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High Route Around Manaslu & Tsum Valley
2012: Gorkha - High Laprak Barpak Route - Tsum Valley - Larkya La
The High Manaslu circuit, a remote trek of cultural and topographical diversity, is known for its breathtaking mountain views, challenging terrain and mix of Gurung and Tibetan villages. This year we head north towards the border of Tibet to explore hidden Tsum Valley, a fascinating and magical region of ethnically Tibetan inhabitants who still maintain strong links with Tibet. This is a side trip not to be missed, an absolute highlight. The living Buddhist culture is virtually untouched because of their remote location and wildlife abounds.
Our journey begins in Nepal's steamy 'middle hills' at historic Gorkha, a once-capital of Nepal with an impressive 'durbar' (palace), home to Nepal's first dynasty. From lush rice paddies with water buffalo and thatched huts, we trek north along the incredible, mountain-capped high route, through sprawling Gurung villages perched on high, terraced hilltops covered in Rhododendron, to reach Kutang, or lower Nubri. Here the ethnically Tibetan inhabitants speak their own dialect, partly Tibetan and partly Gurung, and live a lifestyle that spans Nepal and Tibet.
Trekking ever higher to upper Nubri, purely Tibetan, we share the trails with yak caravans. Here, trade with Tibet continues as it has for centuries and Tibetan villages have been forged from the wilderness by Tibetan refugees. Sublime mountain panoramas, dominated by Manaslu itself, are a highlight of the trek as are side-trips to Manaslu Base Camp, the valley above Samdo near the border of Tibet and the epic crossing the snow-covered Larkya La which leads to the Manang region of the Annapurna circuit.
And of course we camp in our special "Kamzang" style ...
I was so impressed with your whole operation. You are not only an amazing operator, pulling all of the levers, but you are a gifted guide which makes the trip truly special for everyone. Your attention to detail is impressive. You can tell you put a lot of thought into how to make the whole experience as comfortable and pleasurable as possible.
Rob B, High Manaslu 2010
What always strikes me about Kim is her interactions with the local people and the wonder and awe she expresses about these beautiful people and surroundings. The fantastic crew who go that extra mile to ensure that the group gets the best out of their trekking experience.
Louise D, High Manaslu 2008
Kim was terrific. She has an enormous amount of energy and is extremely generous in spirit and heart. Indeed, she very a kind and passionate guide who loves what she does.
Ornella Cosentino, Manaslu & Nar-Phu 2006
The Manaslu Region
Manaslu, the 8th highest peak on the planet, locally known as the 'mountain of the spirit', is one of the most spectacular snow-peaks in Nepal, and the Manaslu Circuit, officially open for trekking in the early 90s, a cultural trek par excellence, without a doubt one of the best treks in Nepal. Oddly, it's also one of the Nepal Himalaya's least known treks, and happily doesn't boast of apple-pie lodges, sprawling trekking villages, internet cafes or Western coffee shops. A trek around the 'high' Manaslu circuit is a step back in time, a glimpse of pristine Nepali and Tibetan villages, a walk through a remote Himalayan paradise. The diversity of the trek, from the Hindu middle hills to the Tibetan high-country dwellers, and the awesome mountain scenery of the Manaslu Himal and surrounding peaks combine to make this circuit one of the most interesting, as well as one of the most challenging, treks in Nepal.
HW Tillman and his team were the first mountaineering expedition to explore the region in 1950, and the Japanese the first team to climb it in 1956; since then, Manaslu has been known as a Japanese mountain, and because of its sensitive location right at the border of Tibet, few western trekkers ventured into the region. Up to the 1840s, Kutang and Nubri were part of western Tibet and paid taxes to Dzongka Dzong in Tibet. Nubri only incorporated into Nepal in the mid to late 19th century when Gorkha power finally extended into the region. Manaslu was closed after 1959 due to Khampa guerillas encamped in Nubri.
Although we try to follow the itinerary below, it is ONLY a guideline based on years of experience trekking in the Himalaya. At times local trail, river or weather conditions may make a deviation necessary; rivers may be impassible, snow blocks passes, and landslides wipe out trails. The trekking itinerary and campsites may also vary slightly depending on the group's acclimatization rate or sickness.
The Himalaya are our passion, and we take trekking seriously. Although everyone is here on vacation, please come with a dollop of patience and compassion added to your sense of adventure ...
Providing you have sent us your arrival details, you will be met at the airport by a representative from the Kathmandu Guest House (look for their sign - they will be looking for you) and escorted to the guest house. Kim will book the extra nights for you, so your room will be ready.
Day 1 - Arrive Kathmandu 1340m
You'll be met at the airport by a representative from the Kathmandu Guest House, so look out for a Kathmandu guest house sign when you leave the airport. They will bring you back to the Kathmandu Guest House, where your rooms are booked.
Kim will meet you at the guest house and introduce you to Thamel, the main tourist area of Kathmandu. Thamel is a myriad of banners, signs, music shops, bakeries, internet cafes, restaurants, bars, hotels, shops of all imaginable varieties and eccentrically clad backpackers. Over dinner we check your insurance details (please have a copy of your travel medical insurance policy with you), go over gear and get to know each other over a beer at New Orleans cafe ...
Day 2 - Kathmandu
A free day to explore Kathmandu and the Kathmandu Valley. Options: Climb the many steps to Swayambhunath (the monkey temple), with its commanding views of Kathmandu (at 1420 m), its whitewashed stupas and its unique synthesis of Buddhism and Hinduism. The striking Buddha eyes of Boudhanath Stupa watch over a lively and colorful Tibetan community and attract pilgrims from all over the Himalayan Buddhist realm. In the midst of traditional gompas, and hung with long strings of multi-colored prayer flags, Boudhanath attracts Sherpas, Tibetans and tourists alike for daily circumambulations (koras) of the stupa. Durbar Square, one of the old capitals of the Kathmandu valley, is a synthesis of Hindu and Buddhist temples, stupas and statues, and is often the site of festivals, marriages and other ceremonies. Hindu Pashupatinath and its sacred temple complex on the banks of the holy Bagmati river. Here, monkeys run up and down the steps of the burning ghats, and trident-bearing saddhus draped in burnt-orange and saffron sit serenely meditating - when they’re not posing for photos-for-rupees.
We'll have time for a bit of gear shopping in Thamel for anyone who needs to do this, and in the evening will head out for dinner of wood-oven pizza at the Roadhouse Cafe.
Day 3 - Drive to Gorkha. Trek to Gorkha Fort Camp 1060m
We're up early for our scenic six-hour drive from Kathmandu to the historic town of Gorkha, once the capital of a massive kingdom which included parts of lower Tibet, with it's old 'durbar', or King's palace, a mix of Buddhist and Hindu deities, perched high up in the surrounding hillsides and reached by worn stone steps. After organizing the gear and loads with the porters, we head up many stone steps (about an hour to the fort) to our first night's campsite above the Gorkha Fort, stopping en route to visit this well-maintained site, home of the powerful Gorkha royalty until about a century ago. We can see the crew setting up camp from the top of the fort and it will only take us 15 minutes to reach camp, so linger at this atmospheric spot as long as you'd like. Notice the local 'saddhus' who stay at or visit the Hindu temples inside the fort. Once at camp, we will introduce you to our 'Kamzang Style' dining tent and your personal Big Agnes or Marmot tents.
Day 4 - Trek to Arkhol 570m
We wake to misty mountain views in the morning: the Manaslu range and the Ganesh Himal range are the domimant ones. Have a look over fresh coffee and chai! The middle hills of Nepal are timeless, and we trek for the first two days through classic middle hills scenery; rolling, forested hills, snaking rivers with rounded rock strewn on the beaches, local fishermen casting their nets, iridescent rice fields, papaya, lemon and orange trees, water buffalos, thatched huts and local 'bhattis' (Nepali tea-houses) along the trail for a quick dal bhat or cup of chai.
We have a hot seven-eight hour day for our first real day of trekking, with many locals selling bananas and papayas en route (bring small change). We'll meet many colorful Gurung and Hindu locals en route, an will have time to stop at the many traditional villages along the way. We start by descending gradually on stone slab steps to scattered tea-houses, vivid green rice paddies and several small, densely populated village with a school right on the trail, the kids in the schools reciting their lessons. The next descent is very steep and slippery, a long drop down to a small bridge which leads us past more flooded rice-paddies to a dirt road which we walk along for half an hour before reaching a small cluster of tea-houses where we'll stop for a cup of tea. A quarter of an hour later, in the heat of the day, we reach a local bhatti, continue on past more terraced fields and through a small village and then climb up to a point overlooking a magnificent S bend in the Daraundi Khola far below. We descend back to the river and stop at a much needed swimming hole and rocky beach where we cool down and have our packed lunch. About 10 minutes past this stop is a long bridge where we can watch locals swimming and catching fish below us, and then past the village on the other side where cold cokes are available we cross a rickety, swaying, wooden bridge, perhaps the longest in the region. Ekle Sangu is the dingy village on this side of the river; there is a vegetable market just above the village where we will pick up a few supplies for dinner. Another hour and a half of dirt-road trekking on the left bank of the river and again through several small hamlets and bhattis brings us to a small, metal bridge over a small, intersecting bridge. We cross, hike another half an hour and reach our lovely campsite along the beach on the Daraundi River just below the small village of Arkhol.
Jump in the river and then enjoy our first mountain sunset. The village kids with surely be by to see what's happening, perhaps carry a basket of beer. Take advantage of a chance for a sun-downer while we're still low in altitude!
Day 5 - Trek to Rangnung 875m
A continuation of yesterday's lovely scenery, a slightly shorter five-six hour day, we hike up to Arkhol village on stone steps built into the paddies and continue through the long stretch of main Arkhol lined with small shops. Note the pigeon houses above the shops. We continue though bustling Gurung villages with local tea-houses, some selling a delicious fish curry, contour around rice paddies and then climb high on a steep trail being rewarded by expansive views up and down the misty river valley. We descend again, often following a newly-built dirt road, and cross several swaying suspension bridges spanning the Daraundi Khola before stopping for lunch at a rocky river beach where we can jump in to cool off (many of the village kids will be swimming, too). We hike past a high waterfall which tumbles to the trail (shower?) and ascend and descend steeply along a new road to reach our camp at Rangnung in the early afternoon. Tomorrow we have a steep climb ahead of us, and this is the last campsite before the large hill. Head down to the river and perch yourselves on the smooth river rocks next to the wonderful swimming hole for a wash after our hot day. The staff might even pick up some small fish for dinner ...
Day 6 - Trek to Barpak 1915m
Have a good breakfast this morning; we head off early for our steep, long climb up to the wonderful village of Barpak, situated perfectly on a green ridge overlooking the misty valley below. There is a new road being built up to Barpak (started in 2009) and we have to traverse this dirt road a few times as we climb through the dense forested hillside filled with Rhododendrons, Bauhenia and other large, leafy trees. Along the way we'll stop for a break at the Gurung memorial 'chautaras' or rest stops. These are specific to the Gurung people, who's religion is Buddhist with an animist/shamanistic bent. Two to three hours of climbing later we reach the local school followed by an entrance gate and several small tea shops. Continuing to climb gently and contouring around tilled wheat fields, it's another hour from the tea shops to reach Barpack village. Our campsite is set up at a private schoolyard in the upper section of the school and there is a small shop just below our camp where you'll be able to find a cold beer. Locals might stop by for a game of volleyball on the school grounds ...
Barpak is a large, Ghale (royalty) Gurung village, extremely clean, with a weekly market, wide alleys between the houses, grain and vegetables drying outside on the patios, several shops, a new school, a soccer field, viewpoints and flowers planted along the decks of these Gurung houses. Many of its men joined the Gurkha Army, returned to Barpak with new wealth, and have built lovely houses. We arrive in time for lunch, and have the afternoon to wander the narrow streets of the village, a photographers paradise. The villagers often organize 'cultural shows', the proceeds of which go to improving the village, so we might be treated to one in the early evening.
Across the steep valley the hillsides are peppered with other terraced villages. We are towered over by Baudha Himal, a high, snow-capped peak which makes for wonderful sunrise and sunset photos ...
Day 7 - Trek to Laprak 2200m
Another early start and a picturesque climb, with Baudha Himal providing a spectacular back-drop to the sprawling, scenic Barpak as we ascend the narrow ridge; we take the small, stone trail to the right of the main trail after an hour or so, and a total of three hours later, we reach the ridge, officially a pass, which separates Laprak and Barpak. From the viewpoint half an hour before the pass we are rewarded with panoramic mountain views (along with herds of sheep grazing on the grassy hillsides), better than at the actual pass itself, at 2820 meters. Baudha Himal, Shringi Himal, Ganesh Himal and the Langtang range all span the horizon; a truly breath-taking view! The rhododendrons are blooming brilliantly, in many hues of white, pink and red, around us, providing great photographs with the snow-peaks in back. Bring a wind jacket as the clouds often move quickly up to this ridge, and it gets cold quickly.
Another steep hour or two of trekking brings us down to Laprak, just past the new 'kane' chorten, another large Gurung village of five hundred houses, perhaps not quite as scenic as Barpak but just as interesting. The Maoists used to stay in this village, and the villagers often offer some friendly indoctrination. We camp in the only campsite around, at the school in the upper section of the village, with several tea-houses nearby. Again, we have the afternoon free to explore the village; take a walk down the hill and a look into some of the houses, all with symbolic murals on the mud-brick walls. Medicinal roots are drying on the decks, and millet and barley are spread in low baskets on the decks. The villagers are friendly, and there is lots to explore in Laprak's winding maze of lanes.
Day 8 - Trek to Korlebesi 875m
A classic Nepali trekking day of eight hours, all spectacular but a bit hard on the knees. We'll have a 6:30 AM start to have plenty of time for all of us, including the porters, to reach Korlebesi. We descend through Laprak's maze of village paths, the villagers on their decks with their wheat, barley and buckwheat laid out on straw mats, and descend steeply to their corn, wheat and barley fields below the village, and then to the river. After crossing a very rickety suspension bridge, we climb equally steeply back up, past terraced fields of pink sorghum and rice. We contour around several hillsides on a narrow trail, barely visible at times, up to a small chorten just below the village of Singla. From here, the going is easy, and we enjoy the views of the Manaslu Himal, Kutang Himal and Shringi Himal to the north as we walk down through more terraced fields and papaya trees, through the Gurung village of Korla, and then down along a narrow, winding trail to Korlebesi on the Buri Gandaki river. Take care as the rocky steps just before the long suspension bridge to Korlebesi are treacherous! Look out for the local women weaving straw mats in the village. Our campsite is just below the village, next to a small tributary stream, again providing great swimming holes. We will probably get a visit in the evening from this village's cultural ambassadors, and perhaps have another show ...
Day 9 - Trek to Jagat 1370m
A six plus hour day today, starting with a walk through the village of Korlebesi and followed by an hour of walking along the river, by tobacco and buckwheat fields, past rocks washed smooth by the river, often climbing up stone steps, to reach the hot springs in the center of the small, terraced village of Tatopani. We have plenty of time to soak our grungy bodies in the gushing hot water streaming out of sculpted spouts. A gentle climb through the woods past some spectacular waterfalls and sculpted rocks brings us to a new suspension bridge which we cross. We continue through along a forested path and soon reach the large teahouse at Dobhan. After a short break we cross a tributary river on another suspension bridge; above Dobhan, the Buri Gandaki descends in an impressive series of steep rapids. We'll share the trail with local sheep and goat herders, the youngest of the herd in rope baskets slung over their backs. More steep steps along cliff walls to climb as the river descends even more steeply and even more pronounced striated river rocks decorate our route. There are several chances to stop at fly-blown Nepali bhattis, shared with local farm animals, for a drink or snack en route. After a straight hike through one of the only open sections of the day we'll reach a newer bhatti and campsite where we sometimes stop for lunch.
Now our trail climbs high above the river, nearly 200 meters, to descend through what appears to be a huge gateway into some secret place; in front the valley widens, the river makes a large S turn and then calms. We'll stop for lunch at another camping spot and group of bamboo teahouses called Lauri just at the bottom of this climb, with another swimming spot on the river close by (the river is much colder here). An easy hour along the right banks of the river brings us to a long, new suspension bridge after which we climb high, descend past the campsite at lower Jagat and then climb again on neat stone steps before entering our campsite in Jagat, the entrance to the Manaslu park. It is worth wandering around this beautiful, paved village, where proud villagers have recorded how much they contributed to these paving schemes. Our campsite is impressively clean and grassy, with cold beers available at the shop next door.
Day 10 - Trek to Philim 1570m
We have a short day of less than three hours today, so enjoy it! After descending a long series of stone steps back down to the river from Jagat, we climb on slab steps along a terraced hill-side to the small hamlet of Saguleri, just past where we can see the impressive Shringi Himal, 7187 meters high. Beautiful flame-leaf trees adorn the trail as we continue to climb and descend far above the river. We pass through the paved village of Sirdibas, where the local children sell oranges in the Autumn and soon afterwards pass the local water-mill. Crossing the river again on a long, high suspension bridge at Gata Khola, the path splits, with the right-hand branch heading off towards the Ganesh Himal. Our route continues upstream, and again we have a steep climb past green fields of wheat to reach Philim, with its health post and Japanese-sponsored school. We arrive at our grassy campsite in time for lunch, and have the afternoon free to wash at the dharapani (tap) across the path from camp, explore the interesting upper village and gompa, or sit and enjoy the afternoon at camp.
The upper village's Gurung inhabitants are very poor, far from a health station, and we often spend the afternoon tending to wounds and sick villagers. Notice the chorten with the Moaist hammer and sickle in the center of the upper village, the kane chortens with murals inside and the intricately woven baskets which both the men and the women craft. The exquisite gold heirloom necklaces that adorn some of the women come from Barpak. Be careful of village dogs as they do sometimes bite!
Days 11-18- Trek into Tsum Valley * Exploratory
Leaving along the main, paved trail out of Philim below the upper village we hike through corn and millet fields and soon pass Ekle Bhatti (which means one tea-house), and trek on a high, beautiful trail through a narrow, dramatic gorge section with towering walls, past a thundering waterfall just above us on the right of the trail and more smaller ones along the way. White-faced Langurs frolic in the trees above and remote villages cling to the opposite side of the gorge. Everything is green and in full bloom. We veer off the main Manaslu trail to the east, in the direction of the Ganesh Himal, just as we reach the metal bridge which spans the Buri Gandaki about two hours past Phillim and begin our exploratory trek into the mostly untrekked region of Tsum. We will bring a local guide with us to make sure we make the most of this unique opportunity to see a purely Tibetan region, untouched by Chinese intervention. There are many traditional villages to explore and ancient Tibetan Buddhist monasteries to visit and salt butter tea to be shared with the local Tsum-pa.
Day 19- Arrive in Deng 1865m
Leaving the Tsum valley, we return to where we left the main trail and continue north into more Tibetan regions. We ascend gradually along a wide hillside through an open pine forest, and then cross the river two more times in the next two hours on small, very badly maintained bridges, Nepali style. As we climb, look back for views of Ganesh Himal lV in back of us. After trekking through dense woods of rhododendrons, bamboo and many flowers for over an hour, we pass the cold campsite of Pewa on the river, and after another hour we leave the gorge and climb briefly to the small village of Deng, approximately five hour of trekking past this morning's campsite. Deng is the start of the lower Nubri region called Kutang, where the people are ethnically Tibetan but speak a different dialect than the people of upper Nubri where the people are pure Tibetans. The Kutang dialect, called 'kukay', is a mix of Tibeto-Burman and Gurung. We have views of Lumbo Himal to the rear, as well as Lapuchen and Dwijen Himals. We camp just below the village, and get fresh greens from the family that owns the land. It's worth a visit to the upper floor of their house above us, perhaps for a glass of local 'chang', or Tibetan beer, and for a chat around the hearth. It starts to feel like a piece of old Tibet again.
Day 20 - Trek to Namrung 2540m
The valley is still steep-sided and impressive as we leave camp in the morning, heading for another bridge across the river and to upper Nubri. We switchback steeply up to the small, poor village of Rana, where the women usually have their looms out. Soon after, after more climbing through lovely woods of pine and crossing a small bridge, we reach Bihi Phedi, where there is a good shop and views of Kutang Himal, and start to see mani stones (prayers etched onto wayside rocks, particularly mani stones with pictures of gods and goddesses), a sure sign that we are entering another of the tiny Tibetan footholds that mark the high Himalayan places. We have three or four hours of trekking ahead of us, twice crossing the large Bhuri Gandaki and twice over smaller tributary streams, staying mostly high with many ascents and descents as we walk through the gorge, all the time enjoying spectacular views. Eventually we reach Ghap, where the elaborate mani walls with Buddhas in several asanas were carved by the famous Bihi stone-carvers. The egg-shells strung above the local 'tea-house' doors in Ghap prevent the evil spirits from entering the house.
*** We don't camp at Ghap this year, but across the Buri Gandaki and up steeply up for 45 minutes is the village of Chaak, where the son of the tea-house owner in Ghap lives with his family. There is a small, deserted gompa, carved mani stones (the style here is distinctly different that most other Tibetan Buddhist regions), and some Tibetans from Samdo who graze their yaks here. In the village, they will be drying their maize to grind into flour, and then trade with the people of upper Nubri. Across the river are great views of the village of Prok perched on the plateau jutting over the river below us. From Chaak, you can trek further to Kwak, and there is a trail up to Shringi Himal base camp. A fire recently destroyed the gompa at Kwak.
Soon after leaving Ghap, we ascend for an hour through a dense, cool forest of fir, rhododendron, bamboo and oaks, crossing the Buri Gandaki once on a wooden bridge, and continue to climb on smooth, stone steps. We might spot Danphe, the national bird of Nepal, or grey Langur monkeys with white faces along the trail. As we gain altitude, we reach alpine territory and are treated to increasingly broad mountain views. We eventually reach Namrung, the first village in Nubri, a region of purely Tibetan inhabitants speaking a dialect of western Tibet. We eventually arrive at Namrung, at 2540 meters, where we will set up camp in a grassy site above a Tibetan-owned lodge.
Day 21 - Trek to Lho 3180m
Another wonderful and diverse trekking day. Above Namrung, the valley opens out and there are extensive pastures and bear watches to guard them (note the bamboo structures in the fields). A few hours later, we reach the village of Lihi at 2840 meters, a substantial altitude gain. Lihi houses two old gompas, and is spread along the trail with its billowing fields of barley, guarded by more bear watches. Lihi is known for its unusual architecture; apartment-like units with a common roof. From Lihi, you can head east to the newly opened village of Hinang, which also has an important gompa. We are climbing climb gently now and views of Ngadi Himal and Manaslu north open up in front of us. Soon we cross a large stream flowing down from the Lidanda Glaciers and reach the picturesque Tibetan village of Sho at 3000m. Look for the bear claw on the upper deck of the house, and across the river to the ruins of an old Tibetan fort or gompa-hermitage. From Sho, the views of Ngadi Chuli are spectacular, and further on, towards Lho, we are finally treated to breath-taking views of Manaslu itself; quite an impressive afternoon!
We set up camp in Lho, a lively, sprawling village adorned with many prayer flags, in the yard of a small lodge just above the new chorten that was built in 2009. The local household dieties in Lho are called 'pholhas' and are revered at small altars in all of the houses. The small gompa just below our campsite worth a visit as is the important new gompa adorned with multi-colored prayer flages up the hill, next to the phone. If you want to call home, this is your chance. From camp, sunset and sunrise from the campsite are wonderful, with breathtaking views of Manaslu and Manaslu north.
Day 22 - Trek to Sama Gaon (Ro) 3525m
We wake to a misty, golden sunrise and spectacular views of Manaslu and Manaslu North right from the campsite; a worthwhile backdrop for our morning coffee. Walking through the upper reaches of Lho, with the snowy peaks of Manaslu ahead of us in the distance, we pass billowing green barley fields, a long mani wall and large, old chortens followed by the kane chorten, where we'll get the best views of Manaslu. We descend , cross small streams on wooden bridges and then ascend through light forests next to a small river to reach the high, idyllic Tibetan settlement of Shayla, where we've found pelts of blue sheep tucked away in the rafters of the now-deserted settlement. There are extensive mountain panoramas from here and from the gompa route.
A worthwhile and easy alternative route to Shayla is via Hong Sangbu Gompa to the southwest of Shayla. The gompa is near Musithang Kharka, and has an entrance kani, a long mani wall and close-up mountain views. The gompa is now being rebuilt. To get there we climb to the left of the trail at the small hydro-power station.
Past Shayla, we have a few hours of trekking through classic alpine scenery, crossing two small bridges over glacial streams. Our trail leads us past Tibet grazing settlements, the trail to Pung Gyan Gompa off to the left, several doksas, or seasonal settlements and eventually past checkered fields of barley and potato to Sama Gaon, or Ro, as the locals call it.
Sama Gaon sits in a bowl at the foot of the pastures leading to the high peaks, with mani walls, a small gompa and tightly packed rows of houses at the lower reaches of village, and the large gompa at the upper reaches. The people settled here from Tibet over 500 years ago, and the two gompas date from this time, both having unique architecture and built of wood. The Tibetan villages in this region of Manaslu have distinctive entrance gates (kanis), and they maintain an active trade with their co-religionists in Tibet over several high passes nearby (notice the Chinese brandy and beer for sale in the small shops). If the weather is good, you will see the village women weaving wool (baal) from Tibet into gowns - which are then traded back to Tibet. Taxes were actually paid to the Dzongka Dzong (fortress) at the border of Tibet, a few days walk from Sama Gaon, as late as the 1940's until it was taken over by the Gorkhas in the late 19th century. Later, after 1959, the region was home to Tibetan guerrillas, and thus closed to trekking until 1992. The economy is based on farming, herding and trading.
Take the afternoon to hike up to the old gompa settlement above town, and to wander the streets of the fascinating Sama Gaon village ...
NOTE: If we ever have an extra day in Sama Gaon, a great excursion is a long day-hike up to Pung Gyan Gompa, at 3870 meters, a stunning walk up an often icy and slippery trail along the Numla Khola and the Pung Gyan glacier past Tibetan 'kharkas' or seasonal herding settlements, with unbeatable views of Manaslu near the gompa. The gompa was mostly destroyed by an avalanche in 1953, and recently rebuilt. The complex includes a cave gompa as well, which affords even better views of the valley.
Day 23 - Trek to Samdo 3850m
Another day of incredible mountain views, past craggy woods of Himalayan Birch, during the walk up to Samdo, an easy three hours away. For those who want, we'll make an excursion to the lake below Manaslu Base Camp: Just north and off to the left of the trail leaving Sama Gaon, we cross a small bridge and rock-hop over the river and then head west towards Manaslu Base Camp, where we'll have stunning views of the lake, glacier and valley. We usually hike for about an hour up a steep trail to the right of the lake and stop for lunch at a green doksa.
After heading down and en route to Samdo, we continue along the left side of the long mani walls at Kermo Kharka, and soon afterwards spot the entrance chorten of Samdo high on a bluff. We descend back to the Bhuri Gandaki and cross a small bridge before another short climb to the 'kane' entrance of Samdo. The villagers of Samdo came across the border from the village of Riu in Tibet after 1959 and built their new village here, at their old herding settlement. Like the people of Ro, Samdo inhabitants are Tibetan, and were ceded the land by the king of Jumla over 500 years ago; but, unlike the Ro people, they only claimed their land after the Chinese takeover in the early 1950s. Since then they have established a trade with China and India, marketing among other things, the aphrodisiac root that grows in the region. We'll see if we can get an invitation into a local house for chang (Tibetan barley beer), salt-butter tea and perhaps a bit of carpets or textile shopping. Get out and take a walk around the village, where the inhabitants live an essentially Tibetan lifestyle, herding their yaks, sheep and goats, training their horses and planting barley. There is a small gompa in a house mid-village which we visited in previous years, a puja being held by several of the reincarnated lamas living in Samdo.
We also have a strong connection to a family in Samdo which Clint Rogers, who wrote the book about Samdo that we have in our library, lived with years ago. We helped the wife, Nima Dikki, get over her four-year postpartum depression, and know her husband Tsewang Gyurme and their kids well. We will stop in for a visit and to check to see how Nima Dikki is doing, a rare chance to see how a real Samdo family exists.
We're high, and the wind can be chilling in the evenings, so tuck into the little tea-house next door to our campsite for a cup of salt-butter tea to warm you up.
*** Sadly Tsewang Gyurme died fighting a forest fire in January 2011 (see memorial in Kamzang Fund section)
Day 24 - Samdo
Another rest and acclimatization day in this wonderful village below Manaslu, which towers above us. We recommend a hike up the valley directly in back of Samdo, with Samdo Ri behind it, heading towards one of their trading passes to Tibet, for amazing mountain panoramas including an in-your-face view of Manaslu itself. From left to right: Simrang Himal, Himal Chuli, Ngadi Himal, Manaslu, Manaslu North and Larkye Peak. To the right of the Larkye La which is just in front of us as we look northwest, we can see Cheo Himal and possibly Kang Guru behind the pass. En route up and down to these viewpoints we pass many lovely, slated herding settlements, called doksas, now empty, and purple and yellow primulas color the hillsides. We might also see more Danphe as they crash through the underbrush, and probably will see Lammergeyer and Himalayan Griffin soaring high above us. The prayer flags strung up on a distant hill, sending messages out into the Himalaya, make a good stopping point before returning to lively Samdo.
A longer option for the day is a trip to the Gya La ('large pass') to the north of Samdo, a more frequently used trading route to Tibet. where the border markers at the top says 'China, 1962.' You usually share the trail up to the pass with groups of Samdo residents and their yaks carrying timbers over the border to Tibet. True High Asia, and a long day!
Day 25 - Trek to Dharamsala High Camp (Larkya Phedi) 4460m
We leave Samdo on the old trade route towards Tibet (Sherpas from the Khumbu region used to bring their yaks into Tibet and then across the Larkya La down into Nubri on their extensive trade-circuit in years past), cross a small bridge, and climb through the ruins of Larkya Bazaar across from Larkya Glacier which tumbles down from Manaslu North. The bazaar was one of the trade markets, a seasonal tented camp, that flourished years ago. After three to four hours of climbing past more glaciers, through open plateaus of dwarf rhododendron and juniper bushes, with increasingly awe-inspiring panoramas, we come to the campsite at Dharamasala, the high camp for the Larkya La. We'll have lunch here while the staff sets up camp and gaze out at the views. You'll really feel the altitude and the cold here, so enjoy a more leisurely afternoon and keep warm. We're in blue sheep territory, so keep an eye out for herds of them grazing nearby on the barren hillsides. We'll have an early dinner in preparation for our pass crossing tomorrow ...
Day 26 - Cross Larkya La (5140m) to Bimtang 3590m
Thank God for fresh-brewed coffee; it's dark and cold as we pack up our bags and tents in the morning and head off on our eight to nine our trek! After a short climb above the campsite, we reach the ablation valley on the North side of the Larkya Glaciers where we have views of Cho Danda, Ganesh Himal l to the east and then of Larkya Peak (6250m). We continue across the moraines of the glacier and past frozen lakes, often through the snow, making a gradual ascent which becomes steeper only in the last section to the pass, which should take us about four hours to crest. If there is fresh snow, we may see snow leopard prints from the evening before; it's also blue sheep, pika, marmot and Tibetan snow-cock territory.
The views from the top of the pass are wonderful, a mountain panorama equally stunning from both sides of our double pass. To the west Manaslu on the left and Phungi to the right. To the east, Kang Guru (ridge only), Himlung Himal, Cheo Himal and a bit further the views open up to included Gyagi Kung and the Annapurna II . After hanging our Tibetan prayer flags and yelling 'Ki ki so so lha gyalo' (may the Gods be victorious), get ready for a steep, often slippery drop to a trail following the glacial moraine. Bring your trekking poles, and 'yak tracks' if you have them. We'll lunch below the pass on smooth rocks surrounded by primulas and azalea bushes before continuing the descent. It's still three hours to go to our campsite, a long haul. A boulder-strewn descent lead us, finally, to Bimtang, which means 'Plain of Sand', the spot where the Samdo people keep their animals in the cold winter months. The three sisters of the 'Three Sisters Hotel' are on hand with chilled beer, and the evening clouds gather and turn pink behind the surrounding peaks. It's all worthwhile now ...
Day 27 - Trek to Tilje 2300m
A chilly but beautiful morning, as the sun behind the ridge hits the peaks around us long before the campsite. After leaving the grazing fields of Bimtang, we climb to a ridge over the moraine, soon afterwards crossing a boulder-strewn river, which recently flooded, on a wooden bridge. We ascend and then head down through open forests of brilliantly blooming rhododendron, juniper, birches and spruce past the doksas below Bimtang, passing Samdo-pa returning from shopping with their loaded horses. Butterflies flutter peacefully around us, hummingbirds dart from tree to tree, and white strawberry flowers and azalea bushes are underfoot. We'll lunch at a small tea-house, and then continue along the rocky river-bed and sliding hill-sides to several small, green villages, a sign that we've reached lower altitudes. Eventually, after a somewhat long but very scenic day, we reach the large village of Tilje, and our campsite in the lower section. The inhabitants are a mix of Manangis, Ghale Gurung and Chettris (Hindus), so have a unique architecture and culture, and eat a mix foods - dal bhat, buckwheat dhiro, tsampa and Tibetan salt-tea. The gorge ahead marks the land of apple pie, cold beers and hot showers, otherwise known as the Annapurna Circuit.
Day 28 - Trek to Tal 1680m
It's an easy trekking day following the Dudh Khola through bamboo forests down to Dharapani, an atmospheric Tibetan village with prayer flags fluttering in the wind, stopping en route at the gompa in Thongje on the old Annapurna trail. Trekking south on the main Annapurna Circuit trail, we soon arrive at a long suspension bridge over which we cross the Marshyangdi River to reach the small village of Karte, re-crossing it soon afterwards. We continue along a high, winding, stunning cliff-side trail past several small teahouses at Khorte, and then switch backing down the steep trail before crossing the Marshyangdi river yet again. Before us, we see the wide plain and waterfall at scenic Taj, the last village of the Lower Manang region. Tal means lake, and the area here was formed when the valley was blocked by a landslide and a dam formed behind. The lake has long gone and now the village of Tal sits on the river flats.
We'll set up our campsite on the grassy lawn of the last tea-house in Tal. Showers available for anyone needing one, and of course cold beers. Take the afternoon to amble over to the waterfall at the other end of town, and wander through this small hamlet.
Day 29 - Trek to Syange. Drive to Besi Sahar
Continuing along the riverside, we have a quick ascent to the entrance 'kane' of Tal, and after cresting the small hump, we descend steeply past the small teahouses at Sattale, loosing even more altitude as we continue down through the lush forest to the river and cross another suspension bridge leading to Chamje. a short hike uphill. Chamje is an atmospheric, 'wild west' village of traditional-style teahouses, often packed with saddled local horses. From here the road-building is full-on, so we'll continue as far as we can get, and hop in our jeeps! But before then, one more steep descent through the woods, looking across the river to large waterfalls, leads us to the lovely cobbled village of Jagat, situated on a shelf which juts into the precipitous Marsyangdi valley. Back to the lush, semi-tropical middle hills of Nepal! Descending steeply, we arrive at the small, somewhat wild-looking village of Syange, and hope our jeep is waiting for us! We'll have a bumpy drive to Besi Sahar where we set up our last campsite and get ready for our last night's party with the staff and porters in the evening!
Day 30 - Drive to Kathmandu
It's a hot, five (plus) hour drive back to Kathmandu, so we'll try to head off early and stop for lunch en route back. It is a different world back in the Nepali hills, and the gentle light sends us on our way back to the bustle of Nepal's capital. Finally, back at the Kathmandu Guest house, and a real shower. A celebration is definitely in order tonight!
Day 31 - Depart
Sadly, we send you to the airport for your flight home ...
Extra Days in Kathmandu
If you wish to stay longer, we can offer plenty of suggestions: mountain biking or rafting in the Kathmandu valley, an Everest sightseeing flight, trips to Bhaktapur or Patan (Kathmandu Valley's other historic capital cities), a night at the Fort Hotel in Nagarkot for a bit of luxury and expansive sunrise/sunset mountain panoramas, visits to interesting temple villages such as Changu Narayan, a few days at Barahi Hotel in Pokhara or a relaxing excursion to Chitwan National Park (staying at Maruni Sanctuary Lodge) or Bardia National Park. Kim can help to arrange any of these excursions for you.
Namaste and see you during your next trip to the Himalayas!