by Laura Del Rosso
With eight of the world’s highest mountains, Nepal is an awe-inspiring country that invites travelers to lace up their hiking boots and take off on well-worn trails. Along the way, snow-capped Himalayas and the warm hospitality of the Nepalese people accompany them for experiences of a lifetime.
A trip to Nepal starts with a flight to Kathmandu, the ancient political and cultural capital. Travelers begin to acclimate to high altitudes and prepare for treks in the vibrant atmosphere of its maze of streets and bazaars and in quiet Hindu and Buddhist temples.
Many then head to Annapurna, one of Nepal’s eight peaks that tower 26,000 feet above sea level. The renowned Annapurna Circuit encircles the ragged massif and its sister peaks, winding through terraced rice paddies, rhododendron forests, cascading waterfalls and small villages of varied ethnic groups, each with their own traditions.
The challenging trek, typically two to three weeks, involves steep rocky climbs at high altitudes and river crossings over suspension bridges. Hikers enjoy warm Nepalese friendliness at overnight stays in simple teahouses and trailside encounters with yak herders.
The high point, literally, is Thorong La, a pass at 17,769 feet — the highest in the world. On an especially breathtaking stretch of the trail, hikers descend the pass into the world’s deepest gorge to Muktinath temple, a sacred pilgrimage site nestled in a valley. This is the isolated Mustang region where, until recently, mountain people have had little contact with their Nepalese neighbors, much less with the outside world. Trekkers typically spend a few days in Pokhara, a pretty lakeside city dotted with handicrafts shops and temples, including a picture-postcard pagoda on an island.
The International Mountain Museum in Pokhara, which traces the history of Nepalese mountaineering, as well as mountaineering around the world, is one of many options for post-trek activities. Hikes from town lead to hilltop spots such as Sarangkot for breathtaking sunrise or sunset views of the towering Himalayas.
Visit your local AAA office or call 1-800-759-5386.
(Traveler Spring 2021)