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Trekking in Nepal

Nepal is generally a quite commercial trekking destination. I knew that before going there and only confirmed that. I postponed trekking there and only decided to go because total number of tourist should be still lower due to past Maoist activities (well, not so true nowadays). But the fame of it's unique highest mountains is justified anyway, so it's worth of going there at least once and judge by own eyes. After such trip, less commercial (and even not that spectacular) destinations will be more appreaciated again. Plus if one avoids Everest and Anapurna areas, evertything else should be much less commercial (e.g. no lodges) - e.g. Lower Dolpo, Kanchanjunga.
To me, the commerciality of Nepal mountains was in the end characterized much less by the number of trekkers somewhere, but much more by the money for so many fees (National Park fee, Trekking permit fee, postoponed hopefully forever Trekker's registration certificate, Climbing permit fee, Maoist 'progressive tourist tax' fee, Durbar square visitor fee etc.) and even recent introduction of at least theoretically compulsory Nepali staff on the trek.
But I must state here, that local people in trek areas are generally all friendly, willing to help you and ask your questions without thinking about money in the first place.

Background to 2006 trip

The decision to go to Nepal finally was for a difficult and rarely undertaken Makalu to Everest area trek (alias 3col trek). But later after my girlfriend's injury, I still wanted to go there with her, so decided for something not that difficult as 3col trek to do with her. It was first Lower Dolpo area and then shortly to Everest area (Gokyo). I was supposed to meet with the group of 6 people, originally formed by me for Makalu-Everest trek near Island Peak in Everest area. The trek was changed to unusuall opposite direction as Everest-Makalu trek because of me (which is possible if you have spare time to acclimatiosation in Everest area). But that meeting did not happened. That group planned to manage to climb self-supported Mera and Island Peak in Everest area during 2 weeks before starting the main trek and had problems in Mera peak area resulting in their early return to Kathmandu eventually. Left alone with in then end 10 days of spare trekking time only and without tent already and after problems burning Nepali petrol in my stove, my only choice was commercial Annapurna region. My favourite would be Kanchendzonga area (semi restricted as Lower Dolpo) or Makalu one classical trek, but both required tent and for longer time. As far as Annapurna area, I could decide either for the east part of the circuit (finish in Jomosom) or west part together with Annapurna Sanctuary trek (begin in Jomosom). I decided for second option as  this could be prolonged easily by Annapurna Sanctuary trek.

Lower Dolpo region

This was as expected most rewarding trek of my 3 treks in Nepal in 2006. The other treks, although by photos maybe more spectacular, were more or less results of circumstances and limited time to go elsewhere. Dolpo area is inhabited by people of Tibetian origin and one can see both Tibetian like dry plains and Nepali green forests here.
It is technically quite easy trek, the 5000m+ passes of Num La and Baga La are quite flat, locals go with horses over them. The passes are without snow, at least till middle od October.  It is quite rain shade area, so best time is approximately September. We were there it the first half of October, great time, not snow (that year). It is possible to go in July-August as well, but it rains often, as the rain shade is not 100%, but still possible to go I think.

  The only generally available map of Lower Dolpo is not very precise, but there are not many side paths here, so if one know approximate direction, it's easy to choose the right from 2 paths. We were even given an interesting hand drawn map by local guide from Dunai named Chandra (chandraguide@hotmail.com). Although it was usefull as an addtion to the official map, we could safely go without it as well in the end. The map is scanned in pieces here, 1 2 3 4 although I doubt it is much usefull without compete redrawing and comments. But I thank Chandra very much and could only recommend him if you want good guide a pleasant comanion as well. Having guide would enable you to eat more in local houses, where English is not understood. There are more guides in Dunai, all seemed quite friendly, so no need to pay expensive KTM companies, flight tickets for their guides etc.
This was a semi-restricted area, even before TRC rules, trekking only with travel agency group. But 1 of 10 travel companies is usually willing to give you trekking permit without additional services for e.g. 50 USD / person. This was Maoist stronghold, only the airstrip of Juphal and part of Dunai were controlled by former royal goverment. Non negotiable fee of 50 USD / person for Lower Dolpo (or 100 USD / peson for more restricted Upper Dolpo) was strongly required (1 year ago fees were twice more). What happens with such fees after Maiost are in goverment (Nov 2006) is a question of future, I'm afraid they will stay for some time. I personally paid fees to Maoists only in Dolpo, they were not so strict an tough in Annapurna or even Everest area (but I heard of people who met tougher guys there as well).
During the 12-day circuit we met 4 tourist groups only, mostly French. Locals were friendly but did not speak English at all ! (compared to Annaurna and Everest where everyone speak English). Only tea and dalbhat food (and sometimes chapati bread) was understood (but we did know know anything else too), if you wanted. But even agreement on price was big problem.

I think one should take own food for about 8-10 days (I would take 10 as I prefer to be more self sufficient than less) of the 12 total trek days. We ate dalbhat food only in Dunai, Tarap, Ringmo/Phoksumdo, Chepka, Juphal.  Apart from one time meal, people would be able to prepare good chapati as bread, but sometimes they don't have very much flour to spare I think. And it's generally difficult to agree the price as they don't know English at all. They had quite tasty biscuits in the would be shops in all major villages mentioned above. There was no problem to buy kerosene/petrol for the stove in Dunai. In contast to commercial regions of Annapurna and Everest, there is no phone connection outside Juphal-Dunai, so sattelite phone is quite usefull for emergency etc.
  There's no internet even in Dunai and Juphal, that have phone service (going over satelite I think, but rates quite very cheap). Dunai and Juphal have electricity, school above Dho Tarap has very big roof solar panels (I guess for 120 or 220V). Local people tend to have smaller solar panels often, but they lack connectors for camera batteries of course and are not very reliable, better to take own small solar panels and charge during the day on backpack etc. There's a lot of water (apart from ascent to Num La from Dho Tarap), no need for any water filter I think.

Everest region

The most commercial region of Nepal probably. I was surprised that most people there go with porter, guide or porterguide (in was even not required by TRC rules at that time) when there are lodges with everything you need (except from medium warm sleeping bag) every 2 hours or so. Well, another suprise was, that maybe half of people there were 50+ years old, signoficant part of them even 60+.  They were almost all going with porterguides and I admire them for deciding to go anyway. Just the strange age statistics was very surprising.
Another suprise - most people tend to finish trek 3 or 4 pm, although there were next lodges safely e.g. just 1 hour away. But walking times in LP guidebook were correct, one could just walk more hours a day then they recommened. Most lodges offer charging of batteries, but required 1-3 USD per hour usually. Phone wires are nowhere in Everest area, but calls are reasonably prices from Namche (2-3 USD for international), more expensive from sattelite phones in lodges up (up to 5 USD per minute). Call to Kathmandu is very cheap only from Namche (quarter of USD per minute).
I can only confirm what a friend told me, if you don't have time to go to both Gokyo and Everest BC (or even if you have), go to Gokyo definitely. Views from Gokyon are better than from Kala Patter (more mountains, nicer glacier in the valley, lakes!), for Everest peak itself quite same.
The area of Chukung (and under Island Peak) - just 2 hours off the main Lukla-Everest highway, has very good mountain scenery (as can bee seen for my photos). It's possible to rent crampons, ice axes and even plastic mountaineering boots in Chukung lodges for the ascent of Island peak. My stay was very limited by time and planned continuation to Makalu area (did not happen). It should be very rewarding to go from Thame over Renjo La pass to Gokyo, not many people go this route.
There was new (and onlyl one) Maoist post at the bridge in Phakding, half way between Lukla and Namche. Most peole I know did not pay them anything, as they were not much demanding. But I heard of people who had bigger problems with them here as well. They originally wanted 100 Rps (about 1.5 USD) per day.

Annapurna region
Probably a bit less commercial than Everest, but there was a rough road (but narrow, only for motorcycles) from Jomosom to Muktinath up and Lete down. On could go by motorcycle e.g. one way and walk back as I did to save time (even with larger backback). In a few years, ther will be such road all the way form Beni to Muktihath and at that time, charging of batteries is free, no one cares. I would not trek there at all by the road, but it will be great for mountain biking. There is electricity even now all the way from Beni to over Jomosom to Muktinath.
Phone calls, even international, are quite cheap and available in many lodges on Muktinath-Beni route (but not above Chomrong for Anapurna BC route I think) - less than 1 USD per mitute to the world as phone wires go together with electricity.
I was told by other trekkers doing full Annapurna circuit there, that the eastern part (Besisahar to Manang over Thorong La pass to Jomosom) was better according to them - more spectacular mountains and no so much civilization (motorbike road etc.). That could be well true as the most valuable area on my Jomosom-Beni western part was Muktinath-Kagbeni-Jomosom with Tibetian like dry area (as you can see from photos) and this would be included in Besisahar-Jomosom part as well. But the by itself boring Jomosom-Beni offers good connection to Annapurna Sanctuary trek on the other hand, which I found rewarding, so I don't regret this choice.
But it's worth to mention, that with more than my 10 days at disposal, Besisahar-Jomosom (or full circuit) offer new possibilities and extensions in newly opened valley of Phu trekking area, which makes this part probably even more interesting in comparison.
For Annapurna BC trek, hours on boards at loges tent to exaggerate time to next lodge by about 25% , probably in order to persuade you to stay at that lodge (but was true only for Anapurna BC).

Other usefull info
I had problems burning petrol form Lukla in my Optimus petrol stove although it was filtered through a coffee filter paper. Same with Primus stove. Well, I started to have smaller problems even with petrol in Dolpo after 10 days. I would seriously consider gas cartridges next time, in fact I recommend them for commercial Everest and Annpapurna areas definitely (if one takes stove at all there). They are sold even in Lukla and Namche and I even think (but not sure) they would allow them for local flights.
If you drink a lot of tea, you may consider to take small stove and pot even for lodge to lodge treks in Everest and Annapurna areas, as you could save about 2-4 dollars that 1 liter of tea costs (depending on altitude and remotness of the lodge). It's not worth to take own food for in case of lodge to lodge trek I think - food costs 1-3 dollar per meal.

Travel company
that I can recommend is Green Horizon, owned by 2 brothers, we were mostly dealing with Govinda. They have a lot of Czech trekkers as clients so there are used to that like me, who wants to go without guides and porters and there are very flexible in this way. Govinda is always ready on his mobile if you need to change tickets, new tickets, helicopter rescue. Their office if very near to the famous 'Kathmadu gesthouse' for orientation and just against the back entrance of the famous 'Pumpernickel bakery' as well. Generally, there are hundreds of other companies in Thamel on every corner.

  • Govinda Dahal
  • Green Horizon Tours & Travels (P) Ltd.
  • P.O.Box 20217
  • Thamel, Kathmandu
  • Tel: 4255622, 4254213
  • Mobile : 9851034482
  • Fax: 00977 1 4252238
  • Email : greenhtt@ccsl.com.np, dgovinda@hotmail.com
There's so many cheap hotels to stay in Thamel. I quited liked the hotels in the side street very near to second office of Green Horizon and stayed either in very cheap and not very clean but usable hotel Lotus (220 Rps, about 3 USD for a room with 1 big bed) or once in a more comfortable Imperial hotel just the next building to Lotus (700 Rps, about 10 USD). Thamel area is quite expensive for food (generally 2-3 USD Rps per meal), I liked Indian food at small mostly locally visited restaurant on the crossing of Jyatha and Tridevi streets, just next to supermarket - that was for 1-2 USD. I'm not sure if these places are listed in LP guidebook, probably not.

Thamel district - first place in Kathmandu for most of  people coming in and the place where most people end up staying.  It's within walking distance to most travel agencies (big advantage), but it's culturally quit unoriginal part of  Kathamdu, with outdoor and souvenir shop  one next to each other. My favourite area of Kathmandu is Tibetian quarter of Boudha - around Boudha stupa.

Thamel map



 It's completely possible to buy detailed trekking maps in Thamel, they are everywhere and price is maybe 30% lower then elsewhere in the world. Same for travel / climbing books about Himalayas and books in general. Look here for both small and bigger maps on this site.