The ul­ti­mate guide to trekking

Sixty years af­ter the first suc­cess­ful as­cent of Mount Ever­est, the Hi­malayan re­gion still of­fers plenty of high ad­ven­ture

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Adventure - ED DOU­GLAS

HINDU scrip­tures say that in ‘‘a hun­dred ages of the gods’’ you could not do jus­tice to the Hi­malayas. So where do mere mor­tals start?

Know­ing where to go in an area 10 times the size of France is daunt­ing. Ever­est gets most of the head­lines, but the Hi­malayas are vast, es­pe­cially when you in­clude moun­tain ranges west of the In­dus — the Pamir, Hindu Kush and Karako­ram.

This 4000km cres­cent, stretch­ing from Kyr­gyzs­tan to Myan­mar, is a ge­og­ra­phy of su­perla­tives — the high­est moun­tains, the deep­est gorges, tracts of wild for­est, the rolling high plateau of Ti­bet, and, in Bhutan and the In­dian state of As­sam in the eastern Hi­malayas, some of the great­est bio­di­ver­sity on the planet.

Then there are the peo­ple. It is true that in some ar­eas the Hi­malayas are wild and barely pop­u­lated, but in most there is an in­cred­i­ble di­ver­sity of cul­tures that have adapted to sur­viv­ing in an en­vi­ron­ment that can be ex­cep­tion­ally hos­tile as well as in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful.

Th­ese huge peaks are also the meet­ing point for three of the world’s great re­li­gions: Is­lam in the west, Hin­duism to the south and Ti­betan Bud­dhism to the north.

It’s an in­cred­i­bly dy­namic re­gion. New roads and air­ports are mak­ing some ar­eas more eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble, while sig­nif­i­cantly di­min­ish­ing the ap­peal of oth­ers, such as the fa­mous An­na­purna cir­cuit in Nepal.

Po­lit­i­cal shifts also have al­tered hori­zons. Moun­tains along the north­ern bor­der of Myan­mar have re­cently be­come ac­ces­si­ble for the first time in decades, while visa re­stric­tions and un­rest in Ti­bet have made trav­el­ling there more dif­fi­cult.

Trekking is also chang­ing. Many as­sume walk­ing in the Hi­malayas is only for rugged types who en­joy rough­ing it. That was true in 1953, when Ever­est was first climbed and trekking tourism didn’t ex­ist. Now there are new ways to ex­pe­ri­ence the Hi­malayas: lux­ury lodges for those look­ing to take in the views with a bit of com­fort; treks that fo­cus as much on cul­ture as scenery; and new lodges and home­s­tays for those who want to re­lax and get be­neath the sur­face of Hi­malayan life.

The walk­ing it­self is usu­ally not too dif­fi­cult, apart from the al­ti­tude, of course. It’s the al­ti­tude, along with prob­lems of trav­el­ling in one of the least de­vel­oped re­gions of Asia and the usual fears about hy­giene, that puts off some peo­ple. Stay­ing healthy in the Hi­malayas is cer­tainly more dif­fi­cult than it is at home, but if you’re used to walk­ing and are cau­tious about gain­ing al­ti­tude, then you’re un­likely to have any prob­lems. And the re­wards are spec­tac­u­lar. The sum­mer mon­soon is much heav­ier in the eastern Hi­malayas than it is in the west, and so the most pop­u­lar trekking pe­ri­ods in much of In­dia, Nepal and the re­gion to the east are April and Oc­to­ber.

Skies tend to be clearer in the au­tumn, al­though it’s colder too, but that’s when Ever­est and other pop­u­lar treks are at their busiest.

Zan­skar and Ladakh, largely Ti­betan Bud­dhist in terms of their pop­u­la­tion but po­lit­i­cally part of the In­dian state of Jammu and Kash­mir, are north of the Hi­malayan chain and en­joy much bet­ter weather in July and Au­gust. Th­ese are also the best months for K2 and the rest of the Karako­ram, in­clud­ing Kash­mir, as well as the Hindu Kush.

The most pop­u­lar trekking ar­eas ( such as Ever­est, the An­na­purna re­gion and Ladakh’s Markha Val­ley) have a net­work of fairly ba­sic lodges, open­ing up th­ese ar­eas to in­de­pen­dent trekkers who don’t want to carry a tent and are on a limited bud­get. It’s also pos­si­ble to reach An­na­purna, or Nepal’s Lang­tang re­gion, by bus, with­out the need for costly in­ter­nal flights.

For those with a bit more to spend, there are off-the-peg itin­er­ar­ies from spe­cial­ist travel agents. The best use good lo­cal out­fit­ters and pro­vide a guide, ei­ther Western or a lo­cal who speaks good English. For those who don’t want the has­sle of or­gan­is­ing trans­port and ac­com­mo­da­tion, this kind of trip is per­fect — and for camp- ing treks in re­mote ar­eas, it is es­sen­tial. You can also ap­proach a lo­cal agent di­rectly, which is use­ful if you have a group of friends who want to trek to­gether. Since Nepal’s civil war ended in 2006, the num­ber of trekkers vis­it­ing the Ever­est re­gion has more than dou­bled to 35,000 a year. At the height of the sea­son, about 60 flights land at Ten­z­ing-Hil­lary air­port in Lukla each day. The Sherpa town­ship of Nam­che Bazaar, the gate­way to Ever­est base camp and used for al­ti­tude ac­cli­ma­ti­sa­tion, has ex­cel­lent mo­bile cov­er­age. So if you go in peak sea­son, ex­pect a crowd. If you have a group of mates who want to see Ever­est, most com­pa­nies will or­gan­ise a pri­vate tour.

World Ex­pe­di­tions is one of the big­gest op­er­a­tors, run­ning more than 20 treks this year, with the ac­commo- da­tion a mix­ture of camp­ing and lodges on the stan­dard trek to Ever­est base camp. Some of its north­ern au­tumn de­par­tures are al­ready full, so hurry if you want to go in the di­a­mond ju­bilee year of the first as­cent.

If you pre­fer a bit more com­fort, there are now two chains of lux­ury lodges on the way to base camp, Yeti Moun­tain Home­and Ever­est Sum­mit Lodges. We’re not talk­ing five-star spas here, but an en­suite and a hot wa­ter bot­tle are a big step up from stan­dard lodges. If you’re look­ing to beat the crowds, lo­cal trekking guide Bonny Mas­son has this ad­vice: ‘‘If you’ve got the time, do the orig­i­nal trek the Bri­tish ex­pe­di­tion took in 1953.’’ This started in Kath­mandu, but a bus will now take you to the end of the road just be­yond the town of Jiri. The trail be­yond is a tougher walk than the stages from Lukla, which most peo­ple now reach by air. ‘‘You will get a bet­ter slice of life in Solukhumbu, and the trails are qui­eter.’’

Al­ter­na­tively you can trek out of sea­son, in De­cem­ber or Fe­bru­ary, when num­bers are down and the trails are qui­eter. But you should be pre­pared for lower tem­per­a­tures.

Ad­ven­tur­ous types can hike to the lit­tle-vis­ited east face of Ever­est in­side Ti­bet via the Kama Val­ley, one of the least known but most beau­ti­ful ap­proaches to the world’s high­est peak. Un­like the Nepalese side, this wild val­ley has hardly changed at all.

In re­cent years, the visa sit­u­a­tion in Ti­bet has been in­con­sis­tent, but that now seems to be set­tling down. KE Ad­ven­ture Travel of­fers a 20-day trip out of Kath­mandu, in­clud­ing nine days of trekking. Stun­ning views are what prompt many to go trekking, but the Him-

Above, from Mount Evere Bud­dhist nu Kar­gyak vill in Ladakh; a a warm­ing c tea for trekk

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