What Is The Best Trek In The Himalayas?

Written by Roland Hunter FRGS (Mt Everest and Mt Makalu summitter)
Written by Roland Hunter FRGS (Mt Everest and Mt Makalu summitter)Managing Director & Founder, The Mountain Company
This is a common question when someone contacts us about a Himalayan walking holiday. Over the years, I have read many generic “listicles” on other Blogs about the best trek in the Himalayas. Yet, it is clear on most occasions the author has not walked these high-altitude treks. Whereas my list is from my first-hand experience of trekking in the Himalaya. Sine 1997, I have done over forty treks in Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan and India. For more information about my experience, you can read my Bio at Roland Hunter. Himalayan trekking is an incredible experience. This Blog should help you find our top places to hike to escape the crowds and to find remote trails.

Trekking In The Himalayas

At The Mountain Company, we have a passion for exploring off-the-beaten-track treks in the Himalayas. Our favourite trekking holidays in the Himalayas are camping-style trips. Whereas the more popular trails in Nepal use a network of teahouse lodges. As a result, the Everest Base Camp trek and Annapurna Base Camp trek will be very busy with lots of walkers during the peak seasons. These are still good treks to do especially for a first-time visit to the Himalayas. You will find well-maintained trails and a range of accommodation including luxury lodges. This makes walking in the Himalayas accessible for a wider range of people. Read our Blog How Busy Is The Trek To Everest Base Camp?

For experienced hikers, going on a camping trek means you can get away from the busier trails of Everest and Annapurna. When camping, you can access remote areas where you are unlikely to see many (if any) other groups. Many people do not realise that it is still possible to find rarely trekked trails in Nepal!

On a camping trip, you will have a more adventurous experience. The trails are rugged and often there are no bridges to cross rivers. You will meet locals from the villages that rarely see foreigners and are curious to meet you. The first groups trekked to Everest Base Camp in the 1960s and had this kind of experience. These days you need to travel further afield to find real adventure in the highest mountains of the world.

What Factors Make A Great Himalayan Trek?

We have brainstormed what makes an exceptional experience while trekking in the Himalayas. A great route will include the factors as follows:

  • Remoteness.
  • Diversity of landscape.
  • Physical Challenge.
  • Cultural.
  • Flora and fauna.

Best Three Walking Holidays in the Himalaya

Using these factors we scored the Himalayan walking holidays organised by The Mountain Company. We shortlisted the best three trekking itineraries from our portfolio of 38 hikes. We called these the “Big Three”!

Two out of our  “Big Three” trekking trails are in Nepal. One is in the Far East of the country starting in the Kanchenjunga region near the border with India. The second is in the mid-West of the country in the Upper Dolpo region. The third trip is in Bhutan and travels to the isolated Lunana valley.

All three of them explore along sections of The Great Himalaya Trail (GHT). Many hikes in Nepal are Circuits whereas GHT traverses the Himalayan range from end to end. You get a real sense of journey as you cross valleys and passes.

Lunana Snowman (Bhutan)

Lunana Snowman, also known as The Snowman trek, traverses the mountainous region of northern Bhutan on the border with Tibet. For more information read our Blog article Lunana Snowman trek- is it the hardest trek in the world?
Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan
View of Thanza village in Lunana on Snowman trek in Bhutan

1. Remoteness. Score 8/10.

The Snowman trek travels through the very remote valley of Lunana. This valley is not connected by road. For the villagers, it takes about a week to walk to the road head crossing over high passes along the way.

2. Diversity of landscape. Score 9/10.

The views along the way are very impressive with lakes and mountain passes along the spine of the Himalayan chain. Towards the end of the trek, you see Mount Gangkar Punsum. This is the highest unclimbed mountain in the world.

3. Physical Challenge Score 8/10.

The Snowman trek is an arduous undertaking but does not involve mountaineering. The journey on foot from Paro to Bumthang takes 29 days. The trekking trail crosses eight high mountain passes over 4,000m and three passes over 5,000m. We have given this trek a difficulty grade of Strenuous.

4. Cultural Score 7/10.

You will meet the Layap people in the village of Laya and the Lunaps in the valley of Lunana. They have a unique culture in isolated communities. They also wear traditional hats. The Layaps' hats are conical shaped and made from bamboo. Whereas the Lunaps' hat is made from yak wool and helps keep them warm during the Winter months.

5. Flora and fauna. Score 8/10

The most well-known and sought-after sighting is the snow leopard. In practice, you are unlikely to see but our past groups have spotted snow leopards from a distance.  They have also seen evidence of their presence such as pugmarks and scat. There are plentiful herds of blue sheep grazing on the grassy slopes. There are also Himalayan bears.

Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT (Nepal)

Our Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT trek in Mid West Nepal and starts with a flight to Juphal airstrip. It finishes 25 days later at Jomsom in the Kali Gandaki valley on the Annapurna Circuit trek. For more information read our Blog article Is Upper Dolpo One of the Most Remote Treks in Nepal?

Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT trek in Nepal
Dolpo-pa on horseback near Tora Sumda (4,000m) on Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT trek

1. Remoteness. Score 8/10.

We visit remote communities of Upper Dolpo that currently have no road access. Roads have recently reached Lower Dolpo and over the next 5 to 10 years will be built to Upper Dolpo.

2. Diversity of landscape. Score 7/10.

On the Upper Dolpo trek, you will see the beautiful Phoksundo Lake. From Dunai you follow the forested banks of the Suli Gad River. As you head further north into Upper Dolpo the scenery becomes arid like on the Tibetan plateau. You will see a landscape of rocks with hues of yellow, brown, blue and red.

3. Physical Challenge Score 7/10.

Our Upper Dolpo trek crosses many high passes out to Lower Mustang in Kali Gandaki valley. The crux of the route is crossing Kang La pass at 5,380m over to Shey monastery. We have given this trek a difficulty grade of Strenuous.

4. Cultural. Score 9/10.

The Upper Dolpo region is one of the last enclaves of pure Tibetan culture. There are Bönpo (shamanistic pre-Buddhist) monasteries including the important Shey Gompa. Pilgrims come to walk a religious circuit known as a kora around the nearby Crystal Mountain.

5. Flora and fauna. Score 8/10.

Like on The Snowman there are snow leopards in Upper Dolpo. Some of our previous groups have seen these beautiful animals on this Himalayan trek.

Kanchenjunga BC to Makalu BC GHT (Nepal)

This is a 36-day trek from Kanchenjunga Base Camp to Makalu Base Camp along the border with Tibet. You are unlikely to see other trekkers on the GHT trail connecting Kanchenjunga Circuit and Makalu Base Camp.
Kanchenjunga BC to Makalu BC GHT
Walking to Lumba Sumba South High Camp on Kanchenjunga BC to Makalu BC GHT

1. Remoteness. Score 9/10.

Very few locals or trekking groups ever walk on some of these sections of The Great Himalaya Trail. Having knowledgeable and experienced guides is very important. This is probably the most remote section of the GHT in Nepal.

2. Diversity of landscape. Score 8/10.

This route has varied scenery and spectacular views. The itinerary starts at a lower altitude than Upper Dolpo. We see a transition from the lush sub-tropical forest up to the alpine zone. Up high there are mountain lakes like at Kalo Pokhari. Incredible views of two 8,000m mountains, Mount Kanchenjunga and Mount Makalu.

3. Physical Challenge. Score 9/10.

By crossing the Lumba Sumba pass at 5,160m you enter the Arun Valley. The next section to Makalu Base Camp involves hiking through very rugged terrain. We have given this trek a difficulty grade of Strenuous.

4. Cultural. Score 7/10.

Visit remote communities at Olangchungola, Thudam and Hongon villages. The people are mainly Tibetans as there are trading passes over to Tibet from these places.

5. Flora and fauna. Score 9/10.

Like on the other two treks there are snow leopards living in the Kanchenjunga and Makalu regions. There is more precipitation in the east of Nepal. This supports more forest cover and denser vegetation.

And The Winner is....

We have added up the total scores for our shortlisted “Big Three” Himalayan treks. The results are as follows:

* The Winner* Kanchenjunga BC to Makalu BC GHT (Nepal). Total score: 42/50
* Second Place* Lunana Snowman (Bhutan). Total score: 40/50
* Third Place* Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT (Nepal). Total score: 39/50

As you can see our winner of the best trek in the Himalayas (by only one point!) is the epic trek from Kanchenjunga BC to Makalu BC GHT in Nepal. Of course, in practice, all three are amazing trips and there is not much separating them. Any serious trekker would dream of doing one or more of these Himalayan walking holidays. We suggest you consider walking any (or all) of the “Big Three”!

Exploring remote trails when trekking in the Himalayas is a truly wonderful experience. Please let us know whether you agree with the selection of our favourite treks in the Himalayas? We would love to hear more about your experience of hiking in the Himalayas.