History of the Great Himalaya Trails

A spiderweb of ancient routes that are (or once were) valuable for reaching agricultural fields, gathering, trading, pilgrimage, and other reasons for traversing the landscape, link up regionally significant elements of the rich cultural and natural heritage across the hills and mountains of Nepal. Until recently, thought, the trails across Nepal remained an undefined idea for tourism.

Attracted by the adventurous and magical concept of the Himalayas, this mountainous region has a long history of adventurers exploring extensive routes and remote places. Some of these journeys have become documented, while many remain unknown. Read more about the early explorers and recent achievers of the Great Himalaya Trails in our Hall of Fame.

In 2006 the Dutch development agency SNV and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Kathmandu proposed developing an official Great Himalaya Trail from near Kangchenjunga in the east to Api-Saipal in the far west of Nepal. If opening up wild and remote parts of the country could attract more travellers to Nepal and attract them to visit new destinations beyond the flagship destinations Everest and Annapurna, it could benefit many of the 1.8 million people living in the mountains.

Their plans moved ahead in 2009, as SNV Nepal initiated and led the implementation of a Great Himalaya Trail pilot project in west Nepal with funding from UNWTO-SNV Sustainable Tourism Eliminating Poverty (ST-EP). This project piloted in Humla and Dolpa districts and was designed as a value chain (market development) approach, zooming in on commercially viable solutions. It combined three interrelated strategies: (1) marketing and promotion; (2) developing successful micro, small and medium enterprises along the trail that will respond directly to the needs of the market; and (3) building institutional capacity at central and district levels. Towards the end of Models and approaches field tested in the pilot project have been revised and fine tuned to address the needs and realities of Nepal’s mountain tourism destinations and to facilitate participatory, marketoriented tourism development planning in the GHT districts.

Simultaneously, early 2009 Robin Boustead truly gave birth to a Great Himalaya Trail route in Nepal: supported by his wife Judy Smith and friends he walked the trail in stages beginning in September 2008 to undertake research and identify a true high-alpine route that was feasible for trekkers. Robin documented his route meticulously using GPS. The route, distances, elevations, water sources, villages and camp sites have been detailed in a guide book that was released early 2010. His work also resulted in high quality maps of the route, which are sold in a full GHT map and individual section maps.

The success of initial pilot project raised interest from a new partner: financial support from DFID made it possible for SNV to launch the Great Himalaya Trail Development Programme in 2011, upscaling the approach piloted in Dolpa and Humla. It’s aim: harnessing tourism to improve livelihoods, create employment and bring sustainable development opportunities to remote communities through the creation of an iconic and globally significant new tourism product for Nepal. The programme found collaboration with a multitude of stakeholders: from renowned mountaineers and trekking guides to the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN), the Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA), the Village Development Committees in remote areas along the initial routes and many more. This resulted in a strong branding that defined the full-length “Great Himalaya Trail” based on an upper, more technical route, and a lower cultural route. As these routes in their full length can be challenging for tourists to traverse in one go, 10 sections have been identified each with their own entry and exit access routes.

At the end of 2013 the Great Himalaya Trail Development Programme under SNV came to an end, while at the same time giving birth to a new initiative. Through thorough evaluation and auditing, DFID revealed the success of the completed programme and decided to give birth to a second phase that could build forward on the achievements and initiate innovative new actions. Already ongoing Samarth Nepal Market Development Project was identified as the right partner, based on their solid knowledge of value chain development and successful experience with other rural economic sectors across Nepal.

Though faced with various challenges, among which the Gorkha Earthquake in April 2015, Samarth has brought the Great Himalaya Trails concept to another level. Recognizing that two full length trails are established, Samarth revealed that Nepal is home to a large diversity of trails, each with their own value and uniqueness, that deserve to be recognized as a widespread network. As access to rural areas is improving thanks to various initiatives, among which road construction projects from the Nepalese Government, many new shorter and longer trails can be reached by travellers.

In 2016 Samarth and partners successfully completed Nepal’s first cantilever bridge in Manaslu, which introduced a valuable new technological solution and raised the bar of quality trails. A second cantilever bridge is currently under construction in Tsum Valley.

At the same time, 2013 was the year our Great Himalaya Trail (Nepal) Alliance was born. The Alliance was envisioned as a national trail organization; an ambitious platform that will bridge between the industry, the trail network and its communities, and the Government. In 2016 our Alliance completed the design and launched its model.