Without a doubt, Nepal’s Great Himalaya Trail presents the opportunity of a lifetime. One of the longest and highest footpaths on earth, and likely the most dramatic, it traverses the entirety of Nepal from east to west with views of the worlds highest mountain peaks before continuing on over the border.
Despite not actually ascending any one mountain, it is said that completing the full low trail over the course of 100 days is more rewarding than any individual peak.
It passes from subtropical jungles to high altitude ecosystems, through villages of Buddhists, Hindus and Tibetan refugees, among others.
The low route is a cultural experience, made up almost entirely of original paths and traditional routes that have been used by locals for centuries, and walking along its sections can provide a much needed break from the developed world.
This route is shorter than the high route, going through the country’s mid hills with an average altitude of 2,000 metres. However, there are many passes to cross, the highest of which is Jang La at 4,519 metres.
For those with mountaineering experience, it is possible to also take to the more challenging Great Himalaya Trail High Route.
- Complete a stunning walk along a trail that has been described as one of the planets “last great adventures”.
- Pass through forests, pastures, green rice terraces and fertile agricultural land, providing the basis for Nepal’s rich culture and civilization.
- Completing the entire trail takes you through various cultures and gives hikers the opportunity to experience different environments.
- Individuals can choose their preferred section.
Your starting point will decide what area you need to travel to, however those opting to walk the full trail will start on Nepal’s eastern border with India.
Trekkers will almost always fly into Kathmandu and then from there, either drive or fly to the subsection they have chosen.
Flight and drive times will vary but there are daily domestic and international flights to Kathmandu from around the world.
The length of the entire Great Himalaya Trail is around 1,500 kilometres with the complete trail taking around 100 days to trek.
Each section of the trail is a different length with the shortest being Langtang (18 days) and the longest Makalu to Everest (34 days).
Grade and difficulty of the walk
Even the low-level route is challenging and not to be underestimated. Those seeking to complete the entire trail will need to plan well in advance to make sure their trip runs smoothly.
Anyone assuming the low route would be an easier option are in for a surprise.
The elevation changes on the low route are drastic and relentless, on average gaining or losing 900-1500 meters (3,000-5,000 feet) of elevation a day, every day.
Passes on the low route can be as high as 4,500 meters so it’s really not that “low”. It therefore goes without saying that altitude sickness may present issues.
Although there are no sections of technical climbing, the length of the route requires a high level of fitness and plenty of experience with long distance trekking. Less seasoned walkers should opt for a single shorter sub-section.
Anyone attempting the trail should have experience in hiking long distances and be comfortable in doing so at altitude and in changing weather conditions.
Should travelers choose to walk solo (or in a self-guided group) this should not be their first expedition in doing so.
A permit is required to trek in Nepal and these can be obtained from the immigration office. If you are trekking with a company or guides then they will most likely be able to assist you in getting the necessary permit.
The permit costs for the low route are much more affordable than the high route. There are a few conservation areas where you pay upon entry, and you will need a GHT TIMS permit (about £15).
Get the TIMS permit in Kathmandu before setting off if possible.
Guided or self guided
There are three variations of trekking in Nepal consisting of solo, accompanied by a guide or trekking with a camping crew.
Each have their pros and cons and is down to personal preference having done suitable research. However, it is recommended that trekkers without a guide travel in small groups for safety reasons.
There are currently no sections of the low route where guides are mandatory, meaning that it can be hiked entirely independently if preferred.
Either way, we recommend getting the guidebook for the Great Himalaya Trail by Robin Boustead and taking a GPS tracker or compass.
The peak trekking season in Nepal is October and November as temperatures are mild and weather is fairly stable.
However, due to the length of the Great Himalaya Trail it will have to be walked over many months.
We would recommend starting in September and ending in late November. These months guarantee you three things – some good and some bad: warm weather with clear skies, shorter days, and a large number of hikers.
March and April are the shoulder season with long days and nature in bloom, but it can get hazy in lowlands, impacting on views over the valleys.
Because much of this route goes through jungles, the heat and humidity can be unbearable at times. Even in late-March, the weather can be hot on the low route.
The low route can be hiked through most of the year, but should be avoided in summer for this reason.
May, June, July and August are the monsoon season in Nepal so trekkers are advised to stay away during this period.
Itineraries will vary depending on what section you choose to travel and the trail duration can differ from vastly from group to group – depending on size and ability.
The ten key sections of the trail are as follows and each can be completed as a single trek or rolled into the full route.
Rolwaling and Everest
Langtang and Helambu
Manaslu and Ganesh
Annapurna and Mustang
Rara and Jumla
The Far West
Due to the trail being so lengthy there is no one single itinerary to fit everyone and individuals will need to personalise their expedition to suit them.
It is possible to do a combination of the two routes as they pass through the same 10 stages. For example, people may choose to head along the low route during spring and the high route during summer to keep temperatures at a manageable level.
Switching between the routes will also allow you to avoid sections where guides are mandatory or if you hear reports of snow in certain regions where routes might be blocked or slow-moving.
There are a large number of teahouses situated along the trail and this is what most travelers choose as their accommodation.
They consist of a small basic lodging and provide the appropriate amenities, however, they have the possibility to be crowded and may not be the most hygienic option in peak season.
The most flexible form of accommodation is camping and provides unrestricted access to trails and the ability to stay in the more remote scenic areas.
However, campers will need to be completely self-sufficient. It is advised that if this is your first major trekking experience you opt to make use of the teahouses as camping can prove difficult at times.
The low route is generally inexpensive as there are lots of guest houses to choose from because locals stay there whilst traveling also and there are dirt roads close by – keeping the cost of supplies and food down. Allow for around £7-10 per night for accommodation and meals, though sometimes it will be much less.
There is no doubt that during the hike you will get your fill of unforgettable experiences. However, there is even more up for offer if you want to tag a few extra days in Nepal onto the beginning of your trip.
Chitwan National Park is said to be a must see location and is home to over 500 species of bird as well as crocodiles, bears and tigers.
Should you want to swap out walking for something a bit more fast paced, then mountain biking in Kathmandu Valley may be something for you, with one of the most challenging mountain biking paths being found in Shivapuri National Park.
Sightseeing in the capital is also something to consider. Hiring a guide and spending a few days strolling through Kathmandu can be highly rewarding, each turn revealing a new temple or shrine with the whole city resembling a sort of living museum.
A guide will know the best spots and offer local knowledge, should you want to know more about the history of the country before setting off on your journey on the Great Himalaya Trail.
Kathmandu’s Thamel tourist district can be busy and an assault on the senses but the streets are lively and lined with shops full of brightly coloured clothing, jewellery, paper lanterns, thangka paintings, carvings, bronze statues, books and more.
Try the local cuisine or give it a go with a Nepalese cooking class.
Further along the route, Pokhara also serves as a base for keen trekkers from all over the world who want to start or end their incredible adventure around Annapurnas.
Pokhara is a charming city where you could easily while away the days at the end of your trek on Annapurna Circuit. Located on the banks of Lake Phewa, the city is surrounded by impressive mountains and peaks, and offers markets, pagodas, cafés and restaurants offering delicious Nepalese food.
Take an evening to walk around the lake and watch the sunset, or head to the World Peace Pagoda, which offers incredible views of the Annapurna range and other nearby mountains.
If you’re looking to end your trip with a final dose of adventure, the adventure capital of Nepal lives up to its name. Pokhara offers paragliding, bungee jumping and even zip-lining. Paragliding is by far the most popular of these options and allows you to fly over the lake with spectacular views of the Himalayas.
|Skills Required||Hiking, Walking|
|Difficulty||3/5 - 4/5|
|Starts at||Kachenjunga, Nepal/India border|
|Finishes at||Humla, Nepal/Tibet border|
|Length of route||1500 Km|
|Average time to complete||100 - Days|
|Possible to complete sub-sections||Yes|
|Highest point||4519 metres|
|Equipment needed||Camping equipment, Poles if preferred, Trekking gear, walking boots|
|Countries visited||Nepal, India, Tibet|