The Photo Journey Nepal ‘Options’ All Sound So Good! How do I choose the right one for me?

Posted October 1, 2019

One of the key values of Photo Journey is inclusivity. In other words, we want to share this wonderful experience with as broad a range of photographers – indeed, as broad a range of people – as possible.

To that end we’re offering three options for the second part of the course. All three are described at the ‘Itinerary’ section of our website – here: Itinerary and perhaps it’s already clear which one is for you. But in case not, here are some further guidelines on choosing the right option:

What factors should I consider?

The comfort factor:

The most comfortable option is without doubt the Pokhara option. The Temple Tree Resort & Spa is the finest hotel in Pokhara and as the Pokhara option is a series of day trips, whatever the day entails, be it the hustle and bustle of the markets or a sweaty jungle hike to the Peace Stupa, you know that you’ll return at the end of it to a place of comfort and serenity.

Temple Tree offers comfort …

… and serenity

The Village option and the Up High option both represent a significant leap towards the rustic. We leave the luxuries of the Temple Tree and spend four and five nights respectively ‘on trek’ which means we get to experience the famed Nepali teahouses.

Teahouses typically offer sparse but comfortable twin rooms, shared bathroom facilities and a common area where you can expect a fire in the hearth, hot, freshly made food and drink on the menu (both Nepali and Western style) and a good ambiance.

A typical teahouse room (single rooms are rare)

The Village option represents middle ground in terms of comfort. Being lower in altitude it will be less chilly than going Up High. And being less distance from Pokhara means a wider choice on the menu and a few more creature comforts.

‘Up High’ (as the name suggests) means colder temperatures. And as it is also more remote, there is a corresponding decrease in luxuries. Keep in mind that everything you consume here has to be carried in by foot. And the fuel for cooking and heating is from a very precious and finite resource that we are trying to protect – the forest. Also, being on a ridge, the higher we go, the greater the water scarcity. But don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you need be uncomfortable. We’ll guide you in best practice for max comfort. All in good time!

Snow is melted at High Camp. Water scarcity can be a deciding factor here

I should emphasise at this point that with the right equipment, coupled with a certain know-how, staying in teahouses, regardless of altitude or remoteness, should be a comfortable experience. And with thousands of days of trekking experience between us, our team are just the people to guide you on this.

So that’s comfort.

What about photography?

Each of the options represents an array of photographic opportunity. Whilst there is a fair amount of cross over, I’ll attempt here to give a sense of where the balance lies for each.

The Pokhara Option gives access to both urban and rural environments. The time spent on foot in Pokhara, wandering among the markets and the bustling street life provides opportunities for a style of street photography that does not exist in the villages.

Pokhara street life

The Pokhara Option thus gives a blend of bustle and serenity. The bustle of the street scenes is balanced by the serenity of rural strolls, rowing boats on Phewa Tal, a forest hike to the Peace Stupa and dawn and dusk shoots of the Himalaya, perhaps even seen in reflection via the calm waters of the lake.

Annapurna range viewed from Phewa Tal

On the Pokhara Option you will be least constrained by an itinerary, able to linger as you wish and find your own way home, should you want some independent space.

In this respect, it is in contrast to the Village and Up High. The Village Option involves a day hike to the village, two days in situ, observing village life, and another day hiking out (via a different route). In this respect it represents the middle ground.

The Village – a study of village life

‘Up High’ should be thought of as a photo-trek, with the accompanying purpose of a journey, moving each day from A to B. The trek is planned around putting you at the right place at the right time for taking great photos. And we maximise scope for freedom of movement and different tempos but always within the constraints of safety. We have, after all, a duty of care to look after you – something we take extremely seriously.

Up High – a quest towards the twin ‘fish-tail’ peaks of Machapuchare

So the Pokhara Option provides a balance of photographic opportunity, rural and urban. What does the Village offer?

The answer: a balance between mobile photography as we journey by foot and the immersive, embedded experience yielded by being based for two days in a Nepali village. This means all the reactive, opportunistic shooting potential of the trail, combined with a slower, more deliberate approach in the village. Make sense? There will be a lot of human interest as well as landscape and nature.

An opportunistic trailside portrait

Up High offers a different set of photographic opportunities. The first thing to point out is that you have to work physically harder for your shots but boy, is it worth it! Each day we’ll strike a balance between trek-focused time and photography-focused time.

Shooting on the fly – Nepali traffic jam

More than either of the other options, we will be shooting as we go, our own trekking endeavours forming part of the photographic story. As we progress up the ridge line, so habitation becomes less and the human interest focus will be more on pastoral scenes (think: yak herders rather than villagers!)

If your main focus is proximity to the big mountains and the breath-taking views that come from going high, then this is the option for you and likewise, if part of attraction is the physical challenge.

Up High: climbing above the middle hills towards the true himalaya

So what are the physical demands? (health and fitness)

For all of the options, the better your health and fitness, the more you’ll get from it as you can focus more completely on your surroundings.

For Pokhara, if you can walk at a slow pace for several hours, you have the baseline fitness required. You’ll not be required to go anywhere quickly and you’ll never be far from the nearest taxi. That means that for most of the time, if you’re feeling you’ve had enough, you can travel independently back to the comfort of the hotel.

At the Temple Tree: good things to start …

… and finish the day with

For the Village and Up High, although porters will carry your ‘night bag’, you nonetheless need to be happy being on foot for most of the day whilst carrying your camera kit and personal essentials such as a warm top, hat, water, a snack and suchlike.

As a guideline, the Village option incorporates one day of 12km, 700m ascent and 900m descent. The other trekking days are approximately half that. The highest you will sleep is approximately 1650m and the trek high point is 2100m.

Up High, by comparison, may incorporate nearer to 1000m ascent and on the final day, a descent of 1700m. You may sleep as high as 3500m and even climb a little higher yet. You will also move each day on an A to B journey.

So how will I experience the altitude?

The higher the altitude, the less oxygen available for us to breathe. That’s the headline. And that’s where the sweeping factual statements start and finish, because how we experience this effect is personal. What we can give are some useful guidelines, based on a ton of experience.

On the Pokhara Option you will be operating between 800m and 1600m, hardly high enough to notice the difference whilst wandering about and certainly not enough to feel whilst sedentary. Try to push the pace on the final 100m of the climb to Sarangkot and you may notice it.

So, in and around Pokhara = negligible effect.

Head into the ‘middle hills’ with the Village option and you will be sleeping at around 1650m and trekking up to 2100m. This is certainly enough altitude to feel the effect of that ‘thinner’ air. You will notice that when you exert yourself, you need to breath harder than at sea level. But the chances of experiencing any of the AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) symptoms are extremely low.


So, on the Village Option, you will notice the altitude but it is very unlikely to be a deciding factor. Any altitude related symptoms will be mild.

Up High is a different kettle of fish and the headline here is that altitude may be a deciding factor. That’s why Mark, with his background in high altitude trekking and expedition leadership, takes the lead here.

Mark at 6000m as Media Leader for British Exploring

As you trek between 2000m and 3000m you will increasingly become aware that the factor limiting your pace is your respiratory system as it struggles to operate with less oxygenated air. You may experience light-headedness or headaches and in rare cases, it is possible to experience AMS.

The golden rule for mitigation is to moderate your ascent rate. Responsibility for this is shared between Photo Journey and you. Photo Journey has designed a trek with a viable ascent rate and contingency options. But it is nonetheless up to the individual to moderate their own pace during each day. As you will hear me say over and again

“Slow and steady wins the race!”

The highest potential overnight is at a height of 3500m. Keep in mind that for reasons that continue to baffle researchers, some folk simply acclimatise better than others. And everyone, no matter their experience, has the capacity to acclimatise poorly! Rigid goal setting and an inflexible itinerary thus have no place here.

If you acclimatise well, you may spend a night at 3500m. If you do not, you won’t. This is factored into our planning and you will simply sleep lower. You will still be in an incredible place and a pause at a certain altitude may be all that your body needs to ‘catch up with itself’.

The view from just above High Camp (3500m) – we follow an ascent profile that gives you the best chance of successfully acclimatising

It is possible to experience AMS above 2000m and becomes an increasingly important consideration the higher you go. This is something to be aware of but not to be stressed about. We will provide a ton more education and guidance in due course and you will always be in the capable hands of experienced and medically qualified guides.

What about the guides?

Each of the guides, Saraya, Johnny and Mark has the skillset best matched to the option they lead. They embody the same core values and are motivated to deliver thoughtful, ethical, exciting and life-changing photography experiences. To find out more about them, visit the Team page of our website, attend our events, check out their work and follow them on social media.

Saraya Cortaville @sarayaportraits and @saraytravel

Johnny Fenn @johnnygurkha

Mark Brightwell @mark_brightwell

Keep in mind that each guide is invaluably supported by other members of the Photo Journey Team, all of whom are high calibre people, carefully chosen for their willingness and capacity to add value at every turn. We are extremely excited to introduce the team at this Friday’s event at the Victory Services club, central London (tickets via Eventbrite – Photo Journey – Meet the Team)

When do I need to decide?

Our aim is that the information on our website and herein gives you all you need in order to make the right choice. And for planning purposes, the sooner you can let us know, the better. If questions remain, please do give us a buzz or drop a line our way.

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