Trekking in Nepal to many sounds like an activity one finds on a dream board, or one so foreign it belongs in some obscure National Geographic program about a far away place. Frankly, both "trekking" and "Nepal" fall under that category of cryptic adventure activities and places. In reality though, trekking in Nepal is nothing shocking (other than, of course, the beauty of the environment itself), and not too out of the ordinary for anybody who has been on a long hike.
When I set out to write this explanation of trekking in Nepal, I wanted to answer a question. “What is trekking?” I then realized that the answer is a lot more complex than what it seems. It also dawned on me that when my friends and family posed the question, “What is trekking?” my cliché synonym derived answer, “It’s like a long hike in the mountains” that is found on many “Travel Nepal” websites. This was nowhere near satisfactory.
It’s not that they or I didn’t know what trekking in Nepal was when formulating the response, but rather we failed to respond to the question in a way as to dispel the assumptions that rise out of stereotypes that exist whenever the words hiking, Nepal, Himalayas and remote are used in one sentence, or close proximity to one another. It is these stereotypes that prevent a simple and accurate one sentence description of trekking in Nepal.
So what is trekking in Nepal, if the proper answer is a lot more than just the stereotypical travel in Nepal by hiking? Let’s start with a little geography.
Nepal is a landlocked nation, sandwiched between India and Tibet, stretched out along the spine of the Himalayan range. As such, it offers a vast array of habitats from tropical jungles to the alpine tops of the Himalayas themselves. What trekking in Nepal does, is create an opportunity for the traveler to traverse many parts of this varied terrain on foot, and experience the diverse habitats and culture encountered along the way. Still, although entirely accurate, this answer is incomplete.
We need to first clear up some assumptions.
Clearly, Nepal can be considered as "remote" geographically when viewed against other “more developed” regions of the world, but this doesn’t mean that Nepal is uninhabited and that when trekking one will hike for weeks without seeing any signs of life. Quite the contrary, (though such areas exist), a traveler in Nepal will find themselves no more than half a day’s journey from a settlement. This is especially true for the common major trekking areas. The reason why is actually quite simple.
Nepal being situated on the mountainous terrain that it is, as well as proudly wearing the “third world” badge, it still has a staggering number of "1" major highway. Appropriately dubbed the East-West Highway, it spans the country and provides less than a handful of axillary routes north and south with only one of these tributaries as the route to Tibet (China) out of Kathmandu. The importance of this is that many parts of Nepal are inaccessible by vehicle and many portions, especially those in the West, are completely isolated.
One has to realize that before the "East West" highway was constructed, the villages and settlements of Nepal were already there. Many of the population centers are still only accessible on foot.
Nepal is a country that has been squeezed between two trading giants India and Tibet (today China) for as long as it has existed as a nation. The trade routes between these two Goliaths ran conveniently for Nepal through its territory. Nepal not only had to facilitate trade between these two countries, but it also had to support its own economy and trade system between the major metropolitan areas. Needless to say, without roads, the only method of transport was by foot. A system of transporting goods by a web of footpaths was created and this rather complex, "via foot" sort of Himalayan highway arrangement, linked the Nepali villages with one another and are today the exact same routes traveled by visiting trekkers.
It’s easy to wonder and assume that the settlements offering bed and breakfast along the trekking routes sprang up at such convenient intervals because of ever expanding tourism. This is false. In his book, A Stranger in Tibet: The Adventures of a Wandering Zen Monk,
Scott Berry describes the adventures of a certain Buddhist, Japanese monk who traveled along the now popular trekking route in the Annapurna Conservation Area to sneak into the then forbidden Tibet (Nepal being forbidden at the time as well). This monk’s adventure occurred in the early 1900s, way before the word “tourism” was thought of in Nepal. Yet, the settlements tourists see and use as overnight accommodations today were encountered by this intrepid monk (Kawaguchi) some 100 years earlier. The reason is that these routes were being used for transporting goods even before Kawaguchi. These routes are no more than a half day’s journey from one another; built up out of necessity as convenient travel stops for the traveling caravans.
Although trekking in Nepal does not include scaling vertical cliffs and climbing snowcapped mountains, views of both are ample along the way. Somebody wondering if they are fit to travel Nepal need not worry. Training to climb Mt. Everest is not the same as trekking in Nepal. Trekking in Nepal does however, provide a great day-long on foot journey for multiple days through some of the most beautiful, remote mountainous terrain in the world, while still providing the opportunity for a warm bed and a home cooked meal. It is in this where the answer to “What is trekking in Nepal?” is found.
See you en route!
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