Ever wondered if you could just buy a ticket to Kathmandu and take off trekking? You can, it's dead easy and here's how...
The Himalayas... Big savage mountains, high altitude, yaks,
erm, cheap tea houses where they sell apple crumble, pies, Swiss
Rösti, cheese omelettes, pots of tea and a room for the night
about a quid.
Who needs a
stove when you could
be eating at the Paradise restaurant?
Yep, don't believe the hype
- it's perfectly possible to walk
the most incredible trekking routes in Nepal, in particular Everest
Base Camp and the Annapurnas, without shelling out for an organised
tour or even hiring a guide and porter. In fact, it's easy. Here's
Oh, there's nothing whatsoever wrong with booking an organised
trek in the UK or hiring a guide or porter once you reach Nepal. It's
a low hassle alternative and means you'll be part of a ready-made
group, but it will cost you more than simply setting off on your own
and will limit your freedom a little.
A number of airlines fly from the UK to Kathmandu
cheapest option is probably Biman of Bangladesh at around
but Gulf Air - our choice when we went out to trek the Annapurna
Circuit in November - will set you back around £520 and
Airways slightly more. Good places to look are Cheapflights
- don't laugh, we scored a flight on lastminute, pretty much at,
well, the last minute.
simple, plain, but
clean and secure
The web makes finding cheap flights relatively easy, though
earlier you start looking, the better your chances of landing a good
When To Go...
There are two main trekking seasons: post-monsoon, which means
October through to December, though the later you go, the colder it
will be at night and the greater the possibility of snow. The
pre-monsoon season is effectively April-May building up to monsoon
time in June.
The earlier season is generally reckoned to have crisper,
conditions, the spring one is milder, though things get hazier in
May. You can trek outside these peak seasons, but they're generally
reckoned to be the best options.
What You Need To Take
The beauty of independent trekking in the Annapurna or Everest
areas is that you can stay in tea houses or lodges which means all
you really need is clothing, a warm sleeping bag, water bottle and
some form or water purification, wash kit, basic first aid kit and,
metres, a warm sleeping
bag is your best friend...
For actual walking, you'll be fine with the sort of clothing
use for autumn or spring in the UK, plus some extra insulation for
the cold evenings at altitude - a down jacket is a nice thing to have
along. Three-season walking boots should be fine as well as paths are
generally good - we prefer straight leather uppers with no waterproof
liner as it can get warm at lower altitudes. A lot of the time
approach shoes are feasible, but there may be snow higher up in both
areas, when boots are preferable.
At high altitudes, a warm sleeping bag is a big plus,
in late November/December when things can get well below zero, at,
say, Gorak Shep near Everest Base Camp. You don't need a sleeping mat
or a tent.
The other main concern is water. Anything you drink should be
either boiled, purified, or you could buy mineral water on the trail,
though the bottles are ecologically unsound and it's expensive. Most
trekkers use iodine in either tablet or liquid form, though you could
also bring a filter. Tea from trailside tea houses and other hot
drinks should also be safe and you can buy a variety of tea from
black, through milk to lemon for modest prices, those these rise the
higher or further up the trail you get.
Some trekkers get carried away, but we'd suggest a basic first
kit, as you'd use in the UK, plus the addition of a course of
wide-spectrum antibiotics, plus Flagyl, the drug used to treat
amoebic dysentry and giardia. Chuck in some rehydration salts as
well. For peace of mind, you might also want to buy some Diamox in
Nepal. It's a drug that aids acclimatisation and can help in cases of
mild mountain sickness.
You should also do some digging on the web and find out which
innoculations are recommended for Nepal. These change, but we'd
certainly make sure you have an up to date tetanus jab, hepatitus,
possibly Yellow Fever and possibly Rabies.
Read the small print very carefully to make sure you're
for trekking at altitude. We'd suggest a specialist company like
Snowcard or the BMC for peace of mind. Next, carry a credit card with
a limit of at least £2500 or so. This is because rescue
helicopters in Nepal need to be paid in advance and waiting for
clearance from a London-based claims line can waste vital hours. It's
better to be able to pay yourself then claim the money back later.
Arriving in Kathmandu
First point, carry a few
spare passport-sized pics as you'll need
these for your entry visa, which you buy on arrival at the airport
and, possibly, for a trekking permit. You'll also need some currency
- US dollars are good - to pay for your visa and a taxi into the town
menu - simple but
A taxi should cost you
around 250 rupees. Most trekkers head
Thamel, a mad, tourist-orientated area of Kathmandu littered with
cheap and not so cheap hotels. You can always book in advance over
the web or follow a guide book suggestion. A basic hotel should cost
5 dollars or so per night, or you can shell out a little more and
live in luxury for a night or two.
There are plenty of places in Kathmandu to buy those things
forgotten, but you really don't need to stock up on food, you can buy
it on the trail. It can all seem a bit disorientating at first,
particularly when you've just got off the plane, are staggering
around with sleep deprivation and wondering what on earth you're
doing there, but relax, it's all very user friendly.
Guides and Books...
From Kathmandu you can go it alone, hook up with other
independent trekkers - try hotel noticeboards, or internet sites - or
book an organised trek locally through one of the numerous trekking
agencies. Or you can go halfway and hire a guide or porter / guide in
The advantage of the latter is that you put some money into
local economy, get someone to carry your bag and, hopefully, an
insight into the local culture. It's quite possible to manage without
though with the aid of a locally available map and a decent
The best trekking guides we've found by a mile are those
in the UK. We've now used both the Everest and Annapurna books and
the route descriptions and detailed maps are superb and far better
than anything else we've seen. The Lonely Planet's Trekking in Nepal
is a broad overview, but less useful on the ground. All thse books
are available in Kathmandu by the way.
So you have the kit, the map, the book, next step is to get to
trailhead. For either Annapurna or Everest from Jiri, you can simply
get a bus to the point where the trail starts. If you're planning to
trek Everest from Lukla you need to book a flight. There are plenty
of agencies where you can book tickets, just go in and ask. Dead
On the Trail
And then you start walking...
The main routes are well defined
you won't be alone even if sometimes you wish that you were. Tea
houses or lodges are dotted along the trail at frequent intervals and
provide food, drink and accommodation at very reasonable prices.
Rooms are generally basic,
but usually clean, with a bed and door
with padlock. The deal is that you pay a nominal rate for the room -
usually between 50 pence and a pound - on the basis that you eat your
evening meal at the same lodge.
That's no great hardship as
food in trekking lodges is
surprisingly good and not limited to Nepali basics like curry and
rice, though Dal Bhat, the local staple curry and rice dish, is an
ideal and cheap trekking food. Omelettes, potato dishes like Swiss
Rösti, lots of eggs, fried rice and noodles, apple pie, momo -
of Tibetan filled dumpling - spring rolls, porridge, chocolate cake
and even Snickers and Mars rolls are all options.
Prices are very reasonable too and you'd be very hard pressed
spend as much as, say a tenner a day. Everyone eats in a communal
dining room, often with no electric lights, and usually in the early
evening. Bedtime tends to be around 8 o'clock or so. Bring an LED
headtorch if you want to sit up reading...
Socialising and walking...
You might worry about being
lonely, but the great thing about
trekking is that there'll be a whole load of other people walking the
same day stages as you and sharing the same interest in mountains and
travel. The nice thing about independent trekking is you can rub
along with the people you like and avoid the ones you don't. Ideal.
In a guided group you're stuck with your companions.
Not a bad
You'll also find that the routine is quite mellow. Most
days are relatively short, say six hours of walking with an hour-long
stop for lunch. Often altitude gain means that you're limited in how
far you can safely ascend, so some days may be as short as four
hours. If that sounds soft, don't worry, there's loads to look at and
the relaxed ambience means you can just relax and enjoy it.
The Trailblazer guides give
excellent advice on
and we'd suggest that you do some background reading on the web
before you go. It's vitally important not to try and ascend too fast
- people have died by pushing it and there's really no need. Above
3000 metres you shouldn't ascend more than about 300 metres in a day.
Fitness by the way doesn't improve acclimatisation.
fit do you need to be?
The beauty of tea house
trekking is that you don't need to carry
heavy camping kit and the relatively short days mean that you don't
need to be super fit. It's obviously better to be fit than unfit, but
don't get the idea that you need to be some sort of finely-tuned
mountain athlete. Most averagely fit people could manage the Everest
or Annapurna Circuit with adequate time.
good scenery, long
Don't get the idea that it'll
be easy - walking up the
high Thorung La Pass will kick most people's butts on grounds of
altitude alone and it's clearly better to be fit than not, but don't
be put off.
The web has made it easier than ever before to gather
in advance. We're no longer dependent on the self-glamorising reports
of travel writers on press trip freebies with big tour companies,
instead it's easy to get firsthand advice. See the forums on sites
There's a lot of concern about the Maoist insurgency
Nepal, but although we met the Maoists and made a 'voluntary
contribution' of around £7.00, at no point did we feel in any
danger and we did get a receipt. The Maoists have repeatedly pledged
not to harm trekkers and while we'd keep an eye on the situation and
look at Foreign Office travel advice, right now it doesn't seem to be
a serious problem for trekkers on popular routes.
That's All Folks...
If that makes it all sounds very straightforward, then that's
because by and large, independent trekking using tea houses is very
simple. There isn't even a language problem and Nepali people are
incredibly friendly and helpful. All we can say is book the time off,
buy a flight and go. You won't regret it.