The Nepalese Himalayas is one of the world's greatest trekking destinations. It is a land of snow peaks and fluttering prayer flags, yak caravans and epic mountain adventures.
Many of the trekkers that flock to Nepal test
themselves on two classic walking expeditions: the Everest Base Camp and
Annapurna Circuit treks. But many excellent hikes hide in the shadows of these
two treks, promising fewer crowds and greater solitude -- and also the chance
to make a positive difference in the poorest areas of the country.
From the rolling country of the Himalayan foothills to
seriously high-altitude treks on rock and ice, many of these lesser-known routes
have been united under the banner of the Great Himalayan Trail, which
officially opened in September 2011 in a bid to encourage tourists to explore more
of the country. In the Nepal section alone there is a mind-blowing 1,700km of
tracks, divided into 10 different sections. Below, ordered from west to east,
is a selection of the best of them.
The largest body of water in Nepal, Rara
Lake is the sparkling azure centrepiece of Rara Lake National Park, Nepal’s
smallest and least visited protected area, in the country’s far west. The few
trekkers who make it here fly in to Jumla and then walk this 10-day journey
expedition style. You will need to organise tents, supplies and help to carry
it all. The park itself is abundant with wildlife, including Himalayan black
bears, red pandas, jackals and otters, and magnificent tall Himalayan cedars
full of chattering birds.
Dolpa’s desolately beautiful landscapes were first
brought to the outside world through Eric Valli’s magical 1999 film Himalaya,
and this region is still rarely visited by trekkers – especially in the spring
and summer months. This
two-week trek climbs through alpine meadows to the harsh, high-altitude deserts
of the Tibetan Plateau, taking in jewel-blue Phoksundo Lake, Nepal’s highest
waterfall and two strenuous passes more than 5,000m high. The people of this
remote region live in a world dominated by their Buddhist faith and the
pre-Buddhist Bön tradition. Walkers can visit gompas (temples) and can do homestays in villages. Blue sheep and
snow leopards are sometimes spotted here.
This 12-day trek follows an ancient trade route to the
walled city of Lo Manthang. Visitors fly in to Jomsom and follow the route
through arid, wind sculpted terrain, past stone villages, Buddhist gompas,
stupas and cave temples, and into welcoming guesthouses for steaming cups of
Tibetan yak-butter tea. This is an accessible trip for less experienced trekkers
as the maximum altitude reached is only 4,070m, and parts of the route can be
travelled by jeep and on horseback. Coming to this part of Nepal feels like
secretly entering Tibet. It is an incredible cultural and historical immersion,
with spectacular mountain scenery as the backdrop.
Dhaulagiri Community Trail
On this nine-day
route you climb from the deep Khali Gandaki Valley on narrow village
pathways used almost only by locals. The track crosses moss-swathed
rhododendron forests where tigers and bears still roam, and climbs 3,600m to
Khopra Ridge for arguably the best view over the Annapurnas and Dhaulagiri. You
can overnight in village homestays and small community lodges, and profits from
visitors’ stays go into improving the local
16-day circuit in the Ramechhap region, only 100km east of Kathmandu,
follows part of Sir Edmund Hillary’s approach trail to Everest. The walk is as
much a cultural experience as it is a foot journey: the local Sherpas make
yak-milk cheese and accommodate visitors with homestays. This trail is truly off-the-beaten-path
trekking, as it passes through isolated communities, giant rhododendron forests
and alpine wilderness. The highest point of the journey is Gyajo La (4,880m)
where you might even glimpse an elusive snow leopard.
Base Camp trek
In the far eastern corner of Nepal, close to the
border with India and Sikkim, part of this
strenuous walk can be done as a teahouse trek (sleeping bags essential) or
the whole route can be done as a camping expedition. The route, which takes
approximately 20 days, crosses forest-shrouded hillsides that are home to the
greatest variety of butterflies and birdlife in the Himalaya, and threads
through remote, narrow valleys to the foot of 8,586m Kanchenjunga (Tibetan for “five
great treasure houses of snow”). The trek is famous for its wild nature and for
Sherpa hospitality. You will be offered tongba,
a warming mountain pick-me-up of fermented millet and hot water, served in a
wooden pot and sipped through a straw.
The article 'Nepal’s Great Himalayan Trail' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.