Trekking in Nepal

Trekking Styles
  |  Gorp.com

Trekking in Nepal has something for everyone. You can show up with a pack full of gear and fend for yourself for a few dollars a day (including meals and a place to sleep), or you can book a luxurious tour for $100 (or more) a day and porters will carry your belonging, set up your tents, and cook your meals. There is also every option in between. Here's how to figure out what style of trekking is right for you.

Do-it-yourself

It takes a little confidence to go it alone (or with just your hiking partner who probably can't speak Nepali any better than you can, and come to think of it, can't read a map any better than you can, either). Showing up in a country where you don't speak the language--and in this case, can't even read the alphabet--can be a daunting experience. But Nepalis are used to dealing with foreigners, and English is the lingua franca of the trekking trade. If you've got solid outdoor skills, you can handle the major trekking routes all by yourself. Note: on some of the more remote treks, you are required to have a guide.

Trekkers hiking independently usually stay at so-called tea-houses, which are really homes that sell meals and rent mattress space to trekkers. In some of the more popular trekking areas, lodges have been built, but don't expect western-style amenities. Very few have plumbing or electricity. On the major treks, tea-houses and lodges are spaced a day's walk or less apart, and you can almost always find space in one. Many trekkers don't carry tents and never need them. However, if the tea houses are crammed full, if you don't want to share sleeping space with snoring strangers, or if you're headed for more remote areas, you'll want to have a tent to crawl into. This is especially important if you're trekking in the high season, when sleeping space is at a premium.

If you're looking for trekking partners, head to Kathmandu's Thamel district, which is trekker central. The bulletin boards at the Kathmandu Guesthouse and the Himalayan Rescue Association are full of announcements from trekkers seeking partners.

Hire Porters and Guides Locally

Even if you prefer to hike independently, several of the more remote treks can only be undertaken with guides and porters, either because of regulations or because of necessity. For example, in areas with a subsistence economy, it can be impossible to buy food because there is no surplus. Thus you have to carry everything you'll need. Your language problems will also be intensified because fewer people will speak any English.

The more than 300 trekking agencies in Kathmandu will arrange everything for you, from the hire of a single porter to fully supported trips complete with dining tents and your own portable latrine. Expenses vary according to the services required. Remember: negotiating is expected. Try to get a recommendation from fellow trekkers who have been around for a while. Bear in mind that making your arrangements in Kathmandu will cost a lot less money than booking the trip through a western travel agency, although the former does take time. You'll need to plan at least several days to make the necessary arrangements.

Book a Trip from Home

There are three ways to book trips from home.

Dozens of adventure travel companies advertise on the Internet and in the backs of outdoors magazines, and many of them have excellent track histories, years of experience, and good reputations. These trips can run to $100 per person per day far more than the $10 or less a day the typical independent trekker spends. The advantages: the tour company deals with the inevitable porter problems, not you; you have greater comfort and better food, and, with a good guide, you may have a more enlightening cultural experience.

Environmental groups like the Sierra Club and outdoor clubs like the Appalachian Mountain Club also run international trips, usually led by club members who are experienced travelers to an area. These trips can be less expensive. You'll want to ask what services and gear are provided.

Finally, you can use the Internet to book a trip directly through a Kathmandu Company.

Porters and Guides

If you book a trip from the US or through a big agency, the job of managing the porters belongs to the sirdar, or head guide. But if you hire porters off the street or go to one of the hundreds of bargain-basement tour agencies that line the streets of Thamel, you will be in charge.

The current going rate for porters on a trek is about $5 a day. Obviously, it's impossible for porters to be able to afford Gore-tex rain jackets, good hiking boots, and polarized sunglasses on that kind of money. If you expect your porters to carry your stuff over a 17,000 foot pass, you need to be sure that they are equipped to do so. Strong and acclimated they may be, but they too, can get altitude sickness and hypothermia and snow-blindness. If you're hiring porters through a small agency, discuss the porters' equipment when you make the arrangements. If you are hiring porters directly, ask to see their equipment. They must have shoes if snow is a factor (it's not uncommon for a porter to show up ready to trek wearing flip flops), gloves, hats, warm clothes, and sunglasses. Gear can be rented in Kathmandu.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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