What's the attraction?
Today is the 60th anniversary of the first successful summit ascent of Everest, the world's highest mountain, by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. But you don't have to don crampons to enjoy the spectacular Himalayas. The peaks – which separate the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau, taking in parts of India, Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet, China and Pakistan – are home to some of the most fascinating cultures and breathtaking landscapes on Earth, dotted with ancient monasteries and temples. The hiking is deservedly renowned, but other activities are available too – from wildlife safaris and white-water rafting to luxurious lodge-stays and spectacular cycling.
High and wild
Most people go to Nepal for the trekking, but there's an impressive display of wildlife on offer too, from Bengal tigers to the elusive snow leopard. Accompanied by a professional naturalist, the Ace Cultural Tours (01223 841 055; aceculturaltours.co.uk) trip explores two national parks – Chitwan and Bardiya – as well as the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve. Staying in a combination of luxury lodges and comfortable safari-style tents, the trip includes an elephant-back safari and a crocodile-spotting cruise along the Narayani River. The 16-day Wildlife in the Himalayan Foothills trip costs £3,995pp including flights from Heathrow, accommodation, most meals and an expert guide. Departs 30 January 2014.
Conquer the dragon
Bhutan is the setting for one of the world's toughest mountain bike races: the annual Tour of the Dragon, a 167-mile race across four mountain passes... in one day. A new trip from Explore (0845 291 4541; explore.co.uk) allows riders to enjoy the festivities of the race, while sampling some of the country's best cycling for themselves. Pedal 200 miles from the forested slopes of Paro, in the west, to the remote Bumthang Valley in the north, exploring monasteries, dzongs (fortresses) and rural villages on the way. The 17-day Tour of the Thunder Dragon costs £3,847pp with flights from Heathrow on 24 August, accommodation, most meals, bike hire and expert guides.
Best foot forward
Kashmir is one of the most beautiful regions in the Himalayas, offering snowy peaks, forests, lakes and rivers. Political strife has cast a long shadow over its beauty, but the Foreign Office recently lifted its advice against travelling to the cities of Jammu and Srinagar and the trekking hotspot of Ladakh. Wild Frontiers (020 7736 3968; wildfrontierstravel.com) combines a four-day trek and wild camping expedition in the Indian region, with time on a houseboat on Dal Lake and visits to the Moghul Gardens and old city of Srinagar, Kashmir's summer capital. The 10-day trip costs £1,690pp with accommodation, most meals and guide, departing 30 August. Flights not included.
Gain an understanding of Nepali culture on a new expert-led trip, which aims to reveal the country's ancient traditions alongside its burgeoning contemporary arts scene. In the company of a local gallery owner and curator, meet local artists and explore Kathmandu's galleries, sacred art museums and traditional rug-weaving factories.
Then fly to the Annapurna range for walks and painting lessons from a local artist. Accommodation is in stylish, authentic lodges throughout. Cazenove+Loyd (020 7384 2332; cazloyd.com) offers the eight-day Hidden World of Nepal trip for £1,805pp full board, including activities and an expert guide. Flights not included. Departs 9 October.
"The most important things to pack are a spirit of adventure and an open mind. Read about the cultures you will encounter: the Himalayan people share values of hospitality and openness that comes from living in an incredibly harsh, yet awe-inspiring environment." – Pete Royall, Himalayan guide, KE Adventure (01768 773 966; keadventure.com)
Spoil yourself in a world-class spa, get mountain-fit and have a Himalayan adventure at the Ananda Spa in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas. Trek between scenic viewpoints, white-water raft on the Ganges then relax your mind with sunrise yoga. Health and Fitness Travel (0845 544 1936; healthandfitnesstravel.com) offers an eight-day Ananda Fusion Fitness trip from £2,520pp, including flights, full board and seven fitness activities or spa treatments. Alternatively, join a yoga retreat in Pokhara, Nepal. The 10-day Sadhana Yoga Retreat (00 977 974 601 5052; sadhana-asanga-yoga.com) costs US$450 (£300) full board. Flights extra.
In western Bhutan, Uma Punakha (00 9752 584 688;p comohotels.com/umapunakha) is a new luxury lodge featuring 11 light, stylish rooms with sweeping views of the Punakha Valley and the Mo Chu river, where you can do as much or as little as you like. Doubles start at US$480 (£320), including breakfast.
Shakti 360° (020 3151 5177; shaktihimalaya.com) is an intimate mountain retreat in the Indian region of Kumaon with mesmerising mountain views. A four-day all-inclusive package costs from £1,280pp, without flights.
Kongde Lodge (00 977 1 4000 711; yeti mountainhome.com) in Nepal is one of the highest hotels in the world. Doubles from US$170 (£113), half board.
Nepal's Sun Koshi river, three hours' drive from Kathmandu, is the setting for one of the world's most exhilarating white-water expeditions. Spend days roaring past remote rural villages and tackling some of the country's finest rapids, with nights camping on river beaches gazing up at star-filled skies. No experience is required on the eight- to 10-day Sun Koshi Expedition (depending on conditions) offered by Paddle Nepal (00 977 61 465730; paddlenepal.com). The price of £435pp includes camping, full board, expert guides, equipment hire and safety support. Flights not included. Scheduled departures between September and November.
Who said that?
"I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains …" – John Muir
"I have climbed my mountain, but I must still live my life." – Tenzing Norgay
"Well, we knocked the bastard off!" – Edmund Hillary, after climbing Mount EverestReuse content