Trekking goals in eastern Nepal include Makalu base camp, an eastern approach to Everest, and the area near Kanchenjunga. There is endless variety in this part of the country. Most ethnic groups are represented and many villages, such as Dhankuta, Khandbari and Bhojpur, are large, prosperous and clean. The area has hot, rice-growing districts and also encompasses the cooler tea-growing region of Ilam. The heavily populated Middle Hills are gouged by the mighty Arun River which has cut through at an elevation of less than 400 metres. The Arun is flanked by the major mountain massifs of Kanchenjunga and Makalu. Treks here tend to be more expensive, since you and your gear must travel to eastern Nepal by bus or plane. The treks are also longer because it requires two weeks to travel from Dharan to the high mountains. Flying to STOL airstrips at Tumlingtar and Taplejung can shorten the time, but increases the expense.
Inhabitants of this part of Nepal have not seen many Westerners in their villages. If you travel in eastern Nepal, you should take great care to avoid the mistakes that trekkers have made in the more popular regions; mistakes which have contributed to theft, over-reliance on the whims of tourists to support the economy, and to problems of garbage, pollution, begging by both adults and children and unnecessary hotel construction. Kanchenjunga, at 8586 metres, is the world's third-highest mountain. The peak is on the border of Nepal and Sikkim (India) and has several distinct summits. It is visible from Darjeeling, so many expeditions explored this region and tried to climb the mountain during the British rule in India. A British team led by Charles Evans made the first ascent of Kanchenjunga in 1953. They trekked from the south of Nepal and climbed the south face of the peak.
One of the most spectacular peaks in the region is Jannu (Khumbakarna), at 7710 metres. The Nepalese renamed this peak Khumbakarna in 1984 when a committee Nepalised the names of many peaks. Jannu was also called "Mystery Peak" and "Peak of Terror" by early expeditions. A French team made the first ascent of Jannu in 1962.
Nepal opened the Kanchenjunga area to trekkers in 1988, though people have trekked in the area in connection with mountaineering expeditions since the turn of the century. Kanchenjunga is a long way from Kathmandu, and the nearest roads and airports are a long way from the mountain. You can trek either to the north or south Kanchenjunga base camp, but it takes luck, determination and a lot of time to visit both sides of the peak. The northern side is particularly remote; it takes almost two weeks of walking to get to the base camp at Pang Pema.
Kanchenjunga is on the border of Nepal and the Indian state of Sikkim, so a circuit of the mountain is politically impossible. The next best alternative is to visit both the north and south sides of the mountain from the Nepal side; you need to be equipped for a high pass crossing and have a minimum of four weeks. If for any reason you cannot cross the pass, then it's a long way around.
Since the region was opened, few groups have made successful crossings of either the Lapsang La or Mirgin La. Bad weather and snow is often to blame, but more often it is simply a lack of time. Many trekkers have wallowed around in the lowlands near Taplejung because they miscalculated the time required to reach the high country. Unless you have at least four weeks, and preferably five, you should plan to visit either the north or south base camp, not both. If you can get to Taplejung by either road or air, the trek can be shortened by four days, making it a bit more reasonable.
The lowland portion of this region is culturally intriguing, but there are few good mountain views. The two treks that I have described here will probably need to be extended by a few days because of porter problems, weather, or the need for a rest day. The Kanchenjunga region is the home of the Limbus. Relatives of the Rais, Limbus dominate the region east of the Arun River and few live elsewhere. Limbu men wear a distinctive tall topi, a Nepalese cap that is much more colourful than that worn by other Nepalese.
A noteworthy contribution of Limbu culture is the drink tongba. A wooden pot is filled with fermented millet seeds and boiling water added. You sip the dangerously potent mixture through a special bamboo straw, with tiny filters to keep the seeds out of the drink, as the hotelier merrily adds more hot water. It is often served in a large plastic mug, but ethnically correct hotels serve it in a special wooden tongba pot, which has brass rings, and a wooden cap with a hole for the straw. Tongba goes down easily, as you might do yourself when you arise after a lengthy tongba session. Watch for this speciality anywhere north of Dharan.
East of Everest
This trek provides an interesting approach to Solu Khumbu (the Mt Everest region). Tilman, the first foreign visitor to Everest base camp, used this route in 1950. It traverses the width of the country, from the jungles of the terai to the high Himalaya.
Kanchenjunga South Base Camp
The lowland portion of this region is culturally intriguing, but there are few good mountain views. Once the trek reaches the high country south of Kanchenjunga, the mountain scenery is some of the most spectacular in the world.
The Kanchenjunga region is the home of the Limbus. Relatives of the Rais, Limbus dominate the region east of the Arun River and few live elsewhere. Limbu men wear a distinctive talltopi, a Nepalese cap that is much more colourful than that worn by other Nepalese.
Makalu Base Camp
The trek to Makalu base camp visits one of the most remote and unfrequented areas of Nepal. The Barun Valley is part of a huge international protected area under an agreement between Nepal and China. The trek crosses several high passes as it climbs into the remote Barun Valley at the foot of Makalu, the world's fifth highest mountain.
This area was once threatened by a dam project on the upper reaches of the Arun River. The World Bank cancelled its support of this project in August, 1995, so this region will retain its unique character that includes interesting villages and wildlife.