Now even if it’s always pleasant to lay down on the beach, it’s much better if it’s on a perfect white sand one with crystal clear water…
So where to go to find yourself in these magical places?
The good news is that don’t need to go to an atoll in the Maldives, there are places far more accessible.
So here is a small selection of what I consider as the 5 most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen:
Zanzibar is a magical place: on one hand, a fascinating culture at the crossroads of civilizations, and on the other hand an incredible coastline. After discovering its capital, Stone Town, a true cultural gem, you can head to some of the most beautiful beaches you’ll see in your life.
I had the opportunity to explore the island for some weeks before I ended on this spot I still consider as “my” most beautiful beach: “Paje”.
Located on the east side of the island, it is a huge strip of fine sand with crystal clear water. The tide is very strong here as the water is shallow. It’s not the best spot to swim (too shallow at certain times of the day), but the view is simply stunning. When the tide is low, you can enjoy pure transparent water over kilometers, and when it starts rising, the water will come through a full range of colors: incredible shades of green and turquoise blue will scroll over the hours.
Low tide base is also an opportunity to appreciate the seaweed harvest. Moreover, this spot has good wind conditions and is loved by Kyte surfers.
Another must do on this island: “The Rock” restaurant. Its setting is quite unique: you reach it by foot at the beginning of the day, and as the tide surges, the restaurant will be surrounded by crystal clear water. You will need a boat at the end of the day to get back to the mainland (or if you feel like swimming – like me, after having emptied 2 bottles of wine 😉
NUSA PENIDA (INDONESIA)
Indonesia is a fascinating country – it is the largest archipelago in the world with over 18,000 islands. Therefore, it is one of the best places to find incredible beaches.
The most famous beach is found on the iconic Nusa Penida, a small island located between Bali and Lombok.
But it is far from being the only one worth a visit. I’d recommend you explore: Southern part of Bali, the Gilis (Gili Trewangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air) and Nusa Lembogan. And if you venture further on (till Komodo and Flores), you’ll see some of the best and most remote beaches.
Because most of the islands were shaped by volcanoes, the scenery is spectacular. I highly recommend you rent a scooter to explore Bali and Lombok.
Rivera Maya is the most tourist place in Mexico. It all started with Cancun, a former fisherman’s village converted into a holiday and resort center that looks more like Vegas than Mexico. The second town to explode was Playa del Carmen… And finally Tulum.
I remember the first time I visited this little Caribbean paradise back in 2003. A tiny village, a few huts on the beach where you could put your hammock in exchange for a few pesos. And an archaeological site with a breathtaking view over a deserted beach and turquoise water.
Unfortunately, things quickly changed: the village became a town, the Cabañas were replaced by hotels, and in 2006 a ramp was built to allow access to the beautiful beach at the foothill of the archeological site.
Hotels located on the beach have become very exclusive, and free access has been reduced by dubious commercial policies (a Mexico’s classic). Nevertheless, Tulum remains a beautiful beach and is on my top 3. Its long strip of fine beach has not (yet) been covered with concrete and it is still much more charming than Cancun or Playa del Carmen.
And all changes are not bad: last time I visited it (in summer 2017), there was a cycle path between town and the beach (located 4km away).
Another magical place of the Riviera Maya was Holbox. It is a bay located at the border between the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. But yeah, I have to say that it’s been almost 10 years since I was there. Back then it was a small village next to a long perfect white sand beach. No big hotels just huts on the beach… I’m pretty sure its fate was similar to Tulum.
Thailand is also famous for its dreamy beaches. Between the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, the country has thousands of miles of beaches. The most famous are islands such as Ko Tao, Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Phi Phi (next to the beach from the movie “The Beach”), Ko Lanta, etc.
But my favorite one was Railay, located near Ao Nang in the province of Krabi. It is a superb bay with impressive limestone rocks overlooking the water (A popular spot for climbers). The beach is a perfect strand of white sand. Moreover, it is a relatively quieter place in comparison with the surrounding islands.
SANTA GIULIA (CORSICA)
The Mediterranean is also full of amazing beaches that are as beautiful as in the tropics. Greece is probably the most famous country for its dreamy beaches, but I was quite surprised by the beauty of Corsica. The crystal clear water of Santa Giulia, near Porto Vecchio, makes it a perfect stop. Of course, the sea is not as warm as in the tropics; But bathing is still great. And then, for those who live in Europe, there’s no need to grab a 12-hour plan to get there 🙂
So that was my top 5 but there are many other beaches I enjoyed so much, just to name a few of them:
Palolem in Goa (India): A relaxing and cheap place, a great stopover on a long and intense trip to India.
Camps Bay in Cape Town (South Africa): a great beach in Cape Town’s classy neighboorhood.
The “Calanques” in the south of France: a set of creeks formed by the rock. Magical landscapes between the blue of the Mediterranean Sea and limestone rocks.
Utila in the Bay Islands (Honduras): One of the best snorkeling spot in the Caribbean. Corals are impressive, even if Roatan has better beaches
Mexico’s Pacific Coast: from Baja California to Oaxaca, Mexico offers over 2000 miles of coastline on the Pacific. I didn’t have the opportunity to explore Baja California, but some of its beaches are as beautiful as those of Rivera Maya
Koh Rong (Cambodia): This island is located off the coast of Sihanoukville. A relaxed and enjoyable place to be explored in a few days. Its beaches are sublime, although I suffered harsh weather conditions.
Perhentians (Malaysia): Perhentians Islands are located off Kota Baru. A small diving paradise, with fine sand beaches and transparent blue water.
Likoma (Malawi): As weird as it sounds, this island is actually on a lake. Yet its freshwaters are warm and crystal clear.
Copacabana in Rio (Brazil): Finding a beautiful beach in a densely populated city is not an easy task. Yet the famous Copacabana beach is a great spot, even though you won’t feel alone.
Of course, this is just a very short list based on my own experience. So now tell me what is your favorite beach to include it on my next trip 🙂
Nepal is a true trekking paradise. The country has 8 of the 10 highest peaks in the world, its nature is still relatively untouched and its landscapes are incredibly diverse. Over the years, Nepal has developed a tourist industry based on the exploration of the beautiful Himalayan trails. And few places in the world have such thrilling treks.
Enthusiast about Nepal, I explored its trails for months and have done trekking its 3 most famous treks (Everest, Annapurna and Langtang) as well as one of the most remote trek (Kanchenjunga).
So after enjoying these marvelous treks I sat on a desk and started working on a guide to help you choose the trek that fits you the best. I personally did these 4 treks but analyzed a lot of other treks in Nepal. So at the end of this article I include information about other treks based on my analysis and comments received from other trekkers (I only included treks for which I received feedback from someone who had done it).
Enjoy your reading!
Everest BASE CAMP (EXTENSION: EVEREST 3 PASSES)
Certainly the most prestigious trek with great views of the top of the world (8.848 m). This trek is recommended to those looking for high mountain landscapes. Following the steps of the world’s greatest mountaineers, you’ll reach the mythical Everest base camp. The preferred vantage point for observing the highest mountain on earth is supposedly Kalapathar (5.545 m). Ask for my opinion, and I’d rather send you to Gokyo Ri (5.483 m, located in the neighboring valley of Gokyo). To date, it is still my best mountain view ever (I actually set Gokyo Ri’s panorama as homepage picture of this blog 🙂
To get to Gokyo Valley, you must cross Cho-La (a mountain pass at 5.350 m). It is part of the classic extension to the Base Camp: Everest 3 passes. The other 2 passes are Kongma-La (5.535 m, with great views of the Lhotse wall) and Renjo-La (5.388 m, offering a viewpoint similar to Gokyo-Ri. Well, that’s what I was told since I had to cross it in a snowstorm). Consider that the 3 passes can be tricky especially if covered by snow!
If you make it to Jiri on the way up or down (6-7 extra days each way) you’ll enjoy the local life of beautiful Nepalese villages (90% of hikers start from Lukla, accessible only by airplane).
Mountain landscapes (one of the best views in the world from GokyoRi)
You’ll see 4 of the 10 highest mountains in the world in a single panorama (Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, Cho-Oyu)
Cultural trek (between Lukla and Jiri)
Highly visited (25,000 trekkers per year)
Quite expensive (flight to Lukla costs $160 per way and high altitude teahouses are very costly)
The access is not easy (10 hours of a hell of a journey from Kathmandu to Jiri then 6 days min to get to Lukla… or the only alternative: flying from Kathmandu)
High altitude (you’ll stay above 5,000m in Gorakshep)
Max elevation: 5, 545m (Kalapathar)
Days: Min. 12 days (7 more days if you want to do the 3 passes and another 6/7 days to/from Jiri)
Difficulty: Medium to difficult (Jiri-Lukla and 3 passes part is much more difficult)
Access: The trek is not isolated as per the number of trekkers but no land access at less than 7 days from Lulka
Cost: Medium- min. 20 to $30 per day (trekking on your own)
Best season: March to May and October to November (avoid 3 passes during winter months).
Restricted area (special permit): No
Required permits: TIMS ($20 solo trekker and $10 per agency) and Sagarmatha Park ($35)
ANNAPURNA BASE CAMP (EXTENSIONS: TILICHO LAKE? POONHILL AND ANNAPURNA SANCTUARY)
Nepal’s most famous trek. In its classic version, a 14-day circuit around the Annapurna range. This trek is the most diverse: there is a strong contrast between the fertile valley of Manang and the arid lands of Mustang, both separated by the highest point of the trek (Thorung-La 5.416 m). Unfortunately, the area is so renowned that a road was built until Manang and from Muktinath (which means only a few days of the entire trek are not accessible to vehicles!). Along the way, you can make great side trips (Ice Lake, Milarepa cave and Tilicho lake, all accessible from Manang). If you have enough time ahead of you, crosscut to Ghorepani and Poonhill to reach Annapurna Base Camp (this trek is called “Annapurna Sanctuary”)
Great landscape diversity and mountain views (all the Annapurna range)
Iconic small Tibetan villages and monasteries
Low cost and a full range of food options available in the teahouses
Great side trips available
Easy access from Pokhara
Nepal’s busiest trek (100,000 trekkers per year, i.e. half of the total number!)
Motorable road that covers a large part of the circuit
Thousands of stairs to get to the base camp of Annapurna (on both way!)
Max Elevation: 5.416 m (Thorung-La)
Days: 14 days for the classic circuit (extensions: Ice lake and Milarepa are day trips, Tilicho 2 days, Poonhill 3 days, Annapurna Base Camp 4 extra days. The entire trek took me 28 days at a moderate pace)
Difficulty: Medium (apart from Tilicho that is partially along a landslide path and the way to Annapurna base camp filled with stairs)
Access: The trek is not isolated as per the trekkers’ number and easily accessible from Pokhara
Cost: Low-count 15 to $25 per day (on your own)
Best season: March to May and October to November
Restricted area (special permit): No
Required permits: TIMS ($20/$10) and ACAP ($20)
LANGTANG VALLEY (EXTENSIONS: TAMANG HERITAGE & GOSAINDKUNG TREKS)
The best option for those who only have a week but still want to feel the essence of the Himalayas. Although its starting point is located only 100km away from Kathmandu, the bus ride is a nightmare.
You start with 2 days of gradual ascent to reach Kyianging Gompa (3.700 m), your headquarter for the exploration of the neighboring summits of Kyanjing Ri (4.700m) and Tserko Ri (4.980m). Both offer an exceptional view of the surrounding mountains. Mountains are not as high as in other treks (but remember that these are the Himalayas: Langtang Lirung is 7.245m high!). I was suprised by the beauty of the landscapes (this trek was my last one). You can also get a closer look to the Langtang Lirung Glacier (facing a 3000m ice wall) or meet the Yaks in Langshisha Kharka.
When you are done with the trek, you have several options: head towards the Chinese border by visiting Tamang communities (a low altitude cultural trek). If you found that the bus ride on the way up was too harsh, you can get closer to Kathmandu by hiking the Sacred lakes of Gosaindkund (great views of Ganesh Himal and Manaslu) or even get back to the city if you trek Helambu!
Finally, I need to say that trekking to the area has a really positive social impact. Langtang was devastated by 2015’s earthquake. Almost every local I met had a sad story about this tragic event. And the entire area was avoided by tourists for an eternity. Your contribution is vital to them.
Great landscapes and mountain views in a short trek
Less frequented than Everest and Annapurna but equally comfortable
Locals are exceptionally kind
Same way up and down from Kyanjing Gompa
The bus ride from Kathmandu is simply horrible!
Max Elevation: Tserko Ri (4.983 m)
Days: 2/3 days to get to Kyanjing. Consider at least 2-3 days to explore the surrounding area. Plus 5 extra days for Tamang, around the same for Gosaindkung
Difficulty: Easy to Medium (Tserko Ri)
Access: The trek is not isolated as per the number of trekkers and not far from Kathmandu
Cost: Low – 15 to $25 per day (on your own)
Best season: March to May and October to November
Restricted area (special permit): No
Required permits: TIMS ($20/$10) and Langtang permit ($30)
KANCHENJUNGA BASE CAMP (NORTH AND SOUTH BASE CAMP)
An exceptional trek in one of the most remote areas of Nepal for those who want to enjoy the most beautiful mountain scenery without the crowds. Located on the border with Tibet and the ancient kingdom of Sikkim (India), this trek goes gradually up until you reach the foothill of the 3rd highest mountain in the world, Kanchenjunga (8.586 m). En route, you can share the local’s daily life and enjoy unspoiled nature. Kanchenjunga has only been converted into a “teahouse trek” for a few years, and its shelters are quite rustic. But what you lose in comfort you will gain in authenticity (most lodgings are actually local families’ home). And what a mountain scenery! Beside the huge Kanchenjunga, you’ll face incredible peaks: Jannu, Kambachen and the Kabrus, all at nearly 8,000 m. The trip to Taplejung is very long and grueling, but you will be rewarded for your efforts!
I recommend you take advantage of this trek that is the least visited teahouse trek in Nepal (less than 2,000 trekkers a year) before it becomes another Annapurna.
Stunning mountain scenery (views on Kanchenjunga and Makalu)
authenticity: inhabitants and nature are still unspoiled
Very isolated (reaching Taplejung is a hell of a journey… Even if you fly, you still have a 12h road trip)
Shelters are verybasic
Max Elevation: Lapsang La (5.160 m)
Days: 21 days in its full version (north and south B.C.)
Difficulty: Medium to Hard
Cost: Expensive – expect to pay around $1,000 for 21 days (i.e. $40/day)
Best season: From March to May and October to November
Restricted area (special permit): Yes. Guide and Group of min 2 people mandatory
Required permits: TIMS ($10) and Kanchenjunga Conservation Area permit ($20) and Restricted area permit -RAP ($10 per week)
After this detailed presentation of the treks I’ve done, here is a description of other treks as per the information collected from other trekkers:
described as the new Annapurna (it is actually named “Anaslu”), it is a circuit around the 8th World Summit (8.163 m) that started to attract crowds a few years ago. A superb cultural trek, recommended for both its landscapes and its diversity.
A little extra: during a side trip, you can cross Tibetan border illegally 🙂
Max Altitude: 5115m
Difficulty: Medium to Hard
Price: High (restricted area with mandatory guide)
Season: March to May and October to November
Permits: TIMS ($10), ACAP ($20), MCAP ($20), RAP ($70 the first week, $10 after)
MAKALU BASE CAMP
One of the most isolated and least frequented treks, actually quite challenging. trails aren’t easy and nature is wild. You will meet a few other trekkers en route and the shelters are scarce and basic (this is the last trek that was converted into a “teahouse” one). Avoid it outside season (lodges will be closed). One of the drawbacks: you have to go the same way there and back.
For adrenaline seekers, there is a possible extension that connects Makalu B.C. (4th Summit in the world – 8.468 m) to Everest BC trek at the height of Pangboche. WARNING this is mountaineering with the crossing of Sherpani Col (6.135 m) and West Col (6.143 m). You will need all the necessary equipment (spikes, rope, food, etc.). I inquired about it before giving up (lack of time and resources). But according to what I found and comments from other people it is one of the most beautiful mountain landscapes in the world (breathtaking views of Makalu, Everest, Lhotse, Kanchenjunga).
Max Altitude: 5250m
Access: Very isolated
Price: Average (not in a restricted area)
Season: March to May and October to November
Permits: TIMS ($20), Makalu Barun Permit ($35)
A new alternative to Annapurna Base Camp. Here you’ll get stunning views of the Machhapuchhre (also named “fishtail” after its shape, 6.997 m). You start sharing the itinerary of Annapurna BC before rising and following a parallel path. You’ll walk 1000m higher than the valley (which offers a much better view without the crowds). You’ll reach the foothill of Mardi Himal and Machhapuchhre, and will enjoy a great view of Annapurna. It can also be combined with other treks in the area (Annapurna circuit, Poonhill, etc.)
Max Altitude: 4200m
Difficulty: Easy to Medium
Access: Easy from Pokhara
Price: Low (not in a restricted area)
Season: March to May and October to November. Thanks to the low altitude, also possible in winter.
Permits: TIMS ($20), ACAP ($20)
Finally, I also wanted to mention 2 beautiful cultural treks
One of Nepal’s gems with old Tibetan-like villages. Located in an unspoiled area in western Nepal, a true journey back in time. Aside from the cultural aspect, this is still a Himalayan trek: you’ll have to cross 3 passes higher than 5,000 m.
Max Altitude: 5.200 m
Access: Very isolated
Price: High (restricted area and obligatory guide)
Season: March to May and October to November.
Permits: TIMS ($10), RAP ($500 for the first 10 days, $50 per extra day!)
The border between Mustang and Upper Mustang is located in Kagbeni, on the Annapurna circuit. From there begins the ancient kingdom of Upper Mustang. This cultural trek will reach its climax in the Forbidden City of Lo-Mangthang, next to the Tibetan border. This area is so close to the Annapurna circuit and yet so protected from tourism, you will discover a true ancient kingdom. Your guide will tell you about the many myths and legends that surround these places.
Max Altitude: 4,000 m
Access: Easy from Jomson
Price: High (restricted area and guide mandatory)
Season: March to May and October to November.
Permits: TIMS ($10), RAP ($500 for the first 10 days, $50 per extra day!)
Of course, with such a high permit cost, very few people can afford it (I only met a group of hikers who did each one of these circuits). I find remarkable the wish from the Nepalese government to protect these areas from mass tourism (a bit like Bhutan). Unfortunately, money is the only way, and I am part of those who cannot get there. But I am convinced that these treks are completely different and amazing!
I hope you enjoyed this article about Nepal trekking options. If you have any questions or you know any other itineraries (I confined my article to teahouse treks and my own experience), please feel free to comment 😉
Finally, now that you know which trek to choose the next step is to get ready for it. I’m currently working on an article giving you all the related information (equipment, formalities, how to find trekking partners, transportation, etc.). Let’s keep in touch and I’ll give an update asap.
Srinagar is the main city of Kashmir, a region located in northern India that has faced under political tensions over recent years (check the situation beforehand). Located in the foothills of the Himalayas, its main attraction is Dal lake. You can stay on one of the many “Houseboats”, that appeared in colonial times when English people could not acquire lands.
They have a unique style and spending the night there is a great experience. But choose your boat carefully (once you have made your mind there is no way back). Be sure to check what is included or not beforehand (most boatmen include 2 meals a day).
Also, you’ll work your patience: locals can be very insistent on selling you “Pashmina” stuff. We even had our local merchant on board. He kept reminding us every single hour that he had selected the best fabrics especially for us!
Boat trips on the lake (an insight into local life)
The experience of staying overnight on the houseboat
THE GOLDEN TEMPLE OF AMRITSAR
India offers an incredible diversity of cultures and religions. Among these, Sikhism. This religion, halfway between Hinduism and Islam, has its most holy shrine located in Amritsar, just a few steps away from the Pakistani border.
The golden temple is the perfect place to meet Sikhs and learn more about their history and daily life. Those great warriors and peerless traders are also charming people.
Share your lunch break with other pilgrims at the temple’s canteen: every day, a nearly 60,000 people receive a dish made of dhal (lentils), bhat (rice) and chappattis. In a country ruled by castes and social distinctions, it is amazing to see people of all backgrounds and religions sharing a complimentary meal. You can bring the experience further and volunteer for the meal service.
Take advantage of your visit to the region and get to the Pakistani border. You’ll entertain yourself with a very special show: the border closing under the ovations of delirious crowds on both sides of the border.
Meeting the Sikhs at the golden temple
The impressive crowd in the temple’s canteen
The show at the border
Goa’s beaches used to be the place to be for hippies and psychedelic music. Things have changed quite a bit: junkies have been replaced by tourists (mainly Russians) and beach resorts are found everywhere.
Yet Goa remains a nice place to hang out during a long-term trip to India. Its quietness is really enjoyable after bustling other Indian cities. Former Portuguese colony, its architecture is completely different from the rest of the country. Goa’s capital Panjim has many pretty colorful churches. The cleanliness of the streets contrasts with other Indian cities.
Goa’s gastronomy is a fusion of traditional Indian cuisine and Mediterranean influences. A must try. In addition, alcohol tax is the lowest in the country!
Its beaches are the cleanest of the Indian subcontinent (but do not expect the beauty of the Andaman Islands).
Goa’s cuisine (oh this yummy “Shrimp Thali”!) and cheap beer
The quietness and cleanliness
India’s most iconic monument had to be on my list. The Taj Mahal is a white marble mausoleum built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Arjumand Arjumand Begam. It was elected new wonder of the world in 2007.
Located 2 hours away from Delhi, it is the most visited site of India. For the same reason, make sure to get there as early as possible.
While in Agra, you should take the opportunity to visit its Red Fort. Fatehpur Sikri’s architecture is also remarkable and worth a visit.
The view from the Red Fort
Meeting local families at Fatehpur Sikri
THE HOLY CITY OF VARANASI
Varanasi, the old Benares, is what I consider as the craziest city in the world. Holiest city of Hinduism, located a few steps away from one of the four most sacred places of Buddhism (Sarnath), this place is just about pure and intense spiritual energy.
Be ready for all kind of extremes, especially along the “Ghats” (docks) along the Ganges. This is the very place where most activities of this ancient city take place: “Pûjâ” (offering rituals), “Ganga Arti” (a religious ceremony that takes place at sunset), the controversial sacred bathing in contaminated waters… and of course the corpses cremation!
According to Hindu beliefs, the cremation of a deceased person along the sacred river is mandatory in order to obtain better rebirth conditions. Some scenes are just insane: crackling logs, grieving families, street dogs and cows that are eating whatever they can find. Since some families cannot afford the cremation ceremony, it is not uncommon to see dead bodies floating on the river.
Does this description seem apocalyptic to you? Indeed, I would not recommend Varanasi to the faint-hearted. But this sacred place has such incredible energy that is worth feeling once in a lifetime. An intense moment, discovering the essence of Indian culture and spirituality.
Boat trips on the Ganges at sunrise/sunset
The ceremonies (ganga arti, cremation, etc.)
The lassis at “Blue Lassi Shop”
The quietness and beautiful energy at Sarnath
I remember a travel friend’s words when I arrived at Rishikesh for the first time. He told me, “Yes, this place is all about business, but you’ll love it”. And indeed!
Rishikesh is a very special place, sort of replica of the neighboring sacred city of Haridwar, but in a tourist-friendly (and commercial) version.
Ashrams (spiritual retreat centres) are found everywhere. Some of them (like Sivananda) are fully booked months in advance.
You’ll also find many Yoga centers. Spirituality has become a consumer product as any other one and Rishikesh is no exception. You’ll find statues, incenses, relaxing music, ayurvedic products, etc. for sale at every street corner.
Despite this mercantilism, Rishikesh remains a beautiful place. Moreover, its tourist boom has enhanced the surge in the number of “westerner friendly” restaurants, which I enjoyed quite a lot.
Rishikesh is also famous for the “Beatles Ashrams” (named after their stay in 1968).
The “Ganga Arti” at Parvath Niketan
The “Holi” celebration during my first trip there
Sand dunes, colorful cities, grand forts… Rajasthan has it all. Located north-west of Delhi, at the very border between Hindu and Muslim religions, this state is one of the most visited in India.
A trip to Rajasthan usually starts with its capital, Jaipur, the “Pink City”. The place is less oppressive than most Indian cities. It holds many architectural treasures such as the Hawa Mahal. Don’t miss the sunset from Nahagahr Fort!
Another very popular place is Jaisalmer: a huge fortress located in the middle of the desert. It is the start point of camel safaris: a great opportunity to learn about the nomadic life of local communities. And sleeping under the stars in the desert was simply stunning!
You can then proceed to the city of palaces: Udaipur, with its beautiful buildings located around Pichola Lake.
Less known but equally beautiful: Jodhpur, “The Blue City”, nickname conferred after the color of its roofs. Its fortress is huge and can be deeply explored.
Finally, for some spirituality and meditation, head to Pushkar, a Hindu pilgrimage site.
The camel safari trip
The sunset from Nahagahr in Jaipur
Hampi has an unprecedented landscape: glorious temples surrounded by a surreal boulderscape !
its color combination is unusual: red boulders, green rice and banana fields, blue sky (and the less glamorous black river cutting the city in 2).
You can visit most of the temples located in the area. Vittala is the most famous one, with its masterpiece: the stone chariot.
Just relax and enjoy the hippie atmosphere of this small town. You can also practice your climbing skills on the boulders.
The relaxed and hippie atmosphere of the area
The stone temples
Exploring the area by moped
This small town located above the city of Dharmashala hosts the Tibetan government in exile and is thus the official residence of the Dalai Lama.
Located in the state of Himachal Pradesh, at around 2000m, it is an enchanting place.
Here you’ll have to choose between a bunch of activities: meditation, yoga, hiking in the surrounding mountains, Tibetan cooking classes, etc. You can also help the Tibetan community, especially by volunteering as an English teacher.
And of course, pay a visit to the headquarters of the Tibetan government. An adjacent museum will give you more information about the history of this country invaded by China.
If you are lucky, you may even meet the Dalai Lama: although he is often traveling abroad, this great man gives teachings and lectures on a regular basis.
Volunteering and English conversation classes in local associations: the best way to meet Tibetans!
Attending the Dalai Lama’s teachings
The hike to Triund
Tibetan cooking classes: some yummy Momos!
Ladakh is one of those places that you won’t forget. It is a vast desert area located in the north-east of India, at the border with Tibet and Pakistan.
Ladakh’s peacefulness contrasts with the intensity you’ll get in most of India: no hassle here. Ladakhis are among the nicest and most genuine people I’ve met in my life.
Leh, the capital, is a magical place. Located at 3,500m above sea level and surrounded by arid mountains, it’s truly peaceful. Its anachronistic center has some medieval looking. The main temple will remind you Tibetan Potala. Depending on the time of the year, you may enjoy a Tanka exhibition inside the temple. Do not miss its tourist-friendly festival which takes place in mid-September: you’ll discover Ladakhi folklore in a relax mood.
Ladakhi landscapes are similar to Tibet. And its monasteries are true gems. My best pick: Thinksey, so impressive with its 12 floors and a huge Maitreya statue (Buddha of the Future). Hemis and Lamayuru are also worth a visit.
My best tip to explore Ladakh: rent a Royal Enfield (expect to pay around $20 per day). These bikes are designed to withstand the (difficult) conditions of the legendary roads of Ladakh, a bikers’ paradise. Take your time and explore some very unusual places: Nubra Valley, Khardung La pass (the highest road pass in the world at 5.602 m); the meeting point of the Hindu and Zanskar rivers; The splendid lakes of Pangong and Tso Moriri, etc.
And if you make it from Manali (Himachal Pradesh) or Srinagar (Kashmir): The journey itself is an adventure!
In need of adrenaline?! Remember that you are in the heart of the Himalayas: you can either go trekking for a few days along the Marka Valley or climb a 6.150 m summit (Stok Kangri). Plan a minimum budget of $200/$250 for each one of these activities.
And if you are bold enough to brave winter: walk the frozen Zanskar River looking for the snow leopard, the most famous Himalayan cat.
The unprecedented kindness of “Mama Sonam” at Jiggyas Guesthouse
The friendliness of Ladakhis and the conviviality of Leh Festival (September 2017)
Biting the dust during the royal Enfield trip
Himalayan views from the top of Stok Kangri (6.153 m)
Nepal, a fabulous country… Lost in-between the giants China and India, naturally protected by the Himalayas. A mystical country with generous inhabitants. With 8 of the 10 highest peaks in the world located on its territory, nobody will raise argument if we say that Nepal is THE trekking world reference.
The “teahouses”, the sound of the yaks’ bells, smiling faces, kids’ cheekbones burnt by the high altitude sun, the sound of prayers coming from mystical Tibetan monasteries, colorful prayer flags, ‘mani’ walls, and as an idyllic background: the snowy peaks of the Himalayas, the highest mountain range in the world… Anyone who gave a try to a hiking experience in Nepal will put a smile on his face while remembering all these emotions.
What makes Nepal such a unique trekking place: these small huts, which have been named “teahouses”. A true sanctuary where you can enjoy a well-deserved rest after a long day walking. An opportunity to chat with other hikers or read a book while sipping a ginger tea, before rushing on the Dal Bhat (typical Nepali dish composed of… “dal” (lentils) and “bhat” (rice), served with a selection of vegetables and pickles). May the one who had the idea to build the very first of these shelters be blessed. Indeed, since the average trekking duration ranges from 2 to 4 weeks, the (relative) daily comfort provided by a fine mattress is of great help!
Nepal’s big 3 treks (Annapurna circuit, Everest 3 passes and Langtang) offer VIP versions: comfy mattresses, hot shower, and extensive menus (pizzas, apple pie with custard, muesli and fruit, spaghetti carbonara, beer, etc.). But the flip side is that these treks are sometimes overcrowded (especially the Annapurna circuit during peak season). So alternative routes have developed in recent times, including the Manaslu circuit (8th highest mountain on earth – 8,163m), “the new Annapurna”. Teahouses have recently been built on different spots of the Makalu (5th highest peak – 8.485m) and Kanchenjunga (3rd highest peak – 8.586m) base camp trek.
Being located in a remote area of Nepal, right at the border with the ancient kingdom of Sikkim (India), Mont Kanchenjunga captured my attention and I chose to give a try to the least frequented trek of Nepal. As a consequence of this low affluence, you’ll get off the beaten track and it can be sometimes a bit tricky… Besides, food options are much more restricted (you’ll have to choose between dhal bal or … dal bhat). The bedding in teahouses usually consists of a simple bench covered with a stinky blanket. But as I like saying: what you lose in comfort, you gain it back in genuineness.
So here is a brief report of these 3 fabulous weeks …
First of all, reaching the trek’s starting point itself is an expedition … From Kathmandu, consider spending approximately 15 hours (very variable) to reach Birtamod, a small town without much interest, located 10km away from the Indian border. From there it’s another 8 to 9 hours by jeep until you reach Taplejung, located at around 2,000m high.
Our multicultural team is made up of 6 people: our guide, Mingma, who’s spent most of his life in the area and knows it like the back of his hand; Stephanie (Denmark), Martin (Germany), Nixon (Australia), Tony (Trinidad and Tobago) and myself.
Day 1 :
In the early morning, we are lucky enough and enjoy a clear sky that lets us glimpse the distant silhouette of Kanchenjunga, an impressive wall of ice located 6.500m above us. After a vertiginous descent of over 1000m down to the river, we walk to Mitlung (921m), a small village where time seems to have stopped. The “H” on the map should mean that “teahouses” are around, but it’s rather at a local’s place that we’re going to rest after this first day of walking (on a low table turned into a bed for this special occasion). Time for a stroll in the rice fields to disconnect from the modern world. I feel peacefulness while seeing the villagers returning from the fields. True, they have such a hard life; but they seem satisfied with their reality. Unlike us, they don’t look to have many expectations. Despite their poverty, they might be happier than we are … In any case, we certainly have a lot to learn from these people living in agreement with natural cycles, something we lost for the sake of our technological modernity.
We continue our journey following the river, surrounded by lush vegetation. The hot and humid weather makes the walk heavy and exhausting. The dal bhat does not help to say the truth … We finally arrive in Chirwa (1.250m), a small place with 3 houses, for a second night hosted by a local family… Card games required to spend the evening.
Today, we are finally starting to climb, and the air is getting cooler. After the daily dal bhat, we cross the river and start the climb (about 700m) which will last 1h30 until reaching Amjilosa (2.390m). At this altitude, the cold shower is no longer pleasant after dusk…
We enjoy a great view in the morning: we overlook a gorge formed by the river located 700m below. We follow the path on the hillside, crossing woods while continuing our ascent. The vegetation begins to change, from tropical flora to lobed-leaves trees. A brand new road made of large blocks of stones perfectly cut (in the style of the Roman roads) announcing the last stop of the day: Giable (2.780m).
After contemplating the sunrise on the other side of the cliff, it’s time to get back on track. After a few hours, we are back to the riverside at an altitude of 3000m. Clouds are thick and we start feeling the cold. We cross a ghostly village consisting of uninhabited small wooden huts, that are used by the locals during winter. A bell sounds at a far distance… This characteristic sound remembers me my first treks in Nepal: it’s the sound of the yaks grazing around. Similar in morphology to cattle, their thick hair allows them to withstand the extreme cold of Himalayan areas. Actually, this natural protection is so effective that it is rare to find them below 3,000m high. We take a short break and to bring variety to our eating habits, we opt for a noodles soup in lieu of the dal bhat. Before we resume waking, we explore the small monastery of Phale for a quick meditation time. We keep on climbing gradually along the river until reaching Ghunsa (3,450m), last stop before the high mountain. This will be our last opportunity to refuel in chocolate and other treats before reaching the North Base Camp. The rain continues to fall at night, and when we wake up the ground is coated with a thin white layer: temperatures are getting below 0° and we eventually feel happy about having carried this thick sleeping back (occupying half of the backpack) up here.
We leave Ghunsa to enter a thick forest, alternating leafy and pine trees, remembering me my native Belgian Ardennes. For the first time since the beginning of this trip, we can feel the seasons: October reaches its end and fall is beautiful, with its impressive palette of colors. Everyone walks at his own pace and we are supposed to meet at the first bridge to share a snack before resuming. But… the said bridge was swept away by the waters during the last flood and I won’t see my team members before the end of the day. The climb is steady and air gets rarer. A short break at the top, just to get an overview of the colorful valley that we’ve just left behind. The end of the afternoon is almost there, and I eventually distinguish a few huts indicating the arrival at our camp for the day, Kambachen, located at 4.170m. Cheer up! Just a few more meters … to become aware that the way is blocked by icy water, which despite my eagerness will remain impassable. I will have to spend another 45 minutes to find a suitable path. I finally reach my destination and enjoy a dal bhat, hot tea and then straight to bed! Needless to say that at this altitude, nights are freezing, and leaving the cozy sleeping bag to take a night pee is a delicate matter (Why are bathroom always outside?!).
Rest day in Kambachen to get acclimatized to the altitude … The sun rises under our amazed eyes and reveals the beautiful white peaks that are facing us: Ghabur Peak (6,044m), followed by Pholesobi Thonje (6,645m) and Sobi Thonge (6,670m). The Himalayas in all their beauty! I take advantage of the clear sky and leave early, heading towards the glacier (In the afternoon, clouds are almost always there and hide the snow-capped peaks). I sneak into the narrow gorge between 2 giants over 6,000m to finally reach the glacier. What an amazing view! A few miles away from me, on the other side of the glacier (which looks more like a moraine, the ice being hidden under the rock) a huge ice wall. Besides the peaks visible from the camp we can now see Jannu (7.711m, only!). I follow the path along the huge glacier resulting from the snow accumulated on these ice domes. It leads to a dead-end, the way is blocked by a wall of ice of nearly 3,000m, which would have certainly prevented the invasion of the white walkers in Game of Thrones. Way above me, in the distance, is Kanbachen (7,802m, a direct neighbor of the king Kanchenjunga). Subjugated by this unreal landscape, the unique calm that prevails in this place, I forget to check my watch. The sun is already disappearing on the horizon, and it’s about time to leave before the freezing night is here.
We continue our climb until reaching what will be our higher altitude night, a few steps away from the base camp. The climb is steady and pleasant. The clear sky reveals innumerable peaks over 6,000m. Halfway, I find myself surrounded by friendly yaks chilling on green plains. Behind 2 yaks, the clouds fade for a moment to reveal a snowy peak. I just go into raptures in front of so much beauty and decide to sit for a while and enjoy the show. The icy afternoon wind forces me to resume my walk that will end in Lhonak (4,780m), at the foot of the Kanchenjunga Glacier. As soon as it gets dark, snow and wind come. The temperature will reach -10 ° a few hours later!
The elder of our group, Tony, had a hard time during the ascent and arrived completely exhausted around 6 pm, accompanied by our guide. The short rest at night will unfortunately not be enough to enable him regaining all his strength before the final assault.
The big day, Kanchenjunga North Base Camp: Pangpema!
After an express breakfast in the freezing cold of dawn, it’s departure time. Before sunrise, to maximize our chances of clear views. The way is easy, gradual, along the glacier. You just have to make sure you keep moving so you don’t freeze and shake the water bottle a few times, to prevent its content from freezing. After a good 2-hour walk, the reward: some colorful prayer flags flying in the air at an altitude of 5.143m. Arrived well in advance, I decide to keep on and climb a small ridge to enjoy an even more impressive scenery. Being a bit too excited, I lose my way and find myself climbing a steep hill during a few hundred meters. At the top of the hill, the view over the glacier is just stunning. Exhausted, I collapse on a rock and eat various treats among which a Toblerone (I know, A Belgian guy eating Swiss chocolate that takes the cake!). The view is hard to describe: below me, at about 5,000m above sea level, the moraine gently sneaks between two mountains until it faces a huge column of ice that goes till the top of Kanchenjunga, which is over 3,000m above my head. And of course, the surroundings are just as breathtaking: this gigantic glacier covers miles and is surrounded by peaks of 6,000 and 7,000m. So goes the cycle of nature: the pristine snow accumulated over time gradually descends under the pressure of its own weight, carrying sediments on the way, and starts melting to offer the purest water brought to us by our beautiful planet, before men take care of polluting it downstream …
The descent is a bit risky, given the many rocks on my way. I reach the base camp around an hour later, and rush to Lhonak because the afternoon is already on its end and cold has come.
When I meet my fellow trekkers in the early evening, I sadly find out that the unfortunate Tony couldn’t make it and went down to Kambachen.
Despite the biting cold, I manage to escape from the sleeping bag in the middle of the night to take a few shots of the landscape sublimated by the full moon.
The descent to Kambachen is pretty smooth, at a low pace so I take my time to enjoy the Himalayan landscapes. And try to be mindful of some parts of the track made uneasy by landslides. We arrive in Kambachen quite early, actually just in time to do a necessary laundry while enjoying the heat of the sun. A well-deserved rest follows…
A very short hike today so we take it easy, relaxing and enjoying the sun, making the most of its heat. On the way, I meet Tony, who left well ahead of me: he’s struggling with his knees… Back in Ghunsa, I indulge myself a true luxury: a hot shower (the first one since the start of the trek). A real treat…
The beginning of the day is a little improvised since our friend Tony arrived exhausted in the late evening and experienced severe knee pain. No way for him to keep going, so we had to arrange an emergency rescue helicopter. In any misfortune there is always a positive point: the owner of the teahouse takes the opportunity to send his daughter, who was recently injured, to Kathmandu so that she can receive the appropriate healthcare in the Nepalese capital. Given the remoteness of the area and the cost of an air evacuation, it is worth the try.
We leave Ghunsa around 11 am, heading towards the Selele pass a 1000m higher. The ascent begins in a dense forest and will last for about 2 hours, till we reach the top of a hill offering an exceptional panorama over the valley downstream. The weather is highly variable above 4,000m, and temperature can fall by 15° in a few minutes. The vicious polar wind that arose together with the snow will ruin my throat. We finally reach our rest place by the end of the afternoon. Lost in the mist and an unbearable humidity, this will remain as the most obscure place of the trek (3 pieces of wood used as a bed, 5 other ones used as a kitchen ), we all feel a little down. We are just caught in the middle of nowhere, in such a thick fog that we can barely see at 5 meters, and we lost one of our fellow trekkers. It is time to go to bed and try to find some comfort in the heat of the sleeping bag.
Every single day is a new story, and today we wake up under a beautiful clear sky. The mountain is covered with fresh snow and gives us the best panoramas. When we reach the pass, we are captivated by an exceptional 360° view: on one side, in the far distance, we get a glimpse of Makalu (8.485m) and Everest (8.848m), while on the other side, Jannu (7.711m) is showing us its shoulders. After a shooting session, we keep on with a light heart and head towards the second pass of the day: Sinion (4.680m), lost in the mist. The final part of the day is an epic descent: 800m straight down until reaching Cheram, our stop for the day, and starting point for the exploration of the southern camp of Kanchenjunga.
So here we are on our way to the last big mountain panorama: Ramche, located at 4,600m and less than 2 hours away from the south base camp of Kanchenjunga. The 800m ascent separating us from our destination is very pleasant, a gradual path, starting inside a mystical pine forests and ending on sublime lagoons reflecting the white peaks of Kabru range (4 mountains with an altitude varying between 7.100m and 7.500m). We arrive at our resting place in the beginning of the afternoon and the sky is still completely blue. I take this opportunity to explore the surroundings of the glacier located a little further up. And since the mountain gods are on my side, I’ll have a nice surprise: first, in the distance, the impressive spectacle of an avalanche unfolding before my eyes: a huge crush of ice and a deafening sound. Then, a few minutes before sunset, I will have the unique opportunity to catch a glimpse of the great Kanchenjunga, which will turn into a wide range of yellow, pink and red tones. I know I’m lucky since this is the first clear afternoon. I eventually get back to the camp where another show is about to start: a beautiful starry night…
We begin our slight ascent to the south base camp at dawn. Needless to say: it’s damn cold! Some prayer flags and offerings to local deities indicate us that we’ve reached our final panorama. I will take all my time to enjoy this gorgeous scenery as the following days won’t be as fun (going down back to the valley). Nepal is definitely one of the most incredible places on earth. In the afternoon, I start the long descent to Cheram, where I will enjoy a hot bucket shower.
That’s it! High mountains are behind us… It’s time to leave the area and get back to civilization… A long descent in the woods until reaching Tortong, (3.000m). Nights are finally getting warmer which is a relief for my throat.
Following a giant landslide, we are forced to climb 800m to get to the other side of the valley … and then we must go down more than 1,700m, while the heat is getting more and more overwhelming. I usually have strong knees, but they will suffer here. And I’m not the only one: Stephanie will struggle to reach our destination, and she will not be able to get back on the road on the next day.
The arrival at Yamphudin, located at 2,000m, is quite pleasant since we’re back to a tropical area and can enjoy the bustling life of the Nepali villages.
“Nepali flat” at its best! We start at 2.000m altitude. We will end at the same altitude. But between these two points, only up and down. I don’t know if it’s the surprise effect (because I was expecting a relaxing day) or the accumulated tiredness, but I’m going to struggle all day long, in a tropical humidity which I’m already tired of. I get to the small village of Kébang in the mid-afternoon, where I meet up with Nixon. We’ll spend the day watching kids playing on the local square, devouring all kind of junk food (mainly weird chips and chocolates), bought for a few cents in local stores (it’s been a long time…). We also figure out that we would be alone to end the trip since all our companions are now gone to Kathmandu by air.
Being only the two of us and feeling a bit fed up, we decide to walk to the small village of Thelok, from where they should be some buses going to Birtamod … The plan looks simple, except that the information is hard to find and never accurate. First of all, you have to find the exact place from where buses are supposed to leave, and then: when is the next bus leaving? We’ll get confirmation by 6 p.m… leaving the next day at 4 am. Thus, It will be a rather short last night, laying down on a bench-bed for a few hours, listening to some men getting drunk on rakchi (sort of rice alcohol of dubious origin) a few meters away.
Every bus trip Nepal is a true adventure, and this one is no exception. First of all, as we suspected, the departure time shown on the ticket (4a.m.) was just a reference. We had to wait until 5:30 before we eventually left, happy to have awakened at 3:30 and waited for 90 minutes in one of these old buses whose seats are as comfortable as cactuses. The road is rough, but we are moving … well, at least for 20 minutes! I’ll remember Mingma’s face expression when we asked him the fateful question: “Is the bus broken? No, no, the road is broken”. And in fact: a massive rock was blocking our way. We eventually crossed to the other side to catch another bus… oups, there was a water stream here… My feet are now nice and wet!
After that, it took us around 10 hours that seemed endless until reaching Birtamod. And at that moment, I still had a 14-hour journey to Kathmandu. But yeah, that’s another story…
Permit: Nepal has trekking areas that are accessible to all (Annapurna ACAP, Everest, Langtang, etc.) and other ones subject to restrictions (such as Kanchenjunga, Manaslu, Upper Mustang, etc.). For these latter you must have a guide and at least 2 participants. Permits should be obtained at the Nepal Tourism Board in Kathmandu.
Price: This trek is rather expensive – more than the average – due to its difficult access. We went through an agency because it is not easy to find a guide for the Kanchenjunga area in Kathmandu. However, it was the first (and the last time) I went through an agency for a Nepalese trek. Let’s say the guide was great, but it’s frustrating to give such a high commission to the agency for so little work (in fact, the agency fee amounts to almost the cost of food and housing for 3 weeks!).
To sum up, the cost of the trip can be split as follows:
o Transportation: $ 28 for the return trip by bus Kathmandu / Birtamod ($ 200 for the same trip by plane, recommended for the nice views… And speed of course!)
o Guide: $ 25 a day (to be divided between the number of participants. It doesn’t include the tipping – usually about 20% of the total cost)
o Permit: $ 40 (restricted area permit) + $ 10 per week + $ 10 for TIMS (hiker card)
– Accommodation: around 500Rs (5$) per room per night … more expensive and more basic than on other hikes like Annapurna and Everest.
– Food: logically, prices vary greatly depending on access, and the higher you go, the higher the food expenses. The reference price is … the dal bhat: 250 Rs. (2,5$) in Taplejung and 650 Rs. (6,5$) in Lhonak. The main advantage of dal bhat is that you can get a refill (at least once, sometimes more …) and that apart from the constant rice and lentils, there is a surprising variety in the garniture. Remember to buy snacks beforehand because a snicker will cost you 6$ in Lhonak.
In total, this hike cost me about 1200$, but by going on your own (2pax) and just hiring the guide, you can save up to 400$ (you can contact me for references – I have the contact of our guide Mingma, who is from the area. He is young but well experienced. His English is pretty decent. He will have one of his contacts in Kathmandu to deal with the “paperwork”).
For trekking advice in general and more particularly in Nepal, I will write a separate article shortly.
And please don’t be afraid to get into this adventure … the big 3 (Everest, Annapurna and Langtang) are magnificent but victims of their own success. Kanchenjunga is great not only thanks to its amazing mountain scenery but also because it has many cultural aspects since you’ll be exploring one of the most remote areas of the country. Enjoy the purity of the place, before it becomes one of Nepal’s main trekking destination…