The teahouses Nepal offers to its visitors represent an experience that every true traveler should try. They represent an essential part of any trek that you choose to do. And if you want to seek adventure travel, then definitely head to Nepal. It is home to some of the best hikes in the world. Even by merely looking at some Nepal images, you will see that I am not exaggerating.
After having visited Nepal twice, and cumulating almost three months in this beautiful country, it has forever stolen my heart. Together with India, it’s the country where I would return without even blinking. It’s a perfect mix of gorgeous landscapes, cultural experiences, and adventure tourism. And given that teahouses play such an essential role in any Nepal trip, I have decided to write a guide about them. I hope that by the end of this article I will have convinced you to book your ticket to Nepal.
First of all, what is a trek?
Well, if you are a fan of dictionaries, a trek is an arduous journey, a complex trip, but also a long walk over hills, mountains, forests. So, it pretty much combines walking with nature. For me, a trek is more like a meditation. A journey in the mountains, through forests and wildlife, where one can go deep in one’s thoughts and relax one’s senses. Perhaps some will contradict me, saying that a long and arduous walk cannot be relaxing. But I really think that nothing compares to a full one-day walk on mountain trails.
If you wonder what the connection between Nepal and trekking is, the answer is easy – they are inseparable. When you look at a Nepal map, you will quickly observe that the geography of Nepal makes it a trekker’s paradise. Actually, the entire Nepal tourism is focused around mountains and hiking in Nepal is probably the number one activity for its visitors.
The moment you step into Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, you see everywhere tons of travel agencies selling various trekking tours and packages. Most people will agree that if you decide to go for a Nepal trip, then you must include at least one trek. And there is something magical about the country that lures you back. And you will probably end up like us, chasing flights to Nepal.
Why choose the Himalayas?
I will not try to convince you that the Himalayas are the only mountains worth exploring. But they really are spectacular. And it’s not only the mountains. When I talk about any Himalaya trekking, I refer to a cocktail of landscapes, with gorgeous glaciers and intimidating snow-capped peaks, lush forests with colorful flowers, and also warm and kind people. Because if you trek the Himalayas, you will also fall in love with its people. The friendly faces waiting for you in the teahouses Nepal is so famous for.
If you dream of walking the Himalayas, it would mean passing not only Nepal, but also Tibet, Bhutan, India, and Pakistan. Because they are the lucky ones that were blessed with bits of this impressive chain. However, trekking in Nepal is the most famous one, due to its accessibility. And there is no shortage of treks in Nepal, the melting pot of Himalaya tourism.
There are numerous treks which you can choose, but keep in mind that the best treks in Nepal are also the most crowded ones. Most people start with Mount Everest Base Camp trek, the Annapurna Circuit trek or the Annapurna Base Camp trek (both starting from Pokhara). But there are also the Langtang trek, the Tamang trek, the ones surrounding the Mustang area or the Manaslu circuit. Or, if you are in a hurry, you can try the Poon Hill trek, a short one but offering incredible views over the Annapurna range.
The Himalayas are powerful. They hide Gods and Goddesses resting on their peaks which will cast spells on you. They will make their way in your mind and plant there a seed that will forever connect you with them. I am telling you – once you go with the Himalayas, you never go back.
I will not write an essay about the history of Nepal, as the purpose of this article is to make you want to explore Nepal and its teahouses. However, I strongly recommend that before going on that plane to Kathmandu, you read a bit about the country. It’s a sign of respect when you devote a couple of hours to learn more about the place you are heading to.
And if you go through any Nepal facts, you will learn that it’s a predominantly Hindu country. But even though Buddhism represents only about 11% of the population, you will still feel its influence. A lot of locals combine the two beliefs into one exciting system, like in the case of the Newari culture. The Nepal culture has been influenced by Tibet and its culture. For example, the Sherpa people have Tibetan roots, and their traditions are different from, let’s say, the Tamang people.
The history of Nepal combines lovely ancient legends, with powerful dynasties, and all the way to violent times, with protests and Maoist insurgencies. Actually, the most popular event in the history of Nepal dates from recent times, in 2001. That’s when the Crown Prince Dipendra killed the ruler King Birendra and eight other members of the royal family (before committing suicide). After this massacre, Nepal faced hard times. Even if at the moment Nepal is considered as a safe country, its locals still deal with an incredible level of corruption which affects all segments.
One thing you should also bear in mind before organizing your trip is the Nepal weather. Because you wouldn’t want your Everest Base Camp trip to be ruined by clouds and fog. The best time to visit Nepal is either in autumn (September to November) or in spring (March to May). We were there both in October and in May. And yes, the skies are clearer, and the views are better in autumn, but in spring you get the flowers, especially the rhododendron blossoming everywhere and painting the forests.
So, what are the teahouses Nepal is so proud of?
Well, to put it shortly, if you imagine that your Nepal backpacking trip in the mountains will be all about comfy rooms and hotel spas, then guess again. Once you get on that mountain trail, you will most likely spend each night (leaving camping aside) in one of the teahouses. Nepal has made this type of accommodation famous as it combines the warm feeling of a home with guesthouse facilities.
I have heard that the teahouses on the Annapurna trek are fancier, some even providing a Western type of services (like a sauna) but this is precisely why we avoided this route. Because we didn’t want to experience Switzerland in the Himalayas, we wanted to experience a real Nepali tea house.
In Nepali, the word for teahouse is Bhatti. And it’s not a place where you will only be served tea, but it’s where you will get delicious food and where you can also spend the night. It’s more like a lodge, and a lot of teahouse owners have added the word lodge to the name of their teahouse to make sure that travelers understand that they also provide rooms. The owners usually live in the teahouse, being their home. Actually, a lot of houses in Nepal which are located on trekking trails have become teahouses to provide an income.
Don’t get the idea that there are no decent hotels in Nepal. Actually, not only there are tons of hotels in Kathmandu, but you will also find some in the famous stops on the major routes. For example, on the Everest Base Camp hike, once you reach Namche Bazaar, you will be shocked. Or at least, that was our reaction. Because after two weeks of villages and basic teahouses we found ourselves face to face with some giant hotels.
If you go to any travel agency in Nepal and enquire about a trek, it will tell you that is either camping or a teahouse trek. Because there are also some treks which are so remote that you won’t be able to find any teahouses. But don’t say no to a trek just because you hear the word teahouses. Most of them are very cosy, and they are part of the trekking experience.
What to expect from teahouses?
The answer to this question depends on the trek that you choose. That’s because in more remote areas, the teahouses provide basic conditions, whereas, on the more popular trails, they start looking more like hotels. We spent almost seven weeks is various homestays during our treks, which included the Tamang area, the Langtang and Gosaikunda trek, the Jiri to Everest Base Camp trek, and the Gokyo Lakes trek.
We noticed changes in each one of the areas where we trekked. For example, the teahouses in the Sagarmatha National Park (home of Everest) were cleaner than the ones in the other areas. The ones in the Langtang National Park were, most of them, just rebuilt after the earthquake in 2015, so were fresh and new.
But in the end, they all provided us the same things: food, tons of tea, and a more or less comfy bed to sleep in. They all had blankets (if your sleeping bag is not enough), but some were colder than others. We pretty much froze in Gosaikunda, but we had no problems on the other routes.
Food in teahouses
During the day, we would stop at any teahouse that looked nice to get lunch. And they all served the same type of food, especially the famous Nepali dhal baat, vegetable rice, momos, potatoes (including French fries), soups, or even pizzas. However, if you don’t want to wait an eternity for your meal and to not risk getting any nasty diarrhoea, then stick to the dal bhat. You cannot go wrong with it – a mix of fried vegetables, fried rice, lentil soup, and pickles.
As a personal note, we loved the most the food on the Jiri to Everest Base Camp trek. We found it much tastier, and the teahouses also provided some traditional Sherpa food, like thukpa, a Tibetan noodle soup, or tsampa (barley flour) for breakfast. But listen to your Nepali travel guide and drink tea everywhere. It not only keeps you hydrated, but it also good for fighting altitude sickness.
We did make a rookie mistake, and it turned out really funny. At Gokyo, given that it was our last night at high altitude, we wanted to celebrate. The next day we would start our way back to Kathmandu, so we felt it was time for some yummy stuff. And we ordered a pizza. Oh, boy! We got a steamed pizza, that was more like an uncooked bread with some tomatoes and cheese on it. We felt so bad because we should have thought that they wouldn’t cook it properly. So, we just returned to our friend, the dal bhat.
Let’s talk about the prices in teahouses
When it comes to prices, it all comes down to the altitude where the teahouse is located. The higher you go, the higher the prices will go as well. If you are trekking without a guide, most teahouses will take you in without paying anything for the accommodation. The only request they have is to have your meals there (dinner and breakfast). And it’s a good deal.
During our Everest Base camp trekking, we only paid for the room a couple of times, and it was never more than Rs. 500 (USD 5). As for the food, we usually had dal bhat. And you want to know the best part about eating dal bhat? You can ask for a refill (even twice if you smile nicely). I never had only one dal bhat – my body burns calories instantly, so I really needed it. There were places where I was called Mrs. Dal Bhat. But the prices for the main meal started from Rs. 150 (USD 1.5) and all the way to Rs. 500 (USD 5) at high altitude.
If you care about your looks, you might wonder what’s the deal with showering at teahouses. Well, most of them don’t have a shower. They will give you (upon request) a bucket of hot water, and you need to be creative so that you get the best out of it. And of course, you have to pay for hot water. Because for them it’s not easy to heat the water. At low altitudes, we spent around Rs. 200 (USD 2) for a bucket, but there some places where we got spoiled with a Rs. 600 (USD 6) proper shower (like in Pheriche at the fancy Edelweiss Lodge).
Mind your manners when choosing a teahouse
The etiquette in a teahouse relates to respecting the family. Don’t go there expecting to be treated like royalty. You are in their house, so act like you would want any guest to behave in your own home. Don’t smoke inside (oh, yes, we saw that with some trekkers), don’t start putting your feet on the chairs, and especially not on the tables. It might sound like common sense, but, unfortunately, we saw travelers acting like this.
What teahouse owners really don’t appreciate is extreme bargaining. We saw the owners upset so many times because of some rude travellers who insisted they don’t pay for their room, and in the morning, they would start cooking their own food. So, basically, they wouldn’t pay for anything, not even food, or at least a cup of tea. Don’t be that traveler! I am pretty sure you won’t go bankrupt from those 5 dollars on a meal. And if you don’t want to pay, get a tent. After all, you are visiting their country, nobody forces you to go there.
Try to enjoy the teahouses Nepal is so filled with. And get to know the owners. They will be thrilled if you engage in conversations with them, if you are interested in their lives, and if you ask if they need any help. Don’t worry, they are too shy to accept any help, but they will surely appreciate it coming from a foreigner.
There are teahouse owners with some fantastic stories. We met an older Sherpa who had climbed Everest twice. And he wasn’t the only teahouse owner we spoke to that had reached the top of the world. A lot of them use the money they receive after a successful expedition to start a business, most likely to open a teahouse. Or we heard stories about how Tibetan families escaped from the Chinese and started life all over again in Nepal. You will also hear about the atrocities committed by the Maoists. You just need to be curious, and the stories will come to you.
People you meet in teahouses
Leaving the owners of the teahouses aside, each time you will stop at a teahouse, you will most likely meet other travelers. Except for some non-touristic trails, like the one from Jiri to Lukla, or the one in the Tamang area, where there were only a handful of trekkers, in the other areas we got to meet dozens of people. And each one with another story.
It’s interesting to observe the people trekking in certain areas. For example, in Tamang we met trekkers more interested in culture travel, wanting to know more about the traditions of the Tamang people. To observe their way of life. In Langtang, it was filled with French trekkers, all of them true mountain people, in love with nature, and respectful with the environment. Although it was in Langtang where we also met some rude couples who would wake everybody in the middle of the night, smoking weed in their rooms.
But if you go for the Everest trekking, that area is different. From Jiri to Lukla we only met a couple of trekkers. And they were charming people: all of them had chosen that trail to escape the crowds and enjoy the peacefulness of nature. Once you get to Lukla, oh well, let’s just say the quiet time is over. There are tons of groups, a lot of people for the first time doing a trek, a lot of them unprepared. But all of them with a goal – to see Everest, the mightiest of them all: to check that item off their bucket list.
There were moments when we couldn’t wait to get off the trail and head to Gokyo (where again we were the only ones). That’s because we wanted quiet, to listen to the mountains, not the stereo systems of other trekkers. Please wear headphones if you desperately need music while trekking.
And at Namche, it was the funniest (but also the saddest). Because it was where all the “Everest climbers” would come from Base Camp for a rest day. A lot of times we heard them bragging in coffee shops about how they are preparing for the summit. But the sad part came when they would say it’s their first high-altitude mountain. No, we didn’t admire them. We felt sorry for all the Sherpas risking their lives just for some crazy rich guys to get to the summit.
I only admire the real climbers. The ones that don’t risk the lives of others for their success. Who don’t rely on other people carrying their stuff all the way to the top. The ones that succeed by their own will and strength. Because yes, there are climbers that don’t need porters and Sherpas to carry their oxygen. They go all the way up to the summit, training all their life and doing it with no oxygen. It’s a whole debate related to this, as expeditions also provide serious income to Sherpas, so I will stop here and save it for another article.
All in all, teahouses are great gathering places. You will hear interesting and fascinating stories. From people that have been traveling for years, leaving their home and just following the road ahead. To people that return to Nepal even after 40 years. Yes, we met a guy that traveled in Nepal in the 70’s, and he had some great stories to share. You will meet families with kids, teaching them to love the mountains. Hippies searching for their lost souls, party people, or quiet ones that will always stay farther from the others.
Tips for staying in teahouses
If you do decide to embark on a teahouse trek in Nepal, then there are a couple of items which could come in handy for some people. For a full list of what you need on a trek, you can check our Jiri to Everest Base Camp Guide.
- Toilet paper – this is something you want to carry on a trek, irrespective of your accommodation. That’s because Nepali people don’t use it and once you go at high altitude they will charge a lot of money for a roll. So take some extra from Kathmandu.
- Sleeping Bag – yes, teahouses do provide blankets, but some of them are not exactly clean. It’s very difficult for them to keep them perfumed after so many sweaty trekkers. You might want to consider getting your own sleeping bag, perhaps a light one and then just put a blanket on top of it.
- Sleeping sheets – if you don’t want to carry a sleeping bag, then at least get a light sleeping sheet. You will be more comfortable in it.
- Headlamp – electricity is a luxury in Nepal. And once it gets dark you might have to rely on a small bulb. If you wake up during the night in need for a toilet, then you will definitely need one.
- Door locker – not all teahouses provide keys to the room. Having a locker with you will keep your things safe. We haven’t heard of any incidents, but better be safe than sorry, especially on the more touristic trails.
- Light towel – sorry to disappoint, but there are no towels provided in teahouses. So make sure you have one with you.
- Soap – some teahouses had soap, but we preferred our small soap bar which we carried from Kathmandu.
- Flip flops or sandals – trust me, you will thank me for this. It’s a great feeling to get those boots off once you reach a teahouse and enjoy the rest of the day with your feet all free and happy.
- Toothpaste and toothbrush – you don’t want your teeth all yellow after a long trek!
Why choose teahouses?
Because after a long day of trekking on mountain trails, when you feel tired and hungry, the feeling of entering a warm room filled with travelers is all that you need. And you will also help the locals, by sustaining their business with your contributions. Yes, the trails give you the mountain views. But the people are the ones that will truly immerse you in the local culture. So, grab a tea and talk to them. Learn about their way of life, their traditions.
Perhaps there will be times when you will hate your stay in a teahouse (it sure happened to us because of rude travelers and aggressive owners). But most of the times you will leave your teahouse-home with a smile on your face. I even cried a couple of times.
I will never forget two teahouses. The one in Nunthala, where we spent two amazing days with the family (I had an injury, so I needed rest), and the one in Monjo. At both of them, we felt at home as if we had been welcomed in their family. At the one in Monjo, we were the only guests, and we took advantage to get to know the family better. Two nights spent with them was enough to melt our hearts when we had to say goodbye. And they even offered us each a khata, the Tibetan scarf representing compassion.
So yes, don’t be shy and go for a teahouse trek in Nepal. What I guarantee you won’t regret it. The only serious problem you might face is not wanting to go back home again.