The warmer weather is here, and rhododendron buds have started blossoming along some of the trails already, but bookings from overseas hikers are still half the normal numbers. Last year hikers were spooked by the earthquake, this year it is the Nepali trekking agencies which have had to cancel many bookings because of the unavailability of diesel.
“We had zero traffic last autumn and this spring,” says a dejected Padam Ghale, 65, of Shambhala Trekking. When the earthquake struck last April, Ghale’s clients were already in Bangkok, so he flew over and took them on a tour of Vietnam instead. This spring, although individual trekkers are still coming to Nepal, most groups have relocated their treks to Bhutan, Thailand, Ladakh or Tibet.
Raj Tamang, 50, of Responsible Adventures, who just guided an all-female group of Singaporean trekkers on the Mardi Himal trail, says the negative publicity on the Internet about the earthquake and blockade have scared first-time trekkers.
“They were still nervous, but we convinced them the trail was safe and transportation wouldn’t be a problem,” Tamang said.
Ghale and Tamang agree that the message should go out that Nepal is open for trekking, and conditions are now back to the pre-earthquake situation. Most popular trekking trails were not damaged in the quake, and those that were have largely been repaired. The only trails that still need repairs are in Langtang and Manaslu.
The Manaslu Conservation Area trails below Philim in Nubri Valley still have a risk of rock fall and there are massive landslides downstream along the Budi Gandaki gorges. Damaged trails in the Manaslu circuit are being repaired by local communities, volunteers and international aid programs like ‘Food for Work’ of WFP to revive trekking and livelihoods of survivors.
Langtang village was buried in an avalanche with a heavy loss of life, but the trails in the Langtang National Park are not dangerous now. In fact, volunteers and locals and even some trekkers are regularly visiting Langtang.
“Nepal is not just Annapurna, Everest, Manaslu and Langtang – there are so many unspoiled new places to explore,” says Tamang whose agency promotes lesser-known treks that combine scenery with cultural immersion.
Thanks to the new motorable roads, these once difficult-to-reach places are now accessible and the treks are not as long as before. Says Ghale: “Our message is that Nepal is back to normal, and you can help generate jobs and income by coming to Nepal for a trek.”
If you want to avoid the crowds on the Everest Trek or the Annapurna Circuit, then there are plenty of other places to hike in Nepal. Even at the best of times, these destinations are so pristine you can walk for days without seeing another trekker. Some of them are also earthquake-affected areas that need added income from homestays.
Nepali Times consulted the experts and presents a list of six can-do treks for this spring:
If you are looking for wild camping treks amidst lush forests and stunning scenery, then eastern Nepal is the place to be. Long shunned by mainstream agencies because of its remoteness, Kangchenjunga is now much more accessible because a road has reached Taplejung which is also connected by air from Kathmandu.
Time: Two weeks
This spectacular lake is one of the jewels in Nepal’s crown. Situated in remote Mugu district, visitors can reach the shores after a three-hour walk from the airfield which itself is only a 40-minutes flight from Nepalganj. Accommodation is limited at the Danphe Lodge inside Rara National Park, but the scenery compensates for all the hardships.
Time: One week
This famous resting point before crossing the world’s highest pass Thorong La (5,416m) is now accessible by jeep from Besisahar which makes it possible to acclimatise and explore the side valleys like Tilicho, Nar Phu, Gangapurna, Hidden Lake and Kangla Pass. Manang is in the rainshadow behind the Annapurnas, but has lush green forests and mountains close enough to touch.
Time: Two weeks
Tamang Heritage Trail
Located between Langtang and Ganesh Himal, this trail offers scenery plus homestays with the Tamang people and their vibrant Tibetan traditions and rituals. The Tamang Heritage Trail is proof that it is not just mountains that draw visitors to Nepal, but also the people.
Time: One week
Gurung Heritage Trail
This new could-be popular trail in the near future is in Annapurna Conservation Area and starts from Ghalegaun in Lamjung and traverses Barpak in Gorkha, Siklis then down to Pokhara. The trail is already popular among Nepali trekkers and offers rich local culture and lively ethnic Gurung heritagewith well developed lodges. You would also be helping families who survived the earthquake to rebuild by staying with them, and maybe even helping out to rebuild schools and homes.
Time: 10 days
Now that the road has nearly encircled the Annapurna Trail, one has to venture forth to places like Khopra which are protected by their remoteness. Mulde Peak and the ridge walk to Khopra from Ghorepani or Ghandruk is a memorable trek with scenery that is out of this world.
Time: One week
Tourism is down, but not out Om Astha Rai
#MyGHT Ayesha Shakya