyllic hill station east of Kathmandu is reached by local bus from the capital in 8-10 hours.  

    The trek from Jiri to Lukla takes an average of seven days and is a good means of preparing for the Everest Base Camp trek. The highest elevation reached before Lukla is Lamjura pass (3,530 m). The trek passes through parts of Solukhumbu district that enables trekkers to observe the traditions and customs of the Himalayan region. The trail is well served with good teahouses and campsites. The stopovers along the trail are likely to be at the villages of Deurali, Kenja, Sete, Lamjura, Junbesi, Tragsindho, Khari Khola and Surkhe




  • Upper Mustang

  • To trek in Upper Mustang is a rare privilege. Here you will experience the way of life of true mountain people, who have been cut off from the rest of Nepal for years and even until recent times had an officially recognized king. In many ways, a trek into Upper Mustang is similar to trekking in Tibet, as geographically it is a part of the Tibetan plateau. The district of Mustang was, until 1950, a separate kingdom within the boundaries of Nepal. The last king, the Raja of Mustang, still has his home in the ancient capital known as Lo Manthang. 

    Upper Mustang was opened to non-Nepali trekkers only some fifteen years ago and even today, access is still highly restricted. To enter Upper Mustang, that is to travel further north from Kagbeni, trekkers need a special trekking permit and must be accompanied by a government appointed Environmental Officer. The expenses of the Environmental Officer must be borne by the group and trekkers are required to arrange their trek through a government recognized trekking agency in order to receive the permits. 

    Upper Mustang, being in the Himalayan rain shadow, is one of the regions in the country that are suitable for trekking during the monsoons. During this time, the upper Kali Gandaki valley is still quite dry with only occasional rainfall. The Mustang trek is not particularly difficult, the highest point reached being only 3,800 meters, but the conditions at times can be arduous. Mustang is cold in winter and is always windy and dusty through the year. Winter treks are best avoided due to harsh weather.

    There are few accommodation facilities available above Kagbeni, so groups must be fully self-sufficient, especially in fuel. While porters are available in Jomsom it is preferable to use mules to carry the loads up to Mustang. These pack animals are available locally and are more economical, and certainly more environmentally friendly than porters. 
    The Mustang Trek requires a minimum of 9 days, starting and ending in Kagbeni. This allows the trek to be completed within the ten-day period that the permit allows. The route generally follows the Kali Gandaki valley but, occasionally climbs high above the valley walls. The settlements are scattered and there is little sign of cultivation between villages. In Mustang, little grows without irrigation, thus the region resembles a desert albeit mountainous, with the settlements reminiscent of oases. 

    Lo Manthang, the old capital, is reached in four days and at least one extra day should be spent here to catch the sights and sound of this unique walled settlement. Ponies are available for hired if you so desire. The return trip can either follow the same route while entering or, as an alternative route, the eastern bank of the Kali Gandaki may be followed. 




  • Other treks around Solu

The southern part of Solukhumbu (Solu) holds many attractions as a destination in its own right. One has many options here, but the best known treks are the nine-day trek over Pike, the Dudh Kunda Trek and treks east of the district headquarters at Salleri. None of these routes have tea houses so trekkers must be fully self-sufficient.  


Over Pike Danda 

This nine-day trek usually starts from Jiri and ends with a flight back to Kathmandu from Phaplu. It is also possible to continue on from Phaplu and join the Everest trek at Ringmo, the village below the Tragsindho La pass. From the highest point along this trek, there are stunning views of Everest and a great number of lesser known snow-capped peaks. To climb over Pike Danda, follow the Jiri to Lukla trek as far as the Likhu Khola, before Kenja. The route then climbs steeply through the villages of Goli Gompa and Ngaur before reaching the 4,065m summit of Pike. Descend to Phaplu via the Sherpa village of Lodingma, home of several Everest summiteers after which there is an alternative, rough track that joins the Jiri to Lukla trail near Lamjura La.  


To Dudh Kunda 

Mt.Nambur is considered a holy mountain by locals here, as they believe it is the home of the protective deity of Solu. At the base of this mountain lies the sacred lake of Dudh Kunda. Each year in August, large numbers of devotees arrive here to perform ritual cleansing at the lake. Rest of the year, the area is devoid of any visitors. The trail leading to Dudh kunda starts from Ringmo on the route between Junbesi and Tragsindho La. You can take an alternative route that starts at Thupten Chholing and follows a spectacular, isolated ridge through dense forest and sometimes rocky pastures to join the main trail at Sarsarbeni. A local guide may be needed from this point as the region is quite remote and most guides may not be familiar with the route. 
The trek from Ringmo to Dudh Kunda takes a minimum of five days and an additional optional day should be added to allow time  for exploring around the lake area.  
 


  • The Hinkhu and Hongu Valleys

To trek in Upper Mustang is a rare privilege. Here you will experience the way of life of true mountain people, who have been cut off from the rest of Nepal for years and even until recent times had an officially recognized king. In many ways, a trek into Upper Mustang is similar to trekking in Tibet, as geographically it is a part of the Tibetan plateau. The district of Mustang was, until 1950, a separate kingdom within the boundaries of Nepal. The last king, the Raja of Mustang, still has his home in the ancient capital known as Lo Manthang. 

Upper Mustang was opened to non-Nepali trekkers only some fifteen years ago and even today, access is still highly restricted. To enter Upper Mustang, that is to travel further north from Kagbeni, trekkers need a special trekking permit and must be accompanied by a government appointed Environmental Officer. The expenses of the Environmental Officer must be borne by the group and trekkers are required to arrange their trek through a government recognized trekking agency in order to receive the permits. 

Upper Mustang, being in the Himalayan rain shadow, is one of the regions in the country that are suitable for trekking during the monsoons. During this time, the upper Kali Gandaki valley is still quite dry with only occasional rainfall. The Mustang trek is not particularly difficult, the highest point reached being only 3,800 meters, but the conditions at times can be arduous. Mustang is cold in winter and is always windy and dusty through the year. Winter treks are best avoided due to harsh weather.

There are few accommodation facilities available above Kagbeni, so groups must be fully self-sufficient, especially in fuel. While porters are available in Jomsom it is preferable to use mules to carry the loads up to Mustang. These pack animals are available locally and are more economical, and certainly more environmentally friendly than porters. 
The Mustang Trek requires a minimum of 9 days, starting and ending in Kagbeni. This allows the trek to be completed within the ten-day period that the permit allows. The route generally follows the Kali Gandaki valley but, occasionally climbs high above the valley walls. The settlements are scattered and there is little sign of cultivation between villages. In Mustang, little grows without irrigation, thus the region resembles a desert albeit mountainous, with the settlements reminiscent of oases. 

Lo Manthang, the old capital, is reached in four days and at least one extra day should be spent here to catch the sights and sound of this unique walled settlement. Ponies are available for hired if you so desire. The return trip can either follow the same route while entering or, as an alternative route, the eastern bank of the Kali Gandaki may be followed. 


  • Dhaulagiri Circuit

Well-equipped and fully self-sufficient parties can do the circuit of the Dhaulagiri massif. The minimum time that should be allowed for this itinerary is 18 days, Pokhara to Pokhara, but a few extra days should be added to allow for side trips or delays caused by bad weather. The route crosses two high passes which lie in remote country far removed from any outside assistance. Particular care must be taken with regards to proper acclimatization and staff equipment. Since much of the first half of the trek is on rarely trekked trails, the services of an experienced local guide are highly recommended. No special permits are required for the Dhaulagiri Circuit but for the last part, down the Kali Gandaki, you will need an ACAP entry permit.  

The trek is best started from Beni, the Headquarters of Myagdi district. Myagdi is one of the most easterly of the districts where the Magar people predominate. This group of hill dwellers are similar in many ways to their Gurung neighbors, but are thought to have settled in Nepal some time earlier. Like their Gurung cousins, the Magars have traditionally served in the Gurkha regiments for centuries. Regular bus services operate from Pokhara as far as Baglung and from there less frequent services to Beni.  

The Dhaulagiri trail follows the Myagdi Khola, the river that drains the southern side of the Dhaulagiri massif. Passing through the settlements of Darbang and Muri, the country is still quite heavily populated with scattered villages and farming land. Beyond Muri, the Myagdi Khola swings north and the landscape becomes much more rugged and sparsely populated. The tree line is reached just below the Italian base camp, located at the snout of the Chhonbaraan Glacier. This is an ideal place to spend a day acclimatizing, and walk about exploring the hills in the area.  

The next two days are spent on the glacier; the second night is spent at Dhaulagiri Base Camp, a rugged spot with some spectacular views of the western face of Dhaulagiri. From here the trail crosses the French pass which at 5,360 meters is the highest point of the trek. Descending from the French Pass you enter the lonely, but fascinating area known as Hidden Valley. This place is one of the few true wilderness areas accessible to trekkers in Nepal. The valley stretches away to the north eventually narrowing to a rugged gorge that connects the Upper Dolpa. There are reports of many endangered species residing in this area including the elusive snow leopard.  

From the Hidden valley, the trail now crosses Dhampus pass (sometimes known as Thapa pass). While not as high as the French Pass, it is roughly 100 m lower, Dhampus Pass has a reputation for bad weather which can make the crossing and subsequent descent something of a problem. Trekkers must be aware of the health of their group members and staff, especially on the section between the French Pass and Dhampus Pass. Any person suffering from symptoms of AMS must not be taken on over the French Pass but must immediately be taken back down the Myagdi Khola to a lower altitude. Having a group member suffer from AMS between the passes poses a serious problem as the only way to get the patient some assistance is to ascend first before descending, which would make the problem worse. 
Having crossed Dhampus pass, the trail descends into the valley of the Kali Gandaki meeting the main trail at either Marpha or Tukuche. On the way down to the valley, there are some spectacular views across to the Annapurnas and up into the arid steppes of Mustang. 

The rest of the trek is described in the Annapurna Circuit description.  


  • Everest to the Arun valley

Yet another alternative route to Everest lies further east along the Arun valley through the Makalu Barun National Park avoiding the Jiri and Lukla routes. A bus ride takes you to the charming little town of Hile where the trek begins or if traveling by air is preferred, then the trek begins at Tumlingtar. The bus journey to Hile takes 14 hours from Kathmandu and to trek up this route, an entry permit for the Makalu Barun National Park is required.  


Using the Arun valley as an alternative exit means leaving the main Everest trail at Kharte, the village above Khari Khola. The route goes generally in a south-easterly direction, crossing the major rivers in the area, the Hindu Khola and the Hongu Khola, and two high passes, the Pangkoma la (3,350 m) and the Salpa La (3,350 m). There are great views of the mountains to the north from these two passes. Along the trail you encounter farmland and scattered Sherpa and Rai villages and walk through forests of rhododendron and oak. After trekking for five days, you catch a flight to Kathmandu or Biratnagar. Or trek a further two days to the south, to reach Hile from where daily buses operate to Kathmandu. 


  • Lamjung Trek

The area to the east of the Marsyandi River, between Lamjung and Gorkha districts, has great potential as a remote area trek. This region has seen little development as a tourist destination. There are no conventional tourist infrastructures, so groups will need to be fully self-sufficient and have competent guides who are familiar with the local trails. No special permits are required for this region. 

The ideal destinations are the lakes of Mimi Pokhari and Dudh Pokhari, which are located on the south-western slopes of Baudha Himal and Himal Chuli, both of which are  part of the Manaslu massif. These two lakes are important pilgrimage sites for the local Gurung people who visit during the summer months.  

The best starting point for treks to both these lakes is either Phalensangu or Besishahar. Beyond Dudh Pokhari is a high pass, Rupina Bhanjyang, which leads into the valley of the Budhi Gandaki. Alternatively, from Dudh Pokhari, a trail can be followed into the Deurandi Khola valley and on to Gorkha. To the west of the Marsyandi River there are other possibilities for self-sufficient trekkers. There is much more habitation beside the river, but little or no tourist facilities. Treks from Besishahar through the villages of Ghalegaon, Bhujung, and on towards Sikles are possible but, again, guides with local knowledge are a must. A number of village home stay programs have been developed in the area, which gives visitors a unique insight into rural life in Nepal.  

Above Ghalegaon, a remote trail leads through uninhabited country to the high pass of Namun La. This pass leads down to the Marsyandi near Bagarchap on the Annapurna Circuit route. Trekkers attempting this route must ensure that they and their staff are well prepared for this crossing which is often snow-bound.  


  • Sikles

The Gurung village of Sikles was established by ACAP as a model trekking village and is an integral part of their eco-route. Located to the north-east of Pokhara at about 2000 m elevation, it lies in the shadow of Annapurna II and Lamjung Himal. It is possibly the second largest Gurung village in Nepal, and is known for its well preserved Gurung culture. During your stay here, you will get to spend several days experiencing the Gurung lifestyle, handicraft production and sight-seeing. Of particular interest is the local cloth weaving traditions and the ancient water-driven flourmills.  

Above the village is Rishing Danda, from where a marvelous panoramic view of the peaks of Annapurna II and Lamjung can be had. This place is also famous as a point from where one can observe avalanches thundering down off the mountain sides. Folk songs and dances play an important part in the Gurung culture and such performances are common occurrences in Sikles. One performance that outclasses the rest is the Ghantu dance, traditionally performed by three young Gurung girls.  This dance is of great significance as it portrays their heritage.

Accommodation in Sikles can be arranged in teahouses or, by prior reservation with ACAP Pokhara Office, in village homes. The journey begins with a taxi ride from Pokhara to Kabhre Danda which is followed by a two-day trek to reach Sikles via Chansu. On the return journey, which is a three-day easy trek, follow the eco-route through the Ghalekharka and Diprang to arrive back in Pokhara. 




  • Annapurna Region

Comparable to the Everest region, another very popular trekking destination is the area around the Annapurna massif. A very commonly heard name is the ‘Around Annapurna Trek’ and based on sheer numbers of trekkers visiting, this is certainly the most popular. As the name suggests, the centre piece of this part of Nepal is the range of mountains that includes Annapurna I, the first of the 8000m peaks to be climbed. Also included in this region is another 8000m giant, Dhaulagiri, which is located west of Annapurna I. Between these two mountains lies the valley of the Kali-Gandaki River, the deepest gorge in the world. Views of lush, fertile farmland and stands of undisturbed natural forest, snow covered mountains and encounters with a mixture of many ethnic communities all add up to a diverse range of experiences that makes this area one of the most satisfying trekking destinations in Nepal.
  
The fact that the Annapurna chain of mountains lies inland causes a large chunk of land to fall in the rain shadow area. Hence these parts are considerably drier than the southern slopes of the mountains. This leads to unusually diverse landscapes and the possibility of trekking during the monsoon.  


Permits and Fees 

For the Annapurna trekking area, ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Project). permit is required. The exception is upper Mustang where a special permit and fee is levied depending on length of visit. Additional restrictions relating to Mustang will be outlined later. 
Most of the area discussed in the trek descriptions is within the area controlled by ACAP. Entry to this area is controlled and an entry permit has to be purchased. The permit must be purchased before starting the trek and can be obtained in Kathmandu or Pokhara. The proceeds of these fees are largely used for local community development within the project area.  


Getting There 

Regardless of the trek chosen it is most likely that Pokhara will be either the starting or ending point of your trek. Pokhara is located 200 km. west of Kathmandu and can be reached by road in five to six hour or by air in 30 minutes from the capital. For road travel there are a number of tourist buses available daily from Kathmandu, Bhairawa and from Chitwan. 
There is no dearth of tourist facilities in and around Pokhara. The tourist area here is beside the largest of the three lakes in the area, Phewa Tal. The suburbs of Lakeside as it is known and Damside both provide a wide range of accommodation and restaurants along with the usual variety of trekking and travel agencies and suppliers of souvenirs and trekking equipment. If you are trekking in the eastern side of the Annapurna massif, the most likely starting point will be Besishahar, the headquarters of Lamjung district. However, roads are reaching further up into the trek routes making it possible to start the trek from either Khudi or Bulbule. Buses from Kathmandu, Pokhara and the Tarai arrive here on a daily basis. The bus trip from Kathmandu to Besishahar takes around five to six hours but. 
Most treks starting or ending in Pokhara will require the use of buses or hired cars to reach the trailheads. Specific details appear in the trek descriptions.  


Flora and Fauna 

As can be imagined, the range of geographical and climatic regions has led to a diverse flora and fauna within the Annapurna region. Both Pokhara and Besishahar are below 1000 m in altitude and their climate is tropical. These areas are heavily cultivated and the landscape, therefore, largely consists of terraced paddy fields for most of the year. The area is also famous for its winter crops of oranges, which can be purchased fresh from the trees along the trails in the foothills. As you progress higher up into the hills the natural vegetation changes from the tropical species to more temperate stands of forest trees including oak, beech and rhododendron. These finally give way to coniferous forests of pine and, ultimately, juniper just below the tree line. In the rain shadow, to the north of the mountains, the landscape being an extension of the Tibetan plateau is quite barren. Only stunted bushes and shrubs grow around here, the exception being the area close to the rivers where irrigated cropping is possible. Wildlife seen here includes a variety of birds like the pika and among animals: blue sheep and Himalayan Tahr.  


Trekking styles 

Most of the trekking routes in the Annapurna region are well serviced by teahouses along almost the entire length of the trek. This is particularly true for the more popular treks like the Jomsom trek, the Annapurna Circuit and Annapurna Base Camp treks. Trekkers should be aware, however that there is always the risk of being stranded by bad weather or injury/sickness between teahouses, particularly in the more remote parts of the trek itineraries. A good example is on the Annapurna Circuit where there is one very long day when the high pass of Thorong La has to be crossed. There is little or no shelter available for most of this day and some trekkers have been caught unprepared by bad weather and altitude problems. 
The treks in less developed areas, particularly the Dhaulagiri Circuit and the trek east of Lamjung, definitely require trekkers to be self sufficient in food and shelter.  


People and Culture 

The most prominent ethnic groups in the Annapurna region are the Gurung, the Thakali and the Manangba. The Gurungs are the most widely distributed and are found from the hills of Gorkha district to as far west as Palpa. Their heartland lies on the hills and valleys between the Marsyandi River and the Kali Gandaki. The Thakali come from the upper Kali Gandaki valley around Jomsom where their traditional farming has being supplemented by trade and, in particular, hotel and restaurant businesses. The Manangba are found in the upper reaches of the Marsyandi River and are in many ways similar to the Gurungs to whom they are possibly related. They are skilled traders and trace their roots back to Tibet. The Manangba and Gurungs of the upper hills are followers of the Buddhist faith with traces of their ancient, shamanism still apparent. The communities that live further south are predominantly Hindu. All of the communities around here, particularly the Gurungs are known for their cultural performances, which are routinely seen while trekking in the region. Many villages along the trails will arrange cultural performances for trekkers during the main seasons.  


When to visit 

As with most of the trekking areas in Nepal, the best time to visit are during spring and autumn. Spring is the time for rhododendrons to blossom while the clearest skies are found after the monsoon in October and November. At these times the weather is generally mild and there is little rainfall. Unlike other parts of Nepal, the monsoon, from June to September, is the ideal time to visit this region that falls in the rain shadow. In particular, upper Mustang is the perfect destination during the rainy season. The winter months provide good trekking conditions throughout the foothills but some of the higher passes will be closed due to heavy snow fall.  


Hiring Staffs 

If you have not hired staff in Kathmandu then you will be able to make all of the necessary arrangements in Pokhara through one of the many trekking agencies that have offices in the Lakeside area. This is generally the only place where such arrangements can be reliably made although porters will often be found at centers such as Besishahar at the start of the Annapurna Circuit. 




  • Annapurna Circuit

The classic trek in the Annapurna region is the Annapurna Circuit. The trek encircles the famous Annapurna massif passing through sub-tropical plains in the Himalayan foothills, trans-Himalayan Manang and then entering Mustang Valley crossing the highest elevation Thorang La pass (5,416m). The trail then joins the Kali Gandaki River that flows through the deepest gorge on earth.  

The trek may take 15 to 22 days starting in Kathmandu and winding up in Pokhara. An entry permit for ACAP is needed for the trek. Most trekkers start the trek by taking a bus to Besisahar which is an 6-8 hours drive from Kathmandu.
  
The trek from Besisahar follows the partly constructed road as far as the small market town of Kudhi. The first few days of the trek goes along the Marsyangdi River.  The region has lush green valleys which are inhabited by Gurungs along with a large number of other ethnic groups. You encounter countless high waterfalls that cascade down into the main river while the skyline is dominated by the Annapurna and Manaslu ranges.
 
From Manang, the trail goes uphill through high alpine pastures until the small teahouses at Thorang Phedi. The trek on the following day goes towards Thorang La pass from where the long descent to Muktinath for a night halt begins. There are a good number of teahouses at Muktinath as it is a very popular pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Buddhists.  From Muktinath you can see the skyline to the west dominated by the Dhaulagiri range while to the north can be seen arid hills of Upper Mustang. The trail leads down through the villages of Jharkot and Eklebhati inhabited by the people of Tibetan stock and finally the banks of the Kali Gandaki River is reached. The Kali Gandaki banks are inhabited by Thakali people. 


  • Jomsom and Muktinath

The Jomsom trek is one of the most popular treks in Nepal. The diverse landscapes and cultures to be found along the trek route give marvelous insight into the way of life of rural Nepali people. The highlight of the trek is the walk through the gorge carved by the Kali Gandaki River, which originates in the Tibetan plateau to eventually flow into the Ganges in India. 

Normally, trekkers continue the trek beyond Jomsom to Muktinath, the famous pilgrimage site for Buddhists and Hindus. To Hindus, Muktinath is a sacred place of salvation. They believe that to wash in the waters here guarantees salvation after death. The Hindu god, Brahma, is said to have lit the eternal flames that still burn at Muktinath. To the Buddhists it is a place where the great sage guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) came to meditate. To the rest, it is the source of fossilized ammonites, known locally as shaligrams, which are found all along the upper reaches of Kali Gandaki. This part of Nepal is inhabited by Gurungs and Magars in the lower regions of the Kali Gandaki, Thakalis around Jomsom and people with obvious Tibetan roots, the Lopa, around Muktinath and up to Mustang. Their customs and attire are all quite distinct and this trek is ideal for observing the diversity among the people and their customs. Hinduism dominates the lower parts while as one climbs further up, Tibetan Buddhism predominates. If you happen to be in Muktinath in early September, you are likely to be in time for one of Nepal’s unique festivals, the annual horse race known as Yartung. This is a week of some serious horse racing, Tibetan style, and some equally serious merrymaking.  

Most of the route along the Jomsom trek has been described as part of the Annapurna circuit and Annapurna foothill treks. The usual starting point is Naya Pul on the Pokhara to Baglung road and from there, via Ghorepani and Tatopani, into the gorge of the Kali Gandaki. Between Tatopani and Lete Khola, there is a dramatic change of scenery. Pine forests crowd in on the trail and the villages take on a quite different appearance. The layout of the villages and the design of the houses are unique to this area. The houses are designed to protect the inhabitants from the strong winds that blow up the valley everyday from the late morning onwards. These winds are caused by differences in atmospheric pressure between the Tibetan plateau and the lower reaches of the valley. The best example of the unique architecture of this region is found in the village of Marpha which is a two-hour walk down from Jomsom. The stone flagged streets with an efficient underground drainage system and the flat-roofed houses with a central courtyard make an attractive spot to spend an extra day resting. Use the free time to sample apple products of this region from the lush orchards up in the valley.  

Jomsom is best known for its airport that offers a quick entry or exit to the valley with regular daily flights from Pokhara. The strong winds that blow up the valley prevents flights from taking off from Jomsom after 11 a.m. Jomsom can also be considered a place to use as a base for exploring the upper part of the Kali Gandaki region. There are numerous accommodation options including a new high-class resort complex. 

An alternative to Jomsom as a base for the trek is the village of Kagbeni which lies a further two-hour walk up the valley. Kagbeni is not as commercialized as Jomsom and certainly much quieter. This is the furthest trekkers are allowed to go towards Upper Mustang without a special permit and an accompanying Environmental Officer. For details see the description of Upper Mustang treks. From Kagbeni to Muktinath is a three to four hour trek and trekkers can choose to do this as a day trip or stay at one of the many teahouses available at Muktinath.  



  • Annapurna Foothills

There are a number of options for short treks in the foothills to the north of Pokhara. Most of these variations will visit Ghandrung and Ghorepani. The former is a large, traditional Gurung village while Ghorepani is the settlement below the famed vantage point of Poon hill, one of the best spots from which to view the Himalaya range of central Nepal. 
The various itineraries are all relatively easy and none reach an elevation high enough for AMS to be an issue. Generally between five and six trekking days are sufficient for any of the itinerary options. All enter the ACAP area so an entry permit is required. The permit should be obtained either in Kathmandu or Pokhara prior to starting the trek. Teahouses are plentiful through the foothills but there are a couple of alternative routes that will require the trekker to be self-sufficient if these particular trails are chosen.  

The most commonly trekked of the foothill itineraries starts and ends at Naya Pul on the Baglung Highway (not to be confused with the Naya Pul on the Modi Khola beyond Landrung). Traveling by bus or taxi, the journey to Naya Pul takes about 1 to 2 hrs. Cross the Modi Khola at Naya Pul and trek through Birethanti to Syauli Bazaar following the river through cultivated fields and small villages. At Syauli Bazaar, the trail climbs steeply to the large Gurung village of Ghandrung (pronounced Ghandruk by the locals). Here there is a wide selection of teahouses and the community operates handicraft and cultural displays.  

From Ghandrung, the main trail passes through Tadapani to the pass at Ghorepani. Above the hill is Poon Hill, a climb of around 300m. The fabulous panoramic view of mountains makes the steep climb at dawn worth the trouble. Some take in the evening view by climbing at dusk. Either way, the views of Dhaulagiri, the Annapurnas and, in the distance, the Manaslu range are astounding.  

From Ghorepani there are three choices. The most commonly taken route drops down to the villages of Ulleri and Tirkedhunga to Birethanti, the original starting point of the trek. There is a steep trail and can be quite crowded during peak season. It passes through dense stands of oak and rhododendron until Ulleri is reached after which the landscape is mostly cultivated fields. 


  • Annapurna Sanctuary (Annapurna Base Camp)

The other popular trek in the Annapurna region is the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek. The trail leads to the Base Camp of Annapurna I and Machhapuchhre and is a relatively short trek that can be completed in as little as 8 days starting and ending in Pokhara. However, the trek may also be made as a part of the Annapurna Circuit or the Jomsom trek by trekking from Tatopani through Ghorepani and Tadapani and joining the main Sanctuary trail at Chomrong. An entry permit for ACAP is a must for this trek. 

The most convenient point to start this trek is Naudanda Phedi which can be reached by driving 1-2 hours out of Pokhara. From Naudanda, the trail linking Dhampus should be followed. The route goes through Dhampus, Pothana and Landrung, which are all Gurung villages. Once Landrung is reached, you have two choices; either cross to Ghandrung, perhaps the most popular Gurung settlement in the region or continue on up the Modi Khola through Naya Pul. However, these trails come together at Chomrong at the foot of the gorge that leads to the Sanctuary. Two nights should be spent between Chomrong and the Sanctuary for acclimatization. The trail up the Modi Khola passes through dense forest of rhododendron and bamboo for the first day. By the time the large rock overhang, known as Hinku Cave, is reached you are entering the Sanctuary and you find yourself in a huge amphitheater enclosed by a solid wall of snow-capped peaks which include Annapurna I, II, III, IV and Machhapuchhre ( the fish tail mountain ). There are a good number of teahouses at Machhapuchhre Base Camp as well as Annapurna Base Camp that is just two hours away. 
 
On the return journey, the same route to Chomrong can be taken where you can choose to follow the same route or take alternate routes through either Ghandrung or Ghorepani



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