email a friend iconprinter friendly iconBest New Trips: Hiking Nepal's Great Himalaya Trail
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The villagers we passed seemed happy to see us too, even though trekkers were hardly a novelty anymore. Perhaps it was the sight of foreigners flocking to Nepal again after the lean years of the conflict. Children raced after my bike and begged for rides. An old man invited me into his house and served Roxy, a fortified millet wine that tasted like barely sweetened gasoline. On one trailside break I joined a group of old men playing the Nepali version of Texas hold ’em and drew a slam dunk: 6-7-8 suited. But when I flashed my poker face, everybody folded.

The biggest change in the Annapurna region since Le Bon’s time is a new road. For centuries the Kali Gandaki has been a logical route across the Himalaya for traders exchanging salt from the north for food and cloth from the south. In recent years a dirt road was cut through the gorge, and soon trucks will rumble through.

But the gorge isn’t letting traffic in just yet. We reached a massive landslide, one of several that had taken out the would-be motorway. “Put your bike on your shoulder and carry it across the river,” Rajbhandari said, pointing to an impenetrable-looking tangle of rhododendron trees on the far bank. “There’s a trail on the other side."

Last fall Leo Le Bon took a trip to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the modern adventure travel industry. There was never really any question about where he should go: Everest. The summit and its surroundings have been a beacon to generations of the world’s most passionate wanderers, and after making their pilgrimage, many people struggle to craft a fittingly grandiose description. “Far higher in the sky than imagination dared to suggest, a prodigious white fang—an excrescence from the jaw of the world—the summit of Everest appeared,” George Mallory wrote. Le Bon chooses more modest phrasing to explain why seeing the mountain should top every adventurer’s life list. “You go to Everest,” he says. “Of course you go to Everest.”

The mountain draws trekkers with such tunnel-vision intensity that they discover only by happy accident that the Khumbu region has many additional charms. The trail-laced, 440-square-mile Sagarmatha National Park is spiked by a multitude of Himalayan summits, including Lhotse, the fourth highest peak in the world, and the triangular pinnacle of Ama Dablam, surely one of the most breathtaking. Sagarmatha is home to the Ngozumpa Glacier, the longest in Nepal; a dazzling string of turquoise lakes; tiny, manicured Sherpa villages; and the brilliantly colorful monastery at Tengboche.

The gateway to the upper Everest region is Namche Bazaar, and on the trek there, for my third and final GHT segment, I got sick from something I ate. I rented a horse near Lukla, which got me through the worst of the nausea that lasted less than a day. Still, you don’t know humiliation until you’ve been taunted by a 60-year-old German woman in pink Lycra. “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, using that horse while we’re all walking?” she shouted smugly.

By Namche I was back on my feet and leading the poor horse, Tashi, who seemed to be ailing worse than I was. White-walled lodges with red, green, and blue roofs sparkled under clear mountain sunshine. Everything looked freshly scrubbed, as if a cleaning crew of elves swept through nightly. Namche’s cobbled lanes were crammed with stores selling crampons, ice axes, beaded jewelry, and prayer wheels. The tents of the Tibetan bazaar, set up flea market style in the center of town, were busy with shoppers speaking half a dozen languages. The waiters at the patio cafés looked happily harried. To the backers of the Great Himalaya Trail, the Everest area is proof of concept: Trekking can electrify a local economy. Namche was a simple mountain village, but compared to the settlements of Humla, it was Las Vegas.

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