10 things, you gotta know
1. When is the beste time to travel to Nepal: climate?
In the months of June to September, the climate in Nepal is determined by the summer monsoon. It rains a lot. The post-monsoon season, ie in October and November, is therefore the better choice for trekking and high-altitude tours, as there is little precipitation, it is usually still warm and the long-distance view is particularly good. By the beginning of November, the formation of clouds in the mountains may still be very strong in the afternoons, so that the mountains are clear only in the morning and completely hide in the clouds in the evening.
In the spring, however, especially friends of the flora get their money’s worth, as it is usually sunny and well-tempered, while the Himalaya is bathed in the colors of the rhododendron. If you are traveling in February to April, you should only hike higher than 4.000 amsl with additional winter equipment.
Best time for trekking up to 4.000 amsl: october till early decembre, April
Best time for trekking/mountaineering above 4.000 amsl: middle of october till november, february till April
Best time for paragliding (greenhorn-mode): middle of october till middle of december
Best time for paragliding (hardcore-mode): middle of February till middle of april
2. In ones or twos or in a tourist party?
It depends on you, but it is all possible and recommendable! On a guided tour that you may book through a western organization, as a rule you will get a guide with appropriate language skills, well-organized tour stages (including accommodation and full board) and a porter, who carries 15 kg of your luggage. But, you run in a colorful troupe of up to 12 people, which is good, but is not good. Depends entirely on your social competence or patience with opposite incompetence of other group participants. In addition, you have to expect here about twice as high total costs, compared to a self-organized tour. Actually, you do not have to worry about anything, but at the same time you are absolutely inflexible and dependent on the tour program. These circumstances are not our cup of tea, because on the Annapurna Trek, the stages can be shortened or lengthened as desired and we wanted to lug our ballast by ourselves (conscious packing is the keyword!).
However, you can also book a plane ticket to Kathmandu / Pokhara and find yourself a knowledgeable guide who will accompany you on the Annapurna trek. Depending on you, Porter will be also hired. The advantage her is that the money remains 100 % in Nepal and you may decide on sympathy. The Guide itself may be able to provide background information about the area, react to symptoms of altitude sickness, or simply be a nice companion. The downside is, that you have to plan half a day time on site (where you already get to know the city, country and people btw) or at the end the guide won’t loose a word on the way, as the lack of interest in the “customer” could not be greater. There are now also female Nepalese guides who follow the concept of women for women – to whom this might be of importance.
Option 3 is to roughly plan the amount of stages you want to hike on the trek before you start your journey (rummaging in reviews), fly to Pokhara and just purchase a map with resolution of 150000: 1 for 350 NRP. Then just start hiking. In the end, you do not need the map either, as we primarily navigated with the maps.me app – just to know how far the next settlement is. The infrastructure on the Annapurna Trek is so well developed that you can find a lodge no later than every two hours. In addition, you can choose where you spend the night (the guides of course negotiated the deals for their own benefit). In the valley, you cannot get lost, even if you tried hard. Wide beaten track, the not inconsiderable amount of other trekking people and the fat white-red markings, make the wayfinding easy. However, you should have some sense of adventure, be fluent in the English language and have some negotiating skills.
Incidentally, the same applies to paragliding. Have no qualms about going paragliding to Nepal by yourself – well, be at your mind though. And if necessary, contact the flight school on site – e.g. useful for ParaTrekking. A special tip is: visit Babu Sunuwar (Babu Adventure School) for a few days in Sirkot. The area offers everything from beginner flight training to cross country in the wild Andhikola Valley. Everything under the supervision, with company of experienced pilots and in a great atmosphere.
3. Do I have to carry on a tent/dry food?
Nope. The entire Annapurna Circuit or Poon Hill Circuit is lined with small villages or isolated grocery mini-stores along the way. Meanwhile, a large number of locals also live from tourism, so you can actually get food and lodging in each village – in the so-called lodges or guest houses. In addition, there are countless small shops where you can stock up on provisions. Here’s a hint: at strategic junctions (Bhulbhule, Chame, Manang, Jhomsom) it is quite cheap, the farther you get from them, the more expensive it gets.
On the Annapurna Circuit it is possible to negotiate the accommodation fees, which means the room is for free and you eat dinner and breakfast at their kitchen (do not worry, as we have already eaten cheaper in Italy). An exception of that “rule” is found on the Tilicho Lake Side Trek and the Thorung Base Camp. A double room at Thorung Base Camp costs 200 NRP (the cheapest ones) and at the Tilicho Lake Base Camp 800 NRP. In the latter you should make a reservation 2-3 days in advance (in the high season) by phone (tel.: 9946600-48, -49 für das TBC oder 9849584446/9860506432 für Seeri Khadka), otherwise you will make yourself comfy with 50 other tourists in the dining room on the floor (80% of the visitors of the Sidetreks are actually Nepalese tourists).
4. Do I need walking boots or are flipflops just enough?
Surely this is not the first review you read, but it may be the first one to advise you on simple trail shoes. Assuming that anyone who wants to trek in the Himalayas, was already hiking in the local Alps or the Rockies and has reasonably stretched ligaments of their ankles. According to his assumption regular trail shoes, such as a Salomon Speedcross, are sufficient. If you are traveling towards the end of the season, you might consider taking a pair of gaiters with you – I would have left them at home though. The hiking paths in the Annapurna region are usually sandy trails or actually stony stairs. At higher altitudes (> 5.000 amsl) it can be a boulder slope, but it has set by so many footsteps that you can also do without heavy boots. We did not have any snow on the pass at the beginning of November, it snowed a bit the next day, but that would not have made it bold. Do yourself a favor and save some weight on the shoe! Sports shoes are lightweight, easy to ventilate and even easier to keep dry. If you are afraid of the cold, take waterproof SealSkinz socks.
However, if you cannot do without hiking boots, take the medium-hard, ankle-high ones for trekking. But when they get wet, have fun!
Oh, and definitely take flip-flops with you. Your feet will thank you in the evening and after the first look in any shower on the trek, you will not regret the extra luggage. In fact, we also saw people wearing beautiful hand-felted slippers while dining in the guest house. A typical sign for “non-conscious packing” – according to the motto, I do not have to lug it myself …just don’t.
5. How cold is it? (Down jacket, Sleeping bag)?
Depending on where you are in Nepal. Anyone who undertakes a cultural journey and therefore always moves around lower than 2.000 amsl, does not need really warm clothes during the peak seasons. For the Annapurna Trek or for all those hiking higher than 2.500 amsl, a thin down jacket is a must-have. In Nepal, you have to prepare yourself especially for enormous temperature differences within day and night. As during the day it’s usually tee-time, while the temperature fall to -10 ° C at night or icy winds utterly freeze you to the bones. Be advised to wear many individual layers, a thin down jacket as a warm insulating layer and a wind / waterproof jacket as the outer layer – onions!
If you are not hiking higher than 3.000 amsl, you can be satisfied with a travelsheet made of silk. The rooms are usually equipped with a bed sheet and pillow cases (I doubt that they are changed daily though) and an extra thick blanket. For reasons of hygiene, I would always go with my sleeping bag (down 600) and above 3.500 amsl I covered myseslf additionally with the existing blanket. Above 4.500 amsl we were sleeping with our clothes on to prevent freezing. The houses are neither heated nor isolated! With a little luck, there is a recreation room that is fired upon request.
6. How much money do I have to take and what is the best currency to deal with?
As already mentioned, the accommodation costs around nothing, if you consume dinner and breakfast at the same place. Otherwise, the stay is not significant financially (e.g., Tilicho Base Camp 800 NRP / 2 pax, Thorung Base Camp 200 NRP / 2 people, Pokhara 700-1500 NRP / 2 pax, Kathmandu 2.200-3.500 NRP / 2 pax – all budget accommodation). We averaged 4.000 to 4.500 NRP per day for 2 people on the trek (i.e. around 40 Euros in 2017), which means breakfast (eggs, chapati, tea), lunch (soup and tea), dinner (main veggie dish, a lot of tea, maybe dessert) and snacks in between (water, crackers, biscuits, bars, fruits). The nights in Timang, on the Tilicho Side Trek and Muktinath were a lot more expensive than the average, while Bhrathang and Upper Pisang were cheaper. However, we saved a lot of money by having our own tea bags in the higher altitudes (teabags to buy were last seen in Chame, then there are no more to buy) and we were ordering only pitchers of hot water (at Thorung Base Camp 1.5 liters hot water cost 900 NRP, black tea 1.400 NRP and fancy ginger tea 2.000 NRP).
Permits for the Annapurna Conservation Area cost 2.000 NRP, the TIMS hiking pass (compulsory!) also 2.000 NRP. The flying permit for 15 days incl. tax incl. service fee costs 6.500 NRP. A taxi from Pokhara airport to Lakeside should be driving with a Buddhist driver around 500 NRP and with a Hindu at least 800 NRP. You can also take a local bus for 30 NRP – just ask the locals where to go. Dinner in Pokhara costs for two people including drinks around 3.000 NRP, main cost factor is beer in restaurants (500 NRP). At the end of Lakeside there are also shops selling San Miguel for 260 NRP. Mandarins cost 80 NRP / kg whle traveling in the suburbs, in Pokhara the traders call 200 NRP – in the end you have to pay 100 to 120 NRP. A Bounty / Mars costs at least 90 NRP up to 150 NRP in Pokhara, on the trek sometimes even 200 NRP. One bottle of water costs between 25 to 50 NRP, filling your own bottles at safedrinking water stations is between 40 and 80 NRP. Renting mountain bikes costs between 1.500 and 3.000 or up to 5.000 NRP per day depending on the facilities and western influence of the company. Tandem flights start at 7.500 to 9.000 NRP / 30 minutes flight. Haggle as much as you can.
Travel with a calming amount of cash (in euros/dollars) to Nepal (if necessary, you can exchange the money) and look for the first- ATM on your way. At the “ATM-place” you will usually find 4 – 15 ATMs in a small cubby, of which 1 to 2 units actually issue cash. It is something like playing high striker. Also take the service number of your bank to unlock your credit cards, for example our bank thought we would have unauthorized debits from Nepal and blocked to credit card. Depending on the provider you can withdraw 15.000 to 30.000 NRP in one swoop, each withdrawal costs 500 NRP from Nepalese side. We are customers of DKB, thus the withdrawal with the credit card from the German side was free of charge.
7. What bueraucracy I have to take care of?
Visa, trekking and conservation area permits and possibly paragliding permits plus travel insurance. If you are traveling with a Western organization, they usually organize all necessary permits and visas. To organize everything yourself is not a problem though and costs at most a little time on site – but it’s all to be nothing.
I had our the visa stamped in the consulate of Munich. In this case, you pay per visa an extra 5 euros as administration fee, but this way we avoided standing in line for 2 to 3 hours at the airport in Kathmandu. As a European citizen you can also acquire the visa with sufficient passport photos at the airport. Here you should plan your trip in advance keeping in mind that the visa issues only for 15 or 30 or 90 days. We had exactly 30 days stay plus 2 travel days. Unfortunately, the gentleman at the airport was not able to count correctly to 30 when stamping and cheated us for a day – we had to extend our visa for a fair amount of money in Pokhara, which also was time consuming … Check the arrival / departure dates stated in the visa!
We arrived in Pokhara at 8.30 am, checked in at the hotel and drove directly to the Tourist Center – the addresses are to be found here. There you can apply for both, the Annapurna Conservation Area Permit and the TIMS Card. The best way to get the Flight Permit is at Babu Adventures or BlueSkyParagliding – in the morning you ask nicely at the reception and in the afternoon, you are officially allowed to fly. Be sure to discuss all necessary flight areas in advance and check the information on the back side of the paper when picking up the permit.
In addition to the statutory health insurance, we are members of the DAV (German Alpinistic Association) and are sponsors of the mountain rescue Vorarlberg (Super Mountain Package for the whole family for 24 € / 12 months), which I recommend for every athlete worldwide. In order to cover other costs that are related to medical attention, we bought an additional travel health insurance for € 9.80 per person per year. This was an offer of Envivas via our statutory health insurance. All according to the motto: rather have and do not need than need and do not have.
8. Pretty fly for a wifi?
Aye. You have Wi-Fi everywhere. But that does not mean it works well. However, you can send Whatsapp messages and sometimes even watch Youtube videos. We also bought a sim card. Here are the following facts: in Nepal there are two providers NCell and NTC. NCell is cheap and you can get it in Pokhara / Kathmandu in exchange for an ID copy plus a passport photo on every street corner (for example at kiosks / cell phone shops, which also distribute SIM cards). However, the network coverage above 2.500 amsl is rather sporadical than fully available. NTC, however, has great network in the mountains, but as a foreigner you can only acquire it with a bit of effort and only in official NTC shops. We had a sim card from NCell and with a little cellphone holding towards the sky, I was able to call Tilicho Base Camp in Ghyaru. Otherwise the reception in the Annapurna area was modest. However, in Pokhara and further south I had mostly 3G network.
9. Can I get AMS?
Even Nepalis are suffering from altitude sickness and they are also extremely afraid of altitude sickness. Every trekker should indeed bring on board a certain basic stamina, since being fit has a decisive influence on the ability of your circulation system. But regular endurance trainings are no guarantee for a complaint-free ascent. Depending on the individual disposition, the body adjusts its metabolic processes better or worse to the altitude (i.e., lower oxygen partial pressure in the air). The safest way to climb is to give yourself sufficient time for acclimatization. From 2.500 amsl up, you usually should stay no higher than +400 meters from your last overnight stay and above all: keep it slow. The lower the pulse during the climb, the better: bistaraai, this is not a race. Also note that the increased UV radiation, any wind and the cold put additional strain on the body – the combination of everything, in the end can put you down.
Anyone seeking medical advice here is in the wrong place. Here you will get information from my own scientific research (holding a PhD in Chemistry/Mechanical Engineering) and my own experience (I only take little notice of any altitude lower than 6.000 amsl, while Alex starts to spit at 3.000 amsl). Those who have no experience at high altitudes, should be careful with a self-medication (starting with ibuprofen to acetazolamide)! For mild symptoms, such as mild headache, you can take 200 mg ibuprofen up to 3 times a day (as preventive measurement for mild altitude sickness, can be taken from 2.500 amsl). If you know that he / she / it is sensitive to altitude, you can support acclimation with acetazolamide, known as Diamox, from 3.000 / 3.500 amsl. Here is a tip: the dose makes the poison but can also be the key to success. Buy the drug in tablet form (no capsules – we bought it in Nepal, 10 pieces cost about 100 NRP) in the dosage 250 mg. Start with 125 mg twice daily (half tablet, as usually no retard form) and increase to 3-4 times daily. Maximum dose is around 1250 mg daily (manufacturer note!). This high dose should not be taken for longer than 5 days. The main side effect (especially in the first 24 – 48 h) is increased urination. This is not a problem, if you drink enough (3 to 4 liters!), except that it annoys the bed neighbor. Stay supplied with electrolyte. For that you do not need to buy expensive electrolytes, but dissolve common sport effervescent tablets from the drugstore in your water bottle, feed on garlic soup or Thukpa for lunch (very salty). Ginger tea (Ginger-Lemon-Honey, hmmmm!) is also a delicious natural remedy.
If you have any concerns, you should first inform yourself about symptoms of altitude sickness and, if necessary, consult a doctor to get informed. In Manang there is an accredited high altitude institute where daily lectures on altitude sickness are held at 3 pm.
10. What are the Must-Haves and what are the Not-Necessaries?
Yesses: Stainless steel drinking bottle / thermos flask (there are everywhere safe drinking water stations to refill water – avoid plastic bottles in the name of the environment!), mouthguard (for Kathmandu and bus rides), small first-aid kit, headlamp, knife, rope, toilet paper, power plug adapter, ear plugs (there are no soundproof walls!) Li-ion power bank, sunglasses, cap … see our packing list!
Maybes: Water filters / water disinfection tablets (there are little accessible sources, tea is already boiled, faucets should be treated with caution), gas cooker, trekking poles (I prefer walking in the flat without them), little crampons (depending on time of travel).
Nos: Sleeping pad, tent, too many change clothes (you should, at least should, walk so slowly, that you do not sweat), chic clothes, solar panel (there is a possibility to charge your electronics everywhere), crampons, bug spray, umbrella.