Which are the better trekking routes in the himalayan region? Also, how safe are the routes? If any of you guys have been around in the region, I would like to know your personal experiences as well!
There are three main, popular trekking regions in Nepal - the Anapurna circuit, the trek to the Everest Base Camp (and side trips) and the area surrounding Gosaikund, which includes the Langtang valley and Helambu. All three of these treks are very popular and quite safe; I saw people of all ages, including families and children. There's a good page on Nepal trekking on WikiVoyage.
By "very popular", I mean hundreds of people traveling on each day of the trek (at least for Anapurna and Everest) - you'll rarely be alone for long! This has both advantages and disadvantages, obviously. One advantage is that even if traveling alone, you can easily meet people and "group up".
How to pick a trek? I'll try to list some pros and cons for each one. I haven't done the Anapurna, but I've heard much about it. It's the most popular region of the three. The typical route is circular, starting and ending near Pokhara- it's always nice not to have to retrace your steps. There's a varied climate; you climb and climb until you reach a very high pass (above 5000 meters) and then descend. The whole thing takes about three weeks, and there's an option to fly in to Jomsom, about midway, to shorten things. I've heard that part of the traditional trail has been paved, shortening it further, but I'm not sure exactly where. It's very popular, but takes the longest to do, and you need to reach Pokhara in order to start it, which will add time or expense to your trip since most international flights are to Kathmandu.
The obvious highlight of the trek to the base of Everest is seeing it the mountain yourself. Normally you fly to and from Lukla (which adds expenses) and then it takes a little less than two weeks to reach the base of the mountain and return. Being that high up, it's a more barren trek than the other two. You don't necessarily have to retrace your steps, but that's usually how it's done. I chose to minimize the retracing by crossing into the Gokyo valley, but to do that you need to cross an additional 5000 meter pass, which shouldn't be done alone by the inexperienced, and there aren't nearly as many people to accompany who go that way. If you want, you can take a bus to/from Jiri instead of flying; there are were very, very few people going that way when I was there, but I didn't feel like it was dangerous, even though I was alone.
The triple region of Gosaikund, Langtang and Helambu are the least popular of the three. Maybe it's because the mountains there aren't quite as high, or maybe because it's just less spectacular, or who knows why, really? This region is closest to Kathmandu, which is good for minimizing travel time and flying expenses. It's also the easiest to split up into a short week-long trek- any of the three can be done, or all three one after the other.
That summarizes the popular regions; if you're looking for an adventure, there are less popular places that are fabulously beautiful. I highly recommend the Dolpa region, but it will take a lot more planning and a hefty entrance fee. When I was there (2004) Nepal was in the throes of a civil war and we couldn't pay the steep entrance fees to the Dolpa even if we had wanted to (and at $700 a week, I'm not sure we would have wanted to). I don't know how much the fee is now. I'll relate what I can from this trek, based on the notes I have in case you want to try to plan something similar.
We started our trek from Beni, near Pokhara and it took us about two weeks to reach Dunai, the regional capital far to the northwest. We only met two groups of travelers the entire time. We carried tents and cooking supplies, but whenever possible we slept in people's houses and bought dinner. Along the route we traveled there weren't really many guest houses, maybe one or two, but we traveled with a Nepali guide/interpreter who was able to negotiate our staying with people to mutual satisfaction. In some segments we couldn't reach then next village in one day, so we stayed in our tents and cooked. There was a significant pass 4000-some-meter pass - Jaljalal - and then a flat area called Dhorpatan that we stayed in for a day or two and liked very much.
As I said, it took us about two weeks to reach Dunai. Dunai has an airport, so one possibility is to skip this section and fly straight there. From Dunai we set out on a circular route that crossed some 5000+ passes. There was an area called Dho that was very dry and desert-like, with herds of yaks; we stayed there for a few days. After that we reached Phoksundo Lake, which is remarkably beautiful- I don't know if the long trip there made it seem more beautiful than it is, but it was spectacular to us. Descending to Phoksundo, and descending from Phoksundo to Dunai were some of the best hiking days I've ever had in my life, and I've been around. Really stunning, and very remote.
Some things to consider:
In these high remote regions it was difficult to buy food and supplies from the locals- only in Dunai is there enough that a group can come and buy several days supplies easily.
Our guide had never actually been along this route, and we got lost quite a few times, but all of us were relatively experienced and it turned out OK. We were also well equipped for very cold weather; near the Numa La pass we put our tents up in snow.
Unlike the popular regions, you will be very, very far away from the good medical centers and easy evacuation. Communication with home wasn't possible then; a lot might have changed in nine years, of course.
In a trek this long, a lot can go wrong- most of our group got sick several times and we spent quite a few days resting so we had enough strength to continue. Our visas expired and we didn't actually reach our destination, Shey Gompa, the "Crystal Mountain".
Finally, some tidbits- the movie "Himalaya" was filmed near Phoksundo, and the trip is described in the excellent book "The Snow Leopard".
I spent about eight weeks in the high Himalaya of Bhutan and Nepal during the fall of 2010, during which time I had the amazing opportunity to complete the classic Everest Base Camp trek, from Lukla to Kala Pattar and back. The adventure was replete with the exciting and the unknown, to the extent that my travel companion and I were among a cohort of [un]lucky trekkers to make international news (http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/11/04/uk-nepal-everest-tourists-idUSLNE7A304S20111104) for the length of time that we were stranded in Lukla due to persistent fog. We eventually found our way back to Kathmandu, though not by a small, commercial flight, as is convention. Again, we found ourselves particularly "lucky" as we boarded a Soviet-era helicopter (of the MI variety) operated by the Nepali Army to return to the sprawling capital city. Colorful details aside, the Everest Base Camp trek is a Himalayan classic, one that I would strongly recommend if this is your first trip to the Himalaya. That said, this trip won't be a perfect fit if you are seeking solitude. Thousands of trekkers flood the Khumbu region each year (with good reason), making for a bustling (and, at times, very crowded) atmosphere on the trail and at the tea houses, where you sleep and take your meals. The great "benefit" of this scene is the enhanced safety component. I didn't have any safety concerns while on-trail, and the Khumbu has well-established rescue operation (by helicopter) on account of Everest and the volume of tourist traffic.
If you are seeking the "road less traveled," I would strongly suggest investigating the Mustang region, a comparatively quiet and pristine area that has only opened to tourists in the past 10-15 years (http://travel.nytimes.com/2012/10/28/travel/myths-and-mountains-in-nepal.html?_r=0). Alternatively, Bhutan provides a breath of fresh air (quite literally--its small cities boast some of the cleanest air in Asia) when juxtaposed with the hustle and bustle of Nepal and the trek to Everest Base Camp (as well as the Annapurna Trek, which welcomes a similar volume of tourists). A trip to Bhutan costs a pretty penny: the government has been remarkably effective in restricting tourist traffic--and in creating quite some panache about the place--by charging a daily visa fee to physically be in the country (in the fall of 2010, the fee was upwards of $200/day). I'm not sure of the price tag these days, but if you have the opportunity, a trek in the western Jhomolari region is a magical experience--high-alpine trekking among snow-capped Himalayan peaks, 15,000-foot passes, roaming yaks, and verdant, dramatic valleys.
Happy trails and travels!