Try smaller villages for more authentic teahouses and engagement with locals. Understand ascent rates and altitude sickness.
Overall, an incredible trek and great experience, really glad we did the AC and took our time at it. We trekked from Besisahar to Tatopani, and had two days in the middle for both Milarepa’s cave and the Ice lakes. Also got to see the beautiful and quieter Marpha and Kagbeni villages. The road on the Mustang valley side is definitely more intrusive and harder to avoid as it has more traffic, dust, wind. But both sides offer NATT trails that avoid the road as much as possible.
However, ALWAYS get advice on whether a NATT trail is accessible as we saw that one NATT trail on the other side of the river around the Danaqyu area was impassible due to a landslide.
I also had a bike rental for the last three days from Muktinath to Tatopani, and I highly recommend it for anyone that loves mountain biking. I had no guide for the biking, but I had researched my routes well and had incredible experiences in the Lupra valley, Thini village and on the way down to Tatopani from Marpha.
Most people were not starting in Besisahar, and getting transport further up, but I recommend starting there as there are now beautiful NATT trails through golden rice paddy fields that are only available at that stage of the trek.
Apart from my comments below on what to bring or not, the most important pieces of advice I have are:
– Read up before you go, and even have a book/ebook with you on the way (such as the one by Andrees de Ruiter on the NATT trails or the Lonely Planet – Trekking in Nepal). It will add tenfold to your experience, especially if you don’t have a guide (and even if you do).
– I was shocked at how little some people knew about and were prepared for altitude sickness. You really need to know if before you go, in particular if you are limited on time. We had loads of days to spare, and still experienced some slight problems, but had no issues given that we were prepared. Know about all the medicines available and what each one is for, and now about both mild and severe symptoms of AMS, and what HAPE and HACE is.
– Stay in smaller villages and you will avoid the crowds both trekking and during your teahouse stays. This will give you more opportunities to try local food, eat in the kitchens with the didi’s and locals, get better bargains for lodging. In particular, I recommend staying in Braka over Manang (although, the small cinema is Manang is a nice experience/treat if you have a day there).
We had a guide and porter which can add to your experience but are not entirely necessary if you are well prepared.
– The weather is impossible to predict. We didn’t get more than 2-4 hours of light rain in 13 days of trekking from the 2nd of October onwards. But we met people both 4hours behind us and 4 hours ahead of us on the same day that got rained on all day.
– Leeches can be a problem if you have low/light shoes up until Chame. They are harmless, but quite a nuisance. I had nine decent bleeding bites from them as I was using trail runners for the trek.
– The ice lake acclimatisation hike is quite difficult, and some people even can get very sick on it. The terrain and lakes you are hiking on are nothing great, but the views and panoramas make it incredible.
– On the opposite side of the valley, the slightly less demanding Milarepas cave does not have the same incredible panoramas or views (apart from Pisang Peak), but the terrain/forest you walk on is much nicer. It is worth it to walk the extra 45mins up the mountain from the cave area to see the glacier, even if its cloudy.
– Long sleeve and long leg thermals which can be bought in Pokhara or KTM very cheaply, will be the best comfort clothing you can have on the trek for the evenings/night-times in the teahouses.
– Larger groups give the benefit of more socialising and support during the trek
– Smaller groups give the benefit of adjusting the pace to suit everyone, engaging more with locals, eating in the didi’s kitchen around the fire.
– Walking sticks are recommended for everyone of all ages. We had some light snow on the pass, and the sticks were essential for stability in icy parts.
– Camelbaks or water bladders are a great way to ensure you are drinking regularly, especially at altitude.
– We had both a National Telecom (Namaste) and NCell SIM Card. National Telecom has more reception, but very little of it would give you data outside of the the big villages. NCell has very little reception, but when it does it had 3G coverage for most data needs (IIRC, in Chame, Manang, Muktinath, Kagbeni, Marpha).
- Headlamp, Hiking Poles, Sleeping Bag, Sunglasses
Full sleeve and full leg thermals will be the the best investment before you go for comfort and warmth. If travelling outside of Monsoon/winter the average person will only going to need a sleeping bag for the 2 nights after Manang, so if you don't have a porter you could just pay for extra duvets. Don't need as many tops or underwear as you think. If the weather is sunny, you will get a chance to wash/dry or even pay for laundry on your acclimatization day. Can do without battery packs, as electricity/charging is everywhere (but you will have to pay for it after Manang).
For two people, we spend as little as 1000rupees per day at lower altitudes and in quieter villages, up to 3000rupees per day at higher altitudes and if we were treating ourselves to a beer/pastries/chocolate.