When I pictured visiting Nepal, I pictured two things: snowcapped mountains (of course) and interacting with the local people. While one of those goals is pretty much going to happen no matter where you decide to trek in Nepal, the other is largely based on which trek you choose to do. The most popular trails in Nepal are the Everest Base Camp trek and the Annapurna Circuit, and the vast majority of visitors to Nepal take one of those two treks. As for me, I wanted to get “off the beaten path” and experience how villagers in the rural areas lived, so I chose to take the Ruby Valley Trek and the Tamang Heritage Trail. There’s no cell phone reception or Wi-Fi on the trail at all, so if you’re looking to shut the world out, this is the place to do it!
I worked with Nepal Hidden Treks (which you can book by heading over to UpEverest, the Nepal trekking authority) to plan this trip, and I’m so glad I did. They specialize in the “hidden” treks of Nepal, meaning that while they still do the Annapurna Circuit and Everest Base Camp, their primary goal is to take people to parts of Nepal that they wouldn’t necessarily visit otherwise. When I contacted the owner, Harka, about what I was looking for on a trek, he was immediately able to provide recommendations about what would be the best fit for me. I knew I wanted the majority of the trip to be homestays with locals rather than lodges, guesthouses, or hotels, and I knew that I didn’t want to meet tons of other tourists along the trail. While it’s sometimes my goal to meet other travelers on trips, this was not one of those times. So, with Harka’s help, I chose the Ruby Valley and Tamang Heritage Trail treks!
About the Trail
If you’ve never heard of the Ruby Valley Trail, that’s because it’s just now becoming an actual “trek” and it has no tourist infrastructure whatsoever, where places like Annapurna Circuit and Everest Base Camp have full-on lodges and hotels the entire way. The trek started out at around 5,000 feet and would eventually climb to 14,000 feet, so we saw an amazing change in the scenery along the way. We started out in rice paddies and ended up above the treeline!
The Ruby Valley Trail is actually just a series of trails that the local people use to walk from village to village. There’s tons of shortcuts and some random turns that make it borderline impossible to follow without a guide, since there are no maps of the area. We found out on that first day that our guide, Hari, and porter-guides Kumar and Laxman were all from the same village, and we’d be staying at it along the trail! This made our experience even more special because they had walked this same route hundreds of times and knew tons of details about each village and its people along the way. And, just like they promised, we didn’t see a single other tourist during our time on the trail. There were a couple of aid workers who had lived in Nepal for years and were back to visit friends, but that was it. Mostly, we saw local people carrying insanely heavy things on their backs for miles and miles and quickly learned how to say “Namaste” to everyone we passed.
For the majority of treks in Nepal, you will arrive in Kathmandu and then take a bus, private jeep, or plane to the place where you’ll start trekking. For our trek, we had about an 8 hour ride into the mountains from Kathmandu. The friends I was traveling with, Bobbi and Allison, wanted to take a private jeep rather than ride the local bus, which I will admit I wasn’t thrilled about. In addition to the added cost, I thought this was taking away from the “authentic” experience I was hoping for. After taking that ride, let me tell you – the jeep is worth it. Dear Lord, it is worth it. The roads are terrible, windy, and unbelievably bumpy (like, you know those Land Rover commercials where they drive straight up a boulder? Like that, but worse) and I found myself so glad that we had taken that Jeep. Yes, I am soft.
We truly had absolutely no idea what to expect when we arrived in the village where we would be spending our first night and then starting our trek. When we got out of the car, we had a long walk through the village to the home where we’d be staying, and I couldn’t help but think “What have I gotten us into?” Would we be sleeping on someone’s kitchen or living room floor? Lying on a bench at the table? I truly had no idea. The relief when we saw the (private) room where we’d be spending that first night was palpable – Bobbi actually cried. We had wooden beds (no mattresses, but beds!) and lots of space to spread out. The homeowner prepared us an amazing first meal and we toasted to victory with the Sprite that seemed to be everywhere, no matter how far away from a city you were.
As for our meals, dinner each night and breakfast the following morning were prepared by the owners of the homes where we stayed. At lodges on the more popular trails, you’ll have the option of a pretty large menu with typical American/continental fare and Nepali cuisine, but on the more remote treks, you basically have two options – dal bhat, the Nepali staple meal (which consists of steamed rice, lentil soup, potatoes, and vegetables) or noodle soup that is sort of like ramen. For me, this worked out perfectly, because dal bhat is naturally gluten free, it’s delicious, and I don’t mind eating the same thing for every meal. If you need a little more variety, though, you’re probably going to be out of luck. One of my favorite parts of the trek was eating dal bhat everywhere we went and watching as the recipe changed from the lower altitudes to the higher altitudes. My favorite dal bhat was made by our guide, Hari’s, mother in the village and home where he grew up, Chalish! I’m still dreaming about it.
Of course, most people come to Nepal for the scenery and gorgeous mountain views, and we were no exception. Nepal is one of those places where pretty much the whole country could be a postcard, so there’s no such thing as a bad view. We followed the Tamang River through the Ruby Valley for miles, trekking about 10 miles per day on average, and crossed countless waterfalls, swinging bridges, and gorges along the way. Partially because it was a really tough trek each day and partially because it was so beautiful, we took plenty of opportunities to stop for photo shoots. Our guides praised how fit we were but I’m going to be honest – I don’t think any of us felt particularly fit after day 1. We’ve all run multiple marathons and hike regularly, but none of us has ever been that sore before. Talk about a workout! Note to self: pack less next time. In fact, pack nothing.
This might sound like a rather strange and touristy thing to say, but one of my favorite aspects of this trek was seeing the traditional dress of the Nepali people and watching how they work, cook, and live. On the Ruby Valley Trail, we met people of all different ethnicities, including Brahman, Gurung, Tamang, and more. While each village had a predominant ethnic group and religion, there is always a mix of people and faiths, and people live in harmony. The caste system ended in Nepal about 30 years ago, and there is much more opportunity for people of all different backgrounds now, but it isn’t perfect, especially in the more rural areas. Still, everyone I spoke with agreed that things are becoming more equal. Interesting fact: in Nepal, your last name is what your ethnic group is. So everyone who is Tamang has the last name of Tamang!
I was also struck by the generosity that we encountered on the trail. We were constantly being offered food along the way, whether it was boiled potatoes, Sprite (soda is everywhere, even in the most rural, hardest to reach villages!), or dal bhat. We were able to connect with people by taking their pictures and showing them the photo on our cameras, or by talking to them through our guides. We also did our best to learn some Nepali, which the locals thought was hilarious and really appreciated. It’s always a good idea to learn some simple phrases!
So, I like to think I’m in pretty good shape. I have run 50 marathons, I teach barre classes a lot, and I do some form of workout pretty much every day. My friend Bobbi just did an Ironman (and crushed it) two weeks before we went to Nepal, and my friend Allison is running the New York City Marathon this year. We’re not slouches…but this trek kicked our asses. We all agreed that we’ve never been as sore as we were by the end of the trek! We hiked about 10 miles per day on average, and it was all up and down mountainsides. Our guides would sometimes tell us that that day’s trek would be “flat,” but we quickly realized there is a difference between “Nepali flat” and “actually flat.” There were no easy days! If you’re not in great shape, the trek is still doable – just make sure your guide plans accordingly and doesn’t have you logging super long days!
Still, every single second was worth it. Climbing to the top of Pangsang Pass (about 14,000 feet of elevation, and we gained 6,000 feet of elevation in about 4 miles that day) was one of the most rewarding feelings I’ve ever had – especially because I got rather sick with a nasty case of traveller’s diarrhea that day (sorry) and was feeling extremely weak on the climb. The steep climb made the descent even more magical!
Well, it was magical for a while, and then it just hurt. But it was beautiful nonetheless!
If you’re interested in the Ruby Valley Trek, I recommended heading over to UpEverest and looking through their trekking options! This is not a sponsored post, as I paid for the entire trip myself. I just had an incredible experience and I want everyone to know! Questions about the trip? Email me at thetrexrunner(at)gmail.com and I’ll tell you more than you could ever possibly want to know about it.
LEAVE A COMMENT: Have you ever pictured yourself doing a trek like this?