1. Nepal vs. Spain.
Spain is in Europe and Nepal is in South Central Asia. Spain has a long coastline on the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Nepal is landlocked in the Himalayas Region. Nepal is one of the poorer countries in the world with a per capita annual income of $1,084. Nepal is mostly a rural country of small farmers growing enough to get by and maybe sell or barter their excess produce. Tourism is a key industry after agriculture with 63% of the people working small farms. Spain, while historically devoutly Catholic it is increasingly agnostic country while Nepal people are deeply religious. In the lowlands the people are mostly Hindu while in the mountains they are Buddhist. In Kathmandu and Pokhara a mix. Some still follow Animism and you may come across sacrifices being made with chickens or other small animals.
2. A Camino is a Pilgrimage while one treks in Nepal.
This is just semantics. A walk in Nepal is a Pilgrimage to the top of the world, the Himalayas. A place of intensely devout Buddhists where Temples and Shrines are as common as churches on the Camino. Crossing mountain paths of over 5,400 meters watching the sunrise over the white capped Annapurnas is as intensely spiritual as a sunset at Finisterre. The Sherpas, a tribe of Tibetans who settled near Mt. Everest, believe the tallest mountain in the world to be a God. They walk it and the surrounding area with reverence and awe. Even fear as Sagarmatha, as the locals call it, has taken many lives. Just like The Camino, a Nepal Pilgrimage can potentially be a life changing experience; walking the paths of Buddhist monks who have been sauntering these ancient trails for over 2 thousand years.
3. Santiago de Compostela vs. Kathmandu.
While they are both World Heritage Cities, they couldn’t be more different. In Santiago, the Cathedral is the final destination for most pilgrims. It offers a wide range of modern hostels, albergues, and hotels as well as a diverse number of restaurants. Kathmandu is an exhilarating, beguiling mix of colors, smells, sights, and people. Most trekkers head directly to Thamel, a tourist ghetto, filled with shops selling everything you need for a trek. There are a wide range of hostels and hotels depending on your budget. There is a surprisingly diverse assortment of excellent restaurants; from steakhouses, Italian, French, Pizza, Vegetarian, Indian, Nepal, etc. Walking the streets of Thamel is an experience in itself; with street vendors selling fruit, vegetables, snacks, assorted trinkets and Masala(Chai) Tea. Kathmandu has a unique smell to it; a combination of burning incense, human sweat, and cow dung that is rather pleasant once you get used to it. Taking a few days to explore its streets and sights is more than worthwhile. The top 3 sights are; Durbar Square, a medieval old town, Swayambhunath Temple at the top of a hill within walking distance of Thamel, and Bodnath Stupa, the center of Kathmandu’s exiled Tibetan community
4. While a Camino to Santiago Pilgrimage begins anywhere and ends at the Cathedral, a Nepal trek typically begins and ends in Kathmandu.
A Camino can start anywhere, St. Jean Pied de Port, Sarria, Irun, Seville, Madrid, Lisbon, Porto, Paris, LePuy en Velay, or from one’s home in Ireland, Germany, Italy, Poland, or anywhere in Europe. Trekkers to Nepal can travel overland from India directly to Pokhara and west Nepal avoiding Kathmandu, however most pilgrims fly into Kathmandu from points across the globe. From there you will bus or fly to your pilgrimage starting point. At the end of their treks, walkers typically return to Kathmandu for a few days rest and relaxation before returning home or continuing on a longer journey. So your Nepal pilgrimage will be somewhat of a loop with the same beginning and ending point. A loop walk strengthens the concept of a pilgrimage being more about the journey than the destination.
5. Catholicism vs. Buddhism.
While the Camino de Santiago is connected to St. James and the Cathoic Church, A Nepal Trek will be a Buddhist experience. Instead of priests, you will encounter monks. They are everywhere, walking the trails, and in the frequent Monasteries. In Spain, crucifixes are common while in Nepal homes and tea houses are adorned with prayer flags and pictures of the Dalai Lama. The Camino is more about the destination of The Cathedral de Santiago. While a Nepal Trek, other than Everest Base Camp, is more about the journey than the destination. This concept is very Buddhist. The Buddhists live by this notion, while we Westerners typically have to learn this truth during or hopefully by the end of our Caminos.
In Spain, the standard fare is a Menu del Dia, which usually includes; beef, pork, chicken, or fish, and some potatoes for a main dish. A starter of spaghetti, salad, or soup. Dessert is typically; fruit, ice cream or flan. A bottle of house wine is usually thrown in and your total cost is €9-12. In Nepal, the standard trekking dish is dal bhat which includes rice, lentil soup, and whatever local fresh vegetables are available, typically; potato, spinach, and or carrot. Typical cost is $3-5. Alternatively, chow mein noodles or fried rice. And Mo Mo’s (steamed or fried dumplings stuffed with veggies or meat). Occasionally a Yak burger or steak. Beer is typically available as well as soft drinks like Coca Cola. Also, instant coffee or tea. Chai Tea or Masala Tea as they call it locally is wonderful. Be careful with the Yak Butter Tea as its a bit like drinking hot melted salted butter.
One doesn’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars or risk their lives to get to the top of Mt. Everest to experience a pilgrimage to Nepal’s Himalayas. While a Camino typically costs about €25-35 per day when staying mostly at albergues, it can go as high as €40-50 when staying at hotels and transporting your pack ahead each day. If carrying your own pack, a Nepal trek could cost the same about $25-30 per day including permits. It is recommended to hire a guide/porter though which will take your costs up to about €35-45 per day. Unlike the Camino where costs are fairly constant across Spain, your daily cost for food and drink will increase somewhat in the higher elevations. Upon arriving in Kathmandu or Pokhara, trekkers need to visit the local Trekking Office to get appropriate permits. The standard treks typically require 2 different permits in the $40-50 range. Nepal is a very poor country and the local governments all seem to want their cut. The Permit Fees are the same whether you trek for 5 days or 35 days.
8. Engaging with locals and other pilgrims.
In Spain, one encounters locals and this can be a highlight of one’s Camino to be invited to their home for a meal, a bed, or conversation. While you occasionally meet locals who speak English, your experience will be greatly enhanced by learning a bit of Spanish. In Nepal encounters with locals will also be a memorable part of your experience. Especially at the lower elevations where you will come across schools, children, and farmers. In the higher elevations, you will come across mostly people catering to trekkers. English is fairly common on the trekking routes. Occasionally the opportunity arises to spend time with a family or monks in their home sharing a meal of dal bhat or even a warm stove fire and bed. On rare occasions you may be given a ceremonial white scarf (khada) signifying compassion by your guide or one of your accommodation hosts. Hiring a guide may enhance your ability to engage with Nepal’s friendly people. Regarding interaction with other pilgrims, both provide ample opportunity to interact on the trail and over drinks or meals with other open minded pilgrims from around the world. I have made lasting friendships on both though I would give a slight intangible edge to the Camino.
9. Nepal’s degree of difficulty is higher.
Nepal is in the Himalayas and depending upon which trek you choose elevations can reach 5,500 meters or higher. Nobody writes or talks about distance in Nepal. Kilometers are almost irrelevant. It is all about the elevation changes. So one needs to be prepared for constant up and downs. While there are some rocky mountain trails, these routes are hundreds of years or older and stone steps are common. No reason to fret though as there are tea houses all along most of the treks so you can go at a slow pace if preferred, similar to Camino Frances.
10. Risk Factor.
A Camino in Spain has little risk. Sure you may hurt yourself, but you are in Spain and never too far from a doctor, clinic, or hospital. Typical problems are blisters, or maybe some kind of physical ailment associated with your legs, ankles, or knees. Often you can treat your illness by resting before continuing your journey. A Nepal Pilgrimage, is significantly more risky. One key concern is altitude sickness. Most treks will take you well over 5,000 meters. A small percentage of trekkers die each year from altitude sickness. So be sure to follow acclimatization day recommendations. If you start showing symptoms; headaches, loss of appetite, dizziness, etc.. stop. If you don’t get better, descend. Another more typical problem is stomach illnesses. Most westerners are not used to the food here and only bottled or boiled water should be drunk. If you get sick in the Himalayas it is much more of an issue getting you out to a doctor. Some parts are inaccessible by road. Helicopters are sometimes used to evacuate sick trekkers, so be sure to purchase travel insurance that will cover evacuation if necessary. World Nomad is a well known, reputable option. This is one more reason to hire a guide/porter as they will be watching your back.
11. Packing List. Camino packing List
For a Nepal trek I would simply look at it as a winter Camino. Hence, adding a light down jacket, knit ski hat, scarf, and good wool socks. A normal 3 season sleeping bag for extra warmth should be enough as all the teahouses have thick wool blankets. Anything you don’t have can be bought in Kathmandu or Pokhara. One recommended exception is hiking boots. Bring a good pair of boots with you from home. Water purification pills or a filter, altitude sickness pills, and antibiotics for stomach ailments and lung infections are some of the medicines trekkers often bring. They can easily be purchased very cheaply in Kathmandu and Pokhara pharmacies. One item you won’t need in Nepal is a Credential book as they don’t offer stamps. A daily journal makes a good keepsake.
12. Which Camino or Nepal Trek is Best?
While there are many Caminos, by far the most popular is Camino Frances with over 60% of all pilgrims opting for this Camino, especially for their first. My personal opinion after walking many; Caminos is Frances is the most special because of its unique history, the diverse mix of fellow pilgrims and the Camino Spirit which is on all Caminos but strongest on Frances. Of course this is a personal decision and all The Caminos are worth walking. Which Camino Should I Walk(https://globalpilgrim.net/…/which-camino-should-i-walk/) provides detailed information to help you choose which one is best for you.
Nepal also has many treks, but the most popular are Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit. Though one may be fixated on Everest Base Camp Trek as there is an appeal to reaching the tallest mountain in the world at 8,849 meters/29,031 feet. For a first Nepal Trek, I would not strongly recommend one over another. They are all fabulous in their own right. The Annapuna Base Camp, 3 Passes, Manaslu and Tsum Valley, and combined Langtang/Gosaikunda Lake/Helambu all offer great experiences relative to Everest Base Camp or Annapurna Circuit. To help in deciding which Trek is best for you, i will be posting a list of 11 Nepal Trek options before July 1 here and at www.globalpilgrim.net
This Nepal article is one of six companion pieces:
1. How The Via Francigena Pilgrimage Is Different from The Camino Frances
2. How Camino Del Norte Is Different from Camino Frances
3. How Camino Via de la Plata (VdlP) Is Different From Camino Frances
4. How The Japan 88 Temple and Kumano Kodo Pilgrimages Are Different From The Camino de Santiago
5. How the France Chemin duPuy is Different From Camino Frances