“Leave the road, take the trails”
Some of the most cherished memories of my life have been when I was trekking up a mountain in the middle of nowhere, feeling an utter sense of contentment and peace. For me, trekking is more of a spiritual activity even more than it is physical. It is about finding the power that is within you, and pushing yourself in ways that you never knew was possible. And of course, it does help that trekking increases your fitness and helps you stay in shape!
South and South-East Asian region in the world has some of the best treks that nature has gifted. I have had the good fortune to trek a few of them myself, and I am constantly on the lookout for the most scenic and fulfilling trekking trails in this part of the world. It is my belief that a good trek is an exploration of a country’s culture, lifestyle and history as well. Following are some of the best treks that offer truly enriching experiences.
1 – Annapurna Circuit, Nepal (15-20 days)
This is considered as one of the most scenic trails in the world due to the towering snowcapped Himalayan Mountains around you all along throughout the trek. The trek usually takes up to 20 days, varying according to your experience and the fitness levels as a trekker. It is known to be a moderate to fairly challenging trek, with a plenty of river crossings over suspension bridges along the way. If you are traveling with a group, a porter, and a guide, you can opt for tents for accommodation, but they are a fair amount of small lodgings available all the way throughout the trail for food and accommodation.
There is four main regions that you will follow during the trail – Lamjung, Manang, Mustang, and Myagdi. Lamjung and Myagdi are sub-tropical valleys with stunning views of greenery and local life. The Annapurna circuit is one of the best ways to experience the culture of Nepalis as you add an unforgettable adventure to your life at the same time. Especially the Manang region will give you an insightful glimpse into the lives of Gurung, a society that is a mix of both Nepali and Tibetan cultures. The area has a predominantly Buddhist population, and the people are quite friendly and popular for their generous hospitality.
2 – Markha Valley Trek, Ladakh, India (5-10 days)
Fallen among many high altitude mountain passes, Markha Valley Trek in Ladakh, India is moderate to the strenuous trail that offers stark landscapes with many canyons and rock formations along the way. It is a unique trail that is different to many trekking paths that you find in India, with a different style of geography and surroundings. Spituk is the starting point of the trek which is located about 30 mins from Leh. You get many homestay style accommodations and small local food boutiques along the way. Ladakhi are a distinctive cultural group in India with many unique traditions and a way of life. This trek will not only let you explore a whole different aspect of Indian geography but also a different and fascinating culture as well.
Starting from Spituk, the trail passes the Hemis National Park, one of the few high altitude national parks in India famous for its population of Snow Leopards. Other milestones in the trek are the Kandala Base Camp, Skiu, Markha, Tsigu and Shang Sumdo, ending with Hemis. This is only one of the paths you can take. There are many variations of trails that you can make it from the start to the end, according to your fitness and skill levels as a trekker.
3 – Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia (2 days)
This is considered as one of the “easy” treks that you can do in South East Asia mainly due to the short amount of time it takes, but the final climb can be quite strenuous for an inexperienced trekker. It is, however, one of the best viewing points in all of Malaysia, and trekkers usually time the trek in a way that they reach the summit by the sunrise for the best viewing experience. You can do this trek at any time of the year, but it is better to avoid the reason and make it around the March-August period for the best experience.
The summit of Mount Kinabalu is at 4,095m making it the highest mountain in the Malay Archipelago. In order to survive this trek and make sure you enjoy the experience, make sure that you pack the right gear, wear comfortable shoes with a good grip and stay as light as possible. At the first few levels of the trek, make sure you are saving your energy by walking at a comfortable pace. This is important to ensure that you will make it to the top by the sunrise at the very last level to the summit, which is quite steep and strenuous.
4 – Mount Batur, Bali, Indonesia (1 day)
If you are, like me, love the views from up the mountains but struggle at trekking, Mount Batur is a relatively easy and stunning climb if you happen to find yourself in Bali. Mount Batur is a volcano that is located in the Kintamani area in Bali. There are many travel operators who can guide you on this trek. It starts around 3 am, somewhere in the middle of the mountain, and you have about 3 hours to make it to the top in order to catch the stunning sunset from the top of the volcano. They also add to the experience with a breakfast of banana and eggs boiled in the volcanic steam. Seeing the beautiful sunset at 5 am on top of the Mount Batur volcano while munching on eggs, surrounded by chattering happy trekkers, monkeys and volcanic steam is surely one of the most memorable experience I have ever had in my life. If you are in Bali, this is an experience that you should definitely have!
5 – Everest Base Camp (12-20 days)
Last but not least, Everest Base Camp is once in a lifetime experience that every trekker should aspire to do. Climbing Everest may just be in your wildest dreams forever, but Everest Base Camp is quite an attainable trek for anybody with a good health and fitness level. You can reach EBC from both Nepal and Tibet sides, but the path from Nepal (South Base – 5364m) is the most popular trail among trekkers. From the beginning to the end you will be blessed with the stunning views of Himalayas, and you can also experience the fascinating Sherpa culture and lifestyle along the way.
Due to the high altitudes, you have to pass, it is always advisable to take your time during the trek in order to safely make it to the Base Camp. Enjoy your walk passing the stunning views around and indulge yourself in a true sense of personal achievement since you are attempting one of the best treks anybody could experience in their lives. The best times of the year to do this trek is from March-May and September – November. You can do this trek without a guide, however, it is always better to go with a team or at least with one other person since the extreme climates can unexpectedly affect your good health sometimes.