How did this all come about? Firstly, if you hadn’t figured it out yet, I’m a geologist. It might therefore come as no surprise that I had always wanted to go climbing in the Himalaya. Due to a series of unfortunate events (primarily lack of money), this was the first opportunity I really had to take enough time off work to do the trip I really wanted to do.
I’d met someone on my trip to Antarctica that had worked in Nepal as a guide for a number of years, and they recommended a company to me. After doing months of research on the company to make sure they were legit, safe, and could provide me with the itinerary and service I wanted, I booked a trip to Nepal and Bhutan with them. I had also initially planned to add on some time in Tibet, but for reasons I won’t go into here, I was unable to secure a tourist permit. Maybe one day I’ll get there, but not this time.
During the booking process I spoke to someone multiple times to confirm that I could get vegan food while I was out trekking and climbing. It’s one thing if you’re in Kathmandu and can just go hit the shops if a restaurant doesn’t have anything suitable. But when you’re out trekking around in the middle of nowhere near Mt Everest? Not so much. I was assured that it wouldn’t be a problem. I knew that a lot of people in Nepal were vegetarian for religious reasons, so I figured vegan wouldn’t be too much of a stretch. Reading some climbing and mountaineering internet forums, the general consensus was that along the trekking routes the most common thing to get served was a dish called dal bhat. Basically just lentils with spices, curried vegetables, and rice. Vegan and gluten free! A number of people said I’d get bored of it after a few days, and I was sure I would, but at least I would have food to eat, and that was really my main concern. I’d packed a stash of rice cakes, vegemite and some gluten free snack bars in my luggage before I left Australia just in case though…
In Kathmandu, most of the time I was tired. Before the trek I was tired from flying. After the trek, I was tired from trekking. So I didn’t get too adventurous with the food, because I was just too lazy. I went for the quick and easy options. Like eating at the restaurant within the hotel premises…They had a number of vegan and gluten free things on the menu actually, and I don’t think it was deliberate, it was just what they cooked. The vegan and gluten free dishes were basically all appetizers though, which actually suited me just fine. Got to try a bunch of small dishes, and it was also good when I wasn’t particularly hungry and just wanted to sleep!
A vegan and gluten free dish from Reef Restaurant in Thamel, Kathmandu. Potato fries with grilled onion, capsicum and green chillies. Chefs of Australia, take note – fries don’t have to be so boring for your vegan and gluten intolerant diners!
Out trekking around Gokyo and Everest Base Camp…Yeah. Lots of dal bhat. Lots of vegetable curry and rice. Occasionally french fries or vege fried rice. I survived. Honestly, the biggest problem I faced out trekking was breakfast options, and snack food to eat while out on the trails. Breakfast options were without fail museli, wheat-based breads, eggs, or some combination thereof. Occasionally I managed to find somewhere that had rice flour to make chapati, or somewhere that did gluten-free oats (had to ask them to be cooked in water). Usually I ate my own snack food for breakfast. Which was fine until it ran out and couldn’t buy anymore.
Which brings me to the snack food problem. When you’re trekking 6+ hours a day, at altitude, you need energy. Usually in the form of some kind of snack food. There is plenty of snack food available along the Gokyo and Everest Base Camp trails in the guesthouses. Mars bars, Snickers, Bounty bars, Pringles, Oreos, local cookies…Seeing the problem yet? Nothing. Literally nothing they have in the guesthouse shops is both vegan and gluten free. The only place I was able to find suitable snack food was in a small grocery store in Namche Bazaar. There I picked up some dried fruit, nuts, gluten free museli bars, gluten free/vegan candy…Which was amazing! But you have no idea how quickly you end up going through snacks each day. I grossly underestimated. In saying that though, you actually can’t buy that much even if you want to. You don’t have the space to carry it! I bought as much as I could in Namche on the way up, but it ran out all too quickly. So I was stuck without trekking snacks most days. Someone suggested to me to get the guesthouse kitchen to make some popcorn for me each day. While strictly speaking popcorn was always on the menu, given the fact that I was trekking in off-season, and the guesthouses were running on bare minimum supplies, it meant that almost nowhere acutally had the corn to make popcorn with in the first place. Poor timing of the trip on my part, but it’s something to be aware of if you also face dietary restrictions and you’re planning to visit in the winter off-season. That being said, the regular meals I got for lunch and dinner every day were amazing under the circumstances. Getting food and gas to some of the remote guesthouses must be a nightmare.
In summary, it’s certainly easy enough to eat vegan and gluten free for lunch and dinner while trekking. Dal bhat or vege curry. Hope you like curry (it’s not hot curry by the way, very mild)! Breakfast while trekking is more problematic, so please consider bringing your own breakfast food. If you check out my more extended trip report for Nepal (Part 1; Part 2), you will get an idea of the kind of foods available on guesthouse menus. It doesn’t vary much from place to place. And snacks can be a problem if you can’t eat cookies, potato crisps, or chocolate. So please consider stocking up at home, in Kathmandu, or in Namche Bazaar with appropriate snacks – and buy twice as much as you think you’ll need. Trust me, you’ll go through it faster than you think. Pack less clothes and use the space for food. Nobody cares if your clothes smell, believe me. Better to smell than pass out from not having enough to eat.