Magnificent snow-peaked summits and quaint thousand-year-old villages provide the backdrop for an unforgettable adventure in Nepal. Exploring the dramatic landscape on foot is nothing short of extraordinary, trekkers say.
"[One night] the back doors were open towards the view of Mount Everest and the other peaks of the Himalayas. It was so beautiful with snow-capped mountains and the sky was full of stars. I think that was one of the most magical moments I've ever had," says iReporter Kuna Rajandran, who trekked to Everest base camp in April.
Planning a Nepal expedition may seem daunting at first -- and you will be challenged -- but in the end, it¹s worth it. You will come away with some of the greatest memories of your life, from savoring locally cooked meals at teahouses to soaking in breathtaking views of the high Himalayas, according to adventurers who've made the trip.
There are endless options when it comes to planning a trek in Nepal. One of the most popular routes is the Annapurna Circuit, which loops around the base of the Annapurna range. And, of course, the more difficult Everest base camp trek is a magnet for many visitors.
Experts urge travelers to be wary of individual porters and guides who approach you on the streets of Kathmandu. They are most likely uninsured, cautions Mohan Lamsal, general secretary of Trekking Agencies' Association of Nepal (TAAN). Have a detailed discussion with your chosen trekking company to assess their professionalism, Lamsal advises.
While booking in advance is a sure thing, some adventurous iReporters say making arrangements in Kathmandu is a convenient way to cut out the middleman.
Be careful not to overestimate your abilities. Even if you feel completely comfortable with the people and the landscape and think you can make the trek on your own -- don't. Trekking with at least one companion is a must, especially if you're a beginner, experienced trekkers say.
Since both the Annapurna base camp and Everest Base camp treks are located in conservation areas, you will need permits, said iReporter Barry Wenlock, a Kathmandu resident and an experienced Himalayan trekker who has been leading tours since 1995. You can get permits before you begin or upon entry into the parks. Additionally, every trekker needs a Trekkers' Information Management System (TIMS) pass. You or your trip organizer can get this card, which is part of a database that stores visitor information for safety reasons.
When deciding on when to make your trek, there is generally one rule of thumb: Avoid the monsoon season (June through August). The most popular times to trek are late spring (March and April) and early to mid-fall (October and November), but keep in mind that is also when the trekking routes are busiest. To beat the rush, try going a week or two earlier or later, suggests Wenlock.
"There are such beautiful forests [at the foothills of the Annapurna], and it's Nepal's primary rhododendron forest, so if you visit there in the last week of March, first week of April, the rhododendrons are full and it's an absolutely staggeringly beautiful place. And the pink and red rhododendrons all up the hillside, a few magnolias mixed in, some jasmine," Wenlock says.
Before heading to Nepal, it's important not only to prepare your itinerary, but also your body. Even the mild or "Nepali Flat" parts of the "easier" Annapurna trek have their fair share of steep inclines.
"Walking around the golf course isn't enough -- you really need to do uphill walking. You can do that for a few weeks before you come, that will make it much easier," Wenlock says.
It's cold in Nepal -- really cold. Weather-appropriate supplies are a must for any trekker, novice or expert. Remember to pack your warmest down jacket and broken-in hiking boots as well as sun and eye protection.
Based on his experience trekking the Annapurna Circuit in 2009, iReporter Dean Gakos, an avid hiker, recommends watching out for knock-off gear, like fake North Face jackets, which he saw in Kathmandu. You don't want to climb up into the mountains only to realize your jacket contains synthetic down.
If you're planning on trekking up to higher altitudes, be cautious of altitude sickness. Warning signs include vomiting and weakness of the body, says Rajandran.
iReporter Udayan Mishra, a Kathmandu resident who has been on several expeditions in Nepal, suggests taking the trek gradually to acclimatize yourself -- overexertion in the beginning may lead to problems later on.
Make sure you have enough Nepalese currency before you get on the path. Gakos recalls that there was "one ATM on the whole trek." And even if there is an ATM, there's no guarantee that it has been recently stocked with money.
There are two typical types of treks: the more popular teahouse trekking and a fully organized camping trip. A teahouse trek gives you the comfort of knowing that lodging and food will be provided. You can carry additional supplies -- clothing, snacks, sleeping bag -- on your own or hire a porter to carry it for you.
Once you finish walking, five to six hours on average per day, you settle down in a village. If you don't have a guide to recommend a teahouse, talk to other travelers and consult guidebooks for suggestions. In teahouses that provide lodging and food, guests are expected to eat at least two meals: dinner at night and breakfast the next morning, Gakos says.
Don't expect a hotel experience -- expect better. Nepali locals are known for being extremely kind and hospitable. Wenlock says you'll be treated like family during your stay. Gakos was looking for that kind of personal exchange.
'"That's why] we picked Annapurna, it was the perfect balance of wilderness and viewing the high Himalayas while also getting the Nepali culture," Gakos says.
Past visitors consistently praise trekking in Nepal as one of the best experiences of their lives. CNN iReporter Ruth Stewart, who trekked to the Everest Base Camp in winter 2010, says Nepal was the most beautiful part of the world she's ever been to.
Take advantage of the majestic mountains and the pristine landscape. Unlike many other mountain ranges, the Himalayan area in Nepal is practically untouched.
"There's no rubbish, there's no gondolas going up to the highest view, there's no cars, there's no traffic -- it's just complete serenity and it's just the most incredible experience," Stewart said.