Not being big walkers, and with only a 2 week holiday, we were undecided about trekking. Once there, it seems very much a ‘must do’ in many people’s minds. If undecided like us, do consider the following before being talked into it by some evangelical trekker.
The terrain – many of the trekking agencies described the treks as easy or flat, something is somewhat relative to a Nepali! Try to look at a map with the contour lines to understand the trek you are undertaking, or ask for some photos. Several travellers confided in us that they found trekking hard going, and found pleasure in the sense of achievement on completion rather than the trek itself.
The heat – With pictures of snowy peaks its hard to imagine how warm Nepal can be. Walking in 30C is harder than walking in a cooler climate, and can be uncomfortable with all your clothes drenched with sweat if you are not used to it (I’m not). If on a longer trek it will get cooler as you climb, but if on a short and/or low level trek things will not get less sweaty, unless it rains! And if it rains, you might be as well off getting rained upon rather than put on waterproofs however breathable they are as it is the equivalent of putting on a sauna suit.
The basic facilities – If you are not prepared to suffer cold washes and the odd dormitory, staying in lodges is not for you. With camping treks you gain some privacy and solitude, but are more at the mercy of the elements. Even with organised treks, paying $30-40 a night does not guarantee you a private room if there are none available on arrival.
Mountain Views – The shorter the trek, the more this depends on luck. Even in high season you may only get tantalising glimpses.
Environmental Concerns – The need to drink iodine treated water, cook over kerosene, and shower only in solar heated water and so on is much talked about. There are companies with good environmental credentials, but there are a myriad of other trekking companies and associated businesses (chai houses, guesthouses, etc) spawned by the trekking industry that do not share these concerns. If truly concerned about the environment, visit KEEP but bear in mind that trekking, or indeed Nepal, might not be for you!
Time – Seek out impartial advice about how long the trek should take and then (bearing in mind the above comment about heat & terrain), beware of trekking agencies/companies (or your travelling companions) telling you you can do it in less. On longer high altitude treks, do allow for rest and altitude acclimatisation days.
Organised or Independent – Trekking through an agency or company is undoubtedly more expensive than trekking independently, however, it may be preferable if you neither have the time or inclination to plan and organize an independent trek. The difficulty is choosing a company, as everybody and their family is potentially a guide and are adept at telling you what you want to hear. Ultimately personal recommendations are best.
On arrival in Pokhara, trekking independently seemed far easier than anticipated with the trails, and group of fellow trekkers reputedly easy to follow. Failing that the villagers were always keen to point out the right direction. Trekking independently you can also personally recruit your guide and porters on the spot, rather than take a gamble of who the agency might provide.
Guides & Porters – Many backpackers seemed determined to trek on their own, primarily to save money. However, many people we spoke to found the ‘commentary’ provided by English speaking guides or porters to be a fascinating insight into Nepali culture. Both porters & guides appear to be easy to hire/fire en route. Given the maze of paths we encountered just around Pokhara, a English speaking guide would make for an easier day, offer local knowledge of the way of life, and provide a local with brief employment.
With only a week in Pokhara, and wanting a full day at either at either end to explore locally, we only had 4 days/3 nights for a trek. Wanting a combination of mountain scenery & village life we spoke to 3 companies. Himalayan Encounters suggested we could get to Poon Hill and back in 4 days in spite of usually being a 5/6 day trek. Malla Treks were incredibly unforthcoming, and only when pushed suggested Dhampus or a shortened Royal Trek. Asian Trekking advised there was nothing suitable for such a short period of time.
With our limited time it seemed the options were to either push and possibly over-exert ourselves, or be restricted to a small valley, seeing only similar terrain and views. So after a lot of soul searching we decided not to trek, instead we opted for a couple of day walks around Pokhara, enjoying a variety of different views (of clouds), and a hot shower and comfortable bed every night.
In hindsight we could have fit it all into 2 weeks had we
- Assessed all the above considerations and decisions well in advance of arrival
- Researched all the possible routes in advance of our arrival (not easy with very short treks)
- Researched/contacted possible trekking companies in advance
- Spent slightly less time in Kathmandu (I would suggest 4 days to include Swayambhunath & Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, Pashupatinath & Boudha, Bhaktapur, & Patan’s Durbar Square), 5-6 days trekking, and a couple of days resting in Pokhara. This does imply internal flights, and everything running to schedule! And do allow a day for planning /organising if arranging a trek on arrival, be it talking to trekking organisations or recruiting guides and porters.