Mandatory vs. Compulsory: Decoding Trekking Guide Requirements in Nepal

Trekking Guide in Nepal

Mandatory Trekking Guide in Nepal on a trek

Compulsory vs. Mandatory Guidelines for a Safe and Enjoyable Trek

Nepal’s breathtaking mountains and diverse landscapes have long captivated adventurous travelers worldwide. However, navigating the country’s ever-evolving trekking regulations can be a daunting task, particularly when it comes to understanding the distinction between compulsory and mandatory trekking guides. Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) and Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN) made this even more difficult last year when they banned solo trekking in Nepal.

Let’s clear up some of the confusion.

Solo Trekking Ban in 2024: Still in Effect?

Yes, despite the lack of checkpoints, the mandatory trekking guide requirement remains in effect. NTB and TAAN continue to enforce the rule that every trekker in Nepal must have a guide, regardless of the trek.

Trekkers without a guide in Nepal
Trekkers without a guide in Nepal – where’s the checkpoint TAAN?

However, it’s important to note that this requirement has been met with widespread resistance, particularly in the Solukhumbu region, where the mandatory guide mandate has been outright rejected. Additionally, trekking agents are increasingly questioning the need for TIMS cards, which have not been fully implemented across all trekking routes.

Furthermore, both TAAN and NTB are embroiled in their own battle over where the TIMS card fees are going.

Other administrative regions are also mulling the idea or ditching TIMS cards for their own checkpoints. A case in point is the Mardi Himal trek which late last year introduced a 500 rupee regional permit. That’s in addition to the National Park Fee, and the TIMS card. This has been met with hostility from local teahouse owners. Just this week the regional permit office was ransacked and closed down.

Mandatory vs. Compulsory: Discerning the Differences

The terms “compulsory” and “mandatory” are often used interchangeably, but there’s a subtle difference between them. Compulsory guides are required for all treks in restricted areas, such as Upper Mustang, Manaslu, and Tsum Valley. These guides are required by the Department of Immigration and play a crucial role in ensuring the safety and well-being of trekkers in these sensitive regions.

On the other hand, mandatory trekking guides are required for all treks that require a TIMS card, which stands for Trekkers Information Management System. TIMS cards are issued by the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) for trekking in certain areas of the country. The mandatory guide mandate was implemented in March 2023 with the intention of enhancing trekker safety. However, the effectiveness of this requirement has been questioned due to the lack of checkpoints and the absence of robust safety measures implemented by NTB and Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN).

Going forward, I will be using this terminology for all my trekking guides and trekking guidebooks.

Defining Compulsory and Mandatory Trekking Guides in Nepal:

  • Compulsory Trekking Guide: This type of guide is required for all treks in restricted areas such as Upper Mustang, Manaslu, and Tsum Valley. These guides are mandated by the Department of Immigration and must be licensed by the government. Trekkers found without a compulsory guide in restricted areas face severe penalties, including fines, imprisonment, or deportation.
  • Mandatory Trekking Guide: This type of guide is required for all treks that require TIMS cards, which are permits issued by NTB for trekking in certain areas of Nepal. The mandatory trekking guide mandate was implemented in March 2023 and is meant to enhance the safety of trekkers. However, as mentioned earlier, the effectiveness of this requirement has been questioned due to the lack of checkpoints and the lack of safety measures implemented by NTB and TAAN.
Shrines in Upper Mustang
Upper Mustang is a restricted area as it borders Tibet, as such any “non-Nepali” needs a restricted area permit which requires a compulsory guide as ruled by the Department of Immigration.

Solukhumbu: An Exception to the Rule

The Solukhumbu region, home to Mount Everest, has defied the mandatory guide mandate, giving trekkers the choice of opting for a guide or venturing independently. This resistance from the local community stems from concerns about the financial burden imposed by the guide requirement and the lack of discernible improvements in safety measures.

In the Solukhumbu region you can trek without a guide to Everest Base Camp, Gokyo Ri, and the Three Passes. You just need a TREK CARD (independent trekkers) or Regional Permit (for groups) which can be purchased in Lukla or Monjo. Pricing for everything is available in both my Nepal Guidebook, and Trekking in Nepal Guidebook.

The Three High Passes in Nepal
The Three High Passes Trek is in the Solukhumbu region who have rejected TAAN and NTB’s Mandatory guide rule so you don’t need a guide there – for first time trekkers in Nepal I still highly recommend you take a guide as people do die, and get lost in the region.

Short Treks: A Different Set of Rules

While mandatory trekking guides are required for most treks in Nepal, there are exceptions. Short treks like Panchase, and Mohare Danda do not fall under this category, and trekkers are free to explore these routes without a guide. This applies to all treks where TIMS cards are not needed. An exception to this is the Shivapuri trek where the local office insist that one of their mandatory trekking guides are needed.

Trekkers trekking in the snow in Nepal
My Take on trekking with or without a guide: If you have never trekked specifically in Nepal before – take a guide. Trust me the above path through the snow looks like nothing but a white field early in the morning – it’s only the first guides that clear the route – this is just the type of terrain that independant trekkers can get lost in, or fall through crevices. Imagine if there was no first guide … it happens, all the time.

Is the Mandatory Guide Ban Likely to Change Soon?

The future of the mandatory trekking guide requirement is uncertain. NTB and TAAN are facing mounting pressure from trekking agents, trekkers, and local communities to reconsider the policy. Additionally, NTB has come under scrutiny in recent months for their part in promoting Nepal.

Recommendations for Trekkers

Given the ever-changing regulations, it’s crucial for trekkers to stay informed about the latest requirements before planning their Nepal adventure. I’ll be publishing any changes to to the treks corresponding guide right here. Likewise all my digital guidebooks will be updated the moment a change to a trek occurs.  Additionally, it’s recommended to book your trek with a reputable agency that can provide up-to-date information and guidance. There’s a list of these trekking agents in my Trekking in Nepal Guidebook, or if you prefer I can get you recommended guide though my Find a Trekking Guide Service.

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22 Replies to “Mandatory vs. Compulsory: Decoding Trekking Guide Requirements in Nepal”

  1. David, thank you so much. Nepal should hire you to make their crazy regulations much more understandable!

  2. Compulsory or Mandatory …. such an easy distinction, yet the people that put it together couldn’t think of it.

    1. Yes, I’ve been waiting to break the terms down but waited for this new mandate to either go away, or hang on. A veiled attempt at hope that some official would do it. As they didn’t, I took the plunge so trekkers and visitors to Nepal can find it easier to plan.

  3. Dave, are we seriously looking at another season with no checkpoints again? What are TAAN doing with all the TIMS card money?

    1. Hi Malcolm, yes it seems that way. All quiet on the TAAN side aside from local trekking agents questioning them on where the money is going. As always, it wouldn’t surprise me if they opened a couple of checkpoints randomly this year. It would also not surprise me if they didn’t.

  4. Does mean we can trek the Annapurna Circuit without a guide now?

    1. Legally, no. However, TAAN don’t seem to have set up any checkpoints once again. However, a recent missing trekker might change all that. TAAN had no checkpoint in place and the trekker had no guide. If the checkpoint was in place then the trekker would have had to pay a fine and return, with their life. Without the checkpoint, or a guide, it looks like the trekker has perished.

      1. Please help me, being a German citizen do I need TIMS for sundarijal Gosainkunda trek or not. I mean can I trek solo with my Nepali friends but not licence guide

        1. Yes, you technically and legally need a TIMS that can only be given through a licensed trekking agency and have a mandatory trekking guide. Just having Nepali friends will not meet the requirements. However, there have been no reports of a TIMs checkpoint being open in Gosainkunda but there is a police checkpoint where you will be stopped and at least asked for your national park permit. Whether they ask for a TIMS and guide is up to them.

  5. Fantastic to the point post. I tried to search the Tourism boards website but couldn’t see anything that was clear about this. I emailed them, no reply. Just bought your trekking book and all questions answered. That simple!

  6. I just read on your website about Mardi Himal and there seems to be quite a few warnings? Is it safe to trek without a guide?

    1. Over the past few years several solo trekkers have gone missing or died on the Mardi Himal Trek. This is mainly due to several non-official routes opening up which are dangerous. Personally, I would advise anyone going to Mardi Himal for the first time to take a guide.

  7. Researching our trip this weekend and came across your website. Absolutely fantastic. Spent hours on it. Looking forward to our trip in October.

  8. Any update on water filters around ABC? Are they still there or is there bottled water?

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