Don’t know the difference between a walking holiday and a trek? Read on, as we give you the low-down on the best options for walking and trekking in Bhutan.
They’re the two most popular trekking regions of Nepal: the Annapurna Circuit and Everest Base Camp. Many first-time visitors to Nepal have a hard time deciding between the two. They do offer very different experiences, in terms of landscape, culture, accommodation, logistics, and accessibility. Plus, each has distinct advantages—as well as a few disadvantages. So, which one should you choose? Read on to weigh your options.
The Everest region is highly popular for many good reasons: views of the tallest mountains in the world, Sherpa culture, forests and rivers, birds and wildlife. But not everyone has the time to make the full Everest Base Camp trek, a (roughly) two-week expedition. There are many other incredible trekking routes in the Everest area that pass through the Sagarmatha National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) in the Solukhumbu District. Whatever your interests and needs, there is likely a trek in the region to suit you. Read on to find out more.
For travellers seeking a shorter trek at lower altitude with unparalleled views and fascinating culture, the Everest Panorama trek is ideal. This 9-night trek starts with a flight from Kathmandu to Lukla, the gateway to the land of high peaks, pure blue skies, friendly people and strong yaks. Trek from Lukla into the mountains, visiting small villages and ancient temples along the way. Stop to acclimatise in lively Namche Bazaar, in the Sherpa heartland, and break off the main Everest Base Camp route here for the remote valley of Thame. Continue to the important monastery at Tengboche, where would-be Everest summiteers stop to receive blessings from the head lama. Retrace your steps back to Lukla, and onwards to Kathmandu.
The challenging Three Passes Trek offers unparalleled views of dramatic summits and captivating valleys. It follows part of the traditional Everest Base Camp route but also diverges to lesser-visited paths. Take in the entire Himalayan Range from Chukking-Ri and Gokyo-Ri including the best views of Mount Everest’s summit. As with most treks in the Everest region, begin with a flight from Kathmandu to Lukla. Follow the Dudh Koshi River to Namche Bazaar and onwards to Tengboche Monastery and Dingboche. Make a side trip to Chukkum before crossing the first of the three passes, the Kongma La. From here, follow the well-worn trail to Everest Base Camp via Kala Patthar, before leaving the main trail to climb the Cho La Pass to the cobalt blue Gokyo lakes and up to Gokyo Ri. The views are spectacular, particularly of the Khumbu icefall cascading from the Western Cwm. Crossing the Renjo La pass, follow parts of a route used for centuries by Tibetan Traders via Nangpa La to get to Thame. Rejoining the EBC route, drop down to Lukla and fly back to Kathmandu.
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This stunning Gokyo Lakes Trek also takes you to Everest Base Camp, and is a great choice for people who want to experience the magnificence of Everest combined with the beauty of these remote lakes. This trek takes you to the attractive Gokyo Valley, where tranquil turquoise lakes are surrounded by snowy peaks and Nepal’s biggest glacier. The views of Everest from Gokyo are exceptional. After Namche Bazaar, Tengboche and Dingboche, reach Gorak Shep and ascend to Everest Base Camp (5,380m). The next day, enjoy sunrise at Kala Patthar (5,540 m.). Cross the Chola Pass to Dzongla, and cross the Ngozumba Glacier, the largest in Nepal, to reach the Gokyo Lakes. The small herding settlement of Gokyo (4,750 m.) lies on the banks of the third lake. Four peaks above 8,000 m. rise above Gokyo: Cho Oyu, Everest, Lhotse and Makalu.
This trek follows most of the above Gokyo Lakes itinerary, but also includes a challenging high pass, the Renjo La (5,360 m.). This is one of the three passes that features on the Three Passes Trek, too. From the Renjo La there are great views of the Gokyo Lakes and Everest. The trail winds down a sometimes icy path to the south bank of Angladumba Tso Lake. Trek back via Thame, a hidden valley near Namche Bazaar, where you can experience the quiet of the area without many other trekkers around. The Gokyo Lakes & Beyond itinerary is an ideal option for travellers who enjoy a physical challenge and want to experience the best of the Everest region while limiting their time on the most heavily-beaten paths.
If you’ve considered the alternatives and still have your heart set on the classic Everest Base Camp trek, there’s nothing wrong with that! Classics tend to be classics for a reason. The natural beauty, fascinating culture and a personal sense of achievement, as well as warm Nepali hospitality, makes the Everest Base Camp trek one of the world’s most unforgettable treks. The standard itinerary includes 12 nights trekking.
Many people like the idea of trekking in the Himalayas (whether that’s Nepal, Ladakh, or Bhutan) but don’t know whether it would be too far out of their physical comfort zone. There’s also a lot of confusion between mountain climbing and mountain trekking. Yes, thousands of people flock to Nepal each year to trek to Everest, but only a fraction of these actually attempt to climb the mountain! You don’t need to be a uber-fit superhero to enjoy trekking in the Himalayas.
Like many things in life, trekking in the Himalayas is easier and more enjoyable if you have a reasonable level of fitness. If you regularly attend yoga classes, the gym, go for bike rides, long walks, or swim, a Himalayan trek should not be outside your comfort zone. Of course, if you have any particular health issues—especially related to the joints, lungs, or heart—you should seek professional medical advice before planning a trip. But the Himalayas offer everything from low-altitude jaunts to weeks-long expeditions at high altitude, as well as everything in between.
It’s also important to realise that fitness and the body’s reaction to high altitudes are not related. Some very fit trekkers can feel the effects of altitude badly, whereas averagely fit trekkers may have no problems at all. There are ways to mitigate the effects of altitude but fitness is not necessarily one of them.
Here are a few different options for travellers with varying levels of fitness.
No Himalayan treks are necessarily ‘easy’. They all involve uphill and downhill walking over uneven terrain, often at high altitude and while staying in basic accommodation. But the following treks are popular among less experienced trekkers.
This trek is perfect for travellers wanting a short (four night) but spectacular trek in Nepal. Climb from pretty river scenery through beautiful rhododendron forests to Ghorepani, then up to Poon Hill for sunrise. The panoramic view from here of Dhaulagiri and the Annapurna range is superb. The trek continues through abundant rhododendron forests to a number of Gurung villages and more spectacular mountain views from Tadapani, before returning to Pokhara via Ghandruk. The highest altitude reached is at Poon Hill, which is 3,210 metres, but nights are spent at a lower altitude that should not cause any problems. This trek does involve a steep ascent up many stone steps on the first day, so trekkers should definitely carry poles to help the body along.
The whole of Ladakh is high-altitude, and the capital city of Leh—where most travellers arrive—is over 3,000 metres. The highest point on the Sham Valley Trek is 3,800 metres. It’s really important that trekkers in Ladakh give themselves several days to acclimatise before heading off on a trek. Once that’s done, the Sham Valley Trek is an easy option. The three-four day route allows you to meander through the midst of Ladakh’s barren yet oftentimes surprisingly colourful landscape, pass monasteries, and stay in cut village homestays with the local people.
If you know you’re pretty fit but don’t want to exhaust yourself while on the trip of a lifetime, check out one of these medium-difficulty options. They will challenging you without requiring years of training beforehand.
The five-day Druk Path trek is one of Bhutan’s most famous. It highlights the great diversity of Bhutan’s landscape. It passes through a gorgeous landscape of blue pine forests, high ridges and pristine lakes. There’s also the opportunity to visit ancient dzongs and villages. The highest altitude reached is 4,235 m, so it’s important to take your time. Find out when is the best time to visit Bhutan here.
Mardi Himal is an under-visited mountain with a recently developed trekking trail that’s waiting to be explored. The mountain landscape is as spectacular as the nearby Annapurna region, but the trek itself is less challenging than the Annapurna Base Camp trek. This trek is an ideal option for adventurous travellers who want to get off the beaten path. Walk though pristine rhododendron forests (especially vibrant in March-April), cloud forests, and charming villages to high-altitude pastures where yaks graze. From Mardi Himal Base Camp, the entire Annapurna range is visible, including Hiunchuli, Annapurna South, and Machhapuchhre (Fishtail). Follow the Mardi Khola Valley for part of the way. If you are looking for a short, rewarding trek with stunning mountain views without the crowds, the Mardi Himal trek is the perfect choice. The highest altitude reached is 4,450 metres.
If you’ve done a lot of trekking before, and consider yourself fit and up for a challenge, there are plenty of choices in the Himalayan region. Longer, more difficult treks require good support, so make sure you have a good guide and porter.
The Three Passes Trek offers unparalleled views of dramatic summits and captivating valleys. Take in the entire Himalayan Range from Chukking-Ri and Gokyo-Ri, including the best views of Mount Everest’s summit. Follow the well-worn trail to Everest Base Camp via Kala Patthar before leaving the main trail to climb the Cho La Pass to the cobalt blue Gokyo Lakes and on to Gokyo Ri. The views are spectacular and you will see the spectacle of the Khumbu Icefall cascading from the Western Cwm. Crossing the Renjo La pass, follow a little of the route used for centuries by the Tibetan Traders via Nangpa La to get to Thame. Following the classical route, drop down to Lukla and fly back to Kathmandu. The highest altitude reached is 5,540 metres, which is very high, so be well prepared and know how to act if you or anyone in your party succumbs to altitude sickness.
Trekking in Bhutan is like nowhere else in the Himalayas. It’s an untouched natural wonderland. Rated as one of Bhutan’s most spectacular, the Laya Gasa trek takes you to Bhutan’s northern border with Tibet. Enjoy fabulous views of snow-capped mountains and experience the unique culture of the friendly Layap people in a truly remote corner of the Himalayas. If you’re trekking in October, don't miss the annual Royal Highlander Festival that takes place in Laya. See the local people showcasing their unique culture over a two-day event in the remote countryside. The highest altitude reached is 5,005 metres, so be prepared to stop or take it slow if you need to.
As experienced Himalayan travellers, we have had plenty of trial and error with our packing styles. While the different regions of the Himalaya have different climates and conditions, there are many important similarities. When planning a trek in Nepal, Bhutan or Ladakh, it’s important that you pack properly. You don’t need to pack the kitchen sink, but under-packing or over-packing can both ruin a trip.
The Precious Snow Mountain Of Tibet
In the far western reaches of the Tibetan plateau stands an extraordinary mountain: shaped like a pyramid with four sides that face the four cardinal directions, from which emerge four rivers that flow in each direction, it’s no wonder that Mount Kailash has become the inspiring setting for mythology and legends for over a thousand years.
According to Hindu mythology, the god Shiva resides at the peak of Mount Kailasa with his wife, Parvati. The mountain represents a pillar of the earth at the centre of a lotus, around which other mountain ranges form the petals.
In Jain legends, Mount Kailash represents Mount Meru, the mythical mountain at the centre of the universe around which all of the planets and the sun revolve.
Both Buddhist and Bon (the ancient shamanistic religion of Tibet before the introduction of Buddhism) mythology associates Mount Kailash with their own deities, but it was also the stage for a great legendary battle between the religions: a Buddhist saint and a Bon magician competed for days for the privilege of having their religion be the primary religion of Tibet.
Finally, their last challenge was to reach the summit of the mountain as quickly as possible. The Bon magician sat on a magic drum and began flying toward the summit, meanwhile the Buddhist saint remained relaxed on the ground, worrying his followers. At last, as the Bon magician was about to reach the summit of Mount Kailash and win for his religion, the sun came up and the Buddhist saint rode on a ray of sunlight to reach the peak first and win the battle for Tibet. Since this time, followers of the Bon religion have walked anti-clockwise when visiting the sacred mountain, against the common clockwise route that is used by Buddhists, Hindus and Jains.
In modern times, pilgrims from Tibet and India are joined by curious or pious tourists from around the world in paying a visit to the sacred mountain.
Mount Kailash is closer to the border with India than to the Tibetan capital city of Lhasa, but that’s not to say it’s close to anywhere, in fact. To reach the legendary mountain requires days of long drives across barren desert-like terrain and high passes, whichever direction you are coming from. But they say that the harder the journey, the greater the reward, right?
The small town at the southern foot of Mount Kailash, Darchen, is the base from which pilgrims and trekkers begin their circumambulation of the mountain. Climbing the mountain is forbidden due to its holy status, but the one- to three-day trek around it allows you to appreciate the unique geography of it and connect with the pilgrims along the way.
Tibetan Buddhists will often set off from Darchen in the early hours of the morning, around 2 or 3am, and aim to walk the entire 52km kora (Tibetan: circumambulation path) in a single day, returning to Darchen exhausted just before midnight. The rough terrain, patches of snow even in summer, and high altitude – the highest point is the Drolma La pass at 5,600 metres above sea level – mean this is no easy feat.
Some particularly devout Tibetan pilgrims will even prostrate for the entire route. Prostration is a form of offering of the body, in which the devotee lowers their body to the ground and lies out flat on their front, marks the point where their fingers reach to with a small object, then stands and walks to their small object to repeat the process all over again – essentially, they travel the entire trail one body length at a time.
Between these two extremes is the more common method for experiencing the sacred mountain’s kora: a three day trek, staying in monastery guesthouses along the way and picnicking with nomads. It’s a once in a lifetime journey that allows you to truly experience the Himalayan spirituality and way of life, unlike anywhere else.
It may be the centre of the universe, home to Shiva and Parvati, or site of a legendary battle to rule Tibet’s religious hearts, but the Precious Snow Mountain is also undeniably a place you have to see once, and perhaps you too will start to believe it.
Sometimes the old ones are the best! The Annapurna Circuit is one of the most famous and much loved treks in the world. I still wear the sweater I bought at Ledar in 2000. I have so many memories. Since then there have been changes with the roads that are being built in various parts of the trek but cleverly new tracks are emerging to avoid the roads. The scenery remains totally breath taking and if you haven't seen the Annapurnas for yourself, I would strongly recommend going and experiencing the wonderful Annapurna Circuit.
The trek starts in Lamjung where we climb through pretty rice terraces, following the Marsyangdi River through numerous hill villages. As we climb we leave the Hindu communities behind and enter Buddhist communities with huge prayer flags and mani walls.
Here we slow the pace as altitude becomes an issue. This gives us plenty of time to visit the incredible Braka Gompa (monastery) and explore the villages around Manang. The village of Braka is my personal favourite and whenever I need to imagine I am in my special place, it is Braka I go to in my head. Blue sky, sparkling water from glacial run off, yaks and wonderfully clean air. Everywhere I look- it is breathtaking. I potter up to Manang for a slice of cake at the village coffee shop and listen to the excellent lecture on altitude put on each day by the Himalayan Rescue Association.
Past Manang, we climb closer to the mountains, snowy white peaks everywhere. The Thorong La Pass at 5,416 metres is a challenge and when we finally arrive, there is just time for some photos before we need to move on due to the intense cold and lack of oxygen. Descending to the temple at Muktinath, we enter the Mustang area. The scenery changes and so do the people. We are now amidst the Thakali people who are most welcoming and keen to introduce us to their culture.
Fields of buckwheat announce our arrival in Mustang. We head to our favourite guest house in the ancient viillage of Kagbeni. "Namaste Didi" calls the friendly owner, who I have known now for over 15 years. The food is fabulous and we tuck into wild mushroom soup and Kagbeni buckwheat bread. I am back in heaven! In the afternoon we explore the village and relax in the sun with a piece of warm home made cake. We are right on the border with Upper Mustang which has restricted entry and still has it's own King!
At Jomsom, trekkers have the option to fly out to Pokhara or continue down the Kali Gandaki river towards Tatopani and up to Poon Hill.
Hardened walkers can continue all the way into Annpaurna Base Camp where they are rewarded with stunning views of Annapurna 1, Annapurna South and Fishtail.