Housing eight of the highest mountains in the world, including the juggernaut that is Mt Everest, it is of no surprise that Nepal is a global destination for trekking and mountaineering. The moment you walk out of Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport, you know any trekking trail you take – a legendary mountaineer has been on the same trail at some point in time. You would probably be shadowing the footsteps of mountaineering heroes!
Being among the big mountains!
The biggest attraction of trekking in Nepal is its big, precipitous mountains. Eight of the fourteen “8000-ders” are your trek companions. They literally surround you on all sides! On Everest-Gokyo Ri trail alone, you will see Everest, Makalu, Lhotse and Cho Oyu that rise like snow walls in the Gokyo region. You will also see (and traverse!) Himalaya’s largest glaciers like Ngozumpa and see Khumbu glacier on the EBC-Gokyo Ri trail.
However, Nepal doesn’t have as much diversity in views as India does. “It doesn’t rain in Nepal as much as it does here. That changes the nature of terrain you trek in. Indian trails have an element of surprise to them. They keep you guessing about the next change in scenery,” Sandhya opines. “Even if you see the forests and bugyals, the forests here are infinitely more dense. The meadows are large and green – in fact, India is a lot more greener. Even the trees – I saw a lot of pines but the kind we see in India – maples, silver birch were missing.”
“If you want to trek in Nepal all you need to do is pack your bags and set off on your trek. You don’t need to worry about logistics.”
The nature of Nepal’s terrain puts it on on the bucket list for mountaineers and trekkers alike. “The whole world treks in Nepal” was Sandhya’s first statement when she had returned from Gokyo Ri exploration. After the successful climb of Everest by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953, the 60’s and 70’s saw a huge influx of trekkers and climbers. The torrential downpour of trekkers in the region has only increased over time. So much so, according to government statistics, Khumbu district is the wealthiest in Nepal with 7 times the average national income and twice that of the capital, Kathmandu.
Moving from tea-house to tea-house
As trekking and mountaineering thrives here, there has been investment in infrastructure to support it. There are plenty of tea-houses on the trails and signages guiding you in the right direction. “You can halt at any tea-house, talk to trekkers from various parts of the world over a hot daal bhat, and have a good night’s sleep on a comfortable bed in your own room,” Gurdit says. The facilities at the tea-houses are also quite advanced- they have a telephone connection and WiFi connection. “To put that in context for you, imagine having a WiFi connection at Roopkund! Those are the altitudes these tea-houses are in.”
The luxury of trekking without a plan
“Trekking in Nepal is also hassle free,” says Sandhya. “You don’t have to worry about logistics. If you want to trek in Nepal all you need to do is pack your bags and set off on your trek. There is no pre-booking required. All permits and services can be obtained on-the-go. You don’t really need a guide or the services of an organisation to trek in Nepal.”
You can just go with a group of friends, or even alone. The Indiahikes team came across a number of single trekkers, including women. There is no end to trekking possibilities in Nepal. “If you are willing to rough it out, trekking in Nepal can be done on a shoestring budget,” Sandhya says. “Unlike India, you are part of the bigger ecosystem of trekking here.”
Safety and Awareness in Nepal
“On the first day of the exploration, I remember 15 helicopters flew over me. I was praying, hoping that it wasn’t another mass evacuation operation,” recollects Sandhya. “Thankfully it wasn’t. They were emergency rescue helicopters, run by private operators to help trekkers in distress.”
Since summitting the Everest captured global imagination, emergency services are viable to operators. “Not only that,” Gurdit pitches in. “There is a lot more awareness in Nepal when it comes to altitude sickness. When we were in the tea-house in Gokyo, which is around 14,000 ft, I got handouts for seminar about AMS, HAPE and HACE. We didn’t attend it because we had to head out for Ngozumpa glacier that day but it tells you about how aware and prepared they are for things that can go wrong on the mountains”
Helicopter rescue operations are, however, expensive. Here are prices from Phortse and Gokyo to give you an estimate of price range: $2800 and $3200 respectively.
Nepal sees hundreds of people from across the world trekking year around. The lower altitudes, especially, are crowded. Yet, even most heavily trodden trails in Nepal are cleaner than relatively unknown trails in India.
“The answer is in collaboration,” says Sandhya. “Nepal has a well-developed a system to manage the waste. After seeing Nepal, I realized that rapid progress can be made only if the locals, government and trekkers work together. We need to build more sustainable solutions and infrastructure to ensure the trails in India are free from litter.”
Trekking in Nepal is on every trekker’s bucket list- be it the Everest Base Camp or the gentler Annapurna Circuit or the off-beaten Manaslu Circuit. Nepal is an experience! At Everest Base camp itself, you will get to interact with mountaineers – possibly future summiters of Everest! Trekkers from our last batch of Everest Base camp-Gokyo Ri were welcomed in the Assamese expedition tents and came back with stories to regale others. “You’ll see a rich blend of international cultures in Nepal. I barely saw any Indians trekking in Nepal. Around 90 per cent of them were foreign nationals. In India, 90 per cent of trekkers are Indian, but right on the other side of the border, you’ll find the whole world trekking.”