Yes You Can!
Oh yes you can! This is one of life’s great experiences right in there with seeing the arctic and snorkeling in the Maldives. The Himalayas extends about 2500 kilometers with the Brahmaputra (Assam) in the east and the Indus River in the west demarcating its length. It is 300 kilometers wide and nine kilometers above the sea level. As such, it is often referred to as the roof of the world or the shoulders of heaven, and you don’t have to be Sir Edmund Hillary to be absolutely overwhelmed with its beauty. In Nepal alone, there are 326 Himalayan peaks open for mountaineering for crazies, or just gazing up at and trekking below for the average, moderately fit tourist. So much is still unspoiled and its mist-shrouded vastness will make you either laugh or cry. Himalaya comes from the words Him which means snow and Alaya which means abode. It is truly the abode of the gods, the pavilions of heaven and nature’s medicine chest as the exotic fauna have cured mankind for centuries. So, come here NOW, while you can still feel like a tourist pioneer and stretch your legs in a garden of cultures, religions and mountains.
Travel to Nepal. Being at the centre of the Himalayan range, the Nepal Himalaya has 8 of the highest peaks exceeding 8000 meters with, of course, the Mt. Everest as its most famous. But remember it has a convergence of 1310 magnificent peaks over 6,000 meters. And of course there is an infinite range of excellent trekking options from the easy walking excursions to the strenuous climb in the snowy peaks. Nimble 70 year olds challenge the resident “old goats” up in the foothills!!!! You can also rent ponies and trek on them or group up on a plane and soar through heaven. Moreover, with its national parks, heritage sites, glacial lakes, rhododendron forest, unique native flora and fauna, traditional villages and ancient Buddhist monasteries and Hindu temples, Nepal is a destination hard to beat. Kathmandu, its capital city and the valley in which it is located has been declared a world heritage site. On its own, it is worth exploring. You can also register with your embassy or consular office before you go trekking.
Go in October/November. The best months to go are October and November with March and May being close seconds. The weather is mild during these months and generally dry, making the walking conditions easier. In October and November, just immediately after the monsoons, the air is clear and the mountain views are stunning. In March/May, the wild flowers, particularly the rhododendrons, are in full bloom and the mountains are a feast to the eyes. It is possible to trek in the winter but the snow may close some of the passes as well as the tea houses. The summer monsoon period makes the trails slippery and leeches are abundant. However, if you are prepared for the hardships, the wild flowers are at their best at this time and there is a much better chance to sit with local villagers as their are fewer of “us” then. With some of the tea houses closed, you will find yourself sleeping in local homes. Quite an experience to huddle with the whole family around the fire and remember that this is Buddha’s homeland.
Get a permit. To scale these peaks, you need to get a permit. Such permits are issued by the Mountaineering Section of the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation. Fees or ties depend upon the altitude of the peak. Just to visit won’t require a permit except to go in the parks, and these permits can easily be bought in the designated offices in the capital. Your agency or hotel can arrange all of these for you. For independent trekkers, just go to Thamel in Kathmandu for your first night and you will get all the information you need.
Prepare trekking gear and equipment. These things can easily be bought or rented in Kathmandu. But get your own shoes/boots. Take your time to pick a good light pair, get advice and break them in trudging the neighborhood. Think about good socks, no seams and the usual small first aid kit. With airline baggage allowance getting smaller, keep a close note of what you bring.
Arrange for insurance. Let’s be clear, this is not a stroll in the park! Anything can happen to you while trekking. The paths are rough with constant ascents and descents. A simple stumble or a twisted ankle can make going on quite impossible. Or you may succumb to mountain sickness. As well, these places are isolated and without hospitals or medical help close by. It is advisable to have a more comprehensive insurance package that covers what might happen.
Choose a trekking agency. There are hundreds of agencies in Nepal who can easily arrange the trip to suit your own requirements. For first time trekkers, this is most advisable as it will save you time and hassle and not create impossible challenges. . If you are alone, they can provide you with a guide and porter who are reliable or even team you up with a group. Your Kathmandu hotel will be able to arrange this for you or recommend a reliable and experienced local operator. Many of these agencies take care of needs like food, transportation, guide and porter services and gear when required. Even when your agency comes highly recommended, you have to be very clear from the beginning what your responsibilities are to the guides and porters, what you have to provide, how much is the daily cost of each item as food, accommodation for yourself and the porters and guide and have a copy of the itemized receipt and the complete with the schedule and names of lodges. Remember, once you hire a guide and a porter, you become an employer of sorts and could face some amazing negotiations. Just be very clear from the very beginning and trust what you think is fair for eventualities in the journey. Make sure that the agency provides the proper gear and clothing for your guides and porters and have arranged for their food and accommodation as well.
Plan your route. There are many types of trek depending on your fitness, schedule and budget. But the important thing is to get prepared for trekking. Trekking is a demanding exercise especially when it involves steep ascents and descents. If you are trekking alone even with a reliable agency provided guide and porter, it is better to stick to the most frequented routes which include the Solukhumbu district, the home of legendary Sherpas, at the base of Mt. Everest. There is also the Annapurna Region that includes Annapurna I and the 8000-meter giant, Dhaulagiri. Between these two mountains runs the valley of the Kali-Gandaki River, the deepest gorge on earth. The Everest and Annapurna routes have all kinds of accommodations along the way and there are so many trekkers as well that even if you are alone, you will not want for companions.
Acclimatize yourself. The low oxygen content at high elevation can affect you, so stay around the staging area for a bit and take things easy for the first few days getting used to high altitudes. On the Everest route, Namche Bazar, (once an important trading centre on the route from Tibet to Nepal) is a good place to stay awhile. There is a multitude of teahouses, equipment shops, curio sellers, restaurants and even cyber cafes. While in Namche, explore some of the less developed and more traditional villages in the area. One of the nicest is Thame, home of many famous mountaineering Sherpas, including Tenzing Norgay of Everest. By chance, you may meet a Danfe (Impeyan Pheasant) and a Himalaya Tahr along this trail. The round trip is quite a hard day’s walk taking a minimum of eight hours so if you are ahhhhhh…a more mature trekker…. it is best to stay the night at Thame and retrace your steps the next day. Don’t miss a visit to the Buddhist monastery, a thirty-minute walk above the village. The valley to the north of Thame leads to Tibet via the Nangpa la, the pass traditionally used by Sherpa and Tibetan traders. An easier option for acclimatization is a visit to the twin Sherpa villages of Khumjung and Khunde, a two-hour walk above Namche.
Keep the trekker code of conduct. In recent years, some educational programs and campaigns have been started to alleviate the problems tourism brings to a largely untouched area. The fragile eco-system is truly under pressure to provide for the needs of the gradually increasing tribe of trekkers. The central idea is the invisible footprint.
We’ve seen whole families from Europe, Asia, North America…Grandma and Grandpa as well…setting off …AND COMING BACK and dreaming of doing it all over again… from these trekking adventures, so, YES YOU CAN!