You could spend an entire lifetime trekking in Nepal and yet still not cover all the trails and treks that are on offer in this mountainous country. If you’re considering trekking there, it can be difficult to choose which trek you want to do, especially if you have limited time. So in this blog post, I have covered a rundown on each of the main trekking areas, including the main treks in each and their highlights.
So, if you’re wondering where to trek in Nepal, then this post is for you.
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The options for trekking in Nepal are endless. There are 20 designated protected areas in the small country of which there are countless trails within to choose from. You only need to stand at one of the walls full of paper trekking maps in the many bookstores in Kathmandu to see the different national parks … Continue reading How to choose a trek in Nepal
Where to trek in Nepal
Here are the main national parks in Nepal and the most popular treks to do in each one:
Sagarmatha National Park
Nepal’s most famous park and the home of the world’s tallest peak, Mount Everest. It’s seen expeditions and trekking groups for many decades and was made an official National Park in 1976. Of course, it’s most well-known trek is the two-week return journey to Everest Base Camp which has become one of the world’s most sought after bucket list experiences.
Trailheads and large towns
The largest town in the park is Namche Bazaar, a huge Sherpa trading centre at 3440m in the Khumbu region. It’s become a sort of trekkers and tourist mecca with plenty of lodges and hotels for all budgets, restaurants with everything from dal bhat to pizza, an Irish pub, pharmacies, medical clinics and souvenir shops. It also has an ATM, which is a luxury in the Himalayas, although I wouldn’t 100% rely on it in peak season as the amount of people passing through often means it’s out of cash (although I did have some luck using it).
Most people fly into Lukla, a day or two of walking down from Namche, where there is also a large number of lodges and restaurants. It’s the main entry and exit point and trailhead and is always buzzing with an exciting vibe. After reaching Namche from Lukla, most people take at least two nights acclimatisation, although three nights is even better. It’s a nice base for short but steep acclimatising walks such as up to Khumjung village (an alternative place to stay if you prefer quiet) or the nearby Sagarmatha National Park office (which has views of Everest).
The alternative to flying into Lukla is to take a jeep to Salleri from Kathmandu and begin your trek in the lowlands from there. It takes around three days to reach Lukla on foot from Salleri. I did this in 2019 to avoid the high cost of a plane ticket and you can read about it here.
Everest Base Camp
Of course, the most popular trek in this park is Everest Base Camp, a two-week return trip to the tent city that is the base camp area. One of the highlights though of the trek is, of course, Kala Pattar, a spectacular viewpoint of Everest and side hike option, usually done in the morning. Base Camp sees around 40, 000 trekkers each year plus climbing expedition-related foot traffic, so expect some traffic jams on the trail and busy teahouses.
The alternative to Everest Base Camp is Gokyo. For fewer crowds and friendly teahouses, the trek up to Gokyo village through the valley running west of Everest is an excellent option. Gokyo is home to several ice-blue sacred lakes as well as the viewpoint of Gokyo Ri, from which you can see four of the world’s ten highest peaks, including Everest. It generally takes a few days less than the Base Camp trek, but don’t underestimate the altitude as the trail ascends quite rapidly. An option for those with more time and stamina is to trek to Everest Base Camp first and then cross over the Cho La (5420m) and down to Gokyo, practically getting the best of both treks by combining them.
Three Passes Trek
Perhaps Nepal’s ultimate trek is the Three Passes. This epic journey will take around three weeks and takes you over the three high passes of Renjo La, Cho La and Kongma La, as well as the options to climb Kala Pattar and Gokyo Ri. It’s not for the faint-hearted as a lot of the trek is spent over 5000m and weather is precarious with the risk of severe snow and ice cover on some of the passes. It’s a good idea to carry crampons and take a guide with you, as this trek can get quite hairy. But it’s also possible to hire a guide for a day to cross a particular pass if you decide to go independently and conditions change. It was also possible to buy crampons in Gokyo village when I was there if you needed them mid-trek, although I wouldn’t rely on it.
An option is also to break the trek up into a shorter circuit if you don’t have three weeks. For example, you could go up to Gokyo and then climb over Renjo La to get back down to Namche. Or take the Everest Base Camp trek and then cross the Cho La to Gokyo and down that way. It’s possible to do the trek in whichever direction but it’s generally considered ‘easier’ to start with Kongma La, then Cho La and finish with Renjo La.
Annapurna Conservation Area
This is Nepal’s largest protected area and the most popular place to trek. There are plenty of trails to choose from and the extensive network of teahouses means it’s a dream for anyone who prefers trekking independently. It’s a fascinating part of the country too, home to a variety of landscapes and cultures from the forested lowlands to the dry, desert-like Mustang region that stretches into the Tibetan Plateau.
A big difference with this trekking area, however, is that there are quite a lot of well established and ancient villages scattered around the outskirts as well as within the protected area itself. Road construction is beginning to penetrate some of the areas which were once a remote trekking paradise, and the landscape is certainly changing because of this. However, for villages who have been cut off from larger towns and services, it represents an improved opportunity to better their lives. Still, this constant road construction will certainly impact the trekking in this region in the future, particularly on the Annapurna Circuit trek.
Trailheads and large towns
Pokhara is the country’s second-largest city and the gateway to the Annapurna region. It’s a booming tourist destination with the main street running along the shores of Phewa Lake full of hip restaurants, souvenir shops and high-quality hostels. It’s basically a more relaxed and smaller-scale version of Thamel in Kathmandu and most backpackers prefer to chill in Pokhara rather than suffocate their way through the streets of Kathmandu. If you want to read a bit about Pokhara, including where I stayed, where I hired my sleeping bag and how I got my TIMS card, check out the start of my post on Khopra Ridge here.
From Pokhara, you can either arrange a trek including private transport with a local company or you can find public transport options which will be able to get you to most trailheads.
Nayapul is a small dusty town just a two-hour bus ride from Pokhara’s Baglung Bus Park and it serves as the main starting point for a few of Annapurna’s main treks, including Poon Hill, Khopra Ridge and Annapurna Base Camp, as well as the traditional endpoint of the Annapurna Circuit. It has a few shops, restaurants and a TIMS checkpoint not too far after you’ve passed through the town. There are always jeeps hanging around near the main road and buses pass relatively frequently – ask one of the roadside restaurants and they’ll be able to help.
Jomsom is the other major town worth mentioning. Sitting on the Kali Gandaki that runs through one of the deepest gorges in the world, Jomsom is surrounded by stunning white-capped mountains and a desert-like environment. It’s traditionally been one of the main stops on the Annapurna Circuit and has a small airport which operates daily flights to Pokhara. Over the years it’s sprawled and is now divided into what is usually referred to as New Jomsom and Old Jomsom. New Jomsom has plenty of tourist-oriented restaurants and expensive trekking lodges and is congregated around the airport. Old Jomsom is the crumbling, original settlement and you can still find a couple of lodges here to spend a quiet night (if they’re open).
If you’re not passing through Jomsom on the circuit trek then some people begin a trek here up to Muktinath and back, which is what I did and you can read about it here. Otherwise, it also operates as the starting point for people heading into the restricted Upper Mustang region.
It can be accessed either by flight or by the treacherous road by jeep or bus from Pokhara which is a true adventure in itself.
There are countless treks in the Annapurna region and I’ll just briefly explain the main ones here (all of which are teahouse treks), as well as suggest some add-ons and good combinations to get the most out of the region if you have enough time.
Annapurna Circuit trek
Considered one of the best treks in the world, this circuit takes you around the entire Annapurna Conservation Area through subtropical lowlands up to the Tibetan influenced desert-like landscape and down through the Kali Gandaki gorge. The entire circuit takes around 18 days to complete, although with the recent road construction (now all the up to Muktinath on the west side and creeping up the other side to Manang) many people shorten it to avoid spending days walking on the road with dust-inducing traffic. Still, the views are incredible and varied and the euphoric feeling of crossing the Thorung La (5416m) is still considered its highlight. Despite the road construction, there are now alternative trails which avoid the road sections and I highly recommend you take them, to avoid being drowned in a dust storm by passing vehicles.
AnnApurna Base Camp
Also called the Annapurna Sanctuary trek, this takes you right into a deep amphitheatre of spectacular mountains, including the Annapurna Massif. It’s not considered too difficult and can be done comfortably in 10 days, although it does have steep ascents and descents and the risk of avalanche in bad weather makes it more challenging than given credit. Check the weather prior to setting out and ask at the teahouses along the way, as conditions change quickly. This is one of the most popular treks in the country and teahouses are very crowded in high season. Sometimes having a guide on treks like this, although not necessary for navigation, are helpful in reserving beds ahead of time and giving you priority over independent trekkers.
You could also divert on the way back to Ghorepani and Poon Hill if you’re still after more Himalayan vistas and have an extra couple of days.
This trek has emerged as one of the most underrated treks in the Annapurnas. Having only been opened eight years ago, it’s often declared as the new backpacker favourite. It climbs above Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) along a ridge to the Base Camp of Mardi Himal, a relatively smaller peak on the edge of the range. It can be completed in a week but considering the short time frame, the views are undeniably heartstopping. From low camp, you’ll have one of the best views of the stunning Machhapuchhre (fishtail) and then high camp, has sweeping views across the Annapurna Massif. It sees far fewer trekkers than ABC and is much more popular for independent trekkers.
In my opinion, this is one of the most underrated treks in Nepal and you also have the chance to give back to the rural communities by staying in the community-run lodges at some of the overnight stops. It technically follows the trail up to Ghorepani and Poon Hill first before diverting off the main trail and heading up to Khopra Danda, a large lodge perched on a plateau with unmatched views of Annapurna South and Mount Dhaulagiri. There’s also a side hike to Khayer Lake, a high altitude ice-blue lake which is often blocked by snow and ice. On the way down, you pass by Muldai Viewpoint which offers a greater panoramic view of Annapurna I and Machhapuchhre. It’s a good trek to combine with others in the Annapurnas as it passes through both Ghorepani and Ghandruk which are popular intersections.
You can read my full trek report on Khopra Ridge here.
Perhaps the most popular trek as it takes just a few days return to complete, Poon Hill is considered one of the most spectacular viewpoints in the entire region. A two day trek gets you to Ghorepani, a village that has mushroomed into a huge trekking town with countless lodges to choose from. From there, a sunrise hike up to Poon Hill is the typical Annapurna experience. It’s a great introductory trek or in conjunction with another, longer trail.
The real benefit of the Annapurnas is the ability to combine multiple treks into one. If you’re opting not to do the full Circuit but still have plenty of time to be out on the trails then you should consider combining two of the treks in the lower Annapurna Area. My top recommendations would be:
Khopra Ridge + Annapurna Base Camp
Start in Nayapul, and head up to Ghorepani for Poon Hill. Then continue on to Khopra Ridge. On the way down through Dobato, head up to Muldai Viewpoint. Then once you get to Ghandruk, branch off onto the ABC trail. On the way down from ABC, finish at Phedi. This would be my ultimate trek combination in the Annapurnas.
Annapurna Base Camp + Mardi Himal
Start in Nayapul and head up to ABC through Gandruk. On the way back, divert in Landruk and head to Deurali on the Mardi Himal Trek. Head up to Mardi Himal Base Camp and then come down through Sidhing and Lumre to get transport back to Pokhara.
Khopra Ridge + Mardi Himal
Basically the same as the Khopra Ridge + ABC combination. Start in Nayapul and go through Ghorepani and Poon Hill for Khopra. On the way back, branch off from Ghandruk and head to Landruk and then onto Deurali. From there go up to Mardi Himal and back down to Sidhing or Lumre. This is a little more difficult to join, as the trail from Ghandruk across to Landruk and then across to Deurali is not used as often but is still possible.
Read: 5 alternative teahouse treks in Nepal with no crowds an article I wrote for Matador Network.
Langtang National Park
Langtang is the original trekking region as it was the first part that people explored by foot from Kathmandu. It has also been a popular place to get close to the Himalayas for people short on time, although Annapurna Conservation Area has since taken over as the main place tourists head. It may not have the eight thousand metre peaks people come to Nepal to see, but the scenery is equally spectacular to anything you’ll see in the country.
The Tamang people of the Langtang region, are descendants of Tibetans, and are some of the friendliest teahouse hosts you’ll come across. It was also the hardest hit region in the 2015 earthquake and although everything is now back up and running as it was before, there is still a lot of visible scars both physically and emotionally in the region.
Trailheads and large towns
Syabrubesi is the main town and trailhead in the entire region and pretty much all treks start and/or finish here. It’s a small town, with just one main street running through it, but it has good hotel options and some cafes as well as a couple of unreliable ATMs. If you want to read more about my stay in Syabrubesi you can read it on my post on Langtang here.
The way in and out of the town is the long, windy road from Kathmandu and possible by either bus or jeep. There are daily services between Syabrubesi and Kathmandu, but it’s best to reserve the day before to ensure you get a seat, If you are a group, it’s more comfortable to organise a jeep together, although the bus will always be cheaper. Read my post on Langtang to find out more about the transport options.
The most popular trek in the park is the trail that leads to the village of Kyanjin Gompa, through an incredibly beautiful valley that opens up to better views with each passing day. It’s a relatively short and comfortable trek and can be done in less than a week, with a side hike up to Kyanjin Ri, the magnificent viewpoint above the village. There are also other possible side hikes further up to Yala Peak, depending on snow cover on the trail.
It’s also possible to join onto the Gosainkund trek at the end of Langtang Valley to make use of your time in the park.
You can read my full trek report on Langtang Valley here.
Tamang Heritage Trail
A village tourism project aimed at bringing trekkers into a different part of the park and returning the profits of the teahouses to the entire community for social projects. It’s a relatively easy six-day loop from Syabrubesi with the highest point at just over 3000m. But the real appeal of the trail is to spend time with the local people and see a different part of rural Nepal with snow-capped mountains still not too far away.
This trek takes you to one of over 100 glacial lakes in the area, Gosainkund, and a highly sacred place for both Hindus and Buddhists. The trail follows the valley adjacent to Langtang Valley and can technically be joined together to make one epic long trek. It’s also an alternative way to get back to Kathmandu, as the trail connects onto the Helambu Circuit trek and finishes at Sundarijal where it’s possible to get transport back to the capital city.
Remote and sparsely populated, Dolpo was only opened to tourists in 1989 and offers a rich cultural experience as well as visually impressive treks. The area was closely linked to Tibet until China closed the border in the 1960s which shut off the ancient trading routes that had kept the communities prospering for centuries. The area is still dotted with Buddhist and Bon monasteries and it’s also well-known for being home to a variety of flora and fauna, making it one of the most fascinating places to trek in the country.
You must be on an organised tour to enter the region as it’s a restricted area and a special permit is required from the government which varies in cost depending on the trek you choose. Lower Dolpo requires a Restricted Area Permit of around US$20 per week. Upper Dolpo (to Shey Gompa) requires an expensive permit of US$500 for 10 days. This is on top of the National Park fee as well, which is around US$35.
Generally, treks here use a combination of teahouses and camping. Facilities are basic so don’t expect the luxuries you find on the Annapurna Circuit or Everest Base Camp treks.
Note: the best time to trek in Dolpo is May to October, which is almost the opposite to the rest of the country. During winter, this region is basically inaccessible.
Trailheads and large towns
There are two gateways and trailheads in the region with an airstrip; Jumla and Juphal. It’s a six-day trek between these two villages, which may be required if one of the airports is not functioning at the time. From either of these two villages, you can begin trekking into the region.
Phoksumdo Lake Trek
Phoksumdo is an incredible, turquoise alpine lake at 3600m, and a short but beautiful trek from Dunai (not far from Juphal airstrip).
For a more spectacular and lengthy trek, you can start from Dunai and head east via Do Tarap to Phoksumdo on a trail that will take around nine days. It goes over two high passes over 5000m and through an almost forgotten Tibetan enclave of Nepal.
Although this is a remote and challenging trek, it’s a relatively gradual ascent to the passes. Still, take it easy as rescue and communication facilities are severely limited in the entire park.
Shey Gompa Trek
The real gem of the Dolpo region and why some people are willing to pay the hefty Upper (sometimes referred to as Inner) Dolpo permit fee is to see Shey Gompa. Only opened to foreigners in 1992, it has taken on a sort of mystical aura thanks to the discussion of the place in the 1978 book, The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen.
It’s a further four-day hike from Phoksumdo Lake and with the right permits in hand, many people combine the Gompa and Lake into one long trek.
Upper Mustang region
This former mountain kingdom is one of the last bastions of true Tibetan culture at the dry, barren end of the Kali Gandaki in the Annapurna Conservation Area. It has many similarities with the nearby Dolpo region to the west. It wasn’t opened to trekkers until 1992 and the distinct Mustang monarch was only abolished by the Nepali government in 2008. Only around 3000 people make it up to the region each year, as the restricted area permit deters many trekkers who have many more accessible options in the Annapurna region.
The region is referred to as Lo by its inhabitants and you can still find ancient monasteries, some inside caves, amongst the villages that dot the arid, desert-like Tibetan Plateau. There are official records of Lo dating back to the 8th century but its assumed that communities lived here well before then.
The otherworldly landscape and incredibly old culture is what brings most people to Mustang. However, as with Upper Dolpo, a restricted area permit is required to those wanting to visit on top of the Annapurna Conservation Area park fee. The permit is US$500 for 10 days, which is enough to do the main trek. Otherwise, it’s US$50 per day for additional days.
Similar to Dolpo, the best time to trek in Mustang is from May to October, as it’s in the rain shadow of the Himalayas and avoids the monsoon rains that sweep across Pokhara and Kathmandu.
Trailheads and large towns
Jomsom would be considered the main trailhead, as that is where the nearest airport can be found. There’s more information about Jomsom above under the Trailheads section of the Annapurna Conservation Area.
Officially, Upper Mustang begins north of the village of Kagbeni, a couple of hours walk from Jomsom. There is a police check post in Kagbeni who will check permits of all trekkers passing through. There are a number of good lodges and restaurants in Kagbeni and many people stay overnight there.
The Mustang trek generally starts and ends in Kagbeni and takes you on a 10-day return journey following the Kali Gandaki through villages to the walled city of Lo Manthang, the capital of the Mustang area. Generally, trekkers stay in teahouses which are more like homestays as you won’t have the influx of random trekkers coming and going like on other trails in non-restricted areas.
You will cross a number of high passes, of which the highest is Chogo La at 4320m. Although it’s not overly high when compared to Thorung La on the Circuit trek, the majority of the trek is spent over 3500m for the 10 days with short ascents and descents.
An alternative return is to take the high, winter route to the east of Lo Manthang to Tange and Tetang, which will bring you to Muktinath, before heading back to Kagbeni and Jomsom.
Manaslu Conservation Area
Some consider this Nepal’s best trek and yet, it still sees far fewer trekkers than Everest or Annapurna Base Camp. It’s one of the truly epic journeys in the Himalayas with incredible views, rugged terrain and a high pass. It can be completed by teahouses but it can’t be done independently as it’s within a restricted area, and a group of at least two with an official guide is needed for the permit to be approved.
The permit for the area is US$100 per person per week and US$15 per additional day from September to November and then US$75 per person per week and US$10 per additional day from December to August.
Trailheads and large towns
The trek starts in Arughat or Soti Khola, not far from the town of Gorkha. Gorkha is a relatively touristy town and is not far off the main road between Kathmandu and Pokhara.
The trek finishes in Besi Sahar, the traditional start point of the Annapurna Circuit Trek. However, a road now runs through Dharapani, which is where the Manaslu trek and Annapurna Circuit meet. Some people opt to end there and take a jeep back to Kathmandu, however, the road is in terrible condition and it’s almost better to continue on foot to at least get closer to Besi Sahar.
The trek is often referred to as Around Manaslu and takes around 16 days, depending on where you choose to start and end. The culture is distinctly Tibetan as you pass through Nupri villages and the scenery is sublime as you near the major pass of Larkya. Larkya La at 5100m is one of the most incredible of the Himalayas, with a wall of peaks stretching around you as well glacial lakes which you can visit as side points.
Kanchenjunga Conservation Area
Home to the world’s third-largest mountain on the border with India’s Sikkim, the Kanchenjunga area is one of the least trekked in the country with very few people choosing to visit each year. Although a permit is required and you must be with an organised group, it’s more simple to arrange and less expensive than heading into Dolpo or Mustang.
Still, the region is remote and sparsely populated and trekking around the massive Kanchenjunga you’ll see few other people other than some locals in small villages along the way. The feeling of being truly amongst the Himalayas is perhaps greater than anywhere else in Nepal, with beautiful eight-thousanders in each direction. They’re certainly not peaks many people have heard of, but they offer stunning scenery and a truly peaceful experience, albeit challenging.
Trailheads and large towns
Taplejung is the main town and trailhead in the region. There is a small airport at Suketar just outside Taplejung, or many people use road transport to Taplejung from Bhadrapur where there’s a slightly larger airport. There are limited facilities in these towns and it’s best to be fully prepared and self-sufficient when heading to this part of eastern Nepal. Regardless, there are teahouses available with some of the nicer options in Taplejung compared to what you’ll find on the rest of the trek.
From there, the North Base Camp trek and South Base Camp trek and Circuit trek begins and ends.
There are teahouses available in some of the villages along the trails, but many of them are seasonal and their owners are only around when they don’t have something else to tend to. Considering it’s compulsory to have a guide, then it’s practically also required to have a team of porters because you’ll need to have full camping equipment and be self-sufficient for days at a time.
Kanchenjunga North Base Camp
This trek is the longer of the two base camp trips and takes around 18 days to complete. It’s a varied and dramatic journey through valleys towards the north face of Kanchenjunga and its surrounding glaciers. It finishes at Pangpema at 5140m, before returning virtually the same trail back down.
Kanchenjunga South Base Camp
The shorter and lower trek cuts straight through to the south face of Kanchenjunga over valleys with steep ascents and descents to Oktang and the incredible Yalung Glacier at 4800m. It also follows the same trail back down.
Kanchenjunga Circuit trek
It’s possible to join the two base camp treks together into one epic adventure of around 25 days by crossing a number of high passes. It’s widely considered better in terms of acclimatisation to head to the north side first and then finish on the south side, as it’s more of a gradual climb to begin with. To join the two trails there are a couple of routes, one which crosses the Lapsang La at 5160m or the other which crosses five passes, with the highest being 4725m.
Planning on trekking in Nepal? Read: Ten do’s and don’t’s of trekking in Nepal that breaks down everything you need to know about being out on the trail, including responsible trekker tips.
Recommended treks for all types of travellers
Here’s the crux of the post. My recommended treks for all sorts of trekkers and types of travellers!
Short on time: Poon Hill
The shot but popular Poon Hill trek takes you up to one of the finest panoramic vistas in the Annapurna region.
Plenty of time: Annapurna Circuit
The classic long trek that takes you around the entire Annapurna Conservation Area and over the fabled Thorung La.
Classic bucket list trek: Everest Base Camp
The trek that needs no introduction taking you to the famous Base Camp of the world’s tallest peak.
‘Easy’ trek: Tamang Heritage Trail
This community-focused trek in the Langtang National Park is one of the easiest (take that lightly) and most enjoyable hikes in Nepal.
More difficult: Three Passes Trek
The country’s most epic adventure and perhaps, the best trek in the Himalayas, if you’re well prepared for it.
Less crowded: Around Manaslu
This occasionally forgotten trek is one of the most spectacular and wild of the bunch, you won’t regret it.
Best of the teahouse treks: Khopra Ridge
A relatively new and exciting trek with community-run teahouses and epic vistas in the Annapurna Conservation Area.
Backpacker favourite: Mardi Himal
The rising star amongst Nepal’s treks, this short but challenging trek is quickly becoming a travellers favourite with an incredible end point at Mardi Himal Base Camp.
Easy to organise and navigate: Langtang Valley
This old and also relatively short trek is making a comeback after the destruction in the 2015 earthquake and although it may not be home to the world’s highest peaks, the scenery won’t disappoint.
More remote and secluded: Phoksumdo-Shey gompa, Upper dolpo
Be one of the few foreigners who have been privileged to visit the Dolpo region and revel in its precious Buddhist culture amongst the vast Himalayas.
Here for the culture: Mustang trek
Enter another world in the former mountain kingdom of Mustang with otherworldly landscapes in the Himalayan rain shadow and Tibetan plateau.
There for the epic views: Gokyo trek
Considered one of the grandest views of Everest you can get by foot, the trek to Gokyo is Base Camp’s best alternative.
A trek that people have never heard of: Kanchenjunga circuit Trek
In the far east of the country, this long trek is dramatically spectacular and takes you deep into the raw Himalayas where few others go.
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Disclaimer: information here is to the best of my knowledge and current as of February 2020. Prices and trails can change at any given moment, so please do other research before assuming that this is the most current.