Tea House Trekking

28th Jan 2014

Nepal's tea house accommodation system is a fantastic way to explore the Himalayas with both minimal fuss and an assured comfortable bed for the night.  However, until you've experienced them it is hard to picture what a tea house is really like and to know how the system works.  Here's a brief guide to what to expect.....
Tea houses come in a wide range of sizes.  Some are small family homes with a room or two partitioned off while others are huge purpose built set ups with dozens of rooms.  The term tea house is also slightly misleading as you will also see reference to guest house, guest lodge or a variety of other names - but they are all effectively the same thing.
If you are travelling in a small group booking is often not essential.  The best thing to do is to get up early enough to arrive at your destination lodge in time to beat the crowds. I have never failed to find something using this strategy.  Having said that, the number of tea houses available gradually drops as you get further into the mountains and they do fill up at peak times so it is worth checking locally whether booking is recommended.  In the Annapurna range, for example, information signs with booking numbers are posted in various places and in high season booking is by far the safest option.
Tea houses generally comprise a communal living space and a number of simple bedrooms with 1,2 or 3 beds.  There will be basic toilets and some have hot showers available although there will be a separate charge for these.  It is also becoming increasingly common for tea houses to have wi-fi available and some will allow you to charge electrical items but again there is usually a cost for any of these extras and the price generally increases as you get to more remote areas.
The communal area usually has tables and chairs situated around a central heating stove.  These stoves are often ingeniously made from an old oil drum that has had a simple door cut out and a flue added to the top. Depending on the region you are visiting they will either be fuelled by wood or dried yak dung.  When one of these is cranked up the communal area becomes quite cosy although there are often benches positioned around the stove so you need to be ready to fight for your place near the heat once you've eaten.
Tea house bedrooms are normally very simple.  They are often constructed from plywood panels which gives privacy but very little in the way of sound proofing.  There will be simple beds with a mattress and pillow although it is unusual to get any sort of bedding so a sleeping bag is a must.  They are almost always unheated so make sure your sleeping bag is a warm one.
I have stayed in several tea houses where there is no lighting in the bedrooms but often there's a simple light that may run off either solar or mains power. It is usually bright enough to organise yourself but a head torch is also essential as I rarely find I can read by them. The bedroom will usually have a simple bolt and padlock so you can secure it when you head out.
Another facility that is becoming increasingly common is that some tea houses can now provide purified water at very minimal cost.  The water is usually pressure treated or purified by UV light and offers a very environmentally friendly alternative to buying bottled water.  This is an environmentally friendly facility that is great to support.
The pricing of most tea houses is generally set on a village by village basis although the price usually rises as you get to the more remote areas.  This is a great system that ensures visitors pay the same rate for any tea house in the area and rooms often only cost as little as a few hundred rupees (a few pounds).  However, the requirement to get this minimal rate is that visitors then eat in the tea house dining room and this becomes one way that prices increase because food in more accessible houses is often cheaper than the higher or more remote options.  It is, however, an excellent system that allows you to calculate the likely costs of a trek easily.  
The food available tends to reflect what is available locally but is generally good high carb and protein based mountain fayre - potato and egg based dishes, for example, feature quite highly on most menus.  Soft drinks are quite pricey and simply reflect the physical difficulties of getting them to the more remote areas by porter.  Amazingly, like most places in the world, Pringles and Snickers Bars are available in loads of places - but again at a price!
One other top tip for your tea house adventure is to make sure you pack some earplugs.  Plywood walls really don't offer much soundproofing!  So that's it.  A whistle stop guide to tea houses.  The really simple solution to your Nepal accommodation needs.   Enjoy your stay :)
Posted by Paul