The Great Himalaya Trails is a network of existing treks and trails which together form one of the longest and highest walking trails in the world. Winding beneath the world’s highest peaks and visiting some of the most remote communities on earth, it passes through lush green valleys, arid high plateaus and incredible landscapes.
Camping in the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area. Photo by Samir Jung Thapa.
Base camps are famously known for being a starting point for mountaineering expeditions. This makeshift communications and supply hub at the foot of a mountain usually marks the end of a long winding footpath and the beginning of ropes and crampons. However, ever since trekking started gaining popularity as a recreational sport, base camp treks have become attractive destinations in and of themselves.
Everest Base Camp is probably the most well-known base camp trek in Nepal, but there are arguably more challenging, remote and scenically spectacular options out there in the vast Himalayan range. Whether you are looking for a short and accessible trek like Mardi Himal Base Camp, or a remote and long journey like the rugged Kanchenjunga Base Camp, the following list will introduce you to some of the best base camp treks along the Great Himalaya trails.
1) Everest Base Camp (5335 m)
On the Everest Base camp trail. Photo provided by Nepal Tourism Board
Everest Base Camp is a bucket-list destination for many trekkers, and it is easy to see why. The trail, which starts from the thrilling 520 m landing strip at Lukla airport, winds through stunning alpine landscapes and along some of Nepal’s most iconic peaks. The many chortens, prayer flags and monasteries along the way add to the spiritual setting that attracts many to the Himalayas, and the viewpoints like Kala Patthar (5550 m) adds a physical challenge to the enthusiastic trekker. For many, the highlight of the trek is reaching the base camp itself, getting a close view of the notorious Khumbu Icefall and watching expeditions prepare for their bid to the highest summit on earth.
See the Everest base camp itinerary for this trek (including a detour to the famous Gokyo Lakes).
2) Kanchenjunga Base Camp (5143 m)
On the Kanchenjunga Base camp trail. Photo By Samir Jung Thapa
If you are the type that prefers stretches of remote and empty trails to the busy teahouse treks, Kanchenjunga Base Camp is the destination for you. Kanchenjunga Conservation Area is one of the least densely populated areas in Nepal, creating an unspoiled wilderness waiting to be explored. This easternmost region of the country endures the full force of the monsoon in the summertime and is consequently bursting with life. Cascading waterfalls, lush vegetation and thousands of species of plants await those who take the long trail to Kanchenjunga Base Camp. The approach to the base camp will not be short on spectacular mountain views either. The trail gets its name from the massif that holds the world’s third tallest mountain, Mount Kanchenjunga (8586 m). The trek can be done in a 26-day long circuit, including a visit to the Pathibara Temple, an important religious site for many Indian and Nepali pilgrims
See the Kanchenjunga base camp itinerary for this trek.
3) Annapurna Base Camp (4130 m)
Annapurna Base camp. Photo provided by Nepal Tourism Board
The Annapurna Base Camp trek (also known as the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek) was the first commercial trekking route in Nepal and outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world have been flocking to the region for over 50 years to see what it’s all about. The trek owes its popularity primarily to the incredible Himalayan views, but its well-marked trails, frequent lodges along the way, long trekking season and easy access to trailheads from Pokhara, has done a lot to bolster its reputation as one of the best places for trekking in Nepal. At 4130 m, the base camp is surrounded on all sides by spectacular snow-capped peaks, like the supreme Annapurna I (8091 m) and her neighbors Annapurna South, Annapurna Fang, Annapurna III. Our favorite way to approach the final stages of the ABC trek is to spend the night at Machapuchare Base Camp, get up early the next morning and trek the last 2-3 hours up to Annapurna Base Camp in time to watch the sun rise over the Annapurna mountain range.
See the Annapurna base camp itinerary for this trek.
4) Mardi Himal Base Camp (4500 m)
On the Mardi Himal Basecamp Trail. Photo Provided by Nepal Tourism Board
Neighbouring one of the most popular treks in Nepal (the Annapurna Base Camp trek) the Mardi Himal trek is truly a hidden gem. The trailhead being only a one-hour drive from Pokhara and taking only 8 days to complete, makes this a perfect base camp trek for those short on time.
The trail winds through vibrant rhododendron forests until leaving the tree line at 3300 m and entering into a rugged high altitude mountain landscape. The slog up to Mardi Himal Base Camp at 4500 m is well worth the effort as it brings with it spectacular views of the Annapurna mountain range, including a close-up of the iconic Machapuchare (Fishtail) mountain.
There are simple guesthouses and homestays along the entire route saving trekkers from having to carry camping equipment like tents, sleeping bags and food. The lighter load makes all the difference at 4000 meters!
See the Mardi Himal base camp itinerary for this trek.
5) Makalu Base Camp (5000 m)
On the Makalu Base camp Trail . Photo By Jamie McGuiness.
Because of the challenging terrain and its remote location Makalu Barun National Park is a rarely visited section of the Great Himalaya Trails. The spectacular mountain views, empty trails and vast wilderness is waiting to be explored by the adventurous trekker prepared to forgo the comforts of the traditional teahouse treks . The constant ascending and descending trail makes for quite arduous trekking, but the stunning natural environment following you every step of the way for this 18-day trek, more than makes up for it. The lush Arun and Barun river valleys lead to Makalu Base Camp taking you deep into the high Himalayas with Makalu (8462 m), towering above you and Everest, Lhotse and Baruntse in view. In the lower reaches of the trail you’ll come across some of the most colorful rhododendron forests you’ll ever see.
See the Makalu base camp itinerary for this trek.
The network of trails that makes up the Great Himalaya Trails offers treks for every level of fitness and interests. Explore more spectacular routes along the Great Himalaya Trails in Nepal with our handy trek finder.
Teahouse with a view of the Annapurnas. Photo by Linda Bezemer.
The best way to experience trekking along the Great Himalaya Trails in Nepal is to stay at the many teahouses that line the trails of popular trekking routes. Originally, teahouses were little shops where travelers could stop for a rest and a cup of tea. With time, as more and more visitors came to explore the mountains in Nepal, these teahouses have developed into full-fledged mountain lodges offering food and accommodation to guests at a nominal price.
Most of the teahouses are owned, managed and inhabited by local families. Trekkers love staying at teahouses as it gives them a rare glimpse into the culture and daily lives of the local people in rural Nepal. Teahouse trekking also saves you from having to carry your own camping equipment like tents, sleeping bags and food. Taking a few extra kgs off your back can make all the difference at 4,000m elevation!
A woman making tea at a teahouse in Nyimba Valley. Photo by Christel Van Bree.
The standard of the teahouses and the comforts they offer will vary depending on their location. The more remote and less visited by tourists the region is, the more rustic and basic the lodgings will be. Certain well-travelled trails, like the Everest Base Camp trail and Annapurna Base Camp will offer some luxury hotels along the the route but most often they will be fairly basic. From food, to toilets and wifi, here is what to expect on your teahouse trek in Nepal:
Nothing gets you over a looming mountain pass like the promise of a home cooked meal waiting on the other side. Teahouses on the more travelled routes offer a surprising variety of world cuisines these days, ranging from Chow Mein to Pizza and Mac and Cheese. The staple food of Nepalis (and trekkers in the know) however, is the traditional local dish Dahl Bhat. This plant-based dish is always fresh, kind on the stomach and provides the best fuel to battle the strenuous terrain of the Himalayas. A plate of Dal Bhat includes steamed rice, lentil soup, vegetable curry and sautéed spinach. The best part of the meal? It is always served in an all you can eat fashion.
A plate of Dal Bhat is standard trekking fare in the Himalayas. Photo by Cotaro70s on Flickr.
Mo:Mos, another one of our favourite local dishes, is a standard menu item. However, making Mo:Mos from scratch is no easy task and you may have to wait 30-40 minutes to get your hands on some. To keep to your trekking itinerary it is best to opt for quick meals, like noodle soup, during the day and go all in for the Mo:Mos in the evenings when you have more time to kill.
A typical dining hall on the Annapurna Circuit. Photo by Greg Willis on Flickr.
Availability of meat will vary and is especially scarce in remote and high altitude places, as well as near sacred sites. If you are used to a protein rich diet it could be a good idea to bring along some protein bars and snacks for your trek. Teahouses can also serve as a very welcome pit stops to fill up on trail snacks like tea, biscuits (try the coconut ones) and chocolate bars.
There is nothing like falling asleep after a long day on the trails to a panoramic display of mountains outside your bedroom window. On the inside, the accommodation is simple, yet clean and functional. The rooms usually include single sized beds with sheets, pillows and blankets, a bedside table and ceiling light. Some trekkers prefer to bring their own sleeping bag liner or sleeping bag for hygienic reasons. Rooms are quite drafty, and with no heating available (besides perhaps a wood fire burning in the dining hall), be prepared for cold nights the higher up in the mountains you go. Similarly, the walls are quite thin so if you are a light sleeper you may want to consider bringing earplugs.
A typical teahouse double room. Photo by Linda Bezemer from a teahouse on the Manaslu Circuit.
The essentials – showers, toilets and electricity
Toilets in the mountains are not very glamorous and it is best to approach this experience with managed expectations. Some teahouses may have rooms with en-suite bathrooms and western toilets but most often they are a shared facility with traditional squat toilets. Toilets can sometimes be located outside of the teahouse so it is a good idea to bring a head torch for those midnight visits.
A toilet with a view. Photo by @cov96 on Instagram.
Pro tip: toilet paper is a rare commodity in the mountains so you may want to bring a few packs of tissue paper if this is what you are accustomed to. Note that many toilets may be unable to flush paper without clogging so always properly dispose of it after use.
Another important feature after a long day on the trails is the availability of a hot shower. Some swear by the wet wipe wash, but if this is where you draw the line on roughing it, many teahouses will offer some type of showering option for a small fee, be it in a real shower or the hot water in a bucket type.
Rooms don’t always come with a plug socket but it is usually possible to charge your phone, go pros and other gadgets in the dining hall for a fee of $1-2 per hour
Key amenities on the trail. Photo by Gemma Amor on Flickr.
One of the perks of journeying into the Himalayas is disconnecting from the outside world and tuning in to nature. For those who find it impossible to live an analogue life you will be relieved to hear that some teahouses on the main trekking routes like Annapurna and Everest Base Camp offer wifi. It is spotty and unreliable at best so it is advisable to finish any digital obligations before heading out on the trail.
Teahouse trekking is pretty simple and laid back and there are not that many rules to follow. One thing to be aware of though is that proprietors make most of their money on food and beverages, as the cost of the room is pretty cheap. Therefore, you are always expected to eat all your meals where you sleep.
Trekking can be a messy business and your shoes will bear most of the brunt of the environment. It is considerate to leave your hiking boots outside your room and use flip-flops for indoors.
The price of your accommodation will vary depending on where the teahouse is located and what comforts and services it offers. In general the cost per night will be between $3-10 but it will vary depending on the elevation and if the teahouse is located in a very remote area. In recent years there has been a demand for luxury guest lodges along the popular trekking trails, mainly on the Everest Base Camp trek. The cost of comfort can be around $150+ per night.
Teahouse in Ghandruk. Photo by Greg Willis.
Having a Plan B
The popular trails can get pretty busy in peak trekking season (fall and spring) and teahouses in smaller settlements can fill up quickly. Packing a sleeping bag and bed role in case the teahouse runs out of beds can be a good idea. While visitors rarely get turned away, they may have to spend the night on the dining hall floor if there is shortage of beds.
The more remote trekking routes will not always have teahouses within a day’s walk. In these locations you will have to bring your own tent and camping equipment.
Camping on the roof in the Rara and Jumla region. Photo by Samir Jung Thapa.
Teahouse trekking is for the adventurous, curious and open minded traveler. For many this is a rustic experience, away from the comforts and frills of western living. Today there are few countries where visitors have the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the culture and customs of the local inhabitants. Teahouse trekking in Nepal is such a place.
As the spring trekking season comes to a close we can’t help but look longingly to October when the monsoon clouds part to reveal the Himalayas again and trekkers flock to the trailheads once more. For those planning on coming to Nepal for the autumn trekking season it can be a daunting task to select the perfect section of the Great Himalaya Trails to explore. To help you along we’ve listed 8 of our favorite treks to visit next season. (Massive thanks to our lovely Instagrammers who provided stunning imagery for this post).
Everest Base Camp is on most hikers’ to-trek-list, but few combine it with the equally incredible Gokyo Lakes trek. This option is ideal for those who want to wander off the busy EBC trail and add a bit more challenge to the journey. The trail follows the traditional EBC trek until Namche Bazaar where it diverts north west to the string of turquoise lakes surrounding Gokyo. A climb up to Gokyo Ri (5357m) offers spectacular panoramic views of 4 of the 14 tallest mountains in the world (Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Cho Oyu) on the horizon and the glittering Lakes and Ngozumpa glacier below. From Gokyo the trail crosses the challenging Cho La pass (5,420m) bringing you back to the Khumbu Valley and joining up with the EBC trail again.
Neighboring one of the most popular treks in Nepal, the Annapurna Base Camp trek, the Mardi Himal trek is truly a hidden gem. The trail winds through vibrant rhododendron forests until leaving the tree line at 3,300m and entering into a rugged high altitude mountain landscape. One highlight of the trek is reaching Mardi Himal Base Camp (4,500m) offering spectacular views of the Annapurna mountain range including a close-up of the iconic Machapuchare (Fishtail) mountain.
The Manaslu Circuit trek has long been popular amongst adventurous trekkers seeking secluded wilderness, insights into authentic Hindu and Tibetan culture and spectacular views of the region’s namesake, and eighth tallest mountain in the world, Mount Manaslu. The trail follows an ancient salt trading route around the base of the iconic two-horned mountain. Crossing Larkya Pass at 5,125m is a challenge, however, the natural environment and the stunning views of Ganesh Himal Range makes it more than worth the effort.
Mustang, or the Kingdom of Lo as it was once known, was an independent fiefdom closely tied by geography, language and culture to Tibet. The Upper Mustang region was closed to foreigners until 1992. Its remote location and isolation from the outside world has contributed to a highly preserved Tibetan culture and unspoiled nature, adding much to its allure as a trekking destination today. The trail follows an ancient salt caravan route to the capital of Upper Mustang, Lo Manthang. One can spend days wandering down the narrow alleyways of this walled city, discovering hidden chortens and visiting the royal palace and Thugchen Gompa monastery built in the 15th century. Outside of the city, century old cave dwellings are only a Tibetan pony ride away. This trek is a great option in monsoon season as the region lies sheltered in the rain shadow.
To this day Dolpa receives a fraction of the visitors coming to Nepal for trekking. It remains an incredible natural and cultural experience for those longing for a bit of adventure and off-the-beaten-track exploration. One of the main highlights of trekking in the Dolpa region is a visit to one of Nepal’s deepest lakes, Shey Phoksundo (146m). The lake lies at an elevation of 3,620m within the Shey Phoksundo National Park, the largest national park in Nepal. With the surrounding forests and snow-capped mountains reflecting in the velvet blue waters it is no surprise this region has been described as one of the world’s “Natural Hidden Wonders”.
Rara and Jumla is one of the best destinations for trekking in western Nepal. The region is an adventurer’s dream as it has remained a relatively unexplored part of the country by foreign travelers. Those who do make it out there are rewarded with uncrowded trails, authentic culture and a wealth of natural beauty. The highlight of the trek is the glittering waters of Rara Lake, the biggest lake in the country. This trekking region lies in the rain shadow making it a perfect trek to do in monsoon season.
In Tibetan, ‘Kanchenjunga’ means ‘the five treasures of snow’, named so after the massif’s five high peaks. The highest peak (8,586m), is the third tallest mountain in the world. Few trekkers make their way out to the easternmost part of the Great Himalaya Trails, but for those who do, cascading waterfalls, mountain views, lush vegetation and thousands of species of plants await those who take the long trail to Kanchenjunga Base Camp. The trek is laid out as a circuit, including a visit to the Pathibara Temple, an important religious site for many Nepali and Indian pilgrims. The highlight of the trek for many is walking through the high alpine landscapes to reach the Kanchenjunga Base Camp at 5,143 meters.
The Makalu to Everest Traverse includes some of the highest and most challenging trails in the Great Himalaya Trails network. As the name suggests the trail traverses the mountain range between Mt Makalu (8463m), the fifth tallest mountain in the world, and Everest, crossing over three high passes of which two are over 6,000m. Because of the challenging terrain and its remote location Makalu is a rarely visited gem. The spectacular mountain views, empty trails and vast wilderness is waiting to be explored by the adventurous trekker prepared to forgo the comforts of the traditional teahouse treks.
Ke Garne. If you attempt to learn only one phrase during your trip to Nepal, this ought to be the one. Accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders, the sentiment of “what to do?” is one necessary to adopt in this country to keep your cool in the face of adversity.We learned this at the onset of our trekking journey as we were basting at the hot airport in Nepalgunj, surviving on Ghorka beer and airport canteen samosas for hours, only to find out our delayed flight to Jumla had been cancelled due to bad weather.
We were meant to be headed for Rara Lake, one of the best destinations for trekking in western Nepal. The region is an adventurer’s dream in that it has remained a relatively unexplored part of the country by foreign travelers. Those who do make it out there are rewarded with uncrowded trails, authentic culture and a wealth of natural beauty. The highlight of the trek, Rara Lake, is the biggest lake in the country and it lies tucked away in the remote hills of the Mugu district. Similar to Dolpa in the east and Humla in the west, the Mugu region is located in the rainshadow, ironically making the Rara Lake Circuit a perfect trek to do in the monsoon season. The crux seemed to be in getting there.
Having timed our slight travel hiccup with a nationwide strike that involved a ban on all motorized transportation we ke garned ourselves and our backpacks onto a bicycle rickshaw and were pedaled 3km down the main road to the Traveler’s Village. With air conditioned rooms and promises of the best lemon meringue pie in the country it would turn out to be the most luxurious part of our trip.
The weather was luckily very much improved by the next morning and we were able to take off to Jumla at first light.
Being short on time, exacerbated by our delay at the start, our aim was to march in, admire the lake and pivot back to Jumla, all in 5 days*. The recommended time to complete the circuit is 10 days, so we knew we had our work cut out for us. Here is how we did it:
Jumla to Jaljala Chaur 19km (6h)
Max altitude: 3,585m
The trailhead for the Rare Lake Circuit trek starts from the airstrip in Jumla and follows Jugad river out of town via a dusty track. After about 2 hours of walking there is a fork in the road, and a decision to make; whether to take the clockwise route around the Rara Lake Circuit or the counter-clockwise loop. The clockwise route involves more distance to reach the lake, which is why we decided it prudent to do first.
Most of the day is dedicated to a gradual and rather grueling 5-hour climb. Our goal was a marked campsite on the map located on the other side of Jaljala La pass (3,585m). As we found out upon arrival, a campsite in these parts basically means a flat surface and a running stream. Luckily we are simple campers. Simple to the extreme perhaps. Our provisions amounted to ramen noodles, whiskey and a whole lot of optimism.
Beautiful views on Rara Lake Circuit. Photo Madeleine Dolling.
Jaljala Chaur to Ghorosinga 34km (10h)
Max altitude: 3,190m
Rising with the sun, and to the angry growls coming from our stomachs, we hit the trail again. About 30 minutes down the trail we stopped at a farmhouse for some biscuits and a generous offer of hot water to fill our cafetière (packing essential for those who cannot get through a day without a coffee fix). In hindsight, this would have been a more ideal place to set up camp as there was a water tap and a hearth sure to have kept us warmer than the less than scout-worthy fire we had built the night before. Ke Garne, and on we went.
Breakfast of champions = biscuits and fresh French Press. Photo Alfie Pearce-Higgins.
Most of the morning is a beautiful descent under a canopy of thick pine forests, along clear rushing streams and through scattered settlements. Our mid-day goal was the town of Sinja, the biggest settlement we had yet to come across. The town was recently connected to Jumla by a new jeep track which was good news for us as we were in dire need of some new provisions. We entered Sinja Valley by way of a suspension bridge over the icy cold Tila river. After a refreshing wash in the river (and a dramatic moment where we nearly lost one of our trekking companions to the rushing forces of the river) we were ready for civilization.
Sinja Valley was the capital of the Khash Malla Kingdom and quite a stronghold back in the middle ages. Sinja is also recognized as the place of origin of the Nepali language. Our immediate point of interest though, was one of the guest houses lining the jeep track and the promise of a big steaming plate of dal bhat.
Feeling slightly comatose from the first heavy meal since leaving Jumla we reluctantly pushed off again to start the first ascent of the day. The trail follows the jeep track for about two hours in a comfortable incline by way of the small settlements Gani and Laha. Here the jeep track veers off to join the eastern part of the Rara Lake Circuit trail. We however, headed west toward Ghorosingha.
The last kilometer or so was a quad burning climb to gain 800m in elevation. Once at the top our efforts were rewarded with views of a beautiful plateau with a small brook running through it and wide grassy banks on each side. Perfect for setting up camp. The womenfolk in the group headed up to a cluster of farmhouses on the hill in search of a water tap and a few fresh eggs to jazz up our now standard fare of noodle soup. Returning back to camp with out bounty we were pleased to see that local herders, returning from grazing their livestock in the valley, had taken pity on the boys and lent a hand in setting up our camp. With the ease bestowed from lifelong experience in the outdoors, the herders helped pitch our tents at a safe distance from the flowing brook and gathered some firewood for what was to become an impressive bonfire. After sharing a few biscuits and cigarettes with our gracious benefactors they were on their way, and we were left with a roaring fire and a magnificent starry sky.
Ghorosinga to Rara 19km (7h)
Max altitude: Ghurchi Mara: 3710m
Waking up to the sound of cows being turned out to graze we hurriedly broke camp and headed out for the final push to Rara Lake. An hour of walking got us to the border of the Rara National Park and a military checkpoint where we were asked to show our TIMS permit and pay the park entry fee of $20. Here the soldiers very kindly gave us some hot water for our morning coffee, a much needed boost to power us up the last climb over Ghurchi Mara (3,710m).
Final push before Rara Lake. Photo Madeleine Dolling.
Once over the pass, a beautiful flat trail stretched out along a wide ridge. From here we caught our first glimpse of Rara Lake far below.
They say that there are more species of birds around Rara Lake than tourists visit in any given year. A quick look at the records at the check point down by the lake confirmed this to be true. There are approximately 230 species of bird in the Rara Lake area. My three travel companions and I were the 40th visitors so far that year.
Along a ridge before the final descent to Rara Lake. Photo Madeleine Dolling.
After three very long (and amazing) days of trekking we had finally made it to our destination. And we were not disappointed. Rara Lake with its crystal clear blue waters, surrounded by thick alpine forests made for a stunning picture. Carved out along the banks of the lake was a wonderfully flat path that our tired legs were happy to plod along while taking in the scenery. We made our way through a couple of small settlements outside of the lake premises and easily found the only lodge around the lake, Danphe Guest House. The lodge offered simple rooms with attached bathrooms, a decent menu and cold beers. After a quick squat wash with a bucket of hot water and a renewed acquaintance with soap we felt like a million rupees.
Danphe Guest House. Photo Madeleine Dolling.
Rara Lake to Bulbule 31km (11h)
Max altitude: Ghurchi Lagna 3,450m
Trekking along the shores of Rara Lake. Photo Madeleine Dolling.
A tight trekking schedule notwithstanding we couldn’t resist adding an additional 2 hours to our day by taking the long way around Rara Lake before heading back to Jumla. The walk is about 11km from the guest house to the other side of the lake where the circuit trail picks up again. The lake’s total circumference is 13km and the trail around it is very well maintained by the soldiers managing the local military outpost. After circumnavigating the lake we aimed to get on the main trekking route in Jhyari and join up the Rara Lake Circuit by way of Dhuir and Ghurchi Lagna pass (3,450m).
The trek was a mix of jeep track and shortcuts across switchbacks on some of the steepest trails we had ever encountered. The only thing worse than huffing and puffing up a muddy vertical, clutching at vegetation to keep ones footing, was having a 5-year-old child in plastic sandals trotting up in front of you, signaling you to get on with it.
Our competition on the trails. Photo Alfie Pearce-Higgins.
We hobbled in to Bulbule before sunset and were happy to find the Blue Rara Hotel, the first lodge we had seen since leaving Rara. It was a very basic lodge with all the necessary amenities required after a hard day on the trail: a bucket of hot water, dal bhat fresh off the stove, a cold beer and a bed.
Bulbule to Jumla 35km (9h)
Max altitude: Khali Lagna pass 3,550
The final descent to Jumla. Photo Alfie Pearce-Higgins.
After a surprise 6am wake-up call and bed-tea from the friendly guest house proprietor, we were on our way for our last push to Jumla.
The trail is a series of steep descents through spruce and rhododendron forests and tough climbs over passes including Danphe Lagna (3500m) and Khali Lagna (3,550).
The beautiful scenery and the last packets of ramen noodles help to push us through the final descent to Jumla and we hobbled in to the settlement well before sunset.
There is not an abundance of hotels in Jumla, and it being a festival day on our arrival, we were lucky to score rooms at the Snow Mountain hotel. After a real shower and a change into some clean new clothes we had scored in a street stall outside our hotel, we settled down for some celebratory beers and congratulatory pats on the backs. Taking the fast track to Rara Lake was an amazing experience, although not without its share of blisters and sore muscles.
TREKKING TIPS FOR RARA LAKE:
Yeti Airlines and Buddha Air both operate two daily flights to Nepalgunj. Time in flight is 55 mins and if you catch the early morning departure you will make the daily flight to Jumla in one day. As usual when flying in Nepal, factor in extra travel day in your itinerary for unpredictable weather delays.
Map and preferably a confident map-reader in the group. (Luckily we had one with near militant tendencies who analyzed every rock and bend in the river to make sure we were on the right track. He annoyed us at first, but at the end, we were eternally grateful for his superior sense of direction).
Camping equipment – the region is still relatively underdeveloped in terms of signage, shops or lodges. Bringing camping equipment and having some food provisions is essential.
Water purifying tablets or filtration bottle – unlike popular trekking routes in the Annapurnas there are not many opportunities to buy filtered water. We got most of our water from streams, rivers or occasional water taps along the way so purifying tablets were essential.
If you enjoy a fresh cup of joe in the morning, it’s best to bring your own.
*Altitude Sickness can occur when moving from low to high altitudes, especially when this is done rapidly. Its important to go slowly and monitor your body’s reaction to the change in altitude.
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Spring is here, and with it the beginning of the trekking season in Nepal. Ten photographs (shared by our amazing Instagram community with our hashtag #MyGHT) perfectly describe the things we love most about spring in the Himalayas.
(The girl behind the pseudonym is American solo trekker Megan Maxwell. In 2015 she spent three months trekking in Nepal, impressively covering the Annapurna Circuit, Everest Base Camp AND Langtang’s Gosaikunda trek during her visit. In between waves of travel envy the GHT shared highlights from her trip on Facebook and Instagram).
Now she’s back, with an even bigger challenge ahead. Together with partner in climb, Buckey, Megan will spend the next five months trekking the full Great Himalaya Trails. Their journey along the length of Nepal, a distance of roughly 1700km, will follow the high altitude trekking routes from Kanchenjunga in the East to Humla in the West.
Along the way they will share their experience on Instagram through the GHT hashtag: #MyGHT. We are also thrilled to have Megan guest Instagram during portions of the trek, so be sure to follow us at @GreatHimalayaTrails to catch her updates.
Before Megan and Buckey hit the trails we caught up with them to hear more about their expectations for the long journey ahead.
GHT: What made you decide to trek the full Great Himalaya Trails?
Megan: I heard about the GHT during my trip to Nepal in 2015, and it has been on my mind ever since. I absolutely loved my time in Nepal, mostly because of the people I met and the experience of being in the Himalayas. Last time I visited the popular trekking regions, Annapurna and Everest. This time I want to see more remote regions of Nepal and get away from the typical tourist experience. The appeal of doing the GHT is being able to walk across Nepal in one continuous journey.
Buckey: Nepal is a place I’ve always wanted to go. The GHT will give me a chance to dive head-first into a different culture with amazing views and interesting animals, diverse terrain, and a number of things that will be unexpected.
GHT: What is it about long distance trekking that appeals to you?
Megan: I enjoy the freedom of carrying everything I need for months of wilderness travel in my pack. I appreciate the simplistic nature of living that comes with through routes. I like walking all day long, having snack breaks with mountain views, getting my water from streams, setting up camp and sleeping in my tent under the stars every night. Then I wake up and do it again the next day, and the day after, and every day for months.
I also like the challenges that come with long distance hiking. Sometimes it rains for days or I get snowed on. Things get hard and I question why I even wanted to do the hike to begin with. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been walking forever and I still have so far to go. Then I keep hiking, and I feel accomplished for pushing through the discomfort. My personal rule for long trails is to never quit on a bad day.
GHT: How does trekking in Nepal compare to back home?
Megan: It’s so different than hiking in the United States. The guest house system is a stand out for me because we don’t have them at home. I love how affordable it is to stay at guest houses, get hot meals, sleep in beds, and have a convenient location to meet locals and fellow trekkers. The GHT will be a mix of guest houses and camping, and I’m excited to experience both. I also like the slow acclimatization process and how drastically the landscape changes from low elevations to high elevations. Nepal has a lot to offer in the way of scenery.
Megan: We’re starting mid-March and giving ourselves five months, although it might take us a shorter amount of time than that. We’re giving ourselves five months because we want to be flexible with our schedule, both for when things go wrong and for when we’re having fun and want to spend extra time in places we like. We’re planning on starting in the east and heading west.
GHT: Which GHT region are you most excited to explore?
Megan: I’m looking forward to Dolpa the most. Last time I was in Nepal, locals kept referring to Dolpa as “the real Nepal.” I have been wanting to go ever since. Part of the appeal for me is that hardly any visitors make it out that way. I think it will be a unique experience to get out of the comfort bubble of seeing places that lots of tourists have been to.
Buckey: I’m mostly excited for any remote part of the trek. I’ve read a bit about Dopla and the possibility of seeing wildlife. The remote nature of that section appeals to the adventurer in me.
GHT: What do you expect will be your biggest challenges?
Megan: I think logistics will be a big challenge for us. We will keep resupplies of food in Kathmandu, and make several trips back along the way to organize permits and get more food. Figuring out how much food to bring along is a challenge as well because we will be staying in guest houses sometimes and camping sometimes. It’s also difficult to tell how long it will take us to hike sections, as the high altitude will slow us down.
Buckey: Being exposed to a new culture while simultaneously committing to hiking every day will be a new challenge for me. I’m excited for all the challenges Nepal brings.
GHT: What are the 3 things you wouldn’t hit the trails without?
Megan: This is tough one because I’m so practical with my gear choices. Everything I put in my pack is highly intentional and necessary. If I had to pick I would say:
1) My Feathered Friends down sleeping bag because sleeping comfortably is so important to me.
2) Maps of the region I’m in because I constantly check them all day long and like to know exactly where I am.
3) My journal because I’m a writer and documenting my journey is important to me.
1) Sleeping bag: Having something warm to get into at the end of the night is always something to look forward to.
2) Knife: Having a sturdy knife can come in handy anytime you are in the wilderness.
3) Compass and GPS: Along with a map these can be priceless throughout any long hike. Navigation is a daily task and being prepared will hopefully set us up for success.
We look forward to following Megan and Buckey’s epic journey along the Great Himalaya Trails over the next couple of months. Both Megan and Buckey will be sharing their adventures on their own Instagram accounts: @AppalachianTrailGirl and @buckeybiesak. You can also catch regular dispatches from Megan’s blog: Appalachian Trail Girl.
Happy Trails Megan and Buckey!
(Photo Credit: All photos by Megan Maxwell via Instagram @AppalachianTrailGirl)
This is a not just a coming of age tale of a journey three young adults made in their early twenties. It is also an account of an experience that would somehow mould their lives as adults. It was no small journey for these youngbloods, born and raised in Kathmandu and not having left the valley very often. It was a journey that stood as a trailblazer which would make them hungry for more in the years to come.
It all started when a few friends discussed their travel ideas and one person suggested they all go to Gosaikunda for the Janai Purnima festival. Around eight people agreed to go, out of which four backed out the day before the start of the trip. The remaining three of the four agreed to be part of the journey, only because one friend had already been there once and had experience.
Living on the edge. Photos by Mohan Duwal.
Later, the next morning, the experienced friend who was supposed to be the guide backed out at the bus park due to personal reasons and so the three guys were left alone. With little travel experience to show for, the group was very much hesitant to make the move to Gosaikunda. Two even suggested playing it safe and going to Pokhara instead. It took some convincing from the third friend, Mohan Duwal, before they finally embarked on a journey that they would remember for a lifetime.
Beautiful emerald green hues on the way to Gosaikunda lake. Photos by Mohan Duwal.
Many hours on a bumpy off-road bus, long walks, altitude sickness and tired feet later, they reached Gosaikunda. The bus ride itself was not free of complications. At a turn in the road Duwal, who was traveling on the roof of the bus along with 20 other people, due to lack of free seats inside, lost his balance, and was about to tumble off. In a quick move, he jumped to a little patch of grass and landed inches away from the edge of the cliff. Recalling the incident still sends shivers down his spine.
Holy Gosaikunda lake with Ganesh Himal in the background. Photos by Mohan Duwal.
On the morning of Janai Purnima, the group made it to the Kunda. Duwal plunged into the lake as it is believed that the dip is supposed to wash away the sins we make in our human vessels. To his dismay, it was so cold that he felt his heart stop and his body become immobile. After about 15 seconds, he mustered up the energy to resurface and felt as if he had been resurrected.
The shrine on the bank of Gosaikunda lake, and a devotee bowing down to offer his prayers to the holy lake.
After the holy dip in the Gosainkunda on the day of Janai Purnima and a light breakfast in Suryakunda pass, the group walked to a junction where two roads diverged towards Thadepati. They trusted an elderly local man, who convinced them to take a shorter route. In contrast to what the old man said, the route was riddled with obstacles. Every few steps, there were rocks and boulders tumbling down. The group was nearly swept away by a landslide, from which they luckily managed to outrun. Duwal brushed off death, once again, for the third time in a time span of few days.
The view of player flags flapping in the wind and Buddha smiling upon you makes the uphill slog to Lauribina pass worthwhile. Photo by Mohan Duwal.
After eleven hours of exhausting trekking, the men finally reached Thadepati around nine in the evening where they found a guest house, took their supper and retired for the night. They would later learn from the guest house owners that the construction engineer who overlooked the road project on the precarious path they had taken earlier, died while making the road and there were directions against taking the route.
Trekkers heading to Gosaikunda lake. Photo by Mohan Duwal.
One of the members of the group, Mohan Duwal, was to return to Gosainkunda on four occasions in the years to come. In 2016, on the sixteenth anniversary of his first trip to Gosainkunda, Duwal revisited the area. This year, he went on the excursion with a group of thirteen people, which also included a friend from the first trip. With transport sorted and remedies for altitude sickness in hand, the new group set off on a thrilling jaunt, from Dhunche, Cholangpati and continued to Thadepati, where Duwal hadn’t set foot for more than 16 years. All along the way the group was oblivious to an idea that Duwal had planned.
Cholangpati on the left and to the right, the Ganesh Himalayan Range as seen from Cholangpati. Photos by Mohan Duwal.
16 years before, on the morning after their night in Thadepati the then novice photographer, Duwal, assembled his group of 3 friends and the family of the guest house owners to take a photograph. He would carry the same photograph 16 years later and see if he could locate the hotel, the people and recreate the experience that was left crisp in his mind after all this time.
The odds were stacked against him as the region was struck by earthquake in 2015, but upon the arrival at Thadepati, they saw that the guest house was still standing, and to his luck, the owners were still the same. The child of the owners who was present in the first picture was already in his late teens. Overjoyed that his dream would materialize, Duwal shared the photograph with his friends. He proposed to the team and the guest house owners to recreate the old photograph. Everyone agreed to the proposal. Duwal and a friend arranged everyone in the same position as in the photograph.
Before and after. Duwal and his trekking partners in Thadapati in 2000 (left) and again in 2016 (right).
The two old friends, guest house owners, their child and a few new replacements were captured. They had the same scenic beauty in the background smiling upon them. They even managed to place the guest house signboard in the new photograph which was displaced after the quake. He fondly recalled his memories and reminisced his past as he showed me both the photographs months later. If it were not for the first travel, the photographs he took on his camera back then, Duwal might not have discovered his love for travel, wanderlust and turned into the photographer he is today.
Woman looking at the photo taken during the 2000 trip. Photos by Mohan Duwal.
Wanderlust drives people to push their limits, test their courage and learn lessons they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. So, pack your bags, put on your hiking boots and plunge into the journey of your lives. And do not forget to take some photographs on your way!
A Tamang father with his baby boy on the left and a Tamang mother carefully carrying her child, as fog creeps in in the background. Photos by Mohan Duwal.
When it comes to mountains, size matters. If you want to see big mountains, come trekking in Nepal. This spectacular Himalayan nation is home to 8 of the world’s 14 mountains over 8,000 meters, and a journey along the Great Himalaya Trails will introduce you to many of these iconic peaks.
With the help from fellow Instagrammers, who have shared their images from the trails with GHT’s official hashtag #MyGHT, we will acquaint you with Nepal’s stunning topography before you head out on your own trekking adventure. Come along now, the mountains are calling.
1) Mount Everest
Mount Everest is the Mecca of mountains for mountaineers, adventure seekers and outdoor enthusiasts. The giant of giants straddles the border between Nepal and Tibet and is considered sacred by the people of both regions. Surrounded by soaring peaks this black pyramid-shaped rock can seem deceptively unassuming to the beholder below. It’s not surprising that first Dhaulagiri and later Kanchenjunga were thought to be the tallest mountain in the world before Everest was confirmed in 1856.
ON THE BIG SCALE: 8,848 m (1st) WHAT’S IN A NAME: Mount Everest is named after a Welsh surveyor who charted much of India in the mid-1800’s. Locally the mountain is known by its Nepali name Sagarmatha, meaning “forehead in the sky” and in Tibetan as Chomolungma, meaning “goddess mother of mountains”. GETTING THERE:Everest Base Camp Trek
Regarded by many as the most beautiful mountain in the Himalayas, Ama Dablam graces the skies for days on the Everest Base Camp trek. She is sometimes referred to as the Matterhorn of the Himalayas due to her very recognizable features of soaring ridges and steep faces.
ON THE BIG SCALE: Main peak 6,812 m (145th) and lower peak 6,170 m WHAT’S IN A NAME: Ama Dablam means “Mother’s Necklace” in Nepali, (ama meaning mother and dablam meaning necklace) because the ridges extending from both sides of the main peak resemble a mother’s outstretched arms protecting her child. The hanging glacier in the center is thought to look like the traditional double-pendant worn by Sherpa women. GETTING THERE:Everest Base Camp Trek
Kanchenjunga, the third tallest mountain in the world, lies on the easternmost part of the Great Himalaya Trails and consists of 5 separate peaks. The mountain is considered holy by the locals and therefore ascending climbers always stop just short of the summit to honor an old promise to keep the sacred summit untouched by man.
ON THE BIG SCALE: 8,586 m (3rd) WHAT’S IN A NAME: In Tibetan the name Kanchenjunga means “five treasures of snow”, named so after the massif’s five high peaks. Some locals believe that there are hidden treasures at the summits that will be revealed to a devout when the world is in peril. GETTING THERE:Kanchenjunga Base Camp trek
The fourth tallest mountain in the world was first officially summited by a Swiss climbing team on May 18, 1956 in a double peak expedition to reach Lhotse for the first time and Everest for the second time. This endeavor was made relatively convenient as Lhotse is joined to Everest by a ridge and shares a climbing route as far as Everest’s camp III where the paths then diverge. Besides the main summit there are two additional peaks, Lhotse Middle (8,414 m) and Lhotse Shar (8,383 m).
ON THE BIG SCALE: 8,516 m (4th) WHAT’S IN A NAME: Lhotse is connected to Mount Everest via the South Col and its name suitably means “South Peak” in Tibetan. GETTING THERE:Everest Base Camp trek
Mount Pumori is one of our favorite peaks to admire on the trail to Everest, and also one of the most popular 7,000+ m mountains to climb in Nepal. This mountain lies just 8 km to the west of Mount Everest and is known for its good views of Nepal, Tibet and Everest.
The outlier just below the south face of Pumori is called Kala Patthar (5,643m) and it is a popular spot for trekkers to get close-up views of Mount Everest.
ON THE BIG SCALE: 7,161 m (101st) WHAT’S IN A NAME: Pumori means “Unmarried Daughter” in the language spoken by the Sherpa people and she was named so by George Mallory. However, many climbers call the mountain “Everest’s Daughter” due to its proximity to Mount Everest. GETTING THERE:Everest Base Camp trek
Machapuchare (or Fishtail Mountain) is one of the most iconic and recognizable mountains on the Himalayan horizon. The mountain is considered sacred and has supposedly never been climbed to summit. Visitors can admire her from the city of lakes, Pokhara, only 25 km away, or from one of the many trails in the Annapurna Conservation Area.
ON THE BIG SCALE: 6,993 m (124th) WHAT’S IN A NAME: The mountain is named Machapuchare, meaning “fishtail” in Nepali, due to its double summit that resembles the tail of a fish. GETTING THERE:Mardi Himal trek or Annapurna Base Camp trek
Dhaulagiri I is the seventh tallest mountain in the world and was famously deemed impossible to climb by French expedition leader Maurice Herzog who in 1950 aborted his attempt and instead changed his plans to summit Annapurna I. For 30 years Dhaulagiri I was thought to be the tallest mountain in the world.
The mountain is easily recognized for its dazzlingly white and wide mound shape and can be spotted from many treks in the Annapurna region.
The Manaslu Conservation Area has long been popular amongst adventurous trekkers seeking secluded wilderness, insights into authentic Hindu and Tibetan culture and spectacular views of the region’s namesake, and eighth tallest mountain in the world, Mount Manaslu.
According to Nepali mountaineer (and National Geographic Adventurer of the Year 2016) Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita, Manaslu is “emerging as one of the best trekking options in Nepal”. While there are many routes to choose from, one of the most popular treks is the Manaslu Circuit, which follows an ancient salt trading around the base of the iconic two-horned mountain.
ON THE BIG SCALE: 8,163 m (8th)
WHAT’S IN A NAME: Manaslu means “mountain of the spirit” in Nepali. GETTING THERE:Manaslu Circuit trek
Not much was known about Dolpa in the outside world until quite recently. This mid-western district of Nepal was closed to foreigners until 1989 (certain areas still require a special permit) and the little people knew had been learned from literary and cinematic accounts like Peter Matthiessen’s book “The Snow Leopard” and Eric Valli’s epic adventure film “Himalaya” (Caravan).
To this day Dolpa receives a fraction of the visitors coming to Nepal for trekking. It remains an incredible natural and cultural experience for those longing for a bit of adventure and off-the-beaten-track exploration.
The 14-day Dolpa Circuit trek starts in the lower regions of Dolpa and meanders through lush green pastures and pine forests, to the barren high altitude lands of Upper Dolpo, near the Tibetan plateau. The trek crosses over two high passes, Numa La (5318 m) and Baga La (5190 m) making it a challenging journey. To help you out, we’ve listed 5 highlights along the Dolpa Circuit that will give you a welcome excuse to catch your breath:
Dho-Tarap Valley – one of the highest human settlement in the world
Half-way though your trek you’ll come across the two settlements named Dho and Tarap. They are nestled together in the Dho Tarap Valley at an altitude of 4080m, making them one of the highest semi-permanent villages in the world. Exploring the village life here is like stepping back in time and you can easily spend a day admiring the traditionally built houses and monasteries. Keep an eye out for carved wooden effigies adorning local buildings. They are called Dokpa, and are believed to offer protection against evil spirits.
Phoksundo Lake – the jewel of Dolpa
One of the main highlights of trekking in the Dolpa region is a visit to one of Nepal’s deepest lakes, Shey Phoksundo (146m). The lake lies at an elevation of 3620m within the Shey Phoksundo National Park, the largest national park in Nepal. With the surrounding forests and snow-capped mountains reflecting in the velvet blue waters it’s no surprise this region has been described as one of the world’s “Natural Hidden Wonders”. Unfortunately for aquaphiles though, the lake is regarded as sacred to the followers of Buddhism and Bön-po religion, so taking a dip in the lake is discouraged.
Near the outlet of Phoksundo Lake lies one of the country’s tallest waterfalls. The waterfall is named after the lake but it is also known locally by its Nepali name, Suligad waterfall (167m). Trust us, the view of the waterfall surrounded by glacier-laden mountains and pine forests will make you want to pitch your tend and stay forever.
Along the journey you will encounter practitioners of the ancient Bön religion. Bön is an spiritual tradition of Tibet which origins predate Buddhism. The religion followed its devotees to the Nepali Himalayas centuries ago and is still practiced in the isolated higher altitudes of Mustang and Dolpa. Ringmo, a hamlet just above Phoksundo Lake will give visitors a rare chance to witness its ancient practices.
The Shey Phoksundo National Park is home to a rich ecosystem with a wonderful variety of flora and wildlife including exciting creatures like the blue sheep and wild yak. If you’re very lucky you may even spot the very elusive snow leopard.
For more suggestions on trekking itineraries in the beautiful Dolpa region, head over to GHT’s Find a Trek.
(Photos by Anuj Adhikary from a recent assignment with GHT to Dolpa)
The Annapurna Base Camp trek (or Annapurna Sanctuary Trek as it’s also known) was the first commercial trekking route in Nepal and outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world have been flocking to the region for over 50 years to see what it’s all about.
The trek owes its popularity primarily to the incredible Himalayan views, but its well-marked trails,
frequent lodges along the way, a long trekking season and easy access to trailheads starting just an hour or two away in Pokhara, has done a lot to bolster its reputation as one of the best places for trekking in Nepal.
A hard one to miss, Annapurna Base Camp is the obvious holy grail of this trek. At 4,130 m, trekkers are surrounded on all sides by spectacular snow-capped peaks, like the supreme Annapurna I (8,091m) and its sisters Annapurna South, Annapurna Fang, Annapurna III. You will also have good views of Hiunchuli, Gangapurna, Khangsar Kang, Tent Peak and the iconic Machapuchare, also known as Fishtail Mountain.
Our favorite way to approach the final stages of the ABC trek is to spend the night at Machapuchare Base Camp, get up early the next morning and trek the last 2-3 hours up to Annapurna Base Camp in time to watch the sun rise over the Annapurna mountain range.
2. Annapurna Apple Pie
Some would argue that the Annapurna Base Camp trek is as much a culinary experience as it is a natural one. All along the trail you’ll come across welcoming teahouses serving steaming dal bhat (traditional Nepali meal of rice and lentil soup), mouthwatering Mo:Mos and the staple dessert of the region – homemade apple pie.
3. Jhinu Hot Springs
A visit to the hot springs in Jhinu Danda works magic on your tired trekking legs and is a well-deserved break on your return trip from base camp. Jhinu itself is a delightful little settlement, set on top of a ridge along your descent from Chomrong, with a couple of lovely teahouses and pop-up craft shops. The hot springs are a 20-25 minute walk on a descending path to the river Modi Khola below. Trust us, it is well worth the detour.
There are now three pools of varying temperatures, basic changing facilities, a natural shower to wash off the blood, sweat and tears from the trek and a little spot to dip your feet in the rushing (and freezing) waters of the Modi Khola.
For more suggestions on incredible treks in the Annapurna region, head over to GHT treks.