Annadana Murugan

Trekking Guidelines

Pokhara Lakeside skyline

There are more than 2000 registered trekking guides in Kathmandu alone, and while most offer honest, impecca­ble service, horror stories abound. When choosing a guide, make sure he or she has been accredited by the Hotel Management and Tourism Training Centre, is familiar with the area you will be visiting and can arrange emergency-helicopter evacuation service should a member of your party be injured. Check online travel chat rooms for recommendations and reviews. (Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree travel forum is a good place to start; go to Lonelyplanet.com.) Beware of guides who tout their own services. Kamal Bhatta, of Beyond the Limits Trek and Expeditions, provides excellent value, with the added benefit of knowing which teahouses serve the best apple pie along the Annapurna trail; visit his informative website at seenepal.com.

Inn Style

The Hyatt Regency in Kathmandu has a swimming pool; the Yak and Yeti has a luxurious reputation. But what Kathmandu's Hotel Vajra lacks in televisions and high-speed Internet connections, it more than makes up for in charm, comfort and personality. A pleasant distance from the tourist area of Thamel and a stone's throw from the landmark Swayambhu stupa, the 22-year-old inn was designed to resemble a traditional Nepali palace, complete with a tranquil flower garden, fountains and a rooftop terrace ideal for watching the sun set over the capital. You get it all for less than half the price of the luxury hotels. Call (977-1) 271545 for reservations, or click on hotelvajra.com for a glimpse of the hotel's traditional architecture and more information.

Nirvana On A Plate

While food on the Annapurna trail is pretty good, it's hard to beat a crisp-crusted pizza oozing with mozzarella and tangy tomato sauce straight out of an authentic wood-fired oven. Serving up some of the best Italian bistro fare this side of Sicily, Fire and Ice on Tridevi Marg, just outside Thamel, dishes up a delectable selection of pizzas, pastas and salads from its bustling open kitchen. While the terrace is perfect for watching the world go by, the restaurant also delivers to hotel rooms should post-trek pa­trons but too sore to get out. —A.B.

Altitude Adjustment

You don't have to strap on hiking boots to get up close and personal with the mountains. Departing from Kathmandu, many local airlines offer early morning mountain flybys along the Himalayan ridge. Buddha Air sends out two 16-seaters every morning, weather permitting. Each passenger sits beside a window, and as the plane nears Mount Everest, the friendly flight attendant brings each flyer up to the cockpit for a direct prospect. Not that Everest's neighbors are anything to sniff at: the hour-long flight takes in no less than five of the world's tallest peaks. A round-trip costs about $100; call (977-1) 542494 or contact one of Thamel's ubiquitous travel agents for ticketing information.

For more adrenaline-fueled encoun­ters with the mountains, try Sunrise Paragliding's excursions out of Pokhara. The six-year-old British-Nepali partnership (see nepal-paragliding.com) offers a range of aerial experiences. Trek or jeep to a mountaintop and then paraglide down with an instructor. The three-day paratrek has you landing in a different village each night. In one of its most popular activities, parahawking, you follow hawks trained to find elusive mountain updrafts for rides that can last for several hours.

Fact Finder

From Yeti sightings to the coolest picks in Kathmandu, the legends and sounds of the mountain kingdom echo through these Web pages. For the tired climber eager to get away from the peaks, why not meditate or go on a jungle safari or better yet, book a bed at one of their recommended stays?

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