Off the tourist trail: Alternative treks in Nepal
FOR many, trekking in Nepal is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But it’s also an increasingly popular trekking destination, with thousands taking to the tracks each year. Enjoyable as the views, landscapes and people are, some trekkers may find battling the crowds on popular routes too much. If that’s you and you can’t face the idea of trekking with the hordes, here are some ways to get off the beaten track.
Trek off season
The most popular months for trekking are commonly September and October because they offer the best weather and views. However that doesn’t mean you can’t trek at other times of year. November-February are very cold, but if you aren’t doing high mountain passes, and even if you are you may be lucky, it can be a great time to trek – just pack more thermals. The views are very clear at this time of year and you can enjoy fresh falls of snow.
Monsoon in the middle of the year is often written off as horribly wet with trails riddled with leeches, but my experience during this time was actually quite pleasant. It seemed that once the trail climbed high enough we were clear of leeches and it rained mostly at the same time of day so you could plan your trekking around the rain schedule. At this time of year there are few trekkers, prices are down and availability is guaranteed.
It is also possible to trek above the rain shadow, for example in places like Muktinath and Jomson off the Annapurna Circuit. Rain during monsoon also helps wash clear the mountain peaks so you can get some incredible views at times too.
Trek off the main trails
The Annapurna Circuit, Annapurna Base Camp and trek to Everest Base Camp are amongst the most popular in Nepal, and for good reason – they are brilliant. However there are numerous other trails offering similar views and experiences. There are many routes to the Everest Base Camp so you don’t need to stay on the tourist treadmill. There are also side valleys if you want to see Everest but not necessarily get to the camp – look into the Three Passes Trek. You could also consider going to Langtang, to the Gokyo lakes or Helambu.
There are also plenty of really remote areas like Inner Dolpo, Nar Phu and Muktinath. These may require permits, camping gear and even your own food supplies but you are guaranteed far less tourism.
The alternative is to get a guide you trust, or even a local Nepali, that can take you to places other trekkers don’t go. This can simply be to small villages in the Kathmandu Valley or even around Pokhara – many of these don’t require permits. They may be able to arrange a home stay so you can stay with a local family and experience local life.
Look out for new trails
There are new trails opening up all the time in Nepal. Near Pokhara the Macchapucchre Model Trek and the trek to Mardi Himal base camp are amongst the latest additions to trekking routes. The new motorable road to Jomsom on the Annapurna Circuit has also meant fewer hikers on this route, or the network of paths between a string of villages in the vicinity that some smart trekkers are using as an alterative to the road. On new trails facilities in teahouses may be a lot more basic but often home stays are possible with a bit of negotiation.