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'll go over some of the logistics of the trek and get to know each other over a few beers ...
Day 2 - Kathmandu
A free day to explore 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 Rangrung Phedi 875m
We're up early for our scenic drive from Kathmandu, mostly along the Trisuli River, to the starting part of our trek in the Gurung middle hills of Nepal several bumpy hours past the historic town of Gorkha. Gorkha was once the capital of a massive kingdom which included parts of lower Tibet, and is dominated by an impressive 'durbar', or fortress palace complex, predominately Hindu with frequent animal sacrifices in the name of Durga or Kali in its several old Hindu temples. The fort is perched high up in the surrounding hillsides and reached by nearly an hour of hiking up worn stone steps, often with other Nepali Hindu pilgrims. We used to start our trek to Manaslu here but now continue on a newly built jeep road heading north past our old campsite at Arkole village, past vivid green rice paddies, over small rivers and past many road-side batties to the small hamlet of Rangrung. Rangrung Phedi, where we set up our first night's camp, is far below tomorrow's destination, the lovely Gurung village of Barpak. Once at our grassy campsite we will introduce you to our 'Kamzang Style' dining tent, your personal Marmot or Northface tents and show you around camp. Take advantage of a chance for a sun-downer while we're in Nepal's steamy middle hills, and still low in altitude. You might want to bring some insect repellent for today as the midges bite ...
Day 4 - Trek to Barpak 1915m
Have a good breakfast this morning as we have a long, steep climb ahead of us up to the incredibly scenic village of Barpak, situated perfectly on a green ridge overlooking the misty valley below. The new road started in 2009 built to connect Barpak and Laprak with Gorkha traverses our trail for the first half of the climb; 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 and Rai people, both Buddhist with an animist/shamanistic bent. Two hours of climbing later we reach the local school at Mandaray followed by an entrance gate and several small tea shops where we can stop for a cold drink. Continuing to climb gently, contouring around tilled wheat fields, it will take us another hour of more gentle climbing to reach the ancient chortens that mark the lower reaches of Barpak village. We'll set up camp at a private schoolyard in the upper section of the village and there is a small shop just below our camp where you'll be able to find a cold beer or drink. 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 Ghurkha 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. Note the locally woven 'bakus', a sort of felted wool poncho which most men wear to keep the rain and cold away, and the men carrying hemp rope bags. The village is full of women weaving on wooden looms, spinning and carding. 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 Bauddhi Himal, a high, snow-capped peak which makes for wonderful sunrise and sunset photos ...
Day 5 - 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 6 - Trek to Korlebesi 875m
Today is a long and classic Nepali trekking day of eight hours, all spectacular but a bit hard on the knees. We'll have an early start to have plenty of time for all of us, including the porters, to reach Korlebesi. Descending steeply on muddy stone steps through the maze of Laprak village, we pass old and young villagers out early on their decks, taking advantage of the morning sun, with wheat, barley and buckwheat laid out on straw mats. We continue to descend steeply, switchbacking through corn, wheat and barley fields to the river. After crossing the river on a new suspension bridge (next to the old, very rickety one), we climb equally steeply back up, past terraced fields of pink sorghum and rice, all the time far above the Macha Khola which we follow for most of the day. 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 we're treated to views of Manaslu Himal, Kutang Himal and Shringi Himal to the north. We've still got a way to go as we trek through more terraced fields, climb and descend several dusty hillsides, climb on more stone steps and reach a plateau that seems to extend into an expanse of nothingness. We descend finally from here, and after about twenty minutes of steep stone steps reach the Gurung village of Korla. Still more downhill from here during which the landscape becomes more tropical, through more tilled fields, past a small hamlet with lovely rocks and finally we reach an extremely steep set of stone steps which leads to a long suspension bridge across the Nimrung Khola and to our campsite at Korlebesi on the Budhi Gandaki river. Look out for the local women weaving straw mats in the village. Our campsite is just below the village, next to the Nimrung Khola, 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 7 - Trek to Jagat 1370m
A six plus hour trekking 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 across the Budhi Gandaki which we cross. We continue along a forested path and soon reach the large teahouse at Dobhan where the staff is having dal baht. After a short break we cross the Dhoban Khola on another suspension bridge Above Dobhan, the Budhi Gandaki descends in an impressive series of steep cataracts. We'll share the trail with local sheep and goat herders, the youngest of the flock in rope baskets slung over their backs. More steep steps along cliff walls to climb as the river descends even more steeply and stratified river rocks decorate our route. It's hot and there will be chances to stop at fly-blown Nepali bhattis, shared with local farm animals, for a drink, snack and rest en route. The valley flattens a bit and after a short climb we reach a newer bhatti and campsite. From here our trail climbs high above the river, nearly 200 meters, only to descend to an 'eye' of the Budhi Gandaki River. 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 Lauri River. An easy hour along the right banks of the river brings us to a long, new suspension bridge again crossing the Bhuri Gandaki after which we climb high, descend past the campsite at lower Jagat and then climb again on neat stone steps to enter 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 and a shower available at the attached shop and lodge.
Day 8 - 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 Maoist 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!
Day 9 - Trek to Chumling 2280m
We start our trek into the beautiful and remote Tibetan Tsum valley today. Leaving Philim along the main, paved trail we hike through corn and millet fields on a high trail over the Budhi Gandaki and soon pass Ekle Bhatti (which means one tea-house). Continuing on this spectacular trail, we hike through a narrow, dramatic gorge with towering walls, past a thundering waterfall to 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. About two hours past Philim, just as we reach the metal bridge which spans the Budhi Gandaki, we veer off the main Manaslu trail to the east, in the direction of the Ganesh Himal. Entering the steep gorge leading into Tsum valley, we enter a purely Tibetan region untouched by Chinese intervention except for by mutual trade. We have about an hour of gradual climbing above the Shiar Khola through a light forest, much of it being cut down for timber, to reach the tiny hamlet of Lokpa at 1915 meters where we will camp en route back to Manaslu. We'll have views of Shringi & Ganesh Himal from here. The staff will have lunch at the small teahouse, pick up the only green vegetables available in Tsum, and we'll continue on, descending to cross two newly built metal bridges over the intersecting Sukki Khola and Shiar Khola (questionable name). Once we reach river level we start to climb again, often steeply and on a somewhat exposed, switchbacking trail. The trails through the Tsum valley have been greatly improved over the past two years, so once precipitous and exposed trails are now safe and well maintained. We continue on this cliff-side, undulating trail for about an hour and then drop back down to a small tea-house at Ghumlung from where we'll cross the main Shiar Khola on a long suspension bridge. The hill-top village of Ripchet comes into sight across the steep-sided valley as we climb again on a nicely graded switchbacking trail to camp at Chumling, a lovely village to the right and above our campsite at Hotel Ganesh Himal. Great mountain views from our dining tent, so enjoy if you don't feel like exploring the village. There is a gompa in the northern (right) section of the village across the suspension bridge just out of camp and Himal Chuli rises down valley.
Day 10 - Trek to Chhokangparo 3085m
Venturing further into the Tsum valley, we have a lovely hike of 5-6 hours in front of us today to reach Chhokangparo, a twin village which translates as roughly 'place of wisdom'. Just out of camp we cross the suspension bridge and descend slightly as the valley opens ahead of us with green, fertile villages adding color to the already spectacular setting. We pass several small villages and the tiny Dhampa Gompa (2365m), worth a look inside and meeting the old ani (nun) who lives alone at the gompa. Inside are hundreds of ceramic statues of Chenrisig, the Buddha of Compassion, which line three of the walls. This is unique to the Tsum valley as far as I know and we'll notice these walls of Chenrisigs in most of the Tsum gompas. Descending once again to the small village of Rainjam where we'll be welcomed by barking dogs, we take the left-hand trail up a bit, cross another suspension bridge and ascend to the small hamlet of Gho (2570m) where our friends next to the village tap might be weaving or spinning at their small house. Passing the small shop, we continue to climb on a good trail for another few hours to reach Chhokangparo, where we'll set up camp at one of the grassy campsites. This is my favorite village in the Tsum valley, a scenic and interesting village with friendly villagers and small lanes to explore. There's a well-stocked shop in town and a local phone, and a home-stay sort of lodge owned by the same couple. The kids are eager to come and play so save some energy. We might have the chance to visit our previous guide Tashi's mother in their modest Tibetan home for a cup of salt-butter tea, and perhaps we'll also visit another English-speaking friend, Namgyal, at his much nicer and lighter house. There is lots of weaving happing in this village as in most others in Tsum and Manaslu, and perhaps an opportunity to purchase a hook rug or other textile if you're interested. The intricate, colorful woven belts adorning most women's Tibetan-style chubas are unique to the Tsum valley as well.
Day 11 - Trek to Mu Gompa 3645m
Heading further north towards the border of Tibet, our destination for today is the somewhat remote Mu Gompa, the furthest settlement in the Tsum valley. Leaving Chhokangparo via the long mani walls, it's an easy hike through the lower section of the village (Paro) and back up past a long mani wall to a chorten across from Chhogu Gompa and village. Continuing to climb gradually past green barley and potato fields, we pass a school and soon reach Nyakyu village (3225m). It's mostly flat walking to the next village, Lamagaon, which is a similar style to the last with narrow alleyways between the houses. This is the open, predominantly flat section of the Tsum valley where one lovely village runs almost into the fields of the next village, the trails are peppered with mani walls and small chortens and the scenery is sublime. Just past Lamagaon (3220m) to the left are two small hermitages (Milarepa Piren Phu Cave & Chi Phu Gompa), and to the right across the river is the nunnery called Rachen Gompa.
We stay on the same side of the river, pass through Phurbe and Pangdum, both with small village gompas and between them an unusually shaped large chorten which dominates the skyline. Soon afterwards we pass through Chhule village (3250m) and then cross the bridge to reach Nile village where the staff will be eating lunch. These are the last villages in the Tsum valley; Nyi Le means sun-side and Chu Le translates as water side. Many groups camp here and make a day trip of Mu Gompa, but we'll continue on for another two hours, more strenuous than the first four, to reach our camp just below Mu Gompa. This last section is more desolate and more difficult as we'll gain 400 meters in the next two hours to camp at our highest spot in Tsum. The trail sticks to the left of the river, passing still more mani walls and chortens as it climbs and contours towards the north. After crossing an old 'slip' and a small bridge over a glacial stream, we climb a bit more steeply past several larger chortens, with Mu Gompa just above us. After a chain of about five chortens we'll round the corner and see camp just below two herder's huts below the gompa. We can either visit the gompa this afternoon or tomorrow morning. One year we had snow all afternoon and evening so had a spectacular morning's visit to Mu Gompa. The gompa is Drukpa Kagyupa, affiliated with Kopan Gompa in Kathmandu, and filled with ancient, un restored murals in the main lhakhang which has a very medieval atmosphere. The murals outside of the gompa, with the usual four guardian Bonpo 'kings of the four directions' at either side of the doorway. There are about 16 novice monks, or thawas, and another 5 or 6 mature monks and lamas residing at the gompa, and the central temple is surrounded by the monks simple dwellings.
Day 12 - Mu Gompa - Daytrip to Bhajyo 4095
Now that we've hiked all this way, let's take advantage of our remote mountainous campsite and do some exploring. Our friend Mads, who biked the Tsum Valley earlier this year, found his favorite views of the trip from a hill-top vantage point above Mu Gompa. In June of 2012 we were lucky to catch the annual, monthly 'fair' at Bhajyo, which a local jokingly called the New York of Tsum valley. The commodity that brings hundreds of Tsum-pas to this grassy doksa for the month is yersa gumba, 'summer grass winter insect', a sort of worm or caterpillar which becomes a host for parasitic spores/fungus. To get to Bhajyo, head north from camp along a high trail to the left of the river, past several chortens and a slide area. About an hour later we'll reach a small, wooden bridge which we cross and hike up for about 15 minutes to reach Kalung (3830m) where a seasonal Tibetan-styled teahouse is in action in June. Several doksas encamp around the Kalung area, at the intersection of the Changmam Khola and the Yangdol Khola, in both directions. Heading east along the later river, it's a few hundred meters of altitude gain along a good trail, across a small bridge at the intersection of this river with the Salbu Khola, to reach Bhajyo. Here, many tea-houses do a good summer business, kids play on the grassy slopes and the older women sit spinning wool. Mules from lower down stop for the night here as they transport hundreds and hundreds of mule-loads of 'satua', a ginger-like medicinal root, to Tibet. All in all, an interesting early summer afternoon!
Day 13 - Trek to Chhokangparo
After visiting Mu Gompa we head back down the green valley to camp again at Chhokangparo, which although easier as it's mostly downhill, still takes about six hours to cover. On the way back we can cross the Khugyu Khola and pass through the large school at Lar to visit Rachen Gompa (locally called Gompa Rangjung), an ani gompa affiliated with Kopan Gompa in Kathmandu with a large number of nuns who stay during the summertime. Further along, past Lamagaon and Ngakyu, we'll stop into the Chhogu Golden Temple for a look. Once back at camp in Chhokangparo, we'll be well-situated for our trip to Gompa Lungdang the next day ...
Day 14 - Trek to Gompa Lungdang 3340m
It's a harder day than it looks on the map to reach Gompa Lungdang but worth the effort to get there for the experience of staying with the friendly nuns and the mountain panorama of the Ganesh Himal peaks surrounding the gompa. Leaving camp the same way we came, we backtrack down the large hill on the switchbacking trail that we climbed a few days previously. When we reach the shop and our friend's small house at Gho we'll take a sharp left turn and descend through ferns and dense foliage to the Shiar Khola which we cross on a small, wooden bridge. A short hike through light forest brings us to the green hamlet of Dumje (2450m) where some of the young nuns from Gompa Lungdang stay and study, and the nuns have their barley fields. From where we'll have an often steep three hour hike far above the Laudang Khola to reach Gompa Lungdang. The views are great along the way and there are plenty of resting points en route. Note that the first time you'll see Gompa Lungdang from the second vertical prayer flag pole on a ridge it's still a good hour and a few hundred meters away. We'll camp in the slate courtyard of the gompa unless they've decided to build a camping platform. It's a good way to get to know the very friendly family of nuns, all from the nearby village of Ripchet, who live at the gompa. There's a cozy kitchen on the other side of the courtyard and the nuns have a puja every morning and evening in the main gompa, very interesting to sit in on. Dinner and breakfast are usually a tsampa dhiro (mash) with timbur (mountain pepper) and stinging nettle sauce, and of course butter tea. There is also a smaller and older looking prayer room just to the right of the main gompa with some fantastic old murals, perhaps in the northern Indian style. And the views are superb! Day 15 - Gompa Lungdang We'll have a rest day at this wonderful spot, a chance to get to know the lively nuns better and go for a walk. We'll have an optional hike up the valley towards (but not all the way to) Ganesh Himal Base Camp which will be quite strenuous but spectacular. Or just sit, enjoy your surroundings, do some peak-gazing and enjoy the company!
Day 16 - Trek to Lokpa 1915m
Back down the steep hillside is easier for some than the ascent and should take us an hour and a half to reach the small nunnery outpost at Dumche. Heading further to the south than our route in, we hike briefly along a narrow trail between wooden fences which actually passes through a local inhabitant's barn and then drop down to a new suspension bridge over the Laudang Khola. After crossing to the other side we'll have about twenty minutes of flat hiking before reaching an ancient, lichen-covered chorten and mani wall marking what seems to be the far reaches of Dumche. We continue, climbing very gradually, though a dense forest which looks as if it might be home to snakes, bears and monkeys (although we never saw any). About an hour and a half after this chorten, after crossing another new suspension bridge, we climb briefly to reach the long village of Ripchet. Ripchet seems a bit poorer than many other villages in the Tsum valley, and is situated on a ridge far above the Shiar Khola with its fields in back. The dogs are a bit ferocious and the flies are plentiful, so it's more scenic and interesting to view the village from the fields above. At the end of the line of simple wooden houses is another chorten and then a small school (20 students and 2 teachers on a good day) where we'll stop for lunch. Afterwards we have a steep descent over a small stream and then straight down the hill to the small tea-house at Ghumling which we passed about a week ago. Just past here is a small pool for cooling hot feet, and the teahouse has drinks. Now starts our long undulating trail to return to Lokpa. In theory it should be easier to return to Lokpa as it's lower than our starting point by a few hundred meters, but in reality it still takes a good 2 1/2 to 3 hours of ascents and descents, and after the last two bridges we should be good and tired upon reaching Lokpa! Lokpa has a nice, terraced campsite and cold beers at the shop and is a welcome sight after a long hike. Note the large, green village on the flat plateau high above the Budhi Gandaki on the opposite side. This is Nyak, a village of Gurung's who graze their sheep and goats far below Barpak and who we probably met en route.
Day 17- Trek Deng 1865m
We've scheduled a short-ish day today to recover from the last few long ones. Leaving wonderful Tsum valley, we descend for half an hour to where we left the main trail at the river junction, cross the Budhi Gandaki on a steel Bailey's bridge, and continue further north into more Tibetan border regions. After the bridge and passing the trail to Nyak on the left we ascend gradually along a wide, hillside trail through an open pine forest, and then cross the river two more times on newly built steel suspension bridges (thanks to a benevolent Ghurkha society), trekking through dense woods of rhododendrons, bamboo and wild flowers. As we climb, look back for views of Ganesh Himal IV. A few hours later we pass the riverside campsite and teahouses of Pewa where the staff will eat lunch. After another 45 minutes of relatively easy climbing we leave the narrow gorge, cross the Dyang Khola on a metal suspension bridge, and climb briefly to the hamlet of Deng. 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 purely Tibetan. The Kutang dialect, called 'kukay', is a mix of Tibeto-Burman and Gurung. We have views of the Ganesh Himal to the rear, as well as Lapuchen and Dwijen Himals to the north. We camp right in the middle of the small village, which now has a few new lodges, 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 (which the husband has undoubtedly already started into). It starts to feel like a piece of old Tibet again ...
Day 18 - 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 19 - Trek to Lho 3180m
Another wonderful and diverse trekking day awaits. Above Namrung, the valley opens out and there are extensive barley fields and bear watches to guard them (note the bamboo structures in the fields at the nearby village of Banzam). An hour and half of undulating trails 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 billowing fields of barley, guarded by more bear watches. Lihi is known for its unusual architecture which we'll see further north in Nupri as well - 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 climb gently through the village past the lodge campsite, descend to the Hinang Khola which flows from the Hinang and Lanjam Glaciers, and climb again, with views of Ngadi Himal and Manaslu north opening up ahead of us. Soon we reach the kane chorten and the picturesque Tibetan village of Shyo at 3000m. Shyo has a small lha-khang and two newly rebuilt gompas (with help from the Taiwanese?), one across the river. Look for the bear claw on the upper deck of one of the slate-terraced house at the far end of the village. Across the river are said to be the ruins of an old Tibetan fort as well as the resplendent new gompa. From Shyo, the views of Ngadi Chuli are spectacular, and further on, towards Lho, we are finally treated to breath-taking views of Manaslu itself, an impressive afternoon! One more small descent out of Shyo, past a fly-blown teahouse and a small stream, and we start to climb up to Lho. We'll stop for lunch at one of the new lodge decks in the lower reached of Lho.
From here it's a short but steep switchback up to Lho. We set up camp at the top of Lho, a lively, green and sprawling village adorned with many prayer flags, in the yard of a small lodge just above the new chorten that was built with the help of the Taiwanese in 2009. The local household deities in Lho are called 'pholhas' and are revered at small altars in all of the houses. The small gompa just below our old campsite and new lodge is worth a visit as is the new Nyimgmapa Rimjung Gompa, adorned with multi-colored prayer flags just up the hill from our campsite. The large gompa houses 150 monks (both novice monks and lamas) from such far away Tibetan regions as Manang, Dolpo and Bhutan. The gompa was a join venture of these same Taiwanese and Kempo Tashi Tsering. From camp, sunset and sunrise are wonderful, with breathtaking views of Manaslu and Manaslu North just ahead of us.
Day 20 - Trek to Pung Gyan Gompa
We wake to a misty, golden sunrise and spectacular views of Manaslu and Manaslu North from the campsite. Walking through the upper reaches of Lho, with the snowy peaks of Manaslu rising behind the gompa, 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 a small stream on wooden bridges and then ascend through light forests next to a small river until we reach a small hydro-electric hut. From here we'll hike up through a once dense forest of pine, now nearly deforested. Locals from Lho and Sama Gaon have cut almost all of the large pines to transport by yak to Tibet where it will be sold and other Chinese goods purchased.
Soon we reach Hong Sangbu Gompa, once a small village gompa and now dwarfed by the larger, newer gompa which will apparently be used for meditation. The gompa is near Musithang kharka, a seasonal herding spot, and has fantastic views of the surrounding peaks. Leaving the gompa and barking dogs, we descend just a bit to an old mill where local women who stay in Shayla are often roasting barley and grinding it to make tsampa. Soon we reach the high, idyllic summer 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 as well, and new lodges. Once past Shayla we have two 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 to the left, several doksas (kharkas), a large school and eventually past checkered fields of barley and potato to Sama Gaon, or Ro, as the locals call it.
We'll take a sharp left turn just before the school and doksas and hike up to Pung Gyan Gompa for the night. Pung Gyan Gompa sits at 3870 meters and is 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. There are 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 21 - Trek to Sama Gaon (Ro) 3525m
Back down the valley to the school, it's just a half an hour's walk to Ro. Sama Gaon sits in a bowl at the foot of the pastures leading to the high peaks. It's a lovely village of mani walls, household monks, gompas and tightly packed rows of houses. Just above the village is the extensive Pema Choling Gompa which acts as a retirement home for many of the elders of Sama. The people settled here from Tibet over 500 years ago, and the two gompas (one in the lower village) date from this time, both having unique architecture, colorful doors and windows and built of wood.
The Tibetan villages in this region of Manaslu have distinctive entrance gates (kanes), 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). 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 Kagyu Pema Choling Gompa settlement just north of the village. This is locally called Labrang, or Lama's place, and houses several lamas and their families as well as many nuns. The lamas and monks in Sama are all married, and there are about sixty of them. There are frequent pujas at the gompa and many prayer rooms with old murals and statues, worth at least an hour to explore.
It's also endlessly fascinating to wander the dirty alleyways of Sama, it's stone houses with wooden decks and shingles a similar style to the ones in Lho and Lihi. Yaks and dzobkios share the narrow alleys, which have small waterways running in the middle of them and planks to bridge the two sides. If the weather is good, you will see the village women weaving wool (phal) from Tibet as well as local sheep and goat wool into lengths of fabric which eventually become chubas.We often shop for hook rugs (den) and other Tibetan artifacts in the village, a good way to interact with the villagers. Geoff Child's 'Tibetan Diary' is a must-read before (or after) spending time in Sama Gaon. We have it in our library.
Day 22 - 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 23 - Samdo
Today is a rest and acclimatization day in this wonderful Tibetan village, tucked away below Manaslu which towers above us to the west. The sun hits camp early and warms the campsite so get up with the sun, soak in the mountain environment and notice the early morning sunbeams illuminating the village wood-smoke. In back of camp rise the majestic peaks of Ngadi Chuli, Himal Chuli and Simnang Himal.
We recommend a hike up valley directly to the east of Samdo, heading towards one a trading pass to Tibet, for amazing mountain panoramas including an in-your-face view of Manaslu itself. Passing through the one street of the village, we climb to the northeast of the village gaining wonderful views down to Samdo and it's tilled or green fields below. As we ascend, the peaks to the west open up behind us and in a hour we've crested 'Samdo Spur' at 4250 meters. From left to right, the peaks are: 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 Kang Guru behind the pass. Two more contours to northern ridges brings us to a small, clear glacial stream and the original summer kharkas of the Lho people, now deserted and used by the Samdo-pa in the winter sometimes. The kharka huts are beautiful, with glimmering slate tiles on the roofs and slate patios. Climb one more hill to the old cairn and head directly north up the grassy hillside to reach the idyllic 'Samdo hill' at 4590 meters. From here we'll get views east to the pass to Tibet as well as over the Larkye La and the Manaslu massif. Purple and yellow primulas color the hillsides, marmots stand on their hind legs and whistle, choughs soar and play above us, cuckoos and chukkars dart past us, and blue sheep roam the hillsides above. We might also see more danphe as they crash through the underbrush, and often spot lammergeyer and Himalayan griffin soaring high above us. It's a knee-wrenching hour-long descent back down to Samdo, where a hot lunch awaits.
The Gya La ('large pass') to the north of Samdo is a more frequently used trading route to Tibet but makes for an extremely long daytrip. The border markers at the top says 'China, 1962.' The trail up to the pass is used frequently by groups of Samdo residents with their yaks carrying timbers over the border to Tibet. True High Asia. These days the main trade is in yersa gumbu, and Tibetan Khampas come for the month of June to bring this commodity back to Tibet and sell to the Chinese for a hefty profit.
Day 24 - Trek to Dharamsala High Camp (Larkya Phedi) 4460m
It's a short 3 -4 hour day as we head to our high camp for Larkya La. 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 westwards above the ruins of Larkya Bazaar. The bazaar was one of the trade markets, a seasonal tented camp, that flourished years ago, before the closing of the Tibetan border. Ascending through grazing lands, open, grassy plateaus filled with dwarf rhododendron, juniper bushes and lichen-covered granite, the panoramas become increasingly awe-inspiring. We soon reach the view up to Syancha Glacier on the other side of the valley which tumbles down from Manaslu & Manaslu North. The route up Manaslu is visible from one of the many spurs that we crest this morning. Finally we come to the developing campsite at Dharamsala, the high camp for the Larkya La pass. We'll have lunch here while the staff sets up camp and gaze out at the views. You'll feel the altitude and the cold here, so perhaps enjoy a 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.
If you've still got energy to spare hike up either of the ridges that form the boundary of our valley, or hike up alongside the small spring-fed stream in back of camp and enjoy the birds, marmots and blue sheep. Either way you'll have good views of Naike Peak to the south and the tip of Manaslu in front. We'll have an early dinner in preparation for our pass crossing tomorrow ...
Day 25 - Cross Larkya La (5140m) to Bimtang 3590m
Thank God for fresh-brewed coffee! It's dark and cold as we pack up our gear and tents in the morning and head off on our eight to nine hour trek over the Larkya La to Bimtang. Bring your trekking poles, and 'yak tracks' if you have them. After a short climb directly above the campsite, we hike along the right side of the lateral moraine, soon following the narrow bottom of this valley. Look for blue sheep, pika, marmot and Tibetan snow-cock tracks in the snow - and we'd be lucky to see snow leopard prints. We'll soon reach the ablation valley on the north side of the Larkya Glacier where we'll have views of Cho Danda and Ganesh Himal l to the east and then of Larkya Peak (6250m) to the west. We continue across the often snowy, undulating moraine of the glacier, past the many snow markers, and in about two hours reach a small hut, mostly unused, at 4920 meters. From here we've got another two hour push to reach the pass. We continue to ascend on small ridges and past a lovely frozen lake, often through the snow, making a gradual ascent which becomes steeper only in the last section to the pass.
The views from the top of the Larkye La are wonderful, mountain panoramas equally amazing from both sides of the double pass. From the east, the direction we just hiked up, we'll look down on Samdo Peak and the peaks bordering Tibet, and Larkye Peak to the southeast. To the west towards the Annapurna region rise Kang Guru (ridge only), Himlung Himal, Cheo Himal and a bit further down the pass the views open up to included Gyagi Kung and 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 climb down a razor-edge ridge and then a descent, often slippery and icy and slightly precipitous, to a trail following the left side of the Salpudanda glacier moraine. We'll lunch after reaching a flat area with smooth rocks if there's no snow, once we've crossed the rock-fall area. From here we continue to traverse downhill with another steep section ahead, soon reaching a flatter valley full of primulas and azalea bushes. We still have a good 2-3 hours to go to reach our campsite, a long haul. A boulder-strewn, circular descent lead us, finally, to Bimtang, which means 'plain of sand', the region where the Samdo people keep their yaks and horses in the summer and winter months. The three sisters of the 'Three Sisters Hotel' are on hand with chilled beer as the evening clouds gather, turning pink behind the surrounding peaks ...
Day 26 - 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. En route we might pass Samdo-pa returning from their shopping in the Manang region with their loaded horses. Butterflies flutter peacefully around us, hummingbirds dart from tree to tree, and white strawberry flowers and azalea bushes are underfoot as we descend through forests of rhododendron, with the back side of Manaslu opening up impressively in front of us. We follow the intersecting glacial rivers, increasingly large as we drop, and eventually cross a steel Bailey's bridge and reach the small hamlet of Karche where there is a tea-house and lodge, and where the porters are having their dal baht. We might eat here, or perhaps we'll lunch just below along the riverside, now the Dudh Khola.
We continue along the rocky river-bed, often on trails which traverse sliding hillsides, to several small, green villages, a sign that we've reached lower altitudes. After a somewhat long (6-7 hours) but very scenic day we reach the large village of Tilje and our campsite in the lower section of the village in the yard of a small teahouse. The inhabitants of Tilje are a mix of Manangis, Ghale Gurung and Chettris (Hindus) so have developed a unique architecture and culture, and eat a mix foods ranging from dal bhat and buckwheat dhiro to tsampa to Tibetan salt-butter tea. The deep gorge ahead marks the land of apple pie, cold beers and hot showers, otherwise known as the Annapurna Circuit.
Day 27 - Trek to Jagat 1290m
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 Marsyangdi 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 Marsyangdi River yet again. Before us to the left we drop to river level and spot the wide plain and waterfall at scenic Tal, 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. Continuing along the left bank of 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 on an undulating trail 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 we have one more hour-long descent along the new dirt road, looking across the river to large waterfalls, to reach the (once) lovely cobbled village of Jagat, situated on a shelf which juts into the precipitous Marsyangdi valley. Jagat isn't what it used to be as the road now passes through it, but it's still got charm and we'll appreciate staying in rooms and eating in the dining room for our last night on the trail ...
Day 28 - Drive to Kathmandu
Back to the lush, semi-tropical middle hills of Nepal. We'll have a bumpy drive to Besi Sahar, the old start of the Annapurna circuit, and then continue driving for five (plus) hours back to Kathmandu, so we'll try to head off early and will 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 29 - Kathmandu
A free day in Kathmandu for shopping, some sun in the garden of the guest house, shopping, cafe-ing or perhaps a visit to Boudhanath for some 'koras' to give thanks for our safe journey back from the mountains. And sights we missed during the first few days in Kathmandu, we can catch today, and afterwards out for our last dinner together.
Day 30 - Depart
Sadly, we send you to the airport for your flight home ...