*Note that although we try to follow the itinerary below, at times local trail or weather conditions may make slight changes necessary. The trekking itinerary may also vary slightly depending on our trekkers' acclimatization rates.
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
Explore the Kathmandu valley a bit with Kim. 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 camp above Gorkha Fort 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 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; 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; 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 leisurely seven 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 local 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 and a 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. 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 and other large, leafy trees. Along the way we can 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. It should take us under four hours to get to camp, with the lower village and lively school en route. We contour around wheat fields, climbing gently, to reach the village and our campsite. There is a small shop just below our camp where you'll be able to find a cold beer ...
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. 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 7 - Trek to Laprak 2200m
Another early start and a picturesque climb, with Bauddhi 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. Bauddhi 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 five hour day today, starting with 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, and then perhaps go for a swim in the icy river below, drying off on the wonderful river-side beach. A gentle climb through the woods past some spectacular waterfalls, across an old, wooden suspension bridge and through a short section of forest path and we reach Dobhan. Above Dobhan, the Buri Gandaki descends in an impressive series of steep rapids. Here, our trail climbs high above the river to descend through what appears to be a huge gateway into some secret place; in front the valley widens, the river calms, and we stop for lunch at another swimming spot on the river. An easy hour along the right banks of the river brings us to a long, new suspension bridge after which we climb high on neat stone steps before entering our campsite in lower 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 wonderful stone steps along a terraced hill-side to the small hamlet of Saguleri, from where we can see the impressive Shringi Himal, 7187 meters high. We pass through the charming, paved village of Sirdibas, where the local children sell oranges in the Autumn. We pass the local water-mill, soon afterwards 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 to reach Philim and its Japanese sponsored school. We arrive at our grassy campsite in time for lunch, and have the afternoon free to wash at the darapani (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 ...
Day 11 - Deng 1865m
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. Continuing on this high, dramatic trail we pass the small teahouses at Thangurmu and cross the river, now the Buri Gandaki, at a narrow section of the gorge on a new suspension bridge. This bridge sits at the intersection to Tsum valley to our right, a remote valley in the Manaslu region leading to Tibet. The Buri Gandaki veers to go from east to west from north to south from here, and we've crossed the main Himalayan range (somehow). We then 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 at last!
Day 12 - 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. 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 Bhuri 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 13 - Trek to Lho 3180m
Today is a wonderful trekking day, as usual! 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. Sunset and sunrise from the campsite are wonderful, and the small gompa just below our campsite worth a visit. There is also a new gompa up the hill, next to the phone, so if you want to call home this is your chance. From camp, we have breathtaking views of Manaslu and Manaslu north.
Day 14 - Trek to Sama Gaon (Ro) 3525m
Walking through the upper reaches of Lho, with the snowy peaks of Manaslu ahead of us in the distance, we pass the new gompa and then ascend through light forests next to a small river to reach the high, idyllic Tibetan settlement of Shayla, where the villagers are often out in the fields. Amazing mountain panoramas from here!
*** There is a great alternative route to Hong Sangbu Gompa en route to Shayla. The gompa is near Musithang Kharka, and has an entrance kane and a long mani wall.
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 (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). 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.
Take the afternoon to hike up to the old gompa settlement above town, and to wander the streets of the fascinating Sama Gaon village ...
Day 15 - Sama Gaon
We have a rest day in Sama Gaon to explore the village and gompas; a little piece of old Tibet! This is also an extra day in case anyone is having trouble acclimatizing ...
A great excursion is a hike to (or towards) Manaslu Base Camp, just north and off to the left of the trail leaving Sama Gaon, where we'll have stunning views of the lake, glacier and valley. This will take most of the day, so we'll pack a lunch for anyone wanting to go. Another option 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 16 - 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. En route we cross the river on a small bridge and river rocks, 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!
Day 17 - 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 18 - 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 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 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 hill-sides. We'll have an early dinner in preparation for our pass crossing tomorrow ...
Day 19 - 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 20 - 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 21 - Trek to Thanchok Camp 2630m
We have an hour and a half of easy descent through a bamboo forest in the morning to get to the Annapurna Circuit trail. Crossing a long suspension bridge we pass through the old village of Thonje where we'll stop to see the colorful gompa, with wonderfully-painted Central Asian styled windows. We cross another suspension bridge to reach Dharapani, a Tibetan village where the dirt road has reached. We check out of Manaslu and into the Annapurna Circuit here. The trail is easy once through town, ascending just a bit through forests of pine and oak. We pass through Bagarchap, wiped out years ago by a landslide and rebuilt, and then Danagyu, both traditional villages which have become stops on the Annapurna Circuit. Notice the many old-style lodges in these villages. Just before a thundering waterfall we cross a small stream and turn left and climb steeply up the high trail which eventually leads back to Kyoto. After an hour of lovely, open forests (now with a road through them) we reach a clearing at the top of the trail and a charming Tibetan teahouse where we will stop for a break. Pausing for breath, we can look back for views of Manaslu and the surrounding peaks. We follow the large trail, ascending slightly, to the small village of Timang, and continue through a forest trail for an hour to upper Thanchok, where we set up camp in the green campground of the small Mountain Hotel, a lovely local teahouse.
Day 22 - Trek to Dhukure Pokhari 3170m
A leisurely day of trekking today as we continue along the Annapurna Circuit. An hour's walk away is the wonderful Gurung village of Thankchowk, where the villagers might be harvesting their crops of buckwheat or stuffing local sausages. Heading back down to the village of Koto Qupar (the Gurung word for walnut) we can look straight up at Manaslu to the east, followed by Annapurna II Aden Lamjung Himal. Many of the villagers are the from Nar Phu valley; this is the gateway to their region. It's a short walk to Chame, the local administrative center of Manang, a large village packed with small shops and tea-houses, an army post and a large school. We continue all the way through the village and cross another long suspension bridge over the Marsyangdi River, hiking now along the eastern banks of the river to the small hamlets of Thaleku, and then four kilometer later, Bhratang, both with fields of buckwheat, potato and maize as well as large apple orchards. Tibetan Khampas had a base across from Bhratang during the liberation fight from Tibet, when most of the Khampa fighters were based in Mustang. We hike through woods of pine with a few small ascents, high ridges, trails hewn out of the cliff side and wonderful views of the peaks soaring above us; Lamjung Himal is the huge massif in back of us. To our right forming the sharp side of the gorge is the fantastic Oble, Paungi Danda or 'Mountain to Heaven', a slab of ancient seabed that extends like an amphitheater high above us, an unforgettable monument.
Crossing a small wooden bridge, we ascend quite steeply for less than an hour, passing several Tibetans selling souvenirs near the top of the climb. We interest the new dirt road for a bit, and soon reach the small village of Deurali. Our campsite is just past this in an open field near Dhukure Pokhari (pond).
Day 23 - Trek to Manang 3540m
Leaving camp and staying on the eastern banks of the river, we cross a small, wooden bridge and trek off the main Annapurna route above local kharkas to Upper Pisang about 45 minutes past our campsite. Pisang is a wonderful village, part of the Nyeshang region, with Tibetan mani stones and an old gompa in the lower section and an archery range next to the long mani wall and a new gompa built in 2005 in the older, upper part of the village. We're treated to amazing views of Annapurna II and Annapurna III from upper Pisang, with the 6190 meter Pisang Peak as a backdrop.
From here, we have two options to get to Manang, the upper and lower routes. The lower route takes about four hours and follows the main valley on an easy but lovely trail, past small ponds, wooden fences and open fields, with nice vistas throughout. This route takes us through the little used airport of Humde. We'll pass the long mani walls and chortens in the village and stop for a cup of tea in the village of Humde, a base for many of the surrounding peaks. From here we continue to the village of Chindi, cross the Marsyangdi River to Mungji and then reach Braga (see below). The high, more remote trail. It's a LONG and hard day all the way to Manang.
*** Alternate route via Ngawal - the High Route
Today's trail is one of the most scenic along the Annapurna route; we start the morning with a long, steep ascent to Gyaru, an old, atmospheric Manangi village with breath-taking mountain views from the deck of the local tea-houses. Another two or three hours of contouring around and up and down the ridges, past ancient chortens marking the crests, brings us to Ngawal. Ngawal is a wonderful, old village of cobbled streets, prayer wheels, decorative water-spouts and beautiful architecture, obviously a hub of religious activity in previous times. We check into a tea-housed and enjoy the afternoon.
We will probably stop for lunch at the New Yak Hotel bakery in wonderful Braga, an old village of white-washed Manangi houses, most connected by their roof-top decks, and one of the most interesting and scenic gompas in the region. From Braga, it’s just a 20-minute walk past a series of unique and colorful chortens to Manang, at 3500m, a village of 500 or so flat-roofed houses, the headquarters for the region, and an interesting village packed with trekkers, bakeries and lodges. Manang is dominated by high peaks - Annapurna III and Gangapurna tower over it, and a dramatic icefall sits just across the river. There is an old gompa on the edge of town, many local teahouses, and some atmospheric, winding streets in the village leading out toward the Thorung La. There is a 3 o'clock lecture on altitude by the Himalayan Rescue Association for anyone interested. We stay in our friends Tashi & Ongmo's Hotel Mountain Lake, perhaps the best in Manang. Tashi is a well-known photographer specializing in mountain and wildlife photography, so if we're lucky we'll get a slide show of his snow leopard photos in the evening. Enjoy the sunroom, have a beer, take a shower and gaze at Gangapurna Peak and Lake across the valley.
Day 24 - Manang
We've scheduled a free day in Manang as it's one of the most beautiful and interesting regions in the mountain regions of Nepal. Some options: a long day-hike to the Ice Lake to the east, a visit to the 'Hundred Rupee Lama' at the cave gompa above Manang, a two-hour hike to Milarepa's cave across the river from Braga, a hike up above Gangapurna Lake to the viewpoint above the glacier, the HRA talk, or a tour of Manang's atmospheric alleys, gompa and bakeries. Tashi has internet at the hotel, so it's a good chance to catch up on emails.
Day 25 - Trek to Tilicho Base Camp 4140m
It's a fantastic hike from Manang to the Tilicho Base Camp, where there is a lodge for the tea-house trekkers not far after our campsite. We trek through the maze of Manang village and continue to contour along the same side of the river for about an hour, slowly gaining altitude. The views get better and better as we ascend, with eroded pinnacles lining the eastern riverbank and the river, now in flood-plain mode, penning up below us. We cross to the east side of the Marsyangdi River on a long suspension bridge, climb a small hill and head into the 'interior' of the Annapurna Circuit. Soon we reach the old village of Khangsar (3735m), a jumble of Manangi dwellings with a new entrance chorten and several lodges, a scenic spot. Past the village, we continue along the Marsyangdi River, which has taken a dramatic western turn, and contour until we reach the isolated Thare Gompa and the new(ish) Half-Way Lodge where we might have some lunch. We stay on the same trail, again contouring and crossing small streams, and reach an eroded world of sand-chutes and steep banks of hardened sand, a bit precarious at times. The trail is fantastic from here as it winds in and out of eroded sand and rock pinnacles, and crosses the steep slide areas. Watch your step, especially as the snow-peaks open up in front of us. Tilicho Base Camp is another hour from here, our campsite nearby. Keep your eyes open for blue sheep as there are large herds in this region ...
Day 26- Trek to Tilicho East Lake Camp 5030m
Another day of superlatives as we leave our camp and climb to Tilicho Lake, three plus hours of cresting ridges, contouring around steep hillsides and steep, never ending switchbacks. Finally we reach the small crest above Tilicho Lake at 5020 meters, adorned with cairns and prayer flags, and what a view we're treated to. The deep blues of Tilicho Lake are renowned in the Annapurna region, and Tilicho Peak, Niligiri, Khangsar Peak and the Muktinath Peaks dominates the skyline. Tilicho Lake is reputed to be the highest lake in the world at 4920 meters; it's 4 kilometers long, 2 wide and 85 meters in depth. This is real blue sheep territory, and where there are Blue Sheep there are Snow Leopards, so have a look for their distinctive prints as we hike. Birds that are found in the region are Himalayan Snowcock, Demoiselle Cranes (that migrate south to India in the Autumn) and Alpine Choughs. We head south, or to the right, and trek above and around the lake for an hour to reach our spectacular campsite at Tilicho East Lake Camp, a high and grass-less one. We might tramp through snow to get to the campsite, so have gaiters in your pack.
Enjoy the views at camp and have your down jacket ready. When the sun goes down this is a frigid spot!
Days 27 - Trek to Thini Doksa Camp 4740m
A big, spectacular pass day, so we'll be up early with a steaming cup of coffee to get us going on this cold, dark morning. Heading southeast out of camp, we climb an easy hill right off the bat, contour around the hillside to the right of us and then ascend a steep, knife edge ridge, a bit un-nerving. At the top of this climb we reach a sight pointing towards the Meshokanto La, from where the mountain views open up and Annapurna I comes into view to our left, an awesome view. Glacier Dome and Gangapurna rise in back of us, behind the porters now snaking their way up the steep ridge.
The valley opens up, and we continue to trek right under Annapurna I and Niligiri. There will probably be snow on the ground, so you'll have to walk carefully over the rocks under the bed of snow. We continue for a few hours in this valley, picking our way carefully, and arrive at a viewpoint of sorts the looks directly west. From here we descend on our right, cross a tiny glacial stream and then climb steeply on damp scree, continuing to contour and cresting several ridges before reaching our pass, the Meshokanto La at 5395 meters. There are no cairns or prayer flags on this unlikely pass, but a clear trail down in the direction of Jomsom. We descend carefully as the route down is quite precipitous. We will probably set some ropes, at least for the porters, and now is the time to put on your crampons if it's icy. The first descent is the most difficult as we head to our right above a craggy rock outcropping. Once at this ridge, we descend again into the next small valley, possibly through deep snow. Slowly we make our way down and reach the glacial scree above camp. Once out of the snow, we trek along the scree-trail, cross some small, icy streams and finally reach our campsite which we've named Thini Doksa Camp.
We're still high and this camp is frigid as well, but don't miss the alpenglow and sunset over Niligiri and the eastern peaks. Just awesome ...
Days 28 - Trek to Jomsom 2753m
The pass behind us, it's still quite a long hike to Jomsom, but a beautiful one with Niligiri and Tilicho towering above us to the south for the entire day. Ascending a small ridge, Dhaulagiri comes into view, with Tukuche Peak just to its right. We then descend to the right of the crest, with small, Mustangi villages and kharkas coming into view like a large patchwork below us. Passing through light woods of birch and juniper, with edelweiss underfoot, we soon reach a small kharka, another campsite for a small group. We seem to be heading away from Jomsom as we continue to contour high above the valley on the northern side of the valley, but another half an hour later we reach a larger campsite with a permanent kitchen room, from where we head more to the west. Now our trail is an open, sandy trail just on the edge of the ridge, and the views stay with us all day. A few hours later we pass the Army Mountain Training Camp to the left, and the large, flat-roofed village of Thini, the ruins of Garabdzong (Fort), a small lake and Jomsom appear right below us, with the green village of Syang with its gompa just to the south. We drop down steeply to Thini, skirt the village to the north and head right into the barley fields, heading in the direction of Jomsom on small trails, the shortest route into Jomsom! Having reached the white-washed houses of Old Jomsom on the west of the Kali Gandaki River, we make our way though the labyrinth of narrow alleyways to the wooden bridge, cross the wooden bridge over the Kali Gandaki and walk down the long road through Jomsom leading to our lodge, Trekkers Inn, at the far southern end of town, near the airport.
If we've trekked quickly we'll have lunch at the lodge; if we're going more slowly we will eat en route. It doesn't look far from our doksa camp to Jomsom, but it will take us a good six hours to finish the trek.
Once settled into our rooms in our lovely, traditionally-styled lodge we will put together a celebration for our last night, and organize give-away gear and tips for the staff. Chilled beers and local, Mustang apple brandy in the evening before dinner to start off the night ...
Day 29 - Fly to Kathmandu
It's been a fantastic journey through Manaslu, over the Tilicho Pass and into Lower Mustang, and now it's time to head back to Kathmandu. We take a morning flight back, a spectacular route right between Tilicho and Dhaulagiri, with Annapurna South on the left of the plane. The patchwork of Lower Mustangi villages, most Thakali, open up far below us as we fly through the Himalayan gap and head towards Kathmandu.
Back in bustling, colorful (and polluted) Kathmandu and in our rooms at The Kathmandu Guest House, hot showers await, grubby laundry goes to be washed, fresh juice is available nearby and we're ready for pizza and a few bottles of wine to celebrate our trek ...
Day 30 - Kathmandu
We have scheduled an extra day in Kathmandu in case our flight from Jomsom or Pokhara is delayed. If not, everyone is free to enjoy our favorite Asian city, and we'll meet again for dinner and drinks in the evening. Thai, Asian Fusion, Indian or Tibetan?
Day 31 - Depart
Sadly, we send you to the airport for your flight home ...
ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT EXIT
Day 21 - 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 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, 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 little hamlet.
Day 22 - 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 23 - 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 24 - Kathmandu
One last day in our favorite Asian capital, and a back-up day in case of delays on the trek. Your rooms are booked at the Kathmandu Guest House, hot showers await and fresh juice is just around the corner. Everyone will get together for a final dinner together to celebrate the trek.
Day 25 - 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.