Worth watching out for.
 — John Cleare

Trekking in the Annapurna Region

Trekking in the Annapurna Region

Excerpt:
With a group or independently?


Contents List | Introduction | With a group or independently? | When to go | Minimum impact trekking | Sample route


WITH A GROUP OR INDEPENDENTLY?

The modern trekking holiday has evolved from the Himalayan mountaineering expeditions of the first half of the 20th century. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the two basic types of treks to choose from today reflect the styles of these early expeditions.

Most expeditions were grandiose affairs involving enormous quantities of equipment and armies of porters to carry it. The packing-list for Maurice Herzog's 1950 Annapurna Expedition ran to 50,000 items. There were, however, a few mountaineers (Eric Shipton, for example) who preferred to travel light picking up basic supplies as they went and partly living off the land, like the local traders who travelled along the many trade routes to Tibet.

Today's trekkers have the choice of joining an organized trek with accommodation in tents and everything carried by a team of porters or travelling independently, staying in bhattis (tea houses or lodges) along the main routes; they carry their own packs or employ a local porter.

TEA-HOUSE TREKKING

Carrying your own pack and eating and sleeping in village tea houses is the cheapest way to trek. On a tight budget it would be possible to get by on as little as £5/US$9 a day. A daily budget of £10/US$18 would be very comfortable and £15/US$27 would be difficult to spend.

Since the route up the Kali Gandaki has been an important trade route for centuries, the network of lodges is well developed in the Annapurna region but things have been changing fast on the bhatti scene recently. When the first few hippies stumbled into the lodges in Tatopani in the late 1960s, they could expect nothing more than daal bhaat (rice and lentils) and a place by the fire to unroll their sleeping bags. There are still some basic places like these to be found but most resourceful lodge-owners have adapted their premises and services to the needs (or whims?) of the modern Western traveller. Sometimes lavatories are still just a hole in the ground but there has been some advance in sewage disposal and some lodges have even installed flushing Western-style sit-down loos. In many places hot showers and varied menus are available. There are now some lodges that are more like small hotels than traditional tea houses.

The pros and cons
Apart from being cheap, the advantages of tea-house trekking are that it is easy to arrange (just get a trekking permit and hit the trail), and that it allows you to stop where you want and to make changes to your itinerary as you wish. Since you're using local services, more of the money you spend stays in the local economy. Staying with Nepali families gives you more of an insight into the country and its people than you might get on an organized trek, sleeping in tents. The main drawback to tea-house trekking is that it is confined to the main routes and at the height of the season on the main trails the lodges can be quite crowded.

Guides and porters
A guide is really not necessary since most routes are easy to follow and local people are helpful over giving directions. A guide can, however, greatly increase cultural appreciation and interaction with local people by explaining things and acting as interpreter. On the main trails, however, most of the lodge owners speak English.

More independent trekkers are beginning to employ a porter, which is an excellent idea. For £4-8/US$7-14 a day, it's best to employ someone locally (see p93 for how to go about it). Apart from the advantage of taking a load off your back, the money you spend directly benefits the local economy. Another option is the porter-guide, who speaks good English and will carry a light pack but charges a little more than a porter. He (or she: see below) will also be able to teach you some Nepali.

Nepalis are unable to understand why Westerners who earn in a year what few Nepalis could earn in a lifetime seem to prefer to carry their packs themselves. You should not feel in any way guilty about employing a porter or porter-guide – quite the reverse, in fact.

GUIDED TREKKING GROUPS

The early Himalayan mountaineers would recognize and, no doubt, approve of the style of the modern guided trekking groups. Accommodation is usually in tents and food prepared in the camps, so large numbers of porters are required to transport everything.

Although levels of service vary from agency to agency, if you book a trekking holiday through an agency in your country you can usually expect a representative from the company to be always on hand from the moment you arrive at the airport.

Where to book – at home or in Nepal?
The alternatives are booking through a trekking agency in your country (addresses listed on pp12-16) or, on arrival, with a Kathmandu- or Pokhara-based agency. Trying to make arrangements with a Nepalese agency from abroad by phone or fax can be difficult, although many places now have email addresses and websites.

Booking a trek once you've arrived in Nepal is a cheaper option than signing up abroad. You will, however, need to allow at least three days to make arrangements.

If you're pressed for time, it's better to book with a travel agent at home or go tea-house trekking.

The pros and cons
Most people sign up for a guided trek because it is easy to arrange. Some, however, may be doing so because they don't realize that arranging a tea-house trek themselves is really very easy. Others join guided treks because of the higher levels of comfort and food that are offered (except with the cheapest agencies).

Although most guided treks in the Annapurna region follow the standard tea-house trekking routes some adventurous agencies offer itineraries off the beaten track, a few of which include high-altitude routes and even a little mountaineering. If you're interested in climbing one of the trekking peaks (see p35) in the Annapurna region, probably the best way to do it is to join a guided trek operated by an adventure travel company. Perhaps the biggest advantage of joining a guided trek is to get away from the standard routes: easy to do since you're camping.

The main drawbacks to the guided trek are that it is more expensive than tea-house trekking; that by staying in tents rather than lodges you have less contact with village Nepalis; and, of course, you are stuck with a fixed itinerary.

In theory, trekking with an agency should be more environmentally friendly than tea-house trekking since groups are required to use kerosene rather than precious firewood. In practice, if kerosene is used at all it will only be for the group members, not for the porters (except in Annapurna Sanctuary). If kerosene is provided for them, they may save it to sell after the trek.

TREKKING AGENCIES

Outside Nepal there are many specialist agencies offering guided treks in the Annapurna region. Treks range from a few days to several weeks and may include sightseeing in the Kathmandu Valley, river-rafting trips, and visits to Chitwan National Park. Most agencies have a representative company in Nepal

Trekking in the Annapurna Region

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