A First-time Trekker and Long-time Foodie Goes to Nepal

How unfit is too unfit for a trip to Nepal? And what's the deal with the local food? Kate Hoffman shares her learnings.

Photo © Kate Hoffman

My love affair with Nepal began when my brother moved there for a year back in 2005. I can remember receiving emails from him where he would describe the friendly locals, endless Momo’s and beautiful artworks. I always knew it was a must see for me, even if I had to go it alone. 

As I arrived in Kathmandu, following what I would call an uncomfortable (but super cheap) flight I was instantly excited. Moving through customs and the gentle shrug from a group of airport locals playing cards instead of checking luggage, I had arrived!

Here is a small tale of my adventure, and few tips if you’re planning a Nepalese adventure of your own.

Book Ahead

I planned my trek in the Annapurna region, picked for its greenery and for being slightly less intimidating through my eyes than Everest.

If you’re travelling alone, I would recommend booking your trek before you arrive in Nepal. Booking through a company while I was still in Australia (I used Melbourne based Trek Climb Ski) meant the guide who took me was by far the friendliest and most respectful of a single female on the trail out of any of the guides I interacted with.

There were countless stories along the way of solo woman telling me they felt uncomfortable with the guide they were with. If you are travelling on a group tour though, that's a different story, as the one on one time would be limited.

That being said, if (and when) I return to Nepal, if I was with a group of friends or chose a trek with more people in the group rather than going solo, I wouldn't have an issue booking locally. Safety in numbers!

Trekking in the Annapurna region. Photo credit: Kate Hoffman

Common Sense Hat

As a solo female traveller, I had loads of criticism before heading off to Nepal on my own. Friends were shocked and confused, and family were worried.

The hustle and bustle when you arrive at Kathmandu airport at midnight is a little overwhelming, but incredibly exciting. There are tour groups, singles, couples, locals, animals and all walks of life.

Just like when travelling anywhere in the world on your own, as long as you're sensible and have common sense - you'll be fine. For example:

  • If someone walking past you on the street makes you uncomfortable, even for no reason at all - walk on the other side of the road.
  • Don't go down dark alleys alone at night.
  • Talk to the locals, but if you're alone don't go to their homes at night.
  • Remove your shoes when entering homes and temples.
  • Rabies is common in Nepal, so don't touch any animals.
  • Don't drink tap water (even from your hotel).
  • When the lights go out don't freak out. Black outs are very common - I think I experienced about 19 while I was there for 2 weeks.

Water Water Everywhere

The tap water and river water in Nepal is unsafe to drink so trekkers have a choice between bottled water, purification tablets or boiling water. Most guest houses I stopped at along the way provided boiled water at a price (but cheaper than bottles), so make sure you have a few metal drink bottles to fill up. Using boiled water is more environmentally friendly than purchasing bottles.

If you do buy bottled water make sure the top has not been tampered, as there are a few water sellers who fill empty bottles with tap water. 

Remember to also avoid food that may have been washed in contaminated water or drinking anything with ice in them, as the ice may have been made from tap water. Anything that has been cooked though will be fine to eat.

A fast-flowing river in Nepal. Photo credit: Kate Hoffman

Nepalese Food

I love food. So despite the fact that most people suggested I should avoid all meat and my usual gluttonist ways while in Nepal... I ate everything! Dal bhat, mutton and vegetable momos, water buffalo, chicken curry, yak cheese. I could start eating dal bhat everyday in my Sydney life. I love how every place made it differently with different levels of spice and heat. Same goes for the momos.

A lot of people I've spoken to have become sick from the Nepali food, but as I didn't get sick, my advice is - if you eat spicy food at home, you'll be fine in Nepal. It's the water you need to look out for. 

Nepali momos. Photo credit: Kate Hoffman

My Toes!

Take walking poles! I thought I was too fit and cool for walking pole, but I was wrong. The impact on your knees and your toes while walking downhill is excruciating. I lost 2 toe nails while in Nepal and I'm sure that could have been avoided if I'd listened to advice from other shopping trekkers gathering supplies in Kathmandu.

Take the Stairs

If you’re wondering how fit you need to be to trek in Nepal, don’t listen to what people tell you as everyone is different. I didn’t train for my trek at all, smoked, drank and partied up until I got on the plane and the trek was a struggle for me - although not impossible. I would consider myself a naturally active person and this certainly was a challenge, but pushed me in a good way. 

I met a guy in Kathmandu who was running twice a day in 2 hour lots with a 15kg backpack in preparation for the same trek I was doing. Yes, that intimidated me. But I was fine, I took it slow, stopped when I wanted to and drank plenty of water. 

That guy completed the trek in less than HALF the time that I did, but that's not to say he enjoyed it more!

Beautiful mountains in Nepal. Photo credit: Kate Hoffman

Nepal is everything I could have hoped for. The sounds, smells, hustle and bustle. It’s the perfect destination for any solo traveller, just like any destination in my eyes. Just do your research, and keep the small notes on the outside. 

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  • Ian said

    Nepal also got in our blood after our first visit in 1991, then again in 1997 and 1998. One piece of advice not offered above is that it is not necessary at all to book a tour or even a guide. Unless you intend to get off the beaten path or you don't want to carry your own pack, doing it entirely yourself is absolutely fine. In 1997, we trekked in the Everest region with our 2 kids then aged 9 and 11. We had no group, guide or tour, proof that it can be done easily. We just packed up and left, map and guidebook in hand. Paths are clear and every village has plenty of cheap lodging to choose from.<br><br>Note this was 1997 (we also did the Annapurnas completely solo in 1991), and we were there outside the peak October trekking season (in December), so my comments should be considered on this basis.

  • LisaF said

    Nepal has a very special place in my heart. Your article marked me want to put it back on my list again! <br><br>

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  • Mr. Sujoy Thapa said

    When to Travel to Nepal<br>The seasons in Nepal are pretty much the same as in Europe. In January it's cold, while in July you could make do with shorts and t-shirt. But Nepal remains a country of extremes, and, if you're planning to head into the mountains, you definitely need to be aware of the Nepal trekking season. The Nepal climate is moderate, which means the winters are dry and the summers are hot. But because of the huge range in altitude and landscape, Nepal climate differs considerably throughout the country.

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  • peregrine Treks said

    We would like to draw your kind attention regarding safety issues while trekking alone in the vast and rugged mountains in Nepal. We are extremely concerned that dozens of trekkers have vanished on popular trekking routes in the last decade.

    We believed that trekking alone could lead some personal risk of getting injured by natural accidents; the worse case even has gone missing because hiking alone in the unfamiliar rugged mountains. If anyone intended to trek in the coming days in Nepal, please make every effort to hire an experienced local guide and ensure that the trekking company is registered with Nepal Government.

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