Gentle and welcoming Nepal attracts a continual stream of trekkers to its impressive portion of the jagged Himalayas. For her first trekking holiday, Ruth-Ellen Davis joined walkers of all ages and abilities on the Annapurna Base Camp trek: a beautiful introduction to mountain life.
Annapurna Base Camp
While Mount Everest is the country’s most famed mountainous member, it is the heavily forested Annapurna Conservation Area, with its tumbling waterfalls and manageable routes, that is the most popular destination for trekking in Nepal, and the place I chose for my very first trekking experience. The Annapurna Base Camp trek (often referred to as the ABC) follows a 10-day loop through pretty mountain villages and verdant paths, and trekkers are on foot for around five or six hours a day. Stops include rustic Ghorepani, which features a 0430 trek up nearby Poon Hill to watch the sparkling sunrise over the Himalayas; tranquil Chomrong, boasting clear mountain views and the best pizza on the Annapurna circuit; and leafy Jhinu, situated by steamy natural hot springs.
Nepalese mountain life
The ABC trek gives travellers a real taste of Nepalese mountain life. Sturdy mountain porters – who haul bags of goods up the mountainside by taking the substantial strain via a strap round their forehead – frequently trudge by, and trekkers often find themselves accompanied on their morning path by children tripping their way to school. Fields are scattered with workers harvesting crops, and lumbering cattle dragging metal tools over the soil, while in the peaceful villages, sheets piled with grain lay drying in the sun.
The route has its challenges, with steep inclines, uneven surfaces strewn with loose rock, and the odd need to pick your own stony path across streams. The ascent to Annapurna Base Camp, typically on day five or six, can be tough on tired bodies coping with low temperatures and high altitudes. Annapurna Base Camp is 4,130m (13,550ft) above sea level and altitude sickness is not uncommon as the final ascent is quite sharp, and trekkers get little time to acclimatise; my porter fell ill with altitude sickness during the Base Camp section of our trek.
Guides and porters
Guides are full of local knowledge and, as well as ensuring you stay on the right path, their commentary can greatly enhance your experience. My guide Kiran frequently pointed out plant and wildlife I would have certainly missed if left to my own devices (while also ensuring I always had enough water, that I tried all the best local dishes, and he even kindly held my day bag on the tricky bits of the trek.) Many trekkers carry a small day bag themselves with water, camera and money, and give the rest of their luggage to a porter; it is strongly advised that travellers hire one through a reputable agency that ensures porters have all necessary clothing for mountain conditions. The weight limit for porters to carry in Nepal is 30kg, although 20kg is widely considered to be more reasonable.
When to go
October is the most popular month for trekking in Nepal: skies are clear, days are warm, and the recent monsoon season means emerald greenery shrouds the landscape. But higher up the mountains the small amount of lodges struggle – and often fail – to cater for the scrambling masses.
November offers extremely similar conditions to October, but with far less people clogging up the lodges.
Higher areas are pretty inhospitable in December and January, but the Poon Hill trek, which covers the lower section of the ABC, is perfectly doable this time of year, and a pretty sprinkling of snow is almost guaranteed. April and May are also lovely months to visit the Annapurna region.
Aside from sturdy shoes, hat, gloves, and a wind-proof jacket, don’t forget:
Waterproofs: For yourself and your backpack.
Plastic bags: Ensure clothes stay dry by packing them in plastic bags inside your backpack.
Four season’s sleeping bag: Night times in the mountains can get pretty nippy and the walls of trekking lodges are generally very thin.
Earplugs: Paper-thin walls also mean that just because you’re not in the same room as someone doesn’t mean you can’t hear them snore.
Cash: Anything not grown in the mountains has to be hauled up by man or donkey so food and drink can be pricey. (On a particularly hungry day I paid the equivalent of £3.50 for a packet of Pringles). There are no ATMs once you get going so take enough to see you through. My guide advised allowing for Rs 2,000 (£16) a day; I spent around Rs 1,500 (£12) a day.
First aid kit: Painkillers with anti-inflammatory; blister plasters; anti-sickness tablets; high factor sun cream.
Water bottle: Bottled mineral water is not available at the higher points. Trekking lodges will fill water bottles with purified/pre-boiled water for a small charge.
Thermals: Not attractive, but boy do they keep out the cold.
Try to land in daylight for the adrenaline-inducing sight of the Himalayas rising through the clouds. Qatar Airways operate regular flights from London Heathrow to Kathmandu via Doha.
I booked my trek through UK-based Nepal specialists Nepal Travel Plan, who offer a range of treks throughout the Himalayas, including Annapurna Base Camp and Everest Base Camp, complete with experienced guides and porters.
Nepal Travel Plan can also arrange an exciting selection of experiences throughout the country, perfect for winding down after a hearty trek. Their ‘travel modules’ include activity-filled stays in Chitwan National Park, where visitors can appreciate the beauty of the park from the back of an elephant, try their hand at washing an elephant, learn to cook traditional Nepalese dishes with the local Tharu community, and go in search of the one-horned Indian rhino and Bengal tiger. Those looking for a dose of urban culture can opt for fascinating guided tours around Kathmandu’s exquisite temples, and the nearby dwellings of Patan and Bhaktapur.
Other top treks for beginners
Nepal isn’t the only place to take your first mountain steps. Here are World Travel Guide’s other top trekking destinations for beginners:
- Sapa, Vietnam
See soft green vistas whilst experiencing local country traditions.
- Chiang Mai, Thailand
Gorgeous tropical greenery characterises Thailand’s popular trekking area.
- Patagonia, Argentina
Explore Argentina’s diverse landscape, from still lakes to the peaks of the Andes.
- The Alps, France
The French Alps offer many manageable trekking paths, featuring rivers, waterfalls, greenery and wildlife.