Trekking Regions of Nepal
Central Nepal is dominated by Annapurna Range and the town of Pokhara. Lying in the Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA), it has a greater range of terrain and culture than other regions and traditionally receive more visitors since access does not require a flight, teahouses are plentiful, the routes are often lower and are ideal for first-timers and experienced trekkers alike.
Pokhara is a convenient starting-point for most treks in the Annapurnas. Major trekking here includes Annapurna Circuit, Annapurna Sanctuary, Tilicho Lake, Nar-Phoo, Mustang, east of Dhaulagiri in addition to a number of shorter treks. The most prominent ethnic groups here are Gurung, Thakali and Manange.
Although Mustang and Nar-Phoo are also geographically a part of the Annapurna region, but because treks to these areas are subject to special restrictions, one gains access only after obtaining special permits.
Nar and Phoo
The dry and barren Nar-Phoo Valley on the Tibetan Plateau lies north-east of the Annapurnas and is part of the Annapurna Conservation Area, inhabited by Lama, Gurung and Ghale groups of Tibetan origin. Although a few anthropologists and explorers, including HW Tilman, had explored the region, the entire region was closed to trekkers until 2002, when the region was opened to organised trekking groups by the government. This isolation has helped the people of Nar-Phoo to maintain a way of life almost unchanged for centuries.
Historically, Nar-Phoo region was the place which Khampa refugees once captured and lived illegally before the Nepal army flushed them out. One can still see the remnants, particularly the ruined forts of the Khampa settlement, along the trails.
Mustang & Lo Manthang
In common usage, the name Mustang refers to the arid, Tibet-like region (known to its inhabitants as Lo) at the northern end of the Kali Gandaki. Lying in the Annapurna Conservation Area, surrounded by Tibet on three sides, Mustang was opened to trekkers only in 1992 and remains virtually untouched by outside influences.
Once part of Ngari in the far west region of Tibet, the ‘restricted area’ of Tibetan influence is north of Kagbeni, and Nepalese refer to it as upper Mustang. Upper Mustang consists of two distinct regions: the southern part, with five villages and inhabited by people related to the Manangis; and the northern area (the ancient kingdom of Lo) where the language, culture and traditions are almost purely Tibetan. The capital of Lo is Manthang.
Located in central west Nepal, Dhaulagiri at 8,167m/26,795ft is the world’s seventh highest peak, and along with Annapurna I stands sentinel over the Kali Gandaki River which flows between these two giants to form the deepest river valley on earth. Inhabited by Magar people in the lower areas, the region offers some of the wildest country imaginable along the clockwise circuit of the Dhaulagiri massif over the main trails on the Myagdi Valley. Despite the fact that the area is readily accessible, although seemingly isolated, relatively few trekkers take up the challenge due mostly to its sheer ruggedness. But the rewards are uncluttered trails, free from madding hikers, unparalleled views, and some of the best trekking in the world.
The Everest or Solu Khumbu region has been a magnet for trekkers ever since its opening in the 1950s, drawn by the desire to see the world’s highest mountain, although access here is not as easy as the Annapurna area. To get near Everest, you must either walk for a week or fly to Lukla. Solu Khumbu is also famous for its Sherpa villages and monasteries. Solu Khumbu provides some of the best trekking in Nepal and an experience not found elsewhere.
The nominal goal of an Everest trek is the Everest BC, or Kala Pattar, a 5,545m bump above it, although there are a variety of other world-class treks to be had here. Other popular treks here include, Gokyo Lakes, crossing of the three high passes, trekking peaks, etc.
Langtang and Helambu
Three main trek routes; 1) Langtang Valley, 2) Helambu and 3) Gosaikunda Lake cover much of the Langtang National park and the southern Helambu region, all of which can be combined in many different ways and are all accessible without flights. Langtang and Helambu regions are connected through Lauribina Pass. Virtually at the capital’s back door, no city in the world can claim a more delightful backdrop. HW Tilman called Langtang ‘one of the most beautiful valleys in the world’-still considered an understatement by many.
The trails are quiet and scenic, often through deep forests or alpine meadows. There are outstanding close-up mountain views and interesting villages with well-established lodges. Langtang is inhabited by Tamangs, who are Tibetan Buddhists and who share their language and many of their customs with Tibetans, whereas the Helambu valley is inhabited by the Sherpas.
Rolwaling is the east-west valley below Gauri Shankar (7,145m), just south of the Tibetan border. Rolwaling, a Sherpa word that means ‘the furrow’, has been shaped by the floodwaters that burst out of a 930-foot opening in a sheer rock wall on the east bank of the Bhote Koshi River, fascinating those who visit it. It is here in the upper reaches of the Rolwaling valley that members of the Sherpa and Tamang communities talk about the yeti, that elusive Abominable Snowman which has been seen so often by Sherpa guides who live in the valley.
This is an isolated and culturally diverse area, but most treks conclude their visit to Rolwaling by either retracing the steps back after reaching the village of Beding or, crossing the Tashi Lapcha Pass (5,755m) into Khumbu.
This area consists of the North Dolpo (Upper Dolpo) and South Dolpo (Lower Dolpo) regions. The southern part has been strongly influenced by Hindu culture, whereas the northern areas have a distinct Tibetan feel with Bon as their religion. The Kanjiroba Range encircles the ancient Kingdom of Dolpo and the sacred Crystal Mountain to form the natural boundary of the 3,555 sq kilometre Shey Phoksundo National Park, the centre piece of which is the magnificent Phoksundo Lake. Dolpo has been home to Tibetan people since the 10th century and was a part of Ngari in the far west region of Tibet until the 19th century.
Travelling here is difficult as the country is more rugged, less developed and has fewer facilities available for the visitors. This makes trekking here much more of an exploration type and intending trekkers must be prepared for some delays and other hardships. It is also considerably more expensive to trek here
The trek around Manaslu (8,163m) – the world’s eighth highest mountain- in central Nepal, was officially opened to tourists in 1991, but mountaineering expeditions have long had access to the area. Manaslu was attempted by Japanese expeditions every year from 1952 until 1956, when the first ascent was made. It thus became known as a ‘Japanese mountain.’
The inhabitants of the upper Buri Gandaki Valley, a region known as Nupri or ‘the western mountains’, are almost exclusively Tibetans and those of Tibetan descent such as Gurungs, who settled here in the early 1600s. There is still continuous trade between Nupri and Tibet. Trekking in the Manaslu region is geographically spectacular and culturally fascinating although it is harder than most in Nepal. The trail up the Buri Gandaki is remote, rough and steep.
Jumla and Rara National Park
Jumla is a trans-Himalayan valley with high ridges covered with forests and alpine pastures. 28 k north of Jumla, Rara Lake is the largest lake in Nepal and is the focal point of Rara National Park and a good destination for a western Nepal trek.
Tourist facilities here are relatively undeveloped. Located at south-west of Dolpo, deep into Nepal’s mystical west- it is almost as closed and little-known as Dolpo. Yet it once nurtured a great kingdom of the Malla dynasty. The Mallas kept a winter capital in the south of the Mahabharat Hills, at Dullu, and maintained a territory that stretched from the humid Terai to the Taklahar in Western Tibet-over trails that few tackle.
Situated at north eastern Nepal on the border with India, this region houses Kanchenjunga Conservation Area and Mt Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest peak at 8,598m. It is also a global hotspot for plant diversity. Nepal opened the region to trekkers in 1988, although people had trekked in the area in connection with mountaineering expeditions since early 20th century.
Kanchenjunga is a long way from Kathmandu, and the nearest roads and airports are a long way from the mountain. The treks here are more expensive thus, since you and your gear must travel by bus or plane. You trek either to the north or south Kanchenjunga BC, but it takes luck, determination and a lot of time to visit both sides of the peak. The northern side is particularly remote. The region is home to Limbus, close relatives of Rais, which offer intriguing cultures, including shamanism.
The protected areas in Nepal include nine national parks, three wildlife reserves, one hunting reserve, three conservation areas and eleven buffer zones covering an area of 28,998.67 sq. km that is 19.70% spread across 147,181 sq km of Nepal. They reflect the diversity from the plain land of the Terai, at some places only 100 metres from the sea level, to as high as the highest point on earth- 8850m Everest.
The lowlands with sub-tropical jungles to arctic conditions in the Himalayan highlands encompass virtually all topography and climate zones found on earth. And that means within these varied ecologies, you will get to see the rich varieties of flora and fauna. Besides these natural attractions, these areas have on offer a vast multitude of cultural and ethnic varieties. No wonder Nepal is regarded as the world’s favourite eco-tourism destination.
|Rara National Park||10.8 sq km||1976||Nepal’s smallest protected area containing Nepal’s biggest lake, little visited, many migratory birds, and mammal species|
|Bardia National Park||968 sq km||1982||Sal forest, one-horned rhinoceros, tiger, dolphin, black buck, over 400 species of birds recorded|
|Chitwan National Park||932 sq km||1973||World Heritage Site, Sal forest, rhinoceros, tiger, gharial crocodile, 540 species of birds|
|Sagarmatha National Park||1,148 sq km||1976||World Heritage Site, Everest & other high mountains, home of the Sherpas, ancient monasteries, musk deer, snow leopard|
|Shey Phoksundo National Park||3,555 sq km||1984||Trans-Himalayan eco-system, ancient Bon practice, Phoksundo Lake, alpine flowers, high passes, snow leopard, musk deer, ancient cultures|
|Langtang National Park||1,710 sq km||1976||Culturally diverse, varied topography, numerous glaciers, red panda|
|Khaptad National Park||225 sq km||1984||Rich grassland, 224 species of medicinal herbs, Himalayan black bear, 270 species of birds, sacred Khaptad Lake|
|Shivpuri National Park
Formerly Shivapuri Watershed & Wildlife Reserve
|144 sq km||2005||Close to Kathmandu, many bird and butterfly species, good hiking and biking|
|Makalu Barun National Park & Buffer Zone Area
Formerly MBNP & Conservation Area
|2,330 sq km||1992||5th highest mountain in the world, Rugged steep remote wilderness areas, rich diversity of plant and animal life, over 400 species of birds including rare ones|
|Manaslu Conservation Area||1,663 sq km||1998||8th highest mountain in the world, rugged terrain, 2000 species of plants and 11 types of forest, snow leopard, musk deer|
|Kanchenjunga Conservation Area||2,035 sq km||1998||3rd highest mountain in the world, 30 species of rhododendron, many endemic flower species, snow leopard, red panda|
|Annapurna Conservation Area||7,629 sq km||1992||Most popular trekking area in Nepal, extremely diverse landscapes and cultural groups, Annapurna Massif, TilichoLake, 22 different forest types, 101 species of mammals|
|Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve||175 sq km||1976||Grasslands, often flooded during monsoon, 440 species of birds, wild water buffalo|
|Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve||305 sq km||1969||Riverine flood plain, grasslands, swamp deer, wild elephants, tiger, Hispid rabbit|
|Parsa Wildlife Reserve||499 sq km||1984||Sal forests, wild elephants, 500 species of birds, many snake species, Indian bison, tiger|
|Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve||1,325 sq km||1987||Nepal’s only hunting reserve, blue sheep|