Trekking is simply another name for hiking. The term, which is from Afrikaans and originally meant a journey by ox cart across South Africa, was first applied to hiking in Nepal in the early 1960s by retired Ghurka Col. Jimmy Roberts. Roberts, who was the first person to take paying clients on guided hikes in Nepal, patterned his treks after early Nepal mountaineering expeditions. His trips had basically everything the big expeditions had-guides, Sherpa porters, cooks, and kitchen boys. Clients didn’t scale the peaks; but they came close and that was what they wanted. Today, camping treks are still done the way Col. Roberts pioneered them.

Trekking, by and large, is not a wilderness experience but rather a cultural experience.

Nepal is an ethnicmosaic, and a trek is not just an opportunity to gaze at snow-covered peaks, it is a chance to observe the lifestyles of the different peoples who have inhabited these mountains for centuries. There are lowland Hindu farmers of the Brahmin and Chhetri castes, proud Gurungs whose villages have supplied the Gurkha regiments for decades, Thakali innkeepers whose families have catered to travelers for centuries, and high-country Sherpas who have made a name for themselves as superior mountaineers. Each ethnic group has its own cultural identity and is distinguished by its clothing, farming practices, architectural styles, and religious beliefs. Of course, there are beautiful mountains to look at here (and there’s no denying that they are impressive), but it is the cultural diversity that makes Nepal unique. And though you may come for the mountains, it is the people that are likely to leave the greatest impression on you.

This cultural diversity is in part due to Nepal’s varied landscape. From the subtropical valleys of the middle hills to the alpine meadows of the high Himalayas to the desert-like conditions of the trans-Himalayan regions, Nepal boasts an amazing range of natural habitats. Humans, plants, and animals have all evolved and adapted to these conditions. On south-facing slopes, terraced fields stair-step up mountainsides, allowing farmers to grow barley, rice, wheat, and millet. In moist, shaded valleys, bamboo forests thrive and ferns proliferate. On more-open, cloud-swept hillsides, rhododendrons grow into trees and color the mountains with their spring blossoms. In the upper elevations, blue sheep and Himalayan tahrs (a type of mountain goat) graze in alpine meadows dotted with tiny gentians. In the rainy shadows to the north of the Hima-layas, a barren landscape of thorny scrub and ground-hugging plants belies the fertility of fields watered by extensive networks of irrigation canals. A trek of only a week can take in all of these habitats, providing a journey through a myriad of landscapes. This is what trekking in Nepal really means-exploring the country’s culture, geography, and wildlife amid the highest mountains on earth.