In Dolpa district, the deepest lake in the nation, Phoksundo, with its luminescent turquoise sheen looks like something that is right out of the Studio Ghibli cinematic universe
Witness the raw wilderness of Nepal’s western front in the most disconnected of regions as you walk through breathtaking landscapes and unknown terrains
Nepal is pretty popular among travellers as a trekking destination. And with trails that cater to all kinds of needs for the adventurer in you, the small Himalayan nation should be on your go-to list if it already isn’t there. You’re going completely off road because most of these villages only have paths made by village locals who have paved their way through a certain area. But when one thinks of trekking, the imagery conjured up usually is either the Annapurna Circuit or the Everest Base Camp. Despite the fact that these two trails are probably the most sought after, there are many more in Nepal’s western region that are equally promising and fulfilling.
Simikot - Limi Valley Trek
The Limi Valley is a remote and rugged valley situated in the Humla district of the Karnali region in the Midwest. The valley has three villages: Til, Jhang and Halji, bordering Tibet while mirroring similar geographic and climatic conditions of the region as well. With dry, almost desert-like terrain surrounded by tall mountains, the Limi valley is strikingly beautiful. Untouched by any form of westernisation, it has been dubbed as the ‘Shangri-La’ of the modern days because of its pristine nature. The 18-day trek consists of walking an average of six hours per day for almost two weeks through the wilderness. The trip is a connection between man and spirituality flushed with sanctity and solidarity. Moreover, the trek is an explosion of colours and aesthetics at every bend and turn, and takes you on a vivid journey that makes you question if all that you are sensing at that moment is really happening.
The joy of rediscovering the forbidden at your own expense is inexplicable. And one will certainly experience similar emotions while walking through pathways in the mountains carved by ancient winds and walked by the bravest of people; the journey is indeed for the resilient. You will witness the longest river in the country, Karnali, frothing as it crashes against giant boulders while it comes flowing down the mountains. And you will find yourself wandering through streets lined with houses built like stone fortresses and ‘gompas’ or monasteries that have existed for centuries. The oldest known monastery in western Nepal, the Rinchenling Gompa that has stood tall and proud at an altitude of 3600m for nearly a millennium is a must visit if you’re travelling through Limi.
Phoksundo Lake Trek
Nepal’s blue gem – Phoksundo Taal (Lake) is a destination so exotic, that your entire journey will consist of nothing but being awestruck at the scenery. Thick pine forests, snow-capped mountains, wild running rivers and a constant hit of euphoria. The village of Ringmo sits on a 30,000 to 40,000-year-old landslide dam formed on the southern end of the lake. And past the dam, the waters of the lake plunge over a tall waterfall. And if that wasn’t enough of a sensory overload, you also get a great view of Mount Kanjiroba.
In Dolpa district, the deepest lake in the nation, Phoksundo, with its luminescent turquoise sheen looks like something that is right out of the Studio Ghibli cinematic universe. However, the 11-day trek isn’t only known for being a hidden natural treasure. The average seven hours per day walk you spend for a week enroute may state otherwise but once you get to the lake, you’ll discover the cultural beauty that hides inside the villages and gompas scattered across the lakeside. The area is also equally rich in wildlife which gives trekkers an opportunity to fortunately get sight of some endangered species like the Musk Deer, Snow Leopard, Tibetan sheep, Himalayan Tahr, Tibetan Partridge, Wood Snipe, Crimson-eared Rosefinch and so on.
The region’s inhabitants are mostly followers of Bon religion or Buddhism having an inclination towards Tibetan culture. On your way you will surely encounter the Shey Gompa, one of the most sacred Himalayan pilgrimages of Nepal. Often referred to as the ‘spiritual heart of Upper Dolpo’, the monastery is located at the base of Crystal Mountain which in itself is a peak symbol of religiosity where people make koras (circumambulate) to complete their visit to one of their twelve main pilgrimage sites. Isolated by their topography, many people there do not even speak the national language, Nepali. Not only is there a linguistic and cultural barrier among the occupants of the sector and individuals of urban Nepal, the living standard, when compared, has a difference of the heavens and earth. People of Upper Dolpo are entirely dependent on getting their supply of food, healthcare, education and economic purposes via airways. The trek is certainly vitalised by the sight of yak caravans and horse drawn carts that even today travel long distances through difficult terrain to barter goods and deliver precious cargo.
So, your spirituality is not only affected by the glimmering surface of the icy lake, but the old monasteries and their history are certainly working against the forces to help you attain Nirvana.
Saipal Himal Base Camp Trek
With an altitude of 7031 m above sea level, Saipal is the second highest peak in western Nepal. Its base camp trek is a very beautiful and extravagant journey that takes you on an off-the-beaten-path of western Nepal. Plus, it’s an easy walk for those who love the Himalayas but want to avoid high passes.
The Saipal Base Camp trek is an ideal trek, offering isolated and wild landscapes combined with the cultural enrichment of western Nepal. You make your way through Khaptad National Park. Its landscape consists of moorland, steep slopes, and streams that will certainly ensnare your attention with its lively greenness. The park is also home to the Khaptad Baba Ashram, a shrine dedicated to the region’s religious and philosophical figures. Once you enter the Seti River Valley, you pass through Chainpur, from where you continue on to Saipal Base Camp. However, this particular route is shorter when compared to the Simikot trail because of its 18-day trek, whereas the Simikot trail averages to about 23 days.
This route starts from Simikot and leads towards Karnali river bank through Thakuris, and Bhotia villages by witnessing their rhythm of life. The trail further leads to the Karang Khola valley via Sakyup La which is elevated at 4214 mt, after which you cross another ridge at Sakya La that has an altitude of 4709 mt. Once you enter the Rani Karka valley, it marks your ascend to the base camp. The trek takes into the lap of Mount Saipal which passes through the treeless landscapes, beautiful and culturally rich villages, the highland valley hidden below the glaciers and the exuberant vegetation. In general, Saipal Base Camp Trek is a wonderful experience of venturing into the least explored Far-Western Nepal. The Saipal Base Camp trek is an ideal trek, offering isolated and wild landscapes combined with the cultural enrichment of western Nepal.
Api Base Camp Trail
The Api Base Camp trail is one of those trails that has been lost to its remoteness and mystery, far beyond the reach of many people. This trail to the far west of Nepal crosses the Mahakali valley, the steep gorges, the waterfalls, the forests and the mountain pastures and the Chamelia river whose origins are said to be the mountain itself, till you finally make it to the base camp of Mount Api (7132 mt), the highest peak of Far-Western Nepal.
“It’s just as much about the journey, as it is the destination,” is a saying that is very much applicable to this trail as the stark contrast of diverse terrains and authentic wilderness untouched by modernisation in the region makes it one of the best trekking trails in Nepal. The trek lasts for 15 days while you walk an average of five hours for a week or so.
Since a very low number of tourists visit the Api Nampa Conservation Area or consider the trek itself, the area is undisturbed and remarkably peaceful. You also get a glimpse of the Nanda Devi peak and National Park across the Indian border in what is known as the state of Uttarakhand. The trail also consists of the Tinker Vanjyang Pass, probably one of the most well known passes in the country. Moreover, this hike is just as good for observing the local fauna (mostly birds) and for understanding the mixed community of a predominantly Bhotia establishment. To learn the culture, tradition and lifestyle of people purely unaffected by modernity having settled between Garhwal and Tibet would be an opportunity to truly understand what rural Nepal is like. Since a very low number of tourists visit the Api Nampa Conservation Area or consider the trek itself, the area is undisturbed and remarkably peaceful.