DOSSIER: THE GREAT HIMALAYA TRAIL
The Great Himalaya Trail (GHT) is a network of treks and trails which together form one of the longest and highest walking routes in the world.
Winding beneath the world’s highest peaks and visiting some of the most remote communities on earth, it passes through lush green valleys, arid high plateaux and stunning landscapes.
Nepal’s GHT has 10 sections comprising a network of upper and lower routes starting near Kanchenjunga on the eastern border then heading west navigating the domains of eight of the world’s 8,000m peaks, from the beautiful but lesser-known Makalu to the famous Everest. It is certainly neither the easiest nor the most direct route across Nepal, but rather it is a challenging and spectacular traverse through the Greater Himalaya. After 1,700kms, in Nepal, The Trail ends in Humla on the Tibetan border.
The route offers awesome diversity, not only in terms of landscapes but also of flora and fauna, peoples and cultures, from snow leopards to red pandas, from sub-tropical jungle to fragile high-altitude eco-systems, from Sherpa to Shamanism and the ancient Bön Buddhism found still in Dolpa.
The Early Trailblazers
Few people have walked the length of The Himalaya. And, even fewer have written about it. However, there have been some expeditions with the goal either of traversing Nepal or going further - traversing the entirety of the greater Himalaya.
- In 1980 one ‘inspirational’ Mr Shirahata is mentioned in the classic book, ‘Trekking in Nepal’, by Toru Nakano as having walked the length of the country from ‘East to West’ in Nepal but no further references or information have been found.
- In 1982 Arlene Blum and adventure travel writer High Swift became the first westerners to complete a 4,500km great Himalayan traverse across Bhutan, Nepal and India. Starting from the eastern border of Bhutan, Blum and Swift trekked up over 6,000m passes and down to river valleys at 600m, gaining and losing an average of 1,000m each day to reach Ladakh. This is documented in Blom’s book – ‘Breaking Trail’.
- In 1983 two British brothers, cross-country athletes Richard and Adrian Crane, ran the Himalayas, from east of Kanchenjunga to west of Nanga Parbat (Pakistan) beating their target of 100 days, as recorded in the Cranes’ book, ‘Running the Himalayas’.
- In 1994 the French duo of Paul-Eric Bonneau and Bruno Poirier made a crossing of the Himalayas in Nepal in 42 days (21 October-01December 1994) and called their adventure ‘Trans-Nepal-Himalaya’. They travelled 2,000kms between Pashupatinagar (eastern border) and Mahakali (western border) including Everest Base Camp.
The 10 Nepal Sections of The Great Himalayan Trail
- THE FAR WEST – The ‘Wild, Wild West’ of Nepal. One of the least explored Himalayan regions. Nature and landscape at its wildest best!
- HUMLA – Often called the ‘Hidden Himalaya’. This is part of the Trans-Himalaya salt trade route and is also the pilgrim trail to Mount Kailash.
- RARA, JUMLA & MUGU – Rara is Nepal’s largest lake and has been aptly described as ‘a shimmering blue jewel set in a ring of snowy peaks’.
- DOLPA – Thrillingly depicted in Eric Valli’s Oscar nominated film, ‘Himalaya’, Dolpa’s villages are some of the highest inhabited places on earth.
- ANNAPURNA & MUSTANG – An enormous 55km chain of six mountains exceeding 7,200m. Upper Mustang is the ancient and mystical ‘Kingdom at the Back of Beyond’.
- MANASLU & GANESH HIMAL – Manaslu, the world’s 8th highest mountain (8,163m) marks the mid-point of the GHT. Its Sanskrit name denotes ‘Mountain of the Spirit’ and this spirit is reflected in the serenity of the valleys and the villages in Manaslu’s shadow.
- LANGTANG & HELAMBU – Langtang National Park, covering 1,710 sq kms, occupies the upper catchment area of two of Nepal’s largest river systems – the Trisuli and the Koshi.
- EVEREST & ROLWALING – Three of the world’s highest peaks are here: Everest, the highest (8,850m), Lhotse, the fourth highest (8,516m) and Cho-Oyu, the sixth highest (8,201m).
- MAKALU BARUN – Named after Mount Makalu which, at 8,463m, is the world’s 5th highest mountain. A haven for flora and fauna enthusiasts.
- KANCHENJUNGA – In Tibetan, the name Kanchenjunga means ‘five great treasure houses of snow’, which hints at the mountain spectacle that awaits.