I hope this guide inspires you to do the beautiful Annapurna Base camp trek (also known as the Annapurna Sanctuary trek). We decided to trek up to the Annapurna Base Camp, in Western Nepal in October when the skies are clear and the weather is warm. This trek is also called the Annapurna Sanctuary trek. It takes you to the heart, the valley of the 8000 meter mountains. And the perfect time to there is after the monsoons and before the onset of Winter, so the skies are very clear while being warm enough and before snow and ice makes it treacherous to trek near the base camps. But as a traveler I also dread this time because Continue reading
Here is a short travel diary (log) of my travel to Upper Mustang in Nepal, which borders Tibet. I hope it inspires more Nepalis (and foreigners) to travel inside Nepal. Do leave your questions and comments below.
Day 1 and 2: Kathmandu to Pokhara.
There are no regular flight to Jomsom from Kathmandu directly. It has to be via Pokhara only. And It is almost impossible to fly to Jomsom after noon (because strong 100 kilometer winds make it impossible to land on an narrow airstrip perched between two 8000 meters ( 24000 feet) mountains. So we took a quick half an hour flight to Pokhara first. Pokhara is a beautiful valley full of lakes and beautiful high mountains to its north. To any other travelers it would be a nice destination to travel in itself. But as we were itching to start our trek to the former “Forbidden Kingdom of Mustang”, even this beautiful city didn’t sound so appealing now. We wanted to be transported into a different era, away from any civilization we were part of.
The flights to Jomsom from Pokhara (only flies from this place) are very erratic and often canceled because of the monsoon weather. Our flight got canceled the first day, as the planes going to Jomsom couldn’t land there because of bad weather there. Be ready to wait for hours at the airport praying for the weather to be good again.
8000+ meters high Annapurna range as seen from Pokhara beyond which is Mustang.
Day 3: Pokhara to Jomsom (2700m) to Kagbeni (2900m)
The next morning by sheer luck, after yet another agonizing 5 hours wait at the airport, we managed to find a flight at 12 30 in the afternoon (this is quite rare during anytime of the year to be flying so late to Jomsom). We later came to know that the flights for the next 2 days got canceled as well.
It was a one hell of a hair-raising half an hour flight, specially the landing part, where the plane had to make a sharp turn by a cliff to come down to the airport. The plane full of hindu devotees were busy chanting “ Hail the Lord pashupati nath” inside the plane as we moved to Jomsom. I must say, Jomsom and Lukla are the two most heart skipping places to land during any time of the year. We flew to Jomsom on a donnair aircraft, Agni Air (German-made). We soon found ourselves in the sunny Jomsom, the administrative capital of Mustang.
Mustang lies in the rain shadow of Annapurna Mountains. It rarely rains much during monsoon as all the rain bearing clouds get stopped by a wall of high rising Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountains. Still the wind was howling enough to bring out the wind stopper jacket from my back pack. We went to a local friend’s hotel right outside the airport, called, “Hotel Snow Land” and from him got some useful guide to trekking up upper mustang.
At 2 in the afternoon, we started our trek to get to a holy place called Kagbeni via “Eklai bhatti”. Kagbeni is the entrance to Upper Mustang, and a well off modern village right besides the Kali Gandaki river. t is also hugely important place for Hindu devotees who come in droves to offer prayers for their departed parents souls along the holy fusion of the Kali Gandaki river and another flowing from Muktinath (another Hindu holy place in Mustang).
In Kagbeni (2900m),We stayed in New Annapurna Lodge. (By the way, all ,motels and tea-houses in mustang are named hotels). Kagbeni even has a restaurant, aptly called “Yak donalds” and the local fries there are delicious!
In Kagbeni, we met a french group heading up to Upper mustang there, and exchanged a bit of insight with the Nepali guides who were quite amused to hear Nepalis traveling. (Who would have thought ! ) . I suppose Nepalis traveling in Nepal is a rarity, something I hope these experience sharing here will encourage more Nepalis to travel within their own country).
Had an okay sleep. Lo manthang, the capital city of Mustang lies 4 days ahead.
Day 4: Kagbeni via Tanbe and Chupsang to Chiele (3100 m)
We made a late morning start from Kagbeni, having a local favorite Tibetian bread as breakfast. We started off at ease and started our way through the wind ravaged trail along the Kali Gandaki river, leaving the Nilgiri and the Annapurna mountains to the south. As we climbed the Grand canyon type of trails, we started seeing the contrasting landscapes of arid mixed with meadows that extended all the way to the holy temples of Muktinath. On the journey we met a couple of hindu devotees returning from Damodar kund ( a holy lake 2.5 days east of Lo-manthang at 5200m). Looking at their meager belongings, we were amazed they could have made it back from such high altitude and cold place, fine)
In 2 hours, we came across, Tangbe (3000m) a village that looked like a haunted village (because all its inhabitants were busy working in the nearby fields). We chanced upon an old man besides his apple orchard and quickly bought a kilo of Green apples freshly plucked from his orchid right there. As we walked to Chupsang, we could see some ancient caves on the other side of canyons. We meant to have lunch there but was thwarted by a massive road block where a massive dozer was building a road and had destroyed the trail along the Kali Gandaki river. A camping group helped us navigate this treacherous hair-raising cliff walk, across a make shift thin trail along a steep slope and last pull from more helpers before we could safely continue off to Chupsang. Chupsang looked like a disorganized village with the only motel (tea house) packed with travelers and locals gambling away infront of it. We had a quick instant noodles and made our way off to Chiele.
Here, we came across gorgeous mountain caves perched high up on the canyons as we walked besides the fast flowing Kali Gandaki river. It is hard to imagine people used to live here till a century ago. During summer, even the feeble Kali Gandaki rages dangerous. (During the winter it is possible to ride all the way to Lo-Manthang on a horse through the same river in 1.5 days).
We reached Chiele around 4 pm, a pretty cliff side village on top of the massively twisting and turning Kali Gandaki river. The last 100 meters to Chiele was a steep climb, and our inexperienced walk and terrible shape, nearly broke us down.
We stayed at Bishal Hotel, recommended by fellow Mustang guides who were traveling with a french group. I couldn’t sleep much tonight maybe because my body was adjusting itself to altitude. From 800 m to 3100 m in 2 days, yes this body needs a few adjusting to do.
Day 4: Chiele to Syangboche (3800m) via Samar
We started off the morning late, and found our-self agonizingly short of breath walking through a steep exhausting mountain climb of 500 meters to Samar. My shoulders were pretty swollen from carrying my slightly overweight back-pack.
You will find yourself walking through cliffs that would hands down beat those cliffs in that last fight scene in the 1992 Daniel Day-Lewis film “ The last of the Mohicans”. Around mid-day, climbing up the canyon, we reached the village of Samar, a beautiful village, full of green poplar trees. It looked like a green oasis surrounded by deserted arid mountains. On the West were big cliffs separating Upper Dolpo valleys from Mustang. On the south you see the Tilicho and Nilgiri mountains near the Thorang la pass (which is part of the Annapurna Circuit trek. After having a quick-lunch at a beautiful cosy lodge there, we headed for Syangboche through the high route which took us to nearly 4000 m.
Note* I recommend the lower route from Samar to Syangboche, as it is easier to get to and easier to aclimitize, coming from Samar.
It proved to be an exhausting route up and down and after 4 hours we stumbled to Syangboche. It was cold up here, with only 3 houses, The second one happened to be our resting place for the night. The high point of the day had to be the steep cliffs and the scenic mountains you can see from high above Samar and the Soi la pass at 3900m from where we can see rugged dry hills of Upper mustang).
We stayed at Dhaulagiri Hotel which was a good choice. Had an excellent sleep.
Day 5: Syangboche to Dhakmar (3750m) via Ghemi.
We passed through stunning display of nature passing through scenic villages of Gheling, Bhene and through the Nyi La pass (4000m), we arrived at Ghemi, another lovely green village amidst a red, and ash colored wind beaten cliffs with more caves. After having a delicious lunch at a home of the Raju Bista, a nephew of the former King of Mustang, we headed to the picture perfect Dhakmar famed for its red cliffs. Legend has it that these cliffs were a result of the blood smeared out of the body of the demon Queen who was slayed nearby by the Buddhist monk, Guru Padma Sambhawa. He slayed her to protect the Samya region in Tibet who were unable to build the Samya Gompa monastery because demons and their queen would destroy any monastries they built.
The legend further elaborates the long wall in Ghemi is where her intestine were buried and the nearby Lo Ghyakar (Ghar) Gompa, an 8th century monastry was built over her dead body which protects against her resurrection. An hour away from Ghemi, we arrived at the picturesque Dhakmar, which seemed to hold up to its reputation. In Dhakmar we shared our room with another group since the lodge Tenzing riverside had barely 2 rooms available. We specially loved these fresh organic vegetables that we always ate for dinner wherever we stayed in Upper mustang, specially the spinach, potatoes and cauli flowers.
Day 6: Dhakmar to Lo- Manthang (3800m)
We started climbing up a cliff up the 4200m pass separating Dhakmar from Lo-manthang. At this altitude, it becomes excruciatingly hard to find enough air to climb a few steps. After a 2 hour climb, we reached the 8th century monastery called Lori Ghyakar (ghar) Gompa. Rich in Tibetan folklore, we were told about the history of the monastry by a lone monk staying there. We were hoping to having lunch in this area but couldn’t find any place to eat, so we headed off to Lo-manthang eating our packed food supplies. *Highly recommend carrying packed supplies if you are traveling this route*.
The walk forward was picturesque with wild horses and sheeps grazing in multitudes along endless meadows that seemed to disappear into the high mountains. And we could see the 4600m Kora-la pass in the distance, which separated Nepal from Tibet. We finally reached the red fortress city of Lo-Manthang around 4pm. Lo-Manthang looked beautiful with contrasting colors at this time of the year. The pink barley fields surrounding the red fortress seemed to heighten the festive atmosphere, with people with distinctly colorful costumes and the blue sky.
Day 7 and 8: Lo-Manthang (3800 m)
It had been a dusty 4 day journey to the capital of Mustang. We realized that we had come to this city, during an exciting festival of Yarthung, a festival of horse-racing and mastery . This 3 day festival happens once a year. The king and his entourage start the festival by riding around the city and going out to the meadows where they test the skills of the best riders of Mustang. And there is a lot of drinking involved too! We watched as waves of riders marched past beautiful ladies of Lo-manthang were in their finest dresses welcoming the riders. The horse riders were put to a series of tests and the natives of Lo-manthang were there to see the performance in display along with a few lucky travelers from all parts of the world. The pink barley fields surrounding the red fortress seemed to heighten the festive atmosphere. Even our hosts at the hotel were missing off to check out the festivities. We stayed at Hotel Mystique in Lo-Manthang, very pleased to get a room with attached bathroom.
In the afternoon, we hired a few horses. It was my first horse ride and add to that , my first fall from the horse as well. Luckily nothing serious but the fall served to give amusing laughs for my fellow travelers for the rest of the journey! We traveled to the nearby villages of ….. and Chungsar where we visited the fabled caves and cave monastries along steep cliffs. We were left wondering, about how people lived in these caves centuries ago. The weather was perfect for a lazy stroll inside Lo-manthang. People were jolly with harvesting season just around the corner. At a local tea-shop, old women were dancing drunk and so it was fascinating to see old women dance to the latest bollywood re-mix !
Lo-Manthang is a town full of buddhist monasteries. Every direction there are gompas (monasteries). The King’s palace lies smack in the middle of the town. You can get an appointment to meet him, if you like. Its a place thats a mix of a millenia old customs and habits mixed with 21st century.
Day 9: Lo-Manthang to Tse-rang, pronounced Chha-rang(3500m).
Today we strolled down the lone dusty wide road to Tsarang (about 4 hours). Not very eventful other than the stark arid landscape that were on both sides of the road. But as reached Tsarang, we came across another lovely colorful village with its own palace and monasteries. At Tsarang, the weather started getting heavy, and it started raining. The mist covered the whole valley and made the visual very surreal. We visited the ruins of the palace there and the big monastery near it. We stayed at a local hotel, Mount Kailash, just on the edge of the town and had a comfortable stay.
Day 10: Tse-rang to Syangboche (3800m)
It was a tough 7and a half hour walk back to Syangboche, partly because we decided to go through a village of Gheling, a bit off route on the way. We again passed through the lovely village of Ghemi, where we dropped by the same tea-house for lunch. By the time we reached Gheling, we were exhausted, and the last part of the journey to Syangboche became tasking. We happened to meet the people who were making the roads there. I reckon, in a couple of years, Lo-manthang will be a major stop on the way from Pokhara to the holy places in Tibet, Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar. I can only wonder what changes will happen, inevitable it is. I am sure, more eyes will get to see the wonders we have viewed so far. I sense, Mustang is readying itself for such a profound change.
Day 11: Syanboche to Chupsang (3000m)
From Syangboche we took a foggy route that took us down to the natural holy caves of Chung Gompa and along deep canyons. Chung Gomba is a cave where the stones are said to have formed the shape of buddhist deities. It is in an exotic location right in a mountain off a gorge. From there we made a steep climb up to Samar where we had excellent lunch waiting for us.
From Samar it was an easy walk down another deep gorge, and finally we reached on the banks of a small river by Chupsang. But the river level suddenly had started rising and we had to cross the river with water up to our thighs, amidst a high current. I was not amused to see the locals sitting and enjoying the sight of us trying desperately to cross. At Chupsang we stayed at the only motel, the Bhrikuti hotel. It was quite expensive being the only one in this village. One a sidenote: I noticed, there was more trash lying in one street of Kathmandu than what I have seen in the whole of Mustang so far.
Day 12: Chupsang to Kagbeni (2900 m)
In the morning, the locals mentioned we couldn’t cross an easy 10 minutes section of the trail because the dozers had bull dozed the trail off while building the road. What they forgot to tell us, was that it would take us one and half hours to cross that, by going steep up the cliff, and coming down just across the road block. After the agonizing climb up and down, we were off to Tangbe, where we chanced upon the same apple seller by his orchid. This time we bought apples from him at 33% inflation from his earlier rate 5 days ago. After two more hours we were back in Kagbeni where we decided to stay for the day. (Our original plan was to get to Mukti-nath which was another 3 to 4 hours of steep walk).
At Kagbeni we decided to stay with our new-found french friends at Hotel Nilgiri. As we arrived around 2, we had plenty of opportunity to check out the town with its mixture of Hindu and Buddhist culture and heritage.
Day 13: Kagbeni to Muktinath (Rani Pauwa) 3800 m
From Kagbeni we decided to go off to visit Mukti-nath temple off the route to Jomsom. Muktinath lies on the way to Thorang la pass which separates Manang from Mustang (and is part of the Annapurna Circuit trek). Muktinath is an extremely popular pilgramage site with hindu devotees and is perched on the side of high mountains with Buddhist nuns taking care of the Hindu temple. It is known for emiting a never-ending gas geyser and for the stunning views of Upper mustang to the north and the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri to the south-west. We had a delicious lunch at North Pole hotel and headed back to Jomsom using the preferred way through a 4 wheel Jeep, which only took us one and half hour along this windy, dusty route.
Day 14, 15: Jomsom to Tatopani
Our flights got canceled for 2 consecutive days in Jomsom. So we had no choice but to take the land route. We must have changed vehicles for 11 times before we reached Pokhara. Traveling through land linking Mustang to the rest of the country is very dangerous during monsoons because of heavily damaged paths, landslides and atrociously dangerous roads. I wouldn’t recommend the land route but because there is hardly any other option, most travelers have to take it, when flights get canceled. We stayed in the motels nearby the hot springs called “Tatopani” where we rejuvenated our tired bodies.
Day 16: Tatopani to Pokhara.
From Tatopani we again took the dangerous route off to Pokhara. It was a hell of a ride and took the whole day because of the almost totally destroyed mud roads, our 4 wheelers had to pull through, with the raging Kali Gandaki river ever watchful. Finally at around 9 in the evening we reached Pokhara and back to civilization where finally to a bed more closer to what we had at our homes !
I hope you enjoyed the diary as much as we enjoyed our trip :) Feel free to share your questions or thoughts below! You can check out more photos at this link below.
I wrote this travelogue on a trip to Junbesi in Solukhumbu (Everest Region) in Spring of 2010. You can ask me questions about the trip, in the comment box below.
For me and a couple of my friends: this was a 20 year old plan in the making. Jun-besi, a Sherpa village which lies on the original trek to Mount Everest. This trip covers from Kathmandu to Phaplu and Junbesi (typically the 1st part of the route that the 1953 expedition including Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hilary took on the way to conquering Mount Everest for the first time).
Good time to go there is between April to June (when Rhododendron trees light up the country-side) or the Autumn(Fall) season when a lot of festivals are celebrated (September-October) plus the skies are clearer.
Ever since I met Mingma Gyalzen Sherpa in middle school, when the lights would get switched off, many nights in the dormitory, we would gather around him and listen to tales woven about his adventures back in Junbesi, his Sherpa village. And every year, we would promise to go there together for a long vacation. It took us 20 odd years to turn this into reality. On April 2010, we finally gathered to go ahead. There were 9 of us, 5 Nepalis from Bajura, Syangjya, Accham, Darchula, Solukhumbu together a Swiss, a Finn, an American and a Chinese. Our plan was to trek up to Junbesi in Solukhumbu and then fly back to Kathmandu.
April 8th: Kathmandu (1300m) to Jiri to Garjang
It was one hell of a drive from Kathmandu to Jiri along steep, serpantine roads. We had rented a Tata Jeep (supposed to be a 4 wheeler, but very shady looking). We started at 7:30am. Mingma (Ming), our travel organizer, forgot that we were all pretty plump people, so it took some pushing and pulling to adjust all of us into that jeep! So slowly we made our way to Jiri (130 km to the east). We stopped for lunch around Mude, which basically had crap food. Packed lunch would have been a great alternative. We continued to follow the usual serpentine road leading up and down big hills until we finally reached Jiri around 5 pm. Ming was optimistic that we could reach another village called Deurali by nightfall, (which would save us one whole day). What we did not know, as we started onto the dirt roads, was that this was our driver’s first trip along this route. Without a map in hand, pretty soon it looked like we were lost on a dirt road leading to nowhere. Still we headed on and on, hoping that Deurali was nearby. By 9 pm in the night, it was clear now that we would have to stop at the nearest place possible, as we were lost. Even asking villagers several times along the way for directions, not one could give us a straight answer. As our optimism was soon fading, the boisterous crowd started becoming a silent, disgruntled one inside the Jeep.
Finally we made our way to the nearest village (which apparently was Garjang). Around 10 we crashed in the first guest house we saw there. We were pretty tired yet the guys managed to have the nerve and patience to ask the guest house to order two local chickens to be slaughtered, plucked, cut and cooked. And it must have been around midnight when some of us finally had our dinner. An eventful and nerve wracking day! I must say we had been overtly optimistic in our plans for reaching Deurali in one day, which we later found out was at least 3 hours of drive away!
April 9th: Garjang & Deurali to Kenja (1800m)
In the morning, a few of us decided to begin our trek to Deurali because we were itching to walk and hated to drive on these terrible dirt roads. So Heme, Giuli, Brian and me, started walking up to Deurali where we were to rendezvous with the rest of our lazy group coming on the Jeep. It was a steep climb up to Deurali from Garjang (800 meters up). The funny part was that the walkers and the Jeep, pretty much reached Deurali around the same time (about 3 hours). Deurali was a small beautiful village on the top, with a few motels. In the past it must have been a bustling tourist hub on the way to Everest but since has shrunk much because this route was seldom used by tourists who rather take the flight to Lukla directly when heading to Mount Everest base camp. Yet, this must have been the route the great climbers of the past, including Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary, had taken on the way to their epic climbs atop Everest.
After having tea in Deurali we started walking downhill towards Bhandar, a pretty steep downhill dropping 600 meters in about a hour, and very hard on the legs! At around noon, we reached Bhandar where we stopped for lunch. We dined at a local Sherpa restaurant. Ming gently tipped us off that in the past the daughter of the lodge was a hottie and during our school days, they had never missed the chance to get a glance of her!
After Lunch, we headed back into the hot sun, for Kenja, another Sherpa village at the foothills of Lamjura Pass. It was a long but tiresome downhill to Kenja. We finally reached our destination around 4pm. Kenja is situated in the junction between two rivers. And as soon as we dropped our bags in the nearby lodge, we took a plunge in its icy waters . In the evening, we had the usual dal baht, but this time with some fresh fish from the local river, in which we had just been swimming. As we rested, everyone was keeping a watchful eye on the immense 3500m Lamjura Pass towering above. We had a 1700 m climb tomorrow. And amateurs like us would attempt to cross such a pass :)
April 10th: Kenja to Junbesi
We started early at 6 for the big climb up to Lamjura, before it got too hot in the day. This was certainly the toughest day of our trek. It was a long winding series of intense climbs followed by long gaps of rest. We had breakfast at Sete, a village we had hoped to make a day earlier, according to our original plan. For lunch, we stopped at Goyam, where we came upon Nak cheese (yak cheese) and managed to gobble a bit. As we gained height, specially around 3000 meters we could sense the altitude affecting us; every few steps of climbing would leave us panting for breath! As we gained altitude, the climate changed dramatically with alpine forests and open grassy meadows near the top of the pass. The only solace during this trek came from the lovely rhododendron flowers blooming left and right in an array of magnificent whites, pinks, and reds, all over the mountain along the paths.
As we descended from the windy Lamjura Pass, we slowly walked down in the forest below to Junbesi, where we found our resting place at Ming’s home, “Ang Chopka” lodge.It was a lovely trek back down with more rhododendron trees all around and a comfortable walk down to Junbesi, a lovely Sherpa Village in a valley in Solu. In the evening, we sat down, sore all over, and could barely do more than just ramble on our experiences of the day! Also since some of our group apparently hadn’t made it to Junbesi by the dark, we were left wondering what happened to them? Could they have stayed on the pass for the evening? Had they found a small guest house on the way down to Junbesi? Around midnight, we had our answer, when we were awakened by shouts outside. Our friends had finally arrived after their epic 18 hour trek, setting up a happy ending to an excruciating day !
April 11th: Junbesi
Today, most of us decided to take a rest while a few left towards neighboring Phurtyang (1.5 hours) for an early morning breakfast and look at Everest and the impressive Himalayan range. In the late morning, Ming took us to an elaborate historical tour of the village. The most fascinating was the monastery in the middle of the village. All its walls and ceilings were painted with Buddhist paintings (Thankas) and in the middle was a huge statue of Buddha. Also, today was the 1st day of the Sherpa festival “Dumje”. This monastery is supposed to be at least 400 years old! I must say a lot of Tibetan traditions are preserved handsomely in the Sherpa communities in Nepal. The elaborate thanka paintings on walls and ceiling show a deep tradition and belief in Buddhism. In the evening, we had time to play some ping-pong duels with the local villages. On top of that it was a sight to see Sherpas playing Cricket! At dinner, we tried the local Junbesi Rice wine and it was superb! It was fascinating to see a village lit 24 hours by micro hydro electricity, when back in the capital city there is no power for 12 hours a day.
April 12th: Junbesi to Pyangboche to Junbesi
The highlight of the day was the trip up near Pyungboche to “Tutenchholing” a mountain monastery complex with 500 nuns and monks. Most of these were Tibetan Refugees who came from Tibet over the last decades. It was fascinating to find a medical school and hospital of Tibetan homeopathic medicine at the monastery. We were greeted by one of the head monks there and given our blessings. We were educated on the concepts of Tibetan medicine and how they rely on different life flows, “chakras,” inside the body and mind. I was determined to try some Tibetan medicine after I was back in Kathmandu. It just sounded a novel way to find out about one’s health and problems. On our way back, we didn’t forget to go for a cold dip in the nearby river. In the evening, as we sat beside 100 Junbesi villagers, we were delighted with the extravagant display of the Sherpa Lama dances in the “dumje” ceremony in the main Junbesi monastery….
April 13th: Junbesi to Phurtyang to Junbesi
Some of us decided to go for an early mountain look, since it rained in the nights and the skies were clear in the morning. We had a lovely outdoor breakfast with different pancakes (apple, orange, cheese), omelettes, and more cheese.
It was an impressive pancake eating day for a few of us. After 3 hours we were back in Junbesi. In the afternoon, three of our team decided to head to a nearby village, Loding, from where they planned to summit Pikey Peak (a 4050m peak with mountain views all around) the next day. Back in Junbesi, a local doctor invited us for dinner and there was supposed to be a local village dance party later, but since it was raining, I stayed back at my lodge and had an early sleep. Kind of ironic since today is Nepali New Year’s Eve! Maybe I just wanted to sleep myself comfortably in the New Year.
April 14th: Junbesi to Phaplu
After four nights, today was the day to leave Junbesi. After a lazy morning, we started walking towards Phaplu, about 3 hours away. We had a scheduled flight a day later in Phaplu in the morning. Along the way, we stopped in a place where two Himalayan rivers met and once again, decided to take a cold dip on the waters here (p.s. it was the Nepali new year so found an excuse to begin the new year freshened)!
As we made our way up to Phaplu, we gate crashed into a picnic party and started dancing with the locals. Adding spice to the day, was our stay at an impressive Phaplu hotel, Hotel Del’Sherpa, which Ming’s godfather was running. It seemed a fitting finale for an excellent trip. It was a superbly managed hotel with an excellent lobby and fireplaces. And we had it for free, courtesy of Ming. In the evening, a local cousin of Ming, organized a cultural program for us with local youth dance groups dancing to Nepali tunes. And slowly this turned into a night club dance party! There you go, we had our first real village dance party in a long time! By the time we returned to our lodge, we were exhausted and dropped into the luxurious beds that awaited us.
April 15th: Phaplu to Salleri to Phaplu (rest)
No surprise as Nepal airlines canceled their scheduled flight. Never trust Nepal airlines again! So we decided to take a short walk down to Salleri, the district headquarters of Solukhumbu. Prabin and I had a good haircut and shave at a local barbers shop while others toured around a typical small Nepali town. After a nice dal baht lunch, most of the afternoon we stayed in the hotel reading Sherpa history books and Everest diaries of various mountaineers. The hotel was wonderfully equipped with a library of these books, whose knowledge I was glad to readily gobble up. I must add, if we were stuck in Phaplu for a week, I would soon be on my way of becoming an Everest, Tibet, Sherpa and, surprisingly even a Kublai Khan historian. Late afternoon we decided to try the local Sherpa snack, which is basically hell of a lot of boiled potatoes, with local butter, pickles and salt! We must have finished a lot of them, since they took the local motel about an hour and half to boil all those potatoes!
April 16th: Phaplu to Manthali, Ramechap to Kathmandu
After a relaxing day, we again packed up our bags for our flight back home. Although Nepal airlines had confirmed that night before that the flight would come, we were unsure if the Nepal airlines flight would ever arrive. I warn anyone taking the Nepal airlines to keep it as a last, last option. They have no regards for any professionalism, and I simply say to you, “Avoid it at all costs!” We reached the airport around 9 am and waited… and waited…. and by 11 am we pretty much knew, no matter what they promised, the plane was simply not going to come. So we changed tickets to Yeti Airlines (Tara airlines) and took a chartered Pilar Porter flight to Manthali, Ramechap, where we would take a connecting bus to Kathmandu. It was a 7 seater single engine plane. The flight was one hell of a hair-raising 18 minutes experience. Seven of us were carrying our trekking bags on our laps in the back plus 2 pilots, on that 18 minute journey to Manthali. If we had walked, maybe it would have taken us 4 or 5 days.
As we reached Manthali, on the banks of the raging Tamakoshi river, we realized we were suddenly in a very hot place, in stark contrast to the cool climate up in the mountains. Much to our dismay, we found out the local bus had left about 15 minutes earlier. We had a quick-lunch and decided to take the last possible local bus, which went as far as Charikot. The term “local” left us to ponder, as we soon found out, there must have been at least 120 people in a bus that was supposed to carry 30 or 40. The bus was tilting so much to one side that the driver had to throw a quarter of the passengers out. Such greedy bus drivers who carry passengers like cattle are a shame to see ! After a few hours of this harrowing ride along dirt roads and cliffs, we finally reached Naya Pul, just below Charikot, where we waited for a reserved bus, which would take us to Kathmandu. In the end, we reached Kathmandu about 11 in the night, exactly 12 hours since we started in Phaplu, pretty impressive considering it would have taken 24 days to walk down to Kathmandu!
Here’s is a travel log of my most enjoyable trek in October 2009 up to the breath-taking Langtang region, Gosainkunda Lake and ultimately connecting to the Helambu trail and ending in Sundarijal, Kathmandu. If you have questions please comment below and I will answer.
1st day: Oct 25th, Sunday - Kathmandu (1300m) to Shaybrubesi (1900m):
A couple of us on a hired 4 wheel Land cruiser through Kathmandu to Trisuli bazaar
This travel diary is from my trip from Surkhet to Jumla to Rara Lake to Kolti to Surkhet was done in August 2009.
Day 1 – Surkhet to Jumla
Trip to the biggest lake in Nepal, Rara, was a solitary but rather exhilarating experience. I was going solo and my plan was to trek up there from Jumla to Rara, Mugu and the go down to Bajura,and get to the plains from there. I stayed a hospital in Surkhet with a friend who was a doctor there. That introduced me to the what the people up north in the most undeveloped part of Nepal were experiencing. Surkhet is a gateway to the Karnali region including some of the far west like Bajura. The small 10 to 15 seater planes hold flights to Khalanga in Jumla, Taalcha in Mugu and Kolti in Bajura. (Jumla has cemented runaways, others don’t.)
I flew to Jumla after getting hard earned tickets (its like a bus stop where first come first serve system is put in place but then the planes would rather take rice and other cargo items in the seats than passengers, more profitable for them). At the last moment i got switched from Sita Air to Yeti Air because the Sita Air plane’s tyres burst open while landing. At least I should count my luck in getting extra seat in Yeti, because I happened to know the Manager of the Sita Air at the airport – who you know helps a lot in these places. I met people who had waited for a week at the airport trying to get a ticket to the Karnali region.
Well, to cut the long story short, I landed in Khalanga Airport in Jumla (also called Jumla Airport). I took my backpack and made my way to find a local hotel since I thought its best to spend the day here at a higher altitude (2340 meters). On the way I couldn’t help notice big bags of apples that locals were trying to sell at super cheap (26 rupees a kilo, at Kathmandu it costs 5 times more than that). They looked like they were fresh, picked in the morning from the orchards.
Also as I traveled around the town, i found out this day was the biggest festival for Nepali women called “Teej”, where woman thronged in their best dresses (colorful to say the least) and danced in public squares. At one square there were at least 500 women around me dancing and singing and laughing around.
Its hard to tell that this town was attacked by the Maoists during the civil war and dozens died in the house to house fighting here. But scars must have remained amidst the glee and smiles of the people who were celebrating Teej.
That night i insisted on having local foods which were delicious. I had barley bread, red rice, local bean lentils, and local cauli flower – all organic and native. The hotel was okay – I wasn’t expecting much.
Day 2 – Jumla to Nauri Ghat
I found a sturdy bamboo stick to use on my travels. I knew it was a tough tough climb to make today. i had to cross a 3500 meters mountain pass. I took some dimox (altitude sickness pill) hoping it would help in case of altitude sickness. Plenty of locals get dizzy climbing this pass, so i heard. I had a cup of good, refreshing local herbs mixed tea. After buying a few water purification items and stomach ache pills, started my climb from Jumla. It was one hell of a climb for me. I felt that this was the hardest part of my trip. In all, my poor legs were carrying about 100 kilos and it didn’t like that at all. It seems the locals found the easiest way to travel from Jumla to Mugu was to climb all the way up, and then all the way down. I cursed the locals for such decisions :)
The route was beautiful and as i gained height i could see the stark changes in habitations and sceneries. The day’s walk of 12 hours was extremely tiring and for someone who didn’t have their own tents, i must say this is the only way you can get to a decent lodging on the way. So for you future trekkers, be prepared for this !
I crashed into a motel finally in “Naauri ghat” right besides a gushing river, which was all the way at the bottom of the mountain pass from Jumla.
Day 3 – Nauri Ghat to Bulbule
Next morning I decided to take it easy and only walk for a few hours. The morning session was a horrendous trek up the hills again, and traveling alone has its downs. You have to bear the pain alone. It was fascinating that people would not believe me when i told them i was just “traveling”. It seems no one travels for fun in the Karnali region, or at least that is what locals believe. I traveled to a small village called Bulbule stopping by Chhautte to have chit chat with locals and a small police force who were stationed there. Bulbule was at a height which felt cold. I stayed a local motel (probably one of two there) called “Salyani Hotel”. It was fun looking at how everyone huddled around the kitchen for warmth and food. Potatoes were baked and served in plenty.
Day 4 – Bulbule to Rara Lake
It was supposed to be a comfortable walk to see the Rara Lake finally . But I have stopped believing the local’s sense of time and effort. There is certainly a “lost in translation” going on, even though we speak the same languages. Rara instead of a comfortable 8 to 10 hours walk ended up another 12 hours walk, going all the way down another mountain pass and all the way up to the plateau which contained Rara at 3000 meters. Even though the last sight of the lake gave me enough strength to reach the only “motel” inside Rara National Park, right besides the lake. Rara was astounding. Here are some pictures i took of this place – very clean, serene, pristine and untouched.
Day 5 – 8 : Rara Lake
I decided to stay in Rara for a few days as i was exhausted and had started a slight cold. I started drinking insane amounts of the delicious local herbs mixed tea and the sat by the lake to write, reflect-upon and what not. Imaginations run wild in Rara. I was probably the only “outside tourist” in my entire stay here. Ah well, sometimes this is for the best. I didn’t miss the crowds. I didn’t miss anything. It was me and Rara, just like Thoreau and his Walden Pond. For me, water has a strange affinity, it calms me, sets my perspective in balance and asks me naked questions about living. It cuts out straight into the raw. Rara made me reflect upon my life more and more.
Horses grazing around Lake Rara in Nepal
Today I walked around the lake. They have a beautiful walking trail by the lake’s shores which is a great walk for travelers. I had more reflections and more thoughts on how development will positively and negative affect the regions. The people who live around this conservation area are the poorest in the region. And tourism would help offset this. But with it comes the degradation of nature. Maybe conservation and tourism can work hand in hand. Although it will not be as beautiful as an untouched place. But this region needs development. People here have to benefit from the beauty of this place otherwise it is a wasted beauty.
Suffering from running nose! I took lots more of a special local “bitter” herbs mixed tea to get rid of my cold. The people at the motel are generous on helping me overcome my sickness. We discuss about tourism, problems and conservation efforts, I talk with the local Warden of the national park, the army people who protect the lands and locals who live around. A fascinating social scenario with a lot of contradictions, yet lot of hopes. Everyone wants development here, no one agrees on how.
One last day at Rara. A huge group of 70 students and teachers from nearby school are on a field trip here for the first time. People seldom travel for recreation here. So even though Rara was a day away, it was the first time for most of them. At nights, there was a surprise “deuda” dance (a dance popular in the mid western region performed by holding each others’ hand making a circle while singing) party. Supremely talented girls put up a fine show here with their local songs and dances.
Day 9 – Rara to Ratapani
I left Rara to head towards another district called Bajura (Rara is in Mugu district). It was a beautiful morning walk through Rara and then I went downhill. Most travelers I found were locals carrying 40 kilos of rice bags on their backs or donkeys carrying more of rice. People are obsessed with white rice here. The road was surprising better than the others i had come across so far. Locals were saying the World Food Program had initiated a program where people got rice for making roads. This certainly will go a long way to help tourists have a better experience walking these roads. Otherwise trails in this region are inconvenient at best and dangerous at some parts where cliffs and landslides have made things worse for people who are not used to traveling on cliffs :). On a low note, got a few terrible blisters in both foots, which were painful. I found a house on the way, couldn’t walk further so crashed there. Not amusing since a group of drunkards also called it their rest place for the nights, a place an hour to go from Ratapani.
Day 10 – Rato Pani to Kolti
I knew I had to reach Kolti, Bajura today despite of my blisters. So I slowly made my way down to where the Karnali River raged on. At this height also, the Karnali raged and was almost uncrossable. Luckily the suspension bridge was still intact. I made it to the bridge by the morning after 3 hours of walk from “Raato Pani”. Then the locals there told me, the route they took along the Karnali river was too dangerous for the likes of me, and advised me to take an alternate cliff route, safer but an hour and half longer. I didn’t want to take my chances so followed their advice and walked all the way up and down again. Further the lack of drinking spring water on this route made it particularly difficult as i was sweating profusely. Finally after 2 or so hours I chanced upon a teashop on the way, which mercifully had got some spring water from a pipe from all the way up the mountains.
I was amazed that the locals could drink directly from the raging dirt filled Karnali river below. Guess their stomach is made out of titanium or something. As i walked further into Bajura, i realized that i might not make it to Kolti by night. The locals concept of an hour would range anywhere between 2 to 3 hours for me. Still with blisters bugging me the whole trip, with my umbrella on one hand and the bamboo stick on another, I marched along till I finally could see on the far reaches, the village of Kolti , and it was already 5:30 in the evening. I felt like throwing my bag in the Karnali and just reach Kolti somehow. I was too ashamed to ask anyone else to carry the bags – must be the ego. Anyway, after 2 more hours and near total exhaustion I reached Kolti and there asked for my friends’ father’s home. I had never met his father but was hoping he would just take me in with a little introduction – a big gamble but which worked great! I was greeted warmly by my friend’s parents and after a few introduction basically collapsed to bed after having a pain killer. It hurt like hell ! after a 14 hours journey.
Day 11 – 13 – Kolti to Surkhet
I couldn’t walk much so rested by the village of Kolti all these 3 days. it took this much time to regain my energies. It is definitely a beautiful village with a lot of history and unique customs to it and the best is always the local foods. By the time I was ready, I decided to take the flight from Kolti to Surkhet (which was an half an hour plane ride). Finally made my way back to Surkhet on a cargo plane and definitely a few kilos lighter. All for the best !
For more photos of this trip, click here.