Trekking in Nepal - Important Information
Early morning view from Poon Hill near Ghorepani
So you plan to go trekking in Nepal.
Find below some important information that will help make your trek more enjoyable.
Teahouse trekking or camping? If you are on a popular route like the Annapurna circuit you will find "tea houses" or small lodges all along the way. You do not need to bring food or a stove. In the cold months, a sleeping bag will be useful though. For a "camping" trek, you will not have the tea houses available and usually have a guide and some porters. They will carry tents, gear, food and cooking items. For teahouse trekking, see a list of appropriate things to bring.
Money: There is very little opportunity to change dollars, travellers checks or access an ATM machine on the trail, so you should bring enough Nepalli Rupees to cover your trip. For two people on the Annapurna Circuit, we averaged $28 per day and we stayed in the best rooms we could find (some with attached bathrooms) and ate whatever we wanted from the menus. We drank very little alcohol on the trip but did spend some money on inexpensive souvineers. I expect one could do the circuit on about $10 per day (not counting guide or porter fees). If the Maoists are still operating, add 100 rupees per day per person to your budget. See more about the Maoists here.
Always bring more money that you plan to spend. You do not need to bring a wad of small bank notes but try to have some of each denomination (1,000, 500, 100 and 50 notes). If you are travelling alone, carry more smaller notes (some 1,000's but more 500 and 100 notes). Keep the bulk of your money hidden in your pack and transfer it incrementially to your wallet as needed. On the Annapurna Circuit, we noted an ATM machine in Jomson, and money changers (US dollars and travellers checks) in Jomson and Tatopani. There may be others. When we were in Nepal (2006) the exchange rate was about 70 Nepalese Rupees per dollar.
Innoculations: Hepatitis A for sure and B would be good to get too. These are a series of shots, plan ahead so you can get them all before you depart. Tetanus and Typhoid too. Check with a travel doctor for more information.
Guides, porters and agenciesGuides will tend to speak reasonable English (or your language) and know the route. They will assist with getting hotel rooms, meals and any other issues that may occur (like the Maoist extortion check points). Guides usually do not carry any of your things. Porters on the other hand speak limited English and their job is to carry your load each day. They will carry up to 30 Kg (66 lbs) but usually more like 20 Kg. They will sometimes help with route finding and may suggest good hotels. NOTE: There are occasions when a porter or guide will get a kickback by directing you to a particular hotel. If you don't like the facility and would rather stay somewhere else (even if they tell you all the other lodges are full), go out and look around and stay where you want (another reason not to sign up for the all inclusive plan, see below). There is a guide/porter category where you get a bit of each. The guide/porter may carry up to 10 Kg of your load, speak reasonable English and know the route.
Guides and Porters are a good thing assuming you get people that you get along with. We had a wonderful time with our guide and porter. We learned a lot of the language and made lifelong friends. We did see other groups however who disliked their guide and only travelled with him for part of each day. Try to get to know your guide / porter beforehand (have tea together) or get a recommendation. You are also responsible for your guide/porters well being. Make sure they have enough warm clothes, good shoes and if they get sick along the way, be prepared to find a doctor and try to help them get well.
It is possible to arrange your trip dealing one on one with a reputable guide or porter. By avoiding the agency, the guide makes more money (will be happier!) and you might be able to bargain the price down a bit as well. Typically, you will be charged $10 - $15 per day for a guide or porter. From this amount, the guide will take care of all of his food and lodging costs.
As an example, an agency might charge $10 per day for the services of a guide. Of that, the agency may take $5 per day right off the top. The guide will usually get free lodging (for bringing in the paying customers) and pay 50 Rupees per meal (Daal Bhat, lentils and rice). So the guide might actually take home $1 to $2 per day. By hiring "off the street" at the same $10/day rate, the guide will take home more like $5 to $7 per day. A sharp guide or porter will be able to take care of all your paperwork requirements (TRC, ACA entry permit etc) for you as well. To find a listing of some recommended guides and porters go here.
Going through an agency
DO NOT ORGANIZE YOUR TRIP FROM ABROAD! Wait until you get to Kathmandu or Pokhara before seeing what the trekking companies offer. It will save you a bunch of Rupees! Plan to spend a day interviewing some of the many trekking companies in Thamel district of Kathmandu. They will not be hard to find as you will be approached by just walking down the street.
DO NOT SIGN UP FOR AN ALL INCLUSIVE PACKAGE! When you make a deal with a trekking company, make sure you understand what is included and what is not. Generally you will pay about $10 - $14 per day for a guide or porter and this will include all of his lodging and meals. The company might try to add an additional $15 per day or more to cover your room and board. DO NOT TAKE THIS! You will save money and keep the independence of sleeping where you want and eating whatever you like.
Sometimes they will add a hotel room at the end of the trek. This is OK but only get it for one night as you may want to move the next day.
Sign up for the minimum amount of days you plan to be on your trek. Usually if you finish early you will not get a refund for the days not used but if you take longer than expected, you pay the guide directly (and he usually gets to keep the entire amount). You can do the Circuit in as few as 17 days (maybe quicker if you want to race, but why?). This would be with an exit at Beni. For the Sanctuary, add another week (exit at Besisahar via New Bridge). We signed up at the agency for 21 days but actually were on the trek for 26 days.
Sometimes a guide will try to slow down the trip or extend it knowing that they are making extra money past a certain date. Do not allow this to happen. Remember you are the trail boss. When working with an agency, ask these questions: 1) How much will I pay for extra days? 2) Do we have to be out by a certain date? 3) What is the cancellation policy? 4) What if I get sick and have to return to Kathmandu - are any of the fees refundable? 5) What if we move faster than expected. Do we get a refund for days not used? 6) How many Kg will the porter (guide/porter) carry? 7) Will I be able to meet my porter (guide) beforehand? Do you have others available if I prefer a different one? Can I interview a couple of porters (guides) and choose between them?
Tipping: If you enjoyed your guide or porter, you should tip him at the end of your trek. The industry says $2 per person per day however we would recommend you give more if you can afford it. We foreigners are much more fortunate (at least financially) than most Nepaliis and they will be overjoyed if you "make their day". In 2003, the per capita income for Nepal was $240 per year! The people of Bangladesh make more than those in Nepal. Don't be chinzsy, tip well, it will make you feel good and help someone in true need.
Food: When trekking, the Nepali people tend to eat a very light breakfast then stop for "lunch" at about 10 or 11. Then eat dinner later in the evening (5-7 pm). Breakfast could be tea and bread and the other meals are Daal Bhat. When you stop for "lunch", order food that can be prepared quickly (good choices are chicken soup, daal bhat, or any egg dish like an omlette). If you order something like Pizza (yes, they serve pizza at many tea houses), you may be there for an hour or so while they prepare it. Stay away from pre cooked meals (like last nights lasagna). Order in advance when you can. Example: Order breakfast the night before and tell them what time you plan to eat. Learn to like black tea (Kalo-chia) or tea made from milk (Dude-chia). Use iodine tablets in all of your drinking water and stay hydrated. Don't purchase softdrinks in plastic bottles (they end up in a local land fill). If you want to see a typical menu, click here.
Other things: If trekking in the Annapurna region, you will need the ACAP entry permit and a TRC (trekking registration certificate, now called a TIMS ). If trekking in most other regions, you will need the TRC (or TIMS). A good guide book and map is also important. You will be able to wash your underwear and socks. You can dry them on the outside of your pack when you are hiking during the day. There is no heat in the rooms. Most of the showers are luke warm at best (one exception, in Bamboo, scalding hot water from a bank of solar panels). Most of the time you will be sharing a bathroom down the hall or outside. Some toilets are western, others are the two footprints with the basin in the middle. Take trekking poles and a good LED headlamp. You may need them for a late night journey to the outhouse.