The Great Himalaya Trail – in the dusty shade of the yak caravan

I tighten my cap, swing on the hood of my insulation jacket and zip it at the fullest. The wind is howling straight into my face and I feel some ice christals forming on my ugly, wide beard. To my left, the Lhashamma peak (6412m) is being swallowed by the clouds. The first such weather for weeks. It has been crisp for ages now.

Ascending towards Kagmara La, Dolpo District, Nepal, Himalaya

Ascending towards Kagmara La, Dolpo District, Nepal, Himalaya

I feel like running the marathon, exhausted but still 5km until the finish. Every step up it takes, my lungs cry for oxygen and my muscles cry for help. 200m ascend until the 5100m Kagmara La pass is reached. I’m allready higher then any possible summit in the Alps, but the ridges and gloaming peaks around me just laugh with that thought.

Near the Kagmara La, Dolpo, Shey Phoksundo NP, Nepal

Near the Kagmara La, Dolpo, Shey Phoksundo NP, Nepal

I still cannot distinguish the prayer flags at the pass for which I long so much. A golden eagle swoops without any effort in a thermal. My thoughts swing away back to Simikot, which we left in the hot, baking sun 2 weeks ago, with a compass heading south-east.

A farmer with his cattle herd on the small trails along the Humla Karnali river, Humla, Nepal

A farmer with his cattle herd on the small trails along the Humla Karnali river, Humla, Nepal

We were about to follow the turquoise Humla Karnali-river into the Mugu-district. At lower elevations (we descend into the Middle Hills at around 1500m-2000m), the ever rising and plunging down along the river was easier to digest.

Through the Humla Karnili gorge towards Mugu-district

Through the Humla Karnili gorge towards Mugu-district

Dense, mixed, conifer, birch, oak, walnut and rhododendron forrest are opened up only for some of the most primitive villages we have ever been through. Huge cannabis plants border the wheat fields and spread with a small breeze its deep, sweat smell over the trail.

Dal bhat with fresly dried goat meat, Surkeghat, Humla, Nepal

Dal bhat with fresly dried goat meat, Surkeghat, Humla, Nepal

Time has come to a halt here centuries ago. Children don’t beg for balloons, pens nor chocolates in the villages of Dharma and Rimi. Englishis is an unknown language. It’s half-way october and the fields shine like gold. Harvest is closing-in soon now. This time of the year people can feed themselves (and us). We do not want to imagine how life must be here after winter when all food is gone. Life is harsh here in Mugu. Tourism is below infancy. The Great Himalaya Trail will hopefully boast the region in some way in the coming years.

Children run along, when we walk through Rimi-village in Mugu. They keep chanting namaste untill we dissapear in the forrest far away from the village.

Children run along, when we walk through Rimi-village in Mugu. They keep chanting namaste untill we dissapear in the forrest far away from the village.

The scenery changes with every curve of the river altough in this part of Nepal you will not find the extreme, high 8000m fluted peaks for which the Himalaya is known. Walking here is a flash back in time, where modern world has not touched down yet. People are poor and underdevelopped, but that ever welcoming smile burries ever such taught.

The Mugu Karnali River joins the Humla Karnali further south, dropping out of the HImalaya into the Ganges Plains in India.

The Mugu Karnali River joins the Humla Karnali further south, dropping out of the HImalaya into the Ganges Plains in India.

We cross the suspension bridge over the Mugu Karnali river and step into a dinstinct world. Gamghadi is a radical change. Everybody is preparing for the Dasain-festival. Painting is going on. And a gravel road construction is on the way from Jumla, 3 days walking away. It’s an up and down of mule caravans on the steep forrested trails, transporting out the famous red rice, cultivated in Mugu, and bringing in consumer goods, transported into the region via the only road, which ends in Jumla.

Jumla-streets are filled with goat and sheep blood, as villages people sacrifice for the Dasain-festival, the main celebration of the Hindu year.

Jumla-streets are filled with goat and sheep blood, as villages people sacrifice for the Dasain-festival, the main celebration of the Hindu year.

In Jumla we hire 2 new porters before setting of for Nepal’s least inhabited district: the mystical Dolpo. Fortress-like settlements are very scattered, so we need to carry more food and kerosene. Dolpo, like the Limi-valley, is tied culturally to Tibet. Budhism is the way to go. Manis, stupas, gompas and prayer-flag ornated monasteries. Dust-throwing yak caravans are just mere dots in the arid red-rolling mountain desert, set against ever blue skies and radiating sun.

Thick forrested ridges before climbing onto the Dolpo desert

Thick forrested ridges before climbing onto the Dolpo desert

Huge stands of cannabis plants at the entrance of Chaurikot, Dolpo district, Nepal

Huge stands of cannabis plants at the entrance of Chaurikot, Dolpo district, Nepal

Exhausted I reach the 5100m Kagmara La and I fail miserably in limbo dancing the prayer flags (not recommended in thin air). Another steep walled valley splunges down in front of me. This is the Shey Phoksundo National Park, encompassing the major part of the Dolpo district.

Kaghmara Pedi bivaouc, 3900m, Shey Phoksundo NP, Dolpo, Nepal

Kaghmara Pedi bivaouc, 3900m, Shey Phoksundo NP, Dolpo, Nepal

Herds of blue sheep jump the ledges of an impossible steep, granite wall above our bivaouc spot. They are the main food source for the magical, mystical, elusive snow leopard. Under a full moon we fall asleep under the tarp (yes it works in the Himalaya above 4000m!), while the howl of a wolve reminds us of our remote, wild whereabouts.

A wild dog followed us closely for 3 days over the 5100m Kagmara La pass. In the first village we cross, he lost interest in us.

A wild dog followed us closely for 3 days over the 5100m Kagmara La pass. In the first village we cross, he lost interest in us.

We reach the deep, blue Phoksundo Lake at medieval Ringmo village and visit the ancient Bon gompa at its shores.

Bon Gompa at the shores of Phoskundo Lake

Bon Gompa at the shores of Phoskundo Lake

As we still have not enough for this stretch of the Great Himalaya Trail, we cross the 5100m Baga La pass and 5300m Nama La pass in a tyring and cold 48-hour stretch. The scenerey get more arid with every step we take now. As for high altitude desert, they surely have thrown with superlatives here. It is hard to soak on in all the views here. My brain is too small for this huge landscape.

Leaving Ringmo village, with an impressive stupa garding its entrance

Leaving Ringmo village, with an impressive stupa garding its entrance

The fluted Kanjiroba Himal to the northwest hides the world’s remotest valleys for which we should return one day when its acces permit hopefully may be less steep. At the southern horizon 8000-peak Dhaulagiri blocks the monsoon rains and to the north the vast Tibetan plateau still awaits its freedom.

Yak caravan storming its way down from Baga La, 5100m, Phoksundo NP, Dolpo, Nepal

Yak caravan storming its way down from Baga La, 5100m, Phoksundo NP, Dolpo, Nepal

Collecting specimen of Thamnolia vermicularis Lichen for the Adventure & Science project

Collecting specimen of Thamnolia vermicularis Lichen for the Adventure & Science project

We plunge into the Tharap valley, which must be the perfect resume of what forbidden Tibet must be all about. A steep, wild gorge brings us back to thicker air and greener valleys where a flight from a frightning airstrip in Juphal brings us back to the lowlands and into the splurges and hot shower of Kathmandu.

A dusty yak route into remote Tibetan Dolpo

A dusty yak route into remote Tibetan Dolpo

The Dhaulagiri-chain blocks the monsoon rains from the south

The Dhaulagiri-chain blocks the monsoon rains from the south

The impressive Ribo Bumpa Gompa, high above the Tharap Valley, Dolpo

The impressive Ribo Bumpa Gompa, high above the Tharap Valley, Dolpo

We are gearing up for a 5-week Rolwaling-Khumbu Alpine traverse for which we will need to cross glaciated 5750m Tesi Lapcha, 5780m Amphu Lapcha and 5415m Mera La passes. On the way we do an attempt on 6476m Mera Peak.

See you back here around X-Mass.

Namaste
Steve and Katrijn

Thin air dreamers...

Thin air dreamers…

Please have a look in our online photo album from our first 6 weeks in West-Nepal.

You can still follow us real time up here.

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12 comments

  1. Indien je ooit nog eens terugkomt kan je dan een beetje wiet meebrengen ?
    IMPRESSIVE.
    Ondertussen kan ik je wel al vertellen dat onze firma niet meer bestaat, wij zijn namelijk overgekocht door een ‘big industrial company’.
    Uwen bureau staat ondertussen bij het grof huisvuil.

  2. Zucht… prachtig! Super activiteit om de maandag te starten in de klas… de leerlingen kijken vol bewondering mee en zijn nog nooit zo stil geweest.

  3. Wow – great read and stunning pics again Steve! Wouldn’t feel too safe with 20 yak bulls next to my tarp though 🙂

    Enjoy your last weeks in Nepal!

  4. Hi Katrijn & Steve,

    Looking forward to see your next report, especially the Trashi Labtsa pass. I am curious whether it is a technical pass.

    Happy Hiking

    Wim

  5. Pingback: Dużo wieści z Nepalu | Backpackers Club


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