Trekking the Himalayas in Nepal can sound intimidating. Many think that it is an experience accessible only to seasoned climbers or those who can afford to use expensive trekking companies; however, with enough research and planning, you can absolutely trek in the Himalayas independently – and on a budget.
One way to do so is to take advantage of Nepal’s teahouse treks. These are cheaper excursions where trekkers are provided with meals and overnight accommodation in local “teahouses”. One of the more well-known is the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek – a ten-day journey launched from Pokhara with the Annapurna Base Camp as one of its highlights.
“With enough research and planning, you can absolutely trek in the Himalayas independently – and on a budget.”
My friend and I did this trek in November, 2011 just in time to welcome my 26th birthday. The experience was one of the best of my life. The route was challenging, yet easy to navigate; the landscapes were stunningly beautiful. And it was affordable! I highly recommend the trek and hope that the following questions/answers will help you plan for and enjoy the adventure on your own.
Do I need a guide?
Not necessarily. The Annapurna Sanctuary Trek is pretty straightforward and you will meet other trekkers to journey with along the way. Buy a map and guidebook to understand the route and learn how long it takes to go from one village to another. You definitely want to plan your day in order to avoid trekking once night time falls.
What permits do I need?
Get a TIMS card and a trekking permit at the Nepal Tourism Board office in Kathmandu or Pokhara. Carry these at all times during the trek. Some of the villages you’ll be passing through will have checkpoints.
What kind of gear do I need?
This really depends on the time of the year you’ll be trekking; regardless, you’ll need basic trekking clothes for daytime and warm clothes for nighttime as the temperature can drop close to zero degrees. Layering is key. Recommendations include:
- Dri-fit tops
- Trekking pants
- Trekking socks
- Trekking boots
- Windbreaker jacket
- Shell/down jacket (better if it can be compressed)
- Scarf, gloves & beanie
- Trekking bag with good back support
- Trekking pole
- Sleeping bag
- Sunblock and cap (the sun can be harsh especially in the higher regions)
- Sandals and towel
- First-aid kit
- To decrease the amount of garbage left along the trail, trekkers are also encouraged to bring their own water bottles and use iodine tablets to purify the tap water available. Mix in some Vitamin C to balance out the taste.
Most of these items can be bought or rented in Kathmandu/Pokhara at a rather inexpensive price. Remember to only pack necessities since you will be carrying the gear yourself.
What is the daily cost of trekking?
Teahouse trekking is surprisingly cheap, priced at approximately USD15-25 per day. This fee includes accommodation and 3 meals/day. Accommodation is basic but certainly sufficient to provide safe shelter for the night: rooms are constructed from thin timber and wooden beds with foam mattresses and thick blankets are provided (I still recommend bringing a sleeping bag for the cold nights!). Shared toilets, often squat-style, are outside. A hot shower (often just two buckets of warm water) is available at an additional cost.
The teahouses serve basic western food (pancakes, sandwiches, spaghetti, and pizza), rice meals (like dal bhat (steamed rice and lentil soup)), Chinese-style fried rice, and traditional Nepalese momos (dumplings filled with meat/vegetables). Cold and hot drinks such as coffee, tea, soda, and beer are also available.
What does a typical day look like? Do I have to be fit to do it?
The Annapurna Sanctuary Trek is not difficult altitude-wise, but can be physically strenuous. A typical day involves an early wake up and 4 to 6 hours of trekking with small breaks in between (i.e.: lunch in the middle of the day in a local village). Trekking usually ends around 5 or 6pm and it is not rare for trekkers to be in bed by 8 or 9pm.
On some days, you will be making 800-meter ascents. Be aware of the symptoms of acute mountain sickness, which occurs when you climb to a high altitude quickly, not giving your body enough time to adjust to the lower levels of oxygen (normally at elevations above 2400 meters). Symptoms include shortness of breath, lightheadedness, dizziness, fatigue, and lack of appetite. If you encounter these symptoms, head to a lower altitude and try to relax. As soon as the morning comes, get out in the sun; this really helps blood circulation. Bring Diamox for precaution, take lots of garlic soup, and always rehydrate!
The best way to prepare for the trek is to engage in some basic training beforehand. Running or other cardio exercises are particularly useful to help build stamina.