The rugged trails of Nepal is probably the most popular reason for travellers to explore this majestic and awe-inspiring country where legends and dreams are made. Despite its recent earthquake, Nepalese remain hopeful that tourism will bring adventurers and visitors back to a place where eye-opening and life-changing journeys begin. Nirajan Chaulagain, Operations Director and Co-owner of one of Nepal’s top adventure trekking and tour companies, Rugged Trails Nepal sits with us to give female adventurers some insights and advise to make your next trek just that.
Making the best use of a lousy situation isn’t something a lot of us are mentally or even physically prepared for, but the people of Nepal have somehow prevailed. After the devastating earthquake of April 2015, international media outlets were perpetually, for weeks, bombarding our television screens with endless looping news clips of the damage that had been wracked in Kathmandu, which killed 8,000 people and injured 21,000.
Nepal’s history is rife with hardship—poverty, earthquakes, civil war, border skirmishes, and scheduled power cuts are part and parcel of its people’s daily lives but locals remain spirited. Despite their suffering, Nepalese are an optimistic bunch because they know such disasters are beyond their control and is merely a part of the cycle of life.
Nirajan Chaulagain, is one of those characters. Nirajan is the Co-owner and Operations Director of Rugged Trails Nepal at one of the country’s top trekking and tour companies located in Kathmandu. Prior to the Skype interview that I had set up for this feature, Nirajan and I were Facebook friends. This is where I got a chance to observe how his company and team-mates were quick to organise and deploy immediate aid to neighbours, friends, relatives and nearby communities when the earthquake struck.
Nirajan is a Kathmandu native who grew up around the valley with extensive personal knowledge of his country and the trails running through its many mountain ranges. After studying journalism in Tribuhuvan University in Kathmandu, he found that it wasn’t exactly something that offered him a steady career, which is why he decided to get back to his first love, which is travelling and exploring.
Nirajan has traveled to the Everest region, Langtang, Upper Mustang, Annapurna, Rolwaling and other remote regions of Nepal. Most recently, he also attempted a hike in the Adirondack Mountains, break neck trails and other hiking trails during his visit to New York. He also has experience as a guide, and believes in social and environmentally conscious tourism practices.
For this feature on hiking trails in Nepal, instinct told me that Nirajan would be the most forthcoming person to talk to and sure enough, picking his brains and extensive knowledge of the many trails in Nepal was a fascinating, if not delightful experience.
When it comes to trekking, Nepal is probably the most popular reason why travellers come to the country. Nepal has this wonderful way of attracting mountaineers and adventurers to its fold. In addition, the peaceful nature of its people and their spiritual beliefs places it in good stead for those seeking some kind of internal enlightenment thus making Nepal a great destination for those looking to get away from the noise.
It’s no surprise that trekkers place Nepal as one of their top destinations given the fact that one can elicit amazing views of Everest while making your way along the Annapurna Panoramic Trek. Nirajan confirms that the choices are endless, whether you’re a beginner with no experience or a hardcore trekker/climber who has been doing this their whole lives. All you have to do is to select which trek will be that one eye-opening journey of self-discovery for you.
Having said that, despite my limited trekking experience, I wasn’t interested in this article just spewing out the usual banal tourist brochure taglines about Everest and the splendour of the Himalayas. I mean, we’ve seen the movies, read the books and the endless documentaries surrounding the beauty and danger of hitting those mountain ranges in order to get that rare glimpse of what I would call Mother Nature’s very own ‘Mata Hari’ – glorious creations of nature that charms, seduces and bedazzles all those who know or hear of it but one where everyone intrinsically knows, poses an inherent risk to anyone who attempts it thinking it’s an easy experience.
No, like Jon Krakeaur, author of ‘Into Thin Air’ who said Everest and its surrounding mountain ranges was, “a magnet for kooks, publicity seekers, hopeless romantics and others with a shaky hold on reality,” I left those rose-tinted glasses about Nepal firmly at home.
With my Krakeaur-like sense of pragmatism intact, I wanted to have some basic insight about how women could travel in Nepal because in essence, trekking or mountain-climbing is not a glamorous activity at all. It’s about pushing right to the end through sheer willpower, determination, courage, sweat and let’s not forget, physical pain; All the things that feed the life-changing feelings one gets when undertaking a trek and given Rugged Trails Nepal’s reputation for organising some really exclusive adventure packages for beginners and pros in the region, it was good to know that Nirajan wasn’t going to try and whip up another charming story about experiencing the wonders of Nepal through mountaineering or trekking because we all know that that’s far from the truth.
So to start off, I asked Nirajan about safety and what a first time female traveller to the country should be prepared for.
“The first thing is to be smart and be prepared. You have to know where you’re going, how many days you’ll be spending there and then collecting the necessary information about that place. If you’re heading to Nepal for the first time, this research you do prior to arriving in Katmandu is crucial. Be prepared for anything,” he advises.
It’s also important to note that whether you’re male or female, that you’ve selected a reputable government registered travel agency because like any less-developed country, there are touts and scammers out there so play it safe and sign up with an agency that really knows their trails inside and out and is licensed.
“When trekking in Nepal you have to be extremely open minded and be able to adjust to the local people and their culture, food and language. It’s not a first-world country so don’t expect first-world amenities,” he warns.
It’s something I have to agree with. After a recent trip to Kathmandu and its nearby hill resort, Nagarkot, there is a definite discrepancy in the hospitality standards within the country. Let’s say, it’s not bad, but it wasn’t exactly St. Tropez in the south of France either, which meant that there was certainly room for improvement.
Unfortunately, that might take awhile. Because of corruption and government mismanagement, Nepal sits comfortably with its third-world status, unable to budge, despite housing some of the world’s most beautiful and challenging mountains.
Unlike a very economically advanced Switzerland, another country famous for its famed mountainous alps, Nepal, with its underdeveloped economy, public transport system and infrastructure, isn’t a country you head to if you’re looking for luxury travel; something even popular African safari states like Botswana, Namibia and Kenya have capitalised on. In Nepal, even the best hotels in Kathmandu struggle to meet some of the standards already set by its neighbours in the rest of Asia due to under-trained and/or inexperienced staff and management as well as a lack of modern infrastructure and facilities, deeming it an archaic experience for some visitors to Nepal.
All that changes, however, when it comes to the timeless, rugged and natural landscapes that dominate the country. Here, Nepal literally stands at the summit overlooking the rest of the competition. This is its saving grace. After all, this is Himalayan countryside where glorious dreams of adventure are made and broken at the same time, so if you’re a traveller looking to get off on the right footing, you need to be prepared to rough it out.
You also need to think about restrictions and permit requirements for many of the country’s famous trekking routes which include treks to Everest Base Camp and Lo Manthang.
“There are not that many restrictions but for all trekking routes in Nepal, trekkers have to get Trekking Permits and TMS Cards whether you join with an authorised agency or go it alone. That said, some trekking routes like the Upper Mustang, Manaslu and Dolpo requires hikers to get special permits from the Department of Immigration that specifically stipulates that trekkers must join an authorised trekking agency that provides experienced guides for the journey,” says Nirajan matter of factly.
It makes sense anyway since trekking with guides is safer than going it alone in high mountains given the temperamental weather conditions and how unpredictable the trails are in these areas.
In fact, not being accompanied by a guide has resulted in the disappearance of numerous trekkers in recent years, so safety needs to be top priority in any trek you undertake in Nepal. This may be especially more true for women who are travelling and trekking solo as they may be more vulnerable to such occurrences so don’t ignore the research or the safety tips.
I then asked Nirajan about what safety precautions travellers need to be looking out for, given the disasters faced by trekkers and mountaineers in Nepal these last few years with earthquakes and avalanches.
“The travel agencies and the guides, porter or Sherpas they provide you are your main lifelines during such cases of emergency. They are committed to do their best to take care of their clients and bring them to safety, but our guys are human too and given the unpredictable nature of such natural disasters, travellers also have to stay alert and calm during these moments. If there is a sudden landslide, earthquake or heavy snowfall, rocks will be raining down on some of these trails so it’s best to listen to your guide and follow them to safety since they are extremely familiar with these trekking routes.”
Now, while trekking in high mountains may seem like the ideal postcard dream that stirs the heart and wanderlust for many female adventurers, bear in mind that it requires you to be in top form when it comes to fitness. Your legs have to be as strong as an ox so they can go the distance. These hikes are no joke. They last days and over several hours a day. You’ll be pounding your feet for hours at a time and roughing it out in cozy, no-frills tea-houses along the way. Eventually you’re going to experience some serious aches and pains that will set in as your journey progresses.
To minimise such strain, begin your training regimen at least 2-3 months in advance of your trip by walking on stairs, cycling and doing treks in your home country. Train with a 10-pound backpack as well because you want your body to get used to carrying some weight over these long distances.
To add to that, take time to acclimatise because many trekkers are bound to experience some degree of altitude sickness especially when hiking above an altitude of 3,000m. The trick is to walk slowly, drink lots of water and stay alert. If something is wrong or you’re not feeling good, it’s best to consult with guides. They will have a first aid kit handy if you’re suddenly taken ill during your trek.
You also have to make sure you have your travel insurance ready to cover any medical evacuations that will be required in the event of an emergency before you head up into the mountains. This is compulsory in case of serious injury or illness on your journey.
Only when all the above nitty gritty is taken care of, can you safely stuff your backpacks and jaunt off to some of Nepal’s most popular (and oftimes challenging) treks and top of this list is the Everest High Passes trek.
In terms of its degree of difficulty, this trek is not a walk in the park nor is it for beginners. Do this circuit trek only if you know what you’re in for because it’s the most challenging and strenuous treks one can undertake in the Everest region. The upside? Having done it, you can be sure that it will be a real eye-opening discovery into some of the planet’s amazing landscapes. It’s life-changing and you’ll never be the same. Ever.
During this trek you will climb some of the highest and most scenic passes in the region including the Renjo La Pass (5,345m), Chola La Pass (5,330m), and Kongma La Pass (5,535m). Other highlights of this trek include Gokyo Ri (5,357m), Fifth Lake, Kalapattar (5,545m), and Everest Base Camp (5,365m).
The three high passes hike starts at Lukla (2,828m) and follows the Dudh Koshi valley, which snakes up to the Sherpa capital of Namche, a bustling bazaar that’s a junction for trekkers, the local Sherpa people and climbing expeditions en-route to Everest. All along this trail, you will have opportunities to observe and engage with friendly locals and enjoy the views of picturesque villages as well as experience the variety of cultures, traditions and colourful festivals of the mountain people. Throw in a monastery or two for good measure and you could be in for some serious holiday nirvana.
The visual treats continue through four of the world’s eight highest peaks which include Cho Oyu (8,201m), Makalu (8,463m), Lhotse (8,516 m) and Everest (8,848m) as trekkers are continuously rewarded with dramatic Himalayan scenes.
Besides the Everest High Pass, the other challenging, yet popular trekking routes in Nepal include the Manaslu circuit, Makalu, Kanchenjunga, Dhaulagiri Circuit, Langtang Ganja pass and the Upper Dolpo.
There is quite the range to choose from so again, with rose-tinted glasses off, be sensible with your trekking experience. As a female adventurer, you are in control of your trekking experience. Only you know what you’re capable of in terms of your mental and physical capabilities so don’t try getting too ambitious if you’re not in top form and similarly, don’t underestimate yourself if you are. In Nepal, rest assured, there’s no shortage of life-changing treks to choose from and all of them could leave an indelible mark on your heart in some form or the other.
“Every trail in Nepal has its own characteristics. On some treks, you’ll see only mountains while on others, you’ll get to experience cultures, landscapes and people. The traveller needs to decide what kind of trekking experience they want to savour. However, in general, most of our clientele prefer treks near or at the Everest and Annapurna regions. These seem to be the most popular choices for trekkers right now.
Everest is popular for its amazing mountain ranges, Sherpa cultures, and glacier lakes, while the Annapurna circuit is renowned for its diverse community, cultures, rivers, waterfalls, temples and more,” Nirajan quips.
If the Annapurna circuit trek is a bit much, then Nirajan recommends doing one part of the leg, which is the Annapurna Ghorepani trek, a short and easy 5-6 hour trek with amazing Annapurna ranges along the way.
Trekking in Nepal is probably the most popular reason for travellers to explore the majestic and awe-inspiring country of Nepal. People come from all around the world to see the mighty Himalayas with their own eyes and experience Nepali hospitality. It’s the best way to explore some of the world’s most incredible sights on earth on some of the best hiking trails on the planet; one that has incredible life-changing effects on those who undertake these journeys. Friendships are made, mental and physical strength is challenged and of course, spirits lifted along the way.
Despite this tiny landlocked country finding itself in the throes of a paradigm shift, in the wake of its recent natural disasters, Nepal and its people, like Nirajan, remain robustly hopeful that tourism is revived to the state of what it was before the earthquakes hit the nation and that visitors get to enjoy what was once so legendary about the country. It’s rugged and amazing natural beauty….
ABOUT RUGGED TRAILS NEPAL
Rugged Trails Nepal is one of the top trekking and tour companies located in Kathmandu Nepal, rendering services to explorers, adventurers and visitors from around the world. It is a registered Company under the Government of Nepal and is recognized by the Ministry of Tourism. Rugged Trails Nepal offers a wide range of tours, trekking packages and customised programs tailor-made to our client’s requirements.