Nepal's Grand Trek Road
As new roads crisscross the mountains and valleys of the Himalaya, Nepal’s most famous attraction – trekking – is unfortunately being sullied. When asked what facility they want most from the government, villagers living in the remote districts of Nepal unanimously say: a road. It is therefore a given that the roads will be there, we just have to make sure that they are built with care so they are safe and do not damage the fragile slopes.
A recent survey has shown that three-quarters of Nepal’s population now has access to at least a dirt road, and a quarter live near a black-topped highway. What this means is that while established trekking trails like the Annapurna Circuit or the Mustang Trek may have the familiar roadside noise and dust, better access also makes it feasible to discover remoter side valleys.
For example, after driving to Chame, more trekkers can now visit Nar, Phu and do the Seven Pass Trek from Manang to Mustang. When the Budi Gandaki road reaches Philim, it will make the Tsum Valley and Manaslu more accessible.
Read also: The Great Himalayan Trail, Kunda Dixit
Roads will also make it easier for tourists looking for adventure in Nepal who do not have the four months necessary to do The Great Himalayan Trail at one go, to take it in instalments. You can now drive up to four days below Kangchenjunga base camp, trek for two weeks, and ride/fly out of Tumlingtar, then return the next season to do the next segment.
Despite all the road-building, there are plenty of pristine valleys, high passes and remote villages in the Himalaya where we can still go to experience the ‘Old Nepal’: Nyingma Gyansen La between Mugu and Dolpo, or Kang La in Manang (pictured, above) where you feel like there is no further you can go on this Earth, or Tashi Labtsa Pass, from where you can peer down at the layers and layers of mountains and contemplate infinity.
The perfect guidebook for a cross-Himalayan trek is just out in its second updated edition. Robin Boustead’s The Great Himalayan Trail: A Pictorial Guide has more recent photographs, excellent new maps from Himalayan Map House (the GHT passing through Dolpo, map above) and lots of tips and information for both the first-time Great Himalayaner, or a return trekker doing it in chapters.
Trekking in Nepal has never been just about the scenery. It is also about the people and travelling along the traditional caravan routes, the rural trading trails or herders taking mountain goats to goths in the monsoon. It is along these trails that Nepalis and tourists visiting Nepal have formed a bond that goes back decades.
As Peter Hillary said at the launch of the second edition of Boustead’s book recently in Kathmandu: “I have a love affair with Nepal because there is nowhere else with this scenery. But much more than that it is also the people who live here -- Nepalis are the most open-hearted people in the world.”
And what better way to meet Nepalis face-to-face than on the up and down paths, through villages and forests, across yak pastures and passing smiling faces on trail bridges.
‘Although the mountains are beyond compare, it is the people you meet along the trail that linger in your memory ... their indefatigable boldness and energy, their independence, strength and resilience when times are bad … it is impossible to make a comparison but surely the people of the high Himal are the best of mankind?’ Boustead writes in his Introduction.
After leafing through this book, and admiring the foldout panorama of the Hongu Basin from the West Col, there will be very few who will not want to pack their gear and head off to do at least one part of The Great Himalayan Trail.
As the book makes clear, the GHT is not just for mountaineers -- any fit person with basic climbing skills can do it. Traversing Nepal along The Great Himalayan Trail is the last great adventure left in the world today.
The Great Himalayan Trail
A Pictorial Guide
by Robin Boustead
Himalayan Map House, 2019
176 pages, Rs 3,000
Kunda Dixit is the former editor and publisher of Nepali Times. He is the author of 'Dateline Earth: Journalism As If the Planet Mattered' and 'A People War' trilogy of the Nepal conflict. He has a Masters in Journalism from Columbia University and is Visiting Faculty at New York University (Abu Dhabi Campus).