Wednesday, June 1, 2011

More Thoughts on Monsoon Trekking & Travel

A glance over at the sidebar of this page shows that the most popular page (as of today) on this site is a post I did called The Big Monsoon Lie. This has been the case, almost since I wrote that one, and it continues to be the most common question I get asked about on this blog or via e-mail from people who have stumbled upon this site. Having spent almost another full year here since I wrote it, and talking to more people and friends on the trails, I am even more convinced of what I wrote now. Increasingly I'm starting to think that people who trek during peak season put up with far more hardships and problems than those who trek on the cusps of the monsoon, and possibly even those who go right in the middle of it.

It is now the beginning of June and most guide books list this as a time when you shouldn't travel to Nepal, but truth be told the weather has been even better than last year. Sure there are occasional afternoon storms but those have been going on since April, and they are just short one or two hour rain storms, nothing to get excited about or to make travel difficult. Another American couple we are friends with just got back from a trip around Annapurna (and can read about the trip on their blog; The Kathmanduo) and they had a very similar experience to myself as far as weather. Now true, this isn't officially monsoon season yet, but because of the way most advice is dished out I know they were quite concerned about weather and views before they left. Not only are the views quite good (there pictures and mine seem to prove that) but the lack of crowded trails, avoiding temperatures well below freezing and snow on high passes just seems like such a bonus.

I would at this point go as far as to say that the best time to trek Annapurna may well be around the end of May or beginning of June. The real monsoon hasn't yet set in, the trails are devoid of huge crowds, the weather is warm but not oppressive,  the only downside is that because things aren't operating at capacity the menu selections aren't as diverse. That said, if you're doing a trek in the Himalaya you should be resigned to rather terrible food. Recent photos and reports I've seen from the Everst region seem to indicate that things are similar up that way, although they do seem to get a few more clouds in te valley due to it being north-south valley and not an east-west valley like the area around Manang on the Annapurna circuit.

Trekking now isn't like trekking in late July or August when the monsoon is really in effect. The monsoon season really seems to be horribly exaggerated in length in most books. The real monsoon won't actually hit until mid July or so, and by the end of September it will be over. As I've stated before as well, the Monsoon rains are not full day events but a daily storm that usually lasts for a few hours at a time, and for the last few years most often in the early evening. Now that is of course a generalization and some days you may actually get full on rain for the better part of the day, but it's an exception and not the rule. Cloud cover does get to be thick during this period, but even then at certain times of the day clouds are almost certain to clear for at least some views.

Strangest of all to me is that non-trekking tourism also seems to drop off so much during the monsoon, when it is becoming increasingly clear to me that this is one of the nicest times of the year to visit Nepal. The Kathmandu valley is lush and green, the pollution and dust are rained out of the sky, the cloud cover makes it actually a little cooler than months like April and May, and many people clear out of Kathamndu, making it a little less of a hectic crazy place to be. Getting around on some of the roads can be a touch more difficult due to landslides, but most major destinations are still not too much of a problem. In all honesty if I was coming to Nepal for some of the cultural things, I'd almost certainly come in June or September, and I wouldn't rule out July and August. While witnessing some of the festivals around the high holidays in the Fall (Tihar and Dashain) could be nice, it's also important to realize that those holidays literally shut down most of the city, and unless you know a Nepali family you won't really see too much as they are celebrated at homes more than at temples. Places like Lumbini (Buddha's birth place), the sites in the Kathmandu valley like Swambu, Bhaktapur, or Kopan Monastery, and Pokhara are all easy enough to get to and would seem better in the summer tan in the winter. I'm not sure what Chitwan is like and I've heard it's not a good time to view animals, but I'm not sure.  All in all the lack of tourists in the summer months is a real shame, and to be honest most are scared away over inaccurate  reporting of what weather is really like. Something else to consider is that in the Summer months Nepal actually has electricity!

So all in all the monsoon shouldn't be shunned the way that it is, and months like May and June shouldn't be lumped with the late summer months for purposes of trekking. One of the questions I get most often is from people who only have a chance to visit Nepal during this time frame, and they want to know if it would be worth trying to get out and do a trek.  Yes, it's worth it. Bring some rain gear, bring compression sacks to keep stuff dry, plan on a few additional days to work around transport delays (something you should always plan for here anyways) and an additional day or so at viewing points to enhance your chances of clouds clearing out. If you're here though and you want to get out and see the country, the weather in the summer is no excuse to stop you from getting out there and seeing it.


  1. Dear Brain,

    Many thanks for the valuable information.

    I am planning to travel to Nepal towards the end of next August, around 20th for 8 days. I will be visiting kathamandu, chitwan, pokhara, and nagrakot. No trekking, sightseeing.

    I am very concerned about the weather and the monsoon season, can you please advise about the weather there at that time of the year. I might cancel the trip if I will miss all the great scenary.


  2. I just got back from a trip to the Everest region and had great views. Of course it's a roll of the dice, and I certainly can't tell you that you will get good views for sure, but you should over the time you are here get some decent views. Kathmandu and Chitwan don't really require clear skies, and as long as you get up bright and early at the other locations you should get some nice views. The one thing I will note though is that travel can be difficult, and 8 days seems like a short time to pack in all those destinations.

  3. Thank you so much for this, I have researched everything from lonely planet to every website I could find looking for information about hiking to ebc in August. I love the rain, love the solitude even more. As a teacher the only time I can go is August, and it is a huge financial investment. Everything you have said has really put my mind at ease. If you have any links or further suggestions please let me know. Thank you so much .


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