The Daily Telegraph - The Himalayas: Trip of a Lifetime
May 26, 2013

Sixty years after Edmund Hillary scaled Mount Everest, Michelle Jana Chan suggests how best you can experience the world’s greatest mountain range.

Home to the highest peaks on the planet, the Himalayas begin in Pakistan stretching across India, Bhutan and Nepal until reaching China in the east. This is a majestic landscape of mountains, deep valleys and glaciers, dominated by Mount Everest (otherwise known as Sagarmatha in Nepali) at 8,848m above sea level.

The country most closely identified with the Himalayas is Nepal, home to eight of the world’s 10 highest peaks, including Everest. Since the first successful ascent by Sherpa Tenzing and Sir Edmund Hillary 60 years ago on Wednesday , there have been thousands of attempts at the world’s highest peak – and even more journeys to Everest Base Camp (5,545m), one of the most popular treks in the region.

Nepal’s good value, range of accommodation standards and easy access to the mountains from its capital, Kathmandu, make it a favourite Himalayas destination. But for the same reasons the country has the busiest trails, particularly in the Everest and Annapurna regions, and there are complaints about litter along the way.

Of course, it is still possible to have a true wilderness experience in Nepal but it demands more commitment and more time (and a domestic flight or a long drive to reach a farther-flung trail).

An alternative solution is Bhutan, the most exclusive destination in the Himalayas. A high tourist tax here – an attempt to retain Bhutan’s strong national identity and traditional values – has kept mass tourism out and closed the door to budget-conscious backpackers (note that the fee, now starting from £130 per day, can be used against the cost of lodging, transport and guiding). The king has also banned mountaineering in Bhutan out of respect for the deities said to live among the country’s peaks, although high-altitude treks, such as the challenging Snowman Trek, are still possible.

An excellent good-value alternative to Nepal is India, which also boasts mighty mountains, an array of traditional festivals and fervent religious rituals. India has three significant mountainous regions: Ladakh, the largest district in the state of Jammu and Kashmir; the undersung area of Kumaon in Uttarakhand, and the former Buddhist kingdom of Sikkim in the shadow of Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest peak.

Finally to the bookends of the Himalayas – Pakistan and Tibet – at the western and eastern ends, respectively. Few prospective visitors consider either destination, deterred by security risks in Pakistan and by travel restrictions in China, which have been tightened in recent years. Yet both regions are home to some spectacular high-altitude trekking routes and enriching cultural experiences.

When to travel
The Himalayas cover a vast area but in general the best months to visit are March-May and September-November. An exception is Ladakh, where tourist facilities are only open between May and September.

How to book
There are several key entry points to the Himalayas, including Kathmandu, Delhi, Islamabad (Pakistan), Paro (Bhutan) and Lhasa (Tibet).

Side trips
All the key gateway cities to the Himalayas are worth spending a few days in. Kathmandu is a city rich in traditions and temples, as well as the striking architecture of Durbar Square and the Buddhist stupas of Swayambhunath. Shey Phoksundo National Park in the northwest of the country is home to the elusive snow leopard, blue sheep and Himalayan black bears.
For travellers flying into Delhi, the Taj Mahal and Rajasthan are popular side-trips. Another option is to tie in the dates of your visit with a traditional festival, such as Tibet’s Saga Dawa festival, which takes place at the foot of the sacred mountain Kailash.

When comparing trekking operators, pay attention to what is included. Not all provide meals and some supply camping equipment. Choose a trip that builds in acclimatisation time. Inquire about the experience of the guide(s) and the support crew, as well as their training in mountain medicine.
Camping treks are often recommended over “tea house” treks because they provide more employment for local porters and have a better reputation when it comes to hygiene.
There is a useful search engine on the Great Himalaya Trail website, which compares different treks and suggests the best times to travel. See

Before you go
Lonely Planet publishes the Nepal guidebook (£17.99) and Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya (£14.99), which has a comprehensive listing of tea houses, lodges and camp sites. The Rough Guide to Nepal (£16.99) covers all the national parks, and includes chapters on adventure sports. Robin Boustead’s Nepal Trekking and the Great Himalaya Trail (£14.99) showcases the newest trekking areas and has extensive planning sections.
Other recommended reading includes Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard about a two-month expedition in the Seventies with naturalist George Schaller. There is also Tibet, Tibet by Patrick French; The Tibetan Book of the Dead with a commentary by the Dalai Lama; and The Psychedelic Experience by Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner, a reinterpretation of the Tibetan Buddhist text. Trekkers may be daunted and inspired by Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, his account of a Mount Everest trek that goes catastrophically wrong.

- Choose a trek that suits your ability.
- Do not trek alone.
- Stick to trails and use recognised camp sites.
- Pack in, pack out (never leave any litter).
- Stay hydrated and look out for symptoms of altitude sickness.
- Do not encourage begging by giving money or sweets to children.
- Many tour operators have links to NGOs and offer alternative ways of supporting local communities.
- Get fit.

What to take/pack
- Several layers of clothing
- Numerous pairs of socks
- Good-quality trekking boots
- Handwarmers, under-gloves and mittens
- Trekking poles
- Gaiters
- Daypack (with raincover)
- Sleeping mat
- Head torch and spare batteries
- Sunglasses with good UV protection
- Sun cream and hat
- Lip salve, blister care/plasters
- Wet wipes and tissues
- Pocket knife/multi-bladed tool
- Watch with altimeter/GPS
- Emergency blanket
- Water bottles
- Snacks (energy bars, chocolate)
- Freezer bags
- Binoculars.