Tips for Trekking in Nepal

Tips for Trekking in Nepal

I know this is not a financial/physical possibility for many of you right now, but I've had a few people ask...so here you go... If you are planning to trek in Nepal, here are a few tips that we found helpful. Obviously things are a bit different in Nepal at the moment. Some trekking areas are still closed due to extensive damage to trails and villages. But other areas are safe and open for trekking. Nepal needs your economic support more now than ever. Now that fewer planes are arriving with aid workers…continue reading →

Tips for Trekking in Nepal

I know this is not a financial/physical possibility for many of you right now, but I’ve had a few people ask…so here you go…

If you are planning to trek in Nepal, here are a few tips that we found helpful.

Obviously things are a bit different in Nepal at the moment. Some trekking areas are still closed due to extensive damage to trails and villages. But other areas are safe and open for trekking. Nepal needs your economic support more now than ever. Now that fewer planes are arriving with aid workers and supplies—visiting and trekking in Nepal again should not cause additional hardship to Nepal. But, make sure you research the area of your trek/visit with care. Here is the updated travel advisory for Nepal.

Trips are starting in the fall to build homes with Grand Asian Journeys/Crystal Mountain Treks (and these will certainly include trekking!) Even if you are not able or interested in traveling to Nepal yourself, GAJ has some great information about how you can help in other ways.

If your trek will include volunteering…make absolute sure you are volunteering with a legitimate organization & your money will go directly to helping the people of Nepal. I can certainly vouch for GAJ/CMT. They will provide you with a safe trip. The owner of CMT (Jwalant Gurung) is Nepali & the trek/volunteer work will include building houses in the destroyed villages of the GAJ/CMT staff. This includes re-building homes in Sune’s village (our guide on the Manaslu trek).

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Image from Grand Asian Journeys

 

Required Reading:

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  • The Lonely Planet book Nepal is an amazing resource. You should especially read the “Plan Your Trip” section in the front of the book. The “Responsible Travel” and “Survival Guide” in the back of the book are also necessary reading.
    • This book doesn’t have many specifics on less popular trekking routes (i.e. the Manaslu Circuit trek was only mentioned)—but everything else regarding planning a trip, navigating Kathmandu, health issues, and more are included.
    • Plus, the book is small, light & sturdy which is important if you plan to bring the book along trekking (which we did). It is not cheap—so browse second-hand stores first! There is another separate trekking guide by Lonely Planet, which I will likely purchase if when traveling to Nepal again.
  • On-line forums (from Lonely Planet or elsewhere) can be useful to get ideas for treks. Also looking at on-line trekking company websites (even if you do not plan to use that company) can give you ideas of trek length, difficulty, and rough cost of a trek.

How to Trek?

  • The Nepal book also covers this in great detail. There are many options—from simply showing up in Nepal & figuring it out to going with an organized trekking company. Simply “showing up” is probably less expensive, but you will need more time and patience for hassle (i.e. obtaining trekking permits).

P1120249Khadga and Padum on the trail.

  • Tourism in Nepal is incredibly important (especially post-earthquake). Nepal’s main economy is actually not tourism—but rather—comes from young men working construction or service industry jobs overseas in places like The United Arab Emirates & Malaysia. Therefore—being employed as a guide or porter in Nepal is a good job, and allows men (and women) to stay in Nepal to support their families.
    • On many treks, a Nepali guide is mandatory. Employing a guide comes with a relatively nominal fee. Plus, your trekking experience will likely be easier since a Nepali can help with language & cultural barriers.
    • Please be careful when choosing a company or employing Nepali staff on your own. Will the staff have appropriate footwear and clothing for extreme hot and cold temperatures? Does the staff have travel insurance (i.e. if a porter gets altitude sickness, will the company organize for him or her to be helicoptered out for medical attention?) You can pay incredibly cheap prices for a trek, but this may be at the expense of the staff members. Be ethical.
    • Female guides and porters do exist! They are less common for multiple reasons. This is a great way for single females to trek alone in Nepal. This is also a fabulous way to directly support Nepali women…unfortunately my request for a female guide fell through. This did not sour my experience in Nepal, but next time a female staff member (rather—two—for cultural reasons) will be my first priority.
    • Teahouse treks—where available—are less expensive & more practical than camping treks. Rooms cost less than $5 a night even at higher elevations. Rooms are basic. Most on our trek had no electricity. But, lodges are better shelter than a tent (especially in frigid cold rain) & outhouses are included. The lodging & food costs support the local economy.

P1020269This lodge was newer and especially funky. Most didn’t quite look like this…

  • I can only speak about our experience with an organized trek. These vary in offerings as well, so make sure the company outlines all included services in the price. Also recognize that Nepalis do not like to say “no” to anything…so phrase your questions bearing that in mind.
    • This was our experience with Grand Asian Journeys—who are partnered with the Nepali company Crystal Mountain Treks.
      • Positives of an organized trek: Pre-trip advice and detailed information, airport pick-up & drop-off, company arranges trekking & other conservation area permits, pre-organized lodging and some meals in Kathmandu, all lodging & meals on the trek pre-paid so no need to carry large sums of cash, satellite phone, Gammo bag (in the event of altitude sickness this could be used until getting to lower ground), staff well-cared for with good quality gear/wages/and insurance, professionalism in the event of a natural disaster, loaned us 0 degree down sleeping bags, duffel bags, and steripen.
      • Negatives of an organized trek: Cost tends to be higher, if something goes awry (i.e. trek is canceled due to earthquake or days are missed due to illness) the company cannot refund your costs (importance of trekking insurance covered below…), some flexibility is available for changing dates, routes, etc. but staff members may need to get back for another trek, etc., micromanaged details such as pre-planned trips on layover days or in Kathmandu, you could dislike other group members if going with organized trek open to anyone (not in our case), cultural differences between Nepali staff and foreigners (although this could happen with any type of trekking), and overwhelming feelings of having everything “very planned” in a rigid manner with less room for spontaneity. To be fair–all negatives outlined here are likely similar negatives to any organized trek (not just ones with GAJ/CMT).

Getting there:

  • Search for airfares far in advance. Ticket prices can be shockingly expensive.
  • I won’t even get into our nightmare flight out of Seattle in which the comment “Yes, Nepal is actually a country” was necessary. Long story short—just don’t even attempt to use the automatic kiosk (“for your convenience”) for any international flights. Always check your tickets with the airline themselves (i.e. Don’t rely on Alaska Airlines to give you the correct ticket for China Southern…because you might not be allowed on that plane if the error is noticed last minute!)
  • We flew with China Southern & had zero issues with them. If you find a flight that seems reasonable, go for it. If flights seem outrageous, or you have a more complicated itinerary (for example, after Nepal I flew to Germany to stay with a friend)—I recommend Flightfox (originally recommended to us by GAJ). You do pay $50 or so depending on your request. A “flight hacker” will present an itinerary with links to the cheapest flights. Ryan’s round trip Nepal flight was $1200. My flight—to Nepal and then to Germany and back to the US was $1600. The $1600 cost was unreal. On my own, I was only finding costs over $2,000. Flightfox ultimately saved us a lot of $$$.
  • Do not buy travel insurance from the airline company or company like Priceline for an international flight. The advertised price can be cheap, but the coverage is typically useless.
    • TravelX insurance is not cheap (around $200-$300 for a little over a month of travel) but does offer primary insurance for that period (so, you don’t need to submit your claims to your domestic health insurance for example). There are other companies that are less expensive, but provide secondary insurance. Pick what works for you, but make sure you are covered for evacuation insurance! If you get altitude sickness and need a flight…this will be absolutely necessary.

Things To Bring:

  • This list is in no way comprehensive! These are just a few things I learned in the process (and will do differently the “next time!”)
  • Clothes: You don’t need many. Bring a few only for Kathmandu & leave them there. You will want clean clothes after your trek and for your flight.
    • In lower elevations, you can hand-wash clothes, but up higher the temps can be too frigid.
    • No short-shorts or threadbare clothing. This is rude. Quick-dry pants/capris/shirts. Good quality raingear. Quick-dry underwear (Exificio works well). SmartWool or similar socks. Lightweight but warm down jacket for evenings/mornings (any outdoor brand sells these for backpacking). Long-underwear (not cotton).
    • A Buff or bandana to cover your face! This is especially important due to all of the diesel fumes in Kathmandu.
    • Don’t bring a lot of clothes.
    • And if you need an item (like the lightweight down jacket recommended), you can buy good quality outdoor gear in Kathmandu for 1/2 the price.
    • Hiking boots (obviously). Buy in home country & break them in!

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Kathmandu style.

  • Toiletries: This is where I always overdo it.
    • A bar of Dr. Bronner’s soap should suffice. I brought dry shampoo and used it once. Toothbrush and toothpaste (unless you are a disgusting human being). Wet-ones or similar antibacterial wipes (seriously—this will be your shower at higher elevations).
    • HAND SANITIZER. And use it. Often.
    • TP or tissues (You can buy TP at some places along treks…but I would not rely on that).
    • Sunscreen and lip balm with high SPF. The sun is strong. I’ve never burnt my lips so badly in my life.
    • Ladies: as many tampons/pads as you might need (you can find some items in Kathmandu, but best to bring your own). GAJ suggested doggie bags to put the trash in…which is a good idea!

shutterstock_70250746-415x260Stock image of: Drugs.

  • Drugs: I’m a nurse. I’m pretty sure this was overkill, but oh well. Also, you can get prescription drugs in Kathmandu (without a prescription)…as long as you know what you are doing and exactly what you need.
    • I’m not a physician so don’t rely on this as your travel health information. Best to see your physician/PA/or NP for advice.
      • Vaccines—make sure everything is up to date including Hep A.
      • Prescriptions—Cipro (for traveller’s diarrhea or UTI), Flagyl (dysentery and Giardia), Azithromycin (broad spectrum—i.e. strep throat). Erythromycin eye ointment for conjunctivitis.
      • OTC—ibuprofen, Tylenol, preferred cold/allergy medications, throat lozenges, zinc, antifungal cream, any med for nausea/car sickness. You may have issues with either/or both constipation and diarrhea so both immodium and fiber are a good idea! Some sort of sleep aid like melatonin (& perhaps some ear plugs) are a good idea as lodges can be incredibly LOUD.
      • Yes, Diamox is a drug that some take as prevention against AMS (note: If you are allergic to sulfa like me—you cannot take this medication). I’ve heard mixed reviews. I brought dexamethasone in case of AMS (not to be taken prophylactically). These two medications are no joke…so make sure you know why, when, and how to take these if needed.
      • Talk to a provider-friend for advice or see a provider before going (Travel clinics are great, but if you don’t have any travel clinic nearby…your regular provider should be okay!)

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Dishing Lama and Jennifer. She made the best warm hats!

Gifts & other Cultural considerations:

  • Whether you just hire a guide or have a guide & porters with an organized trek…you will give a tip like you would for any other guided service.
    • The Nepal book and on-line has various opinions on amount—15% to 20% is generally what I have read as the suggested amount. An organized trekking company can also provide advice on this aspect!
    • We did give solar-powered lanterns to our guide/porters as a gift. Other useful gifts might be pocketknives or Leatherman’s.
  • (We did not tip in tealodges and this was never suggested. A VAT charge is usually included for restaurants in Kathmandu).
  • I always tip a small amount to housekeeping staff (in the US and overseas) since staff members are usually women and they work their asses off behind the scenes and make poor money (I empathize since I did this for a period in high school).
  • Holy men (Sadus) may bless you (some without your blessing). They will expect a tip. Keep small change handy so you do not encounter an awkward experience.
  • Please no candy for kids. Most do not have access to dental care. And I doubt you would enjoy strangers giving your children random candy on the street.
  • Photography: Unless you are far away or in a street setting with multiple people: Ask. I know that means you might not get the shot you want. But, I would be pissed if some foreigner in Yellowstone started taking my picture without asking. And an interaction with another person is more important than a photograph. I was turned down many times…but I’d rather have a “No” response than intrude/invade someone’s space.
  • Trash: Is a big problem in Nepal. Fire is also considered sacred & lumber is limited, so garbage that could be burned is not (although I did see toilet paper occasionally burned). If you bring items that will make trash…take it home. We did not bring toilet paper home…but all other trash (plastic contact containers, granola bar wrappers, etc.) was brought back to the US.
  • If you have the privilege of trekking in Nepal—recognize that you are a guest in this beautiful country.

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This list could pretty much go on forever…but reading the Nepal book is incredibly useful for the rest of the details! Again…I cannot stress enough…if you plan on volunteering/trekking make sure what you are doing is useful. Is the company legit? Will they provide for your safety? Are Nepali people involved in/in charge of the volunteer work? (If not I would take this as a big. red. flag). Is your volunteer task something that you have the skill & physical ability to do? Do your research!

This article has 3 comments

  1. linda Reply

    Excellent advice and suggestions for travel to Nepal or anywhere in Southeast Asia and beyond. Need to start looking at my vaccinations……thanks for the international travel insurance tip too.

  2. theSkyisPolkaDotted Reply

    Linda, when we were in Thailand we bought secondary travel insurance (the company name I can’t recall). This worked fine for us & we did use it for our flight delay/flight changes cost (and it was covered). I’m not sure how much medical care costs in Vietnam. In Thailand, healthcare is incredibly cheap, so we didn’t mind paying out of pocket (for Ryan’s dog bite expenses)…healthcare is the main reason I would think that primary insurance is necessary (which is why we opted for primary insurance in Nepal–since most serious medical conditions would require a helicopter ride!)

    1. linda Reply

      Thanks Sarah, and will explore Vietnamese Health System and care..

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