It is believed in many parts of the world that the fresh, cool air coming off mountains can take off years of exhaustion from a person. It is equally true that of all the beauty and splendour in the world that of its highest mountains is incomparable. Trekking - walking in the mountains - is the perfect way to reconnect - with yourself, nature, a companion. The combination of good exercise, crystalline air, blue skies and towering snow-capped vistas, local culture and good companions is such a perfect combination of rejuvenation and adventure that people who do it once can't seem to stop!
It's very important to understand that your experience of the mountains in Europe, North America, and Australia are not a reflection of what you will experience here. On the most common trekking route, the Annapurna Circuit, for example, the highest point, which thousands of trekking tourists cross every year, is Thorong La (Pass). At 5,416 m, this is higher than the classic highest peak in Europe, Mt Blanc (4,807 m), and close to the height of the new Highest European mountain Elbrus (5,642 m). Unlike in Europe, where the tree-line and snow-line are both much lower, sometimes a couple of thousand metres, than those in Nepal, people live and walk through the Himalaya, even close to 5,000 m, raising yak and sheep, and growing crops such as potato, barley, buckwheat, and in warmer months or in greenhouses (in Tibet, especially) vegetables too. So, as long as you are fit and careful about not gaining altitude too fast, most treks that go over higher passes should be challenging, but far from crazy goals.
How to choose a trek
Classic or non-classic
While large-scale trekking started in the 1970s in Nepal, most people tend to stick to the classic routes - the Annapurna Circuit, Annapurna Base Camp, Everest Base Camp, the Khumbu (Everest) region. These routes are extremely well-travelled. Whether you use them or take your own tents, there are lodges (called 'teahouses') and villages all along the way here, and a core local population for whom trekkers are no surprise. The Annapurna circuit is sometimes even called the Apple Pie trail because industrious locals have put the thriving apple orchards to good use, preparing excellent baked desserts.
The non-classic routes involve going off the beaten track, whether further east to Kanchenjunga or Manaslu base camps, or west to Shey Phoksumdo National Park, with its magical Rara lake. On these trips you walk through much more remote country - the villages will by no means have tourist-standard accommodation or anything but the most basic local food, there are far fewer signs of development, and while most trekking areas in Nepal are rugged, many non-classic routes are especially wild west-looking. To trek these routes it is essential to carry in all your supplies, tents etc.
There are advantages to both kinds of treks - it depends on how far away from it all you want to get, how ready you are, and how many amenities you want to give up in exchange. It is a good rule of thumb to think about how we - and many others in the business - classify treks. We use a combination of altitude gained and ruggedness of terrain and trails to make our determination.
How hard will it be?
Easy-Moderate: Up to altitudes of around 3,500 m, these usually classic treks are not extremely demanding for anyone with a reasonable/ healthy level of fitness. We've seen all age groups enjoy these treks, from children under ten, to septuagenarians.
Moderate-Difficult: Up to 4,500 m. Not all treks in this range are difficult, and there are some that go higher classified as Moderate, such as the classic Annapurna Circuit. This classification is as much to do with the negotiability of terrain by anyone reasonably competent, and the presence of relatively good, well-maintained trails.
Difficult to Strenuous: Up to 5,500 m, these treks are generally non-classic treks that take you into rougher country, terrain, trails and facilities. In addition to being fit, it is recommended that you have solid prior experience in mountain walking.
Strenuous: These are treks that go over 5,500 m and are almost exploratory in terms of the terrain and trails (or lack thereof) you have to navigate. These are only for the hardcore initiated.
Tents or teahouses
The other major decision to make is whether you want to go on a tented trek or a teahouse trek. On a tented trek you do not sleep or eat in the lodges. The staff carry your food and kitchen supplies, as well as the tents you will need. Every evening they will set up camp (for a fee, included in the price quoted to you), often in some of the same villages you would ordinarily stay the night at, or at any other reasonable stop you suggest. Your food is prepared for you by the cook accompanying you, with a mixture of supplies carried in, and local produce to contribute to the economy of the village you are staying at. Your suggestions are always welcome. A toilet tent will also be pitched at every stop.
The advantage of a camping or tented trek is that you really are the master of your time and space here. If you are in a group, in particular, this can be a good way to bond with the people you're walking with. If you're solo or a couple, it is a good way to get some much-needed privacy. You can to a large extent control what you get to eat and when, or even cook, if the fancy strikes you. (This is not irrelevant - for most trekkers, the stomach is the most important organ of the body.) Tented treks epitomise all that walking in the mountains is really about - adventure, roughing it (a little!), truly getting away from it all, and being as close to nature as you can be without sleeping directly under the stars.
A teahouse or lodge trek means that you stay and eat at the lodges along the way. On the classic routes, every planned night stop is well equipped to deal with trekkers - there are numerous lodges that cater to western tourists. There are pros and cons. The beds are usually comfortable . The atmosphere can be convivial in teahouses, but in high season this can also mean real overcrowding and delays in the kitchen.
Since not everyone wants the same kind of experience while trekking, based on advice from previous clients we offer a modified and we believe more convenient version of the lodge trek. A teahouse trek organised and supported by Tin-Tin will get you a guide, porters, accommodation in a lodge with breakfast, the conservation area or 'trekking' permit, Tims and land and/ or air transportation to the start and end points of your trek. Tin-Tin costing for teahouse treks includes only breakfast; you will choose for lunch and dinner a la carte (menu) provided by the lodges, and don't need to eat a pre-ordered meal that your guide orders for you. In virtually all trekking regions with lodges you are expected to eat in the lodge you stay at. The reasoning behind this is that the beds are provided cheap, but to keep a lodge running the owners need to make additional profit. To not eat your meals at your teahouse puts the Tin-Tin guide/ sirdar with you in an awkward and financially disruptive position. Finally, a word on prices: food and drink (especially bottled drinks) cost more the higher you go. It's obvious why - it came up the same trail you did, and someone, a porter, had to carry it up for a fee. So remember that while a lodge trek might seem comparatively cheaper, you're not going to save as much if you drink Coke and beer at high altitude.
When to go
Obviously, there are the peak months when the scenery is brilliant with clear skies and crystalline views in most parts of Nepal - Oct-Dec, and March-May. But by no means should you take these as cutoff points. First, many people love to trek in the crisp, snowy winter for the sense of adventure and really being in nature that it gives them. Second, even in the monsoon, there are routes and treks that lie in the rain shadow, such as Manang, around Jomosom, and Mustang. These are spectacular no matter what time of year you go. And finally, the bugbear of the monsoon has a worse reputation than it deserves. Yes, there are landslides and blocked highways, but that is as much a problem of infrastructure as the weather itself, and can be avoided. By a curious quirk, most of Nepal's rain tends to fall at night, which can mean incredible mountain views in the early mornings. There can be the annoyance of leeches lower down, but this is soon passed, and anyway many trekkers have reported that with a little caution it is possible to even escape the leeches. If it rains in the day, it is often just a light drizzle and your only lookout will to be a little more careful on slippery trails. Why should you consider trekking in the monsoon? The landscape will be a hundred shades of rejuvenating green, with all kinds of bright little flowers, when it clears the views are better than anything in the winter, with the contrast between subtropical greenery and snow peaks, and the trekkers you meet along the way will be very easygoing and often old Nepal hands.
The pace of walking in the Himalayas is such that you will get unique opportunity to not just feast your eyes on the different aspects of high mountains, and wonderfully diverse landscapes, but also you will have the enviable chance to see how life is really lived in a very different part of the world than yours. The rhythms of life and the concerns, habits and beliefs of local people will be a revelation.
You don't have to be Superman to go trekking. In general you will walk 4-6 hours a day. A shorter walking time on the schedule means either that it is more tiring route or more likely that you need to stop below a certain altitude to acclimatise. A moderate degree of fitness is all that is required. When trekking with us you will not be carrying heavy loads, just an approximately TKTK rucksack with your necessities for the day. Still, it is important that you not find this a terrible burden, and that the rucksack fits you well. In addition, make sure that the boots you walk in are broken in; new boots on a trek can cause nightmarish blisters and sores, and twisted ankles. f you feel you might not be up to the mark, simply start walking 15-30 minutes more everyday a month before you leave for your trek. Take the stairs more often and when you have the time and energy just go for a walk. On balance you should expect that you will exert yourself, though never to the point of exhaustion or collapse. Rather you will feel deliciously tired and welcome going to bed by 8 or 9PM.
All water and vegetables used in preparing your meals are sterilised with iodine, and 100% safe to drink and eat. If you have any specific requests, do ask us before we leave for the trip, or even on the way, and we will do our best to meet your requirements. In any case, the amount of spice and oil in your meal is easily controlled to suit your taste. Note that on teahouse or lodge treks organised by us, the only organised meal is breakfast. Lunch and dinner is your choice and responsibility. Regardless of what kind of trek you are doing, do take along your own personal supply of dry food such as chocolates, dry fruits and nuts, trail mix, biscuits etc. This way you never have to go hungry, and the occasional bit of chocolate or handful of almonds can make all the difference when you're tired or when you've simply lost your appetite for food o
Notes about mealtime
We request you to please not be concerned, offended, or uncomfortable if you find at mealtime that none of the staff are eating with you. In Nepali culture it is perfectly acceptable to take your meal separately or with your own smaller group. One of the reasons this happens a lot on treks is that the food cooked for you is simply not what the staff are used to - they prefer their food with a lot more chilli and sometimes different spices. Another reason is to give downtime to both sides, a chance to let loose and speak your own language, or simply not feel obliged to make conversation.
For breakfast the porters eat dry beaten rice, locally called chiura, with tea. At lunch they a large meal with rice, dal (lentil soup), and vegetables. You might be amused at how much they eat, and at how much chilli they consume - for a one week trek with six-eight staff, the kitchen typically carries an entire kilo of green chilli. Dinner is more of the same, or a hearty noodle soup called thukpa.
Part of the experience we help you have is that of real camping. We do not, therefore, insist that our porters carry around heavy tables and chairs unless clients specifically ask for them. Rather, we find that passengers who travel with us are happy to eat in a manner more suited to traditional camping and closer to Nepali habits: at mealtimes the kitchen staff will lay out a mattress covered with a clean cotton 'tablecloth'. You will have your candlelight together sitting around the mattress.
The role of the field staff.
Guide: This is a mountain guide, licensed by the Ministry of Tourism. Their expertise will have to do with the trails, weather conditions, high altitude, the mountains around, respect for local traditions and rituals. They will also have the educated Nepali's knowledge of the different kinds of ethnicities along the trail. But they are not - and this point is very important - cultural guides. They generally won't be able to tell you in great detail about religion, people, habits, development, history etc. If you anticipate wanting to know a lot more about the people and places you see, we suggest you take along a cultural guide as part of a supplement.
Climbing Guide: On 'trekking peak' expeditions the person who will help you navigate the mountain, ropes etc.
Sirdar: The boss. Responsible for the running of your entire trek, supervision of the team of staff etc.
Cook: There's a reason for the pre-occupation with meals here - one, trekking is really hungry work, two, getting used to a new kind of cooking can take more time and energy than some people have, and three, the last thing you want is to get sick on a trek. This is why our cooks are highly experienced and knowledgeable about cooking styles and hygiene. They make sure that you get the freshest, cleanest, and most appetising food possible with tasty Nepali, Tibetan, and continental meals.
Sherpa: The person responsible for the equipment, such as tents etc, also acts as a night guard and in case of sickness or accident, carries the client/ staff member to the nearest place where medical help is available.
Kitchen boys: They assist the cook in turning out all the delicacies, serve the tea and meals, and do the washing up.
Porters: Porters with Tin-Tin are well taken care of. They carry not more than 25 kg each (equipment, tents, kitchen supplies, your belongings etc). For porters - who tend to be the least privileged of all trekking staff - are often ignored and unaware of the dangers of high altitude, frostbite etc, our agency provides its porters appropriate clothes, shoes, sunglasses etc.
All our Nepali trekking staff are covered by agency-paid medical and health insurance.
Equipment list for a trek
Down or fibre-filled jacket
Fleece jacket or sweater
Rain jacket or poncho
Hiking pants - light, quick drying fabric in dark colours are best
Zip-off shorts for men - women are advised against wearing shorts
Skirts for women - are very practical on the trail
T-shirts, preferably quick drying, possibly thermal tops for colder treks
Thermal underwear for colder treks
Socks, preferably cotton-mix sports socks rather than heavy wool which dries slower
Swimsuit, if you want to try out a hot spring along the way
Ideally, you should budget, say, one item of clothing on your body, one in reserve, and one drying - so, say, three T-shirts should be enough. However, everyone's individual needs are different, and while you won't need as much underwear as you usually do, extra socks can be a lifesaver.
Daypack (to fit the 8-12 kg you will carry on your person)
Large rucksack or duffel bag to be carried by porters (you must ensure that any bags being carried by porters or anyone other than you are locked securely with a padlock)
Sleeping bag liner
Insulating pad or self-inflating mattress, if on camping trek
Torch or headlamp, with batteries and spare bulbs
Trekking poles, useful on descents
Optional: Book, diary, binoculars, GPS/ altimeter/ thermometer unit
Lip balm with sunscreen
Toothpaste, small will do
Soap, small will do
Shampoo, small will do
Contact lens solution, if you wear them
Antiseptic antibacterial cream or solution
Cotton bandages and band-aids
Anti-emetic for nausea (not at high altitude)
Anti-histamine tablets and cream for allergies
Loperamide to control diarrhoea
Norfloxacin or cipro to cure diarrhoea, other infections
Tinidazole for giardiasis
Oral re-hydration salts
Other medication that you take regularly or for conditions you know you suffer from. Diabetics should ensure they have adequate supplies of insulin, the delivery gun, portable blood sugar monitor, and enough snacks.