A trek in Nepal is different from most other mountain walks or climbs. Few treks in Nepal supply a geographical region expertise. Instead, you’ll be walking up and down steep hills through remote villages wherever farmers raise crops and herd their stock. Even within the high mountain chain regions you’ll realize herders’.
On a camping trek the day begins at 6am with a call of ‘tea sir’. A steaming cup of tea or coffee soon appears through the tent flap. As you drink your tea and try to avoid spilling it all over the tent, you pack your gear and emerge to a breakfast of Darjeeling tea, coffee, porridge and eggs or pancakes. While you are eating, the sherpas take down the tents and pack up loads for the porters.
Even on a group trek, many trekkers find an opportunity to hike alone for much of the day. The porters are slower and the sherpas, especially the cook crew, race on ahead to have lunch waiting when you arrive.
There are many diversions on the trail. It is not unusual to find sherpas and fellow trekkers in shops or bhattis. Sometimes the entire group may stop to watch a festival or some other special event along the way. At a suitable spot, usually at about 11am, there is a stop of an hour or two for lunch. The noon meal includes the inevitable tea, a plate of rice, potatoes or noodles, some canned or fresh meat and whatever vegetables are in season.
The afternoon trek is shorter, ending at about 3pm when you round a bend to (hopefully) discover your tents already set up in a field near a village. The kitchen crew again prepares tea and coffee soon after arrival in camp. There is then an hour or two to nurse blisters, read, unpack and sort gear, wash or explore the surrounding area before dinner.
Trekking cooks usually serve Western food. It is tasty and plentiful, but can be pretty boring after two weeks or so. Even so, the meals will be taxing the imagination of the cooks, who will be providing a variety of foods they never experience in their own meals. Most trekkers feel healthy and fit on this diet as the food is fresh and organic, with no preservatives.
The sun sets early during the autumn trekking season, and it is dark by 6pm. There is time to read by candlelight in the tents or to sit around talking in the dark. To conserve firewood there is never a campfire. Most trekkers are asleep by The trekking cook prepares lunch at Ghaiyabari along the 8pm or 9pm.
If you are on an organized trek, whether it’s a lodge or camping trek, the sirdar’s resources will include only the food, equipment, money and instructions the trekking company has provided. No matter how scrupulous the arrangements and how experienced your sherpa staff, there will be some complications. A trek is structured according to a prearranged itinerary and the sherpas expect to arrive at certain points on schedule. If you are sick or slow, and do not tell the sherpas, you may discover that camp and dinner are waiting for you far ahead. Be sure to communicate such problems and other desires to the staff.
Most sherpas are true professionals. They will make a lot of effort to accommodate you if they understand what you want. If you do not wish to follow their daily routine, you must decide this early in the trek. A routine, once established with the sherpas, is difficult to change.
A usual condition of a group trek is that the party must stick to its prearranged route and, within limits, must meet a specific schedule. This means you may have to forgo an appealing side trip or festival and, if you are sick, you will probably have to keep moving with the rest of the group. You also may not agree with a leader’s decisions if the schedule has to be adjusted due to weather, health, political or logistical considerations.
Prices for camping treks vary significantly depending on the destination, the number of days, the size of the group, and the mode of transport to the start of the trek. If you, your sheipas and porters all pile into a local bus with the luggage on the roof, you’ll pay much less than if you travel separately in the relative comfort of a taxi or Land Rover. Similarly, if you arrange a trek starting from a remote airstrip like Lukla or Jomsom, you will have to pay for the staff to fly or walk there and the gear to be transported from Kathmandu.
In addition to normal travel agencies, Nepal has a special type of travel agency licensed as a trekking company. In theory, a trekking company arranges treks and does not handle air tickets or transportation, while a travel agency does handle transportation but does not arrange sherpas, porters or food for treks. In practice, either kind of company can arrange any aspect of travel and trekking. You can arrange a guided trek through one of these companies in advance through a Web site, email, phone or fax; or you can arrange the trek in person once you arrive in Kathmandu or Pokhara.
At last count there were 536 trekking companies in Nepal whose business it is to organise treks and provide sherpas, porters and equipment. By shopping around, you can certainly find a company offering a trek for a price that matches your budget.
Trekking companies range from large organizations that operate in cooperation with major adventure travel companies to small operations supporting a single family. One measure of protection when choosing a trekking company is to verify whether it is a member of the Trekking Agents Association of Nepal (TAAN). Only 190 trekking companies are TAAN members; if you trek with one of these companies and have a problem, TAAN may be able to help you gain redress.
To arrange a trek in advance, contact a trekking company in Kathmandu or Pokhara by email or fax and ask it to make arrangements for your trek. Be specific in your communications and be sure the company understands exactly who will provide what equipment. It is most embarrassing to discover on the first night that someone forgot the sleeping bags.
The following is an arbitrary list of agencies that have a reliable history and are likely to reply to email and faxes from abroad. The list includes the biggest and best trekking companies, those that have office staff and can deal with correspondence, as well as a few small ones that have been recommended by readers. A complete list of trekking companies is available from the Nepal Tourism Board.
A walk through the bazaars of Kathmandu will uncover many trekking company offices that are not on this list or the TAAN membership list. Many of these are reliable and easy to deal with in person, plus many have Web sites and can handle inquiries by fax or email.
You can get a lot of advice from trekking companies, but remember they are trying to sell their services. You will be more welcome, and get more comprehensive information, if you choose one company, work with it while planning your trek and then buy your air tickets and rent equipment through it.