TREKKING IN THE HIMALAYA Trekking Agencies
The best way to experience Nepal’s unbeatable combination of natural beauty and cultural riches is to walk through them. The immense contrasts in altitudes and climates found here support an equally spectacular mix of lifestyles, vegetation types and wildlife. More than 110,000 visitors go trekking every year.
You don’t need to be a mountaineer with rippling muscles to enjoy trekking. If you are reasonably fit, have a spirit of adventure and are not afraid of walking, you qualify. There are excellent trekking agencies that will take care of all the details. All you have to do on the trail is concentrate on putting one foot before the other. On many popular trekking trails, you can also trek in what is known as “tea house style” — eating and staying in the many lodges and teahouses on the way instead of camping in tents.
Your trekking agency will provide equipment like sleeping bags, foam mattresses and tents. All you need to bring are your personal wear like walking boots and sandshoes, a water- and wind-proof jacket, woolen shirts, T-shirts, a thick pullover, shorts/skirts and trousers/track suit. Thermal underwear is necessary for high altitudes and cottons are best for lower and warmer altitudes. Also don’t forget a water bottle, Swiss army knife, sewing kit, torchlight with spare batteries, extra bootlaces, sunglasses, sun cream and personal medical supplies.
Trekking is possible at any time of the year depending on where you are going. The most popular seasons are spring (February-May) and autumn (September-November). Winter is very cold above 4,000 m, and high mountain passes may be snowbound, but it is good for trekking at lower altitudes. During the monsoon season (June-August), you can trek in the rain-shadow areas north of the Himalaya like Mustang, Upper Manang and Dolpo. These places are out of reach of the rain clouds because of the high mountains and are unaffected by the monsoon.
You trek to enjoy the scenery on the trail, not to get to any place in a hurry. The main precaution to be taken while trekking is not to go up too high too fast. The body should be given plenty of time to acclimatize. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) refers to the effects of the thin air at high altitudes, which can be very dangerous and may even result in death. If you get initial symptoms like nausea, dizziness, swelling in the face and breathlessness, descend to a lower elevation immediately and seek medical help. Comprehensive travel insurance is advised to cover emergencies like helicopter rescue and medical treatment in case of accidents on the trail.
WHERE TO TREK??
The entire length and breadth of the Kingdom is a paradise for trekkers. There are easy walks lasting a few days and there are strenuous expeditions that take several weeks. All of them have great scenery. Here are some popular destinations:
Annapurna. The most popular trekking route in Nepal, you will be walking through rhododendron forests over the foothills of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges. The Kali Gandaki Gorge, the deepest in the world, and Lake Tilicho (4,919 m), the highest lake, are located here. Treks to the Annapurna region start from the lake-side resort town of Pokhara. (Maximum elevation covered on the trek is 5,416 m.)
Everest. The highest mountain in the world continues to lure adventurers as ever. A hair-raising flight lands you at the airstrip of Lukla (2,850 m) from where you begin walking to the famous Sherpa village of Namche Bazaar and on to Tengboche monastery with the mesmerizing peak of Ama Dablam hovering in the sky. Then it’s over the glaciers to the foot of Everest for the view of a lifetime (maximum elevation 5,546 m).
Langtang. The third most popular trekking region in the Kingdom lies directly to the north of Kathmandu. The Gosaikund lakes situated here are a much-revered Hindu pilgrimage site. Langtang offers baffling extremes in topography and climate conditions. In just one day you can traverse five different vegetation zones trekking from the subtropics to timberline (maximum elevation 4,480 m).
Remote areas. For those who want to get off the beaten track, there is the trail to Mustang (maximum elevation 5,400 m) north of the Annapurna range which offers mind-boggling landscapes and mystical cultures. Manaslu in west-central Nepal (maximum elevation 5,213 m) offers a diverse range of pristine eco-systems. Makalu in the eastern part of the country (maximum elevation 5,350 m) takes you through isolated valleys and high mountain passes to the base of the fifth highest peak on earth. Dolpo in northwest Nepal (maximum elevation 4,500 m) captivates visitors with its Phoksundo Lake and unparalleled scenery.
All baggage must be declared and cleared through the customs on arrival at the entry point. Personal effects are permitted free entry. Passengers arriving at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) without any dutiable goods can proceed through the Green Channel for quick clearance without a baggage check. If you are carrying dutiable articles, you have to pass through the Red Channel for detailed customs clearance.
Apart from used personal belongings, visitors are allowed to bring to Nepal free of duty: cigarettes (200 sticks) or cigars (50 sticks), distilled liquor (one 1.15 liter bottle), and film (15 rolls). You can also bring in the following articles free of duty on condition that you take them out with you when you leave: binoculars, movie or video camera, still camera, laptop computer, and portable music system.
The export of antiques requires special certification from the Department of Archeology, National Archive Building, Ram Shah Path, Kathmandu. It is illegal to export objects over 100 years old, such as sacred images, paintings, manuscripts that are valued for culture and religious reasons. Visitors are advised not to purchase such items as they are Nepal’s cultural heritage and belong here.
For more information on customs matters, contact the Chief Customs Administrator, TIA Customs Office (Phone: 4470110, 4472266).
Foreign Currency and Credit Cards
Payment in hotels, travel agencies, and airlines are made in foreign exchange. Credit cards like American Express, Master and Visa are widely accepted at major hotels, shops, and restaurants. Remember to keep your Foreign Exchange Encashment Receipt while making foreign exchange payments or transferring foreign currency into Nepalese rupees. The receipts may be needed to change left-over Nepalese Rupees into hard currency before leaving the country. However, only 10 percent of the total amount may be converted by the bank. ATM is widely in use in Kathmandu.
Major banks, hotels and exchange counters at Tribhuvan International Airport provide services for exchanging foreign currency.
Exchange rates are published in English dailies such as The Rising Nepal, The Kathmandu Post and The Himalayan Times. Nepalese Rupees are found in denominations of Rupees 1000, 500, 100, 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1. Coins are found in denominations of Rupees 5, 2 and 1. One rupee equals 100 paisa.
Time and Business Hours
Nepal is five hours 45 minutes ahead of GMT.
Business hours within the Valley: Government offices are open from 10 am to 5 p.m. from Sunday through Thursday and close at 3pm on Friday in the Kathmandu Valley. During the winter, they close at 4 pm. Most Business offices are open from 10 am to 5 p.m. Sunday through Friday. Embassies and international organizations are open from 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday. Most shops open after 10 am and close at about 8 pm and are usually closed on Saturdays.
Business hours outside the Valley: Government offices outside Kathmandu valley open from 10 am to 5 p.m. from Sunday through Thursday. On Fridays they remain open until 3 pm. Banks are open from Sunday through Thursday from 10 am to 3 pm. On Fridays, banks remain open until 12 pm only. Business offices are open from 10 am to 5 pm Sunday through Friday. Recently many private banks have re-organized to have different branches open at various different times making banking hours longer. If one branch is closed another will be open.
Holidays: Nepal observes numerous holidays, at the least a couple in a month. So please check the holiday calendar. The longest holiday in Nepal is during the Dashain festival in late September or October. Government offices observe all the national holidays and banks observe most of them. Businesses observe major holidays only.
Postal Services: The Central Post Office located near Dharahara Tower, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday through Friday. The counters are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and provide stamps, postcards and aerograms. Post Restante is available Sunday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Express Mail Service (EMS) is available at GPO and at Thamel, Basantapur and airport postal counters.
Telephone Services:Telephone and fax services are available at the Nepal Telecommunications Corporation at Tripureshwar. Hotels and private communications centers provide long distance telephone and fax facilities. For calling from outside, country code for Nepal is 977 and the area code for Kathmandu is 1.
Internet Services: There are countless Internet cafes and communication centers have opened up in the Valley and around the country. Visitors only have to find a place they are most comfortable in to use the facilities to keep in touch with home. Internet services are also offered by hotels.
Media: Nepali media has made a gigantic leap ahead in just a few years time and what used to be a controlled and tight knit community, is no more. The government audio and television news networks are Radio Nepal and Nepal Television respectively. However, numerous FM radio stations and regional television stations are dominating the market. Major Nepali daily newspapers are Gorkhapatra and Kantipur, while the English dailies are The Rising Nepal, The Kathmandu Post and The Himalayan Times. A number of other newspapers and magazines are also available.
Electricity: Major towns have electricity and the voltage available is 220-volts and 50 cycles. Load shedding is a seasonal phenomenon during the dry season and eases off once it begins to rain. However, most major hotels have uninterrupted power supply through their own generators.