As travel to so many once exotic destinations has become more accessible and affordable, the opportunity to explore in the same way as those before you 100 years ago is difficult to find.Nepal, nestled at the foot of the Himalayas between I......
Shock horror – how can I walk around a country you may ask? Well I did. Thousands of others have. You can too. Trekking is the term used to describe the daily hike from one village to the next, along ancient trails which have been the used by Nepalese villagers as their “roadways” for centuries. In Nepal, you carry only a light day pack with your personal needs for the day while porters carry the larger bags between overnight stays.
Kathmandu is the arrival point into Nepal, with daily flights from India, Qatar, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Connecting flights from Australia can be by direct connection, or you could enjoy a stopover enroute. Visas can be obtained on arrival into Kathmandu. On exiting the airport terminal the hustle and bustle of a city overflowing with people is immediately obvious. From the packed airport car park to the overflowing city streets the motorbikes, taxis and buses all jostle for limited space, constantly tooting their horns in the mistaken belief that it will speed their path through the chaos. The mix of ancient and new, charming and extraordinary architecture passes by as you make your way to the respite of your hotel. The range of available hotels is quite diverse. The choice of higher standard hotels with good food, hot water and emergency generators in case of blackouts is a wise move.
Once settled, it is great to walk and explore the old city. Make your way to Thamel, by metered taxi, or walk. Thamel presents a multitude of shops, bars, restaurants and galleries. The stores are overflowing with trekking gear, day packs, clothes, hats all bearing international recognised brands but none making claims to be genuine. After some spirited bargaining it is very easy to acquire some good comfortable walking gear if you haven’t managed to find it all before you leave home.
To get to the trek start point it is necessary to take a short and very scenic flight from Kathmandu to Pokhara or Lukla. Be sure to jostle for the best seat for the view of the Himalayas as we fly west to Pokhara for the Annapurna’s, or east for Everest. After arrival we transfer to our start point, meet our porters and guides and start out on our trek.
So let’s get back to this trek idea. Am I really being expected to walk- all the way? Yes, up and down hills, across rivers on suspension bridges, across steams below beautiful waterfalls climbing innumerable steps up and steps down. Steps-so many steps built into the path by hand over many centuries, maintained as we would maintain our roads, used by tens of thousands of feet; the feet of trekkers like us, and the men and women who live and work in the villages we are to visit.
Each trekking day is measured to allow for all to complete the trip within the available daylight. This means that you can rush, be super fit, have great lungs, have no altitude problems and get to the next village before lunch time. Or you can take a slower leisurely pace, stop to rest, drink some more water, look again at the mountains and the streams and slowly slowly climb or descend, taking in the majesty of all that surrounds you, letting the magical landscape sweep you along. You will trek along paths through rhododendron forest, alongside terraced rice paddies and past soaring pines.
What are the physical demands of trekking? It is necessary to be fit enough to walk up demanding slopes, which means no major joint problems, and a generally good level of fitness. Any time you put into preparation, be it going for long walks, time in the gym on stair machines, any aerobic exercise to improve your heart-lung performance will be rewarded with a more pleasant end of day experience. It is certain that you will be fitter when you get home than when you left, but to minimise muscle soreness, effort before departure is recommended. How old is too old? I’m 57, never played sport in my life, never walked much but survived, thrived and loved it. Our porter stated that his oldest client had been 83. We certainly saw trekkers who appeared to be well into their 70s on the same trails as us.
How does altitude affect you? The answer is very much dependent on your body, on how your body reacts, and it is not related to your level of fitness. As you climb higher, you definitely notice the effect of the thinning air. The Annapurna trek is much lower than the Everest Base Camp trek and less likely to produce problems, but both itineraries are designed to maximise the acclimatisation opportunity for you, as you climb upwards towards your final goal. Our guides are fully equipped to provide guidance and assistance in the event of altitude problems. Some people may not be able to continue to the highest level of the trek – continuing upwards is not an option for those who are unable to acclimatise to the altitude. Severe problems with altitude is unusual on these itineraries, but it is a possibility.
So where do we sleep- what do we eat? The options while trekking are lodges or camping. The many villages, each a few hours apart have small lodge accommodation which typically consist of 10 to 20 twin bed rooms, usually with a single electric light and sometimes a power outlet. The beds have a comfortable rubber mattress and pillow provided. A shower is usually available nearby or within the building. It will usually have a sufficient stream of water at a better than cold temperature. Showering on arrival during the warm afternoon is recommended. In addition to the shared shower is the shared toilet- mostly the foot pad each side squat over the hole design. Toilets like this are usually found to be available in villages we pass through during the day, so the need to resort to a squat behind a tree is very limited.
The great part of the lodges is the home-style cooking, and the uninterrupted panoramic view across to the spectacular mountains from the table set up outside. On arrival at the lodge, a late lunch can be shared seated in the warm sunshine looking out to the rugged peaks, perhaps enjoying a (sometimes) cold beer. The same table next morning in the chilly air provides views of the orange glow on the mountains peaks as the sun climbs into the sky from the east.
The menu is fixed in each region, with a standard offering and description. Our treks include breakfast, lunch and dinner while in the lodges, so you can enjoy the vegetable omelette, porridge and banana pancakes for a big start to the day. Lunch might be vegetable fried noodles followed by rice pudding. Dinner might be soup, a pizza and apple filter (meaning apple fritter but universally wrongly described within Nepal!). The food is made from fresh ingredients gathered each day from the gardens at the lodge. There is no refrigerated truck delivering frozen produce here. Everything which comes up into the mountains comes by donkey or on the backs of men and women who walk the same trails as you. The meals are mostly vegetarian, with occasional chicken available. They are always interesting. Each kitchen has its’ own local touch, always producing meals with great care and pride.
At night, entertainment is mostly up to you and your fellow trekkers. Cards, name games, all of the games that used to happen in homes before electronics came to the fore. With a full belly, a little local spirit and a long walk behind you, bed is usually not far into the night.