Monday, February 20, 2012

Trek to the Annapurna Himalayas in Nepal: Teahouse Trekking


Trek to the Annapurna Himalayas in Nepal

Introduction. What's where and where's what.
Teahouse Trekking. What makes trekking in Nepal a cheap and easy activity to organize.
Preparations. Organizing the trek: permits, transpo, guides and/or porters, etc.
Things to Bring. Gear, clothes, meds, water, etc.
The Trek: Part 1, Part 2. Tackles the trek, all the highs and lows, literally and figuratively.
Budget. Trekking doesn't have to costs that much.
The Take Away. Lessons learned and what not.
What makes trekking in Nepal such an easy and relatively cheap thing to do is a concept known as Teahouse Trekking. Basically, along the more popular trekking trails, such as those in the Everest region or the Annapurna Conservation Area, you will see small villages every hour or so, villages often as old as the trails themselves. Within these villages, there will be number of teahouses, or more accurately, mountain lodges, that offer room and board.

These teahouses are run by local cooperatives, so room rates and food menu options in all the villages in the entire trek are very much a fixed thing. No kidding! They basically photocopy the menu and distribute them in all the lodges in the trail. That is why they discourage bargaining with these kinds of services. You are not getting ripped off because everybody will have the same prices. One thing to note though is that the higher or deeper you go into the trek, prices go up in these lodges, which is understandable, of course. The only way they get all their supplies is through the backs of human porters. Give them their due, I beg of you.

Annapurna Himalayas, Nepal

Rooms

With these lodges, you basically get a very frugal, spartan room. It's essentially four walls (sometimes, a window) and a bed with and thick blankets to keep you warm on those bitterly cold Himalayan nights. Quality of the rooms will vary from lodge to lodge. There are those with walls made of thick concrete, those made of wood, and those made of thin metal roofing panels. We had the opportunity to stay in all types of rooms, even the thin metal roofing ones. And this was in a village on the bottom of a gorge, which probably gets just a few hours of daylight a day. It was the coldest night of my life. (Bamboo village, I'm talking to you.)

Toilets and Showers

Hygiene facilities, i.e., toilet and shower, will be available at most lodges. Oftentimes, they're communal. No ensuite toilets, guys. Also, most of the toilets we encountered are of the squat type. It's a bit tricky to use at first but you figure it out eventually. Showers, specifically, hot showers, will be a bit harder to come by, especially the higher you go in the trail. Some lodges will even charge for hot showers, which again is very understandable. Most hot showers run on propane and porters have to carry those LPG tanks on their backs all the way up the mountains.

Annapurna Himalayas, Nepal

Food

These lodges will often have a restaurant attached to them. They serve basic western food (like simple sandwiches, cheese and tomato pizzas, tuna pastas, etc.) as well as local food (dal bhat, chapattis and other local breads, etc.). Most of the food though will be vegetarian. Nepal is still a Hindu-Buddhist country after all. Yes, there are meat dishes. But I only saw them in menus of restaurants in the big cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara. They will be rare up in those mountains, if you find any at all. Canned tuna is available, though. A bit expensive, but available.

Best Tuna Pasta in Chomrong, Annapurna, Nepal
The best tuna pasta in town

These restaurants are what I like most about teahouses. I am actually a bit hesitant to call them restaurants, because they are more communal dining areas. I like them because these dining areas often have one big dining table and this is where all the trekkers, guides, porters and all other characters checked in the lodge for the night all gather around at dinner time and swap stories of their experiences in the trek. It's a very social and friendly environment. You are all sharing the great experience that is trekking in the Himalayas. We met some of the best people in those lodges, people I consider friends for life.

Chomrong, Annapurna, Nepal
The great group of trekkers in my favorite village in the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek, Chomrong


Organized or Independent?

This is perhaps one of the biggest questions you can have as you consider going on trekking in the Himalayas. Do you sign up with a trekking agency that organizes everything for you, puts you in a trekking group, and hires a licensed guide and maybe even a porter for you? Or do you do it independently, maybe even by yourself?

Well, that is something only you can answer. Teahouses have made trekking in Nepal possible even for independent trekkers. So while guides and porters are helpful (and you're boosting local economy by hiring them), they are not necessary in the more popular trekking regions like Everest and Annapurna. One thing to note though is that there are many trekking routes in the entire country of Nepal tackling different regions of the Nepal Himalayas and not all of them will have teahouses along the trail. The less popular the trail is, the more remote the region is, the more likely it is that teahouses will not be available. So if your chosen trail is a remote one, then you might not have any other choice but to go with a trekking agency that will take care of all your provisions: clothes, camping gear, food, water, guide, porters, etc.

Figuring out the Trekking Trail, Nepal
Deciding on our route and figuring out the trail

In our case, we did it independently. I was hesitant at first to go on our own. But I trusted my trek partner, Angelica. So we organized everything ourselves. Plus, the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek is the perhaps the second most popular trek after the Everest Base Camp trek. We figured logistics and safety will not be that much of a problem.

At the end of the day, it is really up to the trekker. You want to do easy teahouse treks? Go ahead. They're awesome. You want to do a bit of camping while trekking? That's possible. You want a full-fledged expedition? That's good, too. Once again, plan accordingly.

Annapurna Himalayas, Nepal

This post is the second of a seven-part series. You can read the previous post in the series here: Introduction. Catch my next post: Preparation.


Did you take anything in this post? Do you have a question about trekking in the Himalayas? Something that won’t be tackled by any of the seven posts I’m doing? Ask away. Leave me a comment below.


 
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