The following is our itinerary for the expedition plus some additional information on the specific places, sights, and activities for the trekking portion. Amazing places!
And, here are a couple of maps to help you visualize where we are going:
Today, upon our arrival in KTM, we’ll take it easy for the most part. The afternoon will be spent organizing gear and having an official expedition meeting.
Kathmandu Valley sightseeing:
Today, once we drag our jetlagged butts out of bed, we’ll take in some sights of the Kathmandu Valley. Depending on our energy levels, we’ll take an early morning walk through the spectacular bazaar of Asan Tole, near Kathmandu’s Durbar (Palace) Square. From there, we’ll head to the sacred Hindu cremation grounds of Pasupatinath, the birthplace of Lord Shiva, the God of Destruction. A magical place. Then, on Bhaktapur, the old city of the Kathmandu Valley. (Kathmandu was originally 4 principalities – Kathmandu, Patan (Lalitpur), Bhaktapur (Bhadgaon), and Kirtipur – before it was united by Prithvi Narayan Shah in 1786.) If there is time and interest, we can also visit the Patan Museum, a great history of Nepal in Patan Durbar Square.
Kathmandu Final Day:
We’ll spend today making sure all our gear is in order, running last minute errands, and doing anything else we need to do in preparation for the trip ahead.
Fly to Nepalgunj, overnight in hotel:
A classic border town of the Terai, Nepalgunj sits on the Indian border and is a bustling, chaotic city. Depending on when we actually leave KTM (domestic flights in the kingdom are often a bit slow), we might have time to walk around the city to stretch our legs.
Fly to Simikot (9400 feet), trek to Darapari (7800 feet)
Yup, we go downhill today. But, that just makes for more climbing uphill! We’ll descend from Simikot into the Karnali River valley, one of the most powerful and important rivers in Nepal. We are now in the Humla region of Nepal, and the southern Humla is the home of the Thakuri people, a Hindu people with Indian origins. We’ll see some wonderful traditional dress and jewelry – as well as scenery – to keep cameras at the ready! Eventually, we’ll make it down to Darapari. The first of many nights in tents!
Trek Darapari to Danda Kermi (8400 feet)
Today we trek above the Karnali river, passing through Thakuri villages and fields of these pastoralists. The river below is choked with stones – legend has it these were silver fish swimming up the holy Ganges and could go no further! There are also waterfalls coming down the valley – good shower opportunities! Camp in the small village of Danda Kermi.
Trek Danda Kermi to Yalbang Gompa (8800 feet)
We’ll start the day by climbing from Danda Kermi to Kermi, the first village inhabited by the Buddhist people of Humla, a people of Tibetan descent. We’ll pass by some bubbling sulfur hot springs on the way. As we climb out of the Karnali valley toward the Soli La – our first pass (9570 feet) – we’ll get out of the rice fields and into pine forest and buckwheat fields. Tonight we’ll camp at or near the gompa (monastery) of Yalbang.
Trek Yalbang Gompa to Tumkot Khola (9240 feet)
We’ll follow a path made of stone and timbers which follows the Karnali river, at times coming quite close to its raging waters. After crossing the river, we’ll climb to the police checkpost (if it is still in extistence – probably Maoist now) in Muchu. We’ll pass through the village and make a gradual descent to our camp on the river.
Trek Tumkot Khola to Thado Dunga (12,540 feet)
We’ll climb straight from Tumkot out of the Karnali valley to a ridgecrest at 10,230 feet. We’ll follow the ridgecrest through juniper forests through the small village of Palbang with a school and small store, and on to the town of Yari where we’ll make our camp at Thado Dunga. Time and weather permitting, we can make a small trek above Yari and Dzungjen to a ridgecrest offering views of the Saipal Himal.
Trek Thado Dunga to Hilsa over Nara La (11,550 feet)
A sharp climb out of Thado Dunga takes us for 3-4 hours to the Nara La (or Lagna in the local dialect), whose 14,400 foot height is marked by a chorten and prayer flags. We’ll walk around the chorten clockwise, keeping our left side away from the holy site, and let out the traditional high-point celebration of La-sososososososoooooooo! Looking north, we can gaze onto the barren plains of Tibet, an amazing contrast to the fertile valleys we’ve been walking through. With luck, as we descend toward Hilsa, we’ll pass traders coming from Tibet to Nepal carrying salt, or Nepal to Tibet bringing rice from the lowlands. We’ll regain our friend, the Karnali, in Sher, and camp again on its banks.
Trek Hilsa to Sher and drive to Mansarovar (14,652 feet)
A short trek takes us to Sher, an old salt trading post on the border of Tibet. We’ll meet our liaison officer from the CTMA, hop into Landcruisers, and make the rugged drive north across the plains to Mansarovar. If we have time, we can stop at Khojarnath, a monastery the somehow escaped destruction during the Cultural Revolution and is home to many impressive artworks as well as a stuffed snow leopard and Tibetan wolf. Continuing north over the Gurla La (15,147 feet) we’ll get great views of Kailash as well as, of course, our mountain, Gurla Mandhata. We’ll make camp on the shores of holy Mansarovar, perhaps with pilgrims making the kora.
Mansarovar to Darchen (14,850 feet)
This morning, we’ll take time to enjoy the beauty of the lake, bathing in its cleansing waters and making a visit to Chiu Gompa which sits upon a cliff above the lake, has wonderful views, and enshrines a sacred Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) cave, the mystic who flew across Tibet on a Bengal tiger and was responsible for bringing Buddhism to Tibet. This afternoon, we drive 2 hours to Darchen, the pilgrim’s gateway to the Kailash kora.
Darchen to Dri Ra Phuk gompa (16,533 feet)
A gentle walk on a good path takes us north through the Lha Chu Valley (Valley of the Gods), past the Kangnyi chorten (two legged chorten) and towering cliffs that are the home of protective deities. Tibetan drokpa, or nomads, live here, raising their herds of yak and sheep. We make camp below Dri Ra Phuk gompa with stunning views of Kailash’s north face.
Dri Ra Phuk to Zutul Phuk Gompa (15,906 feet)
A steep climb brings us up a glacial moraine and past the Shiwa Tsal “cemetery”, a spot where Tibetans leave a piece of clothing or a drop of blood to symbolize leaving their past lives behind them. We continue climb upward to the Dolma La (18,579 feet), marked by prayer flags and a huge mani stone dedicated to the goddess Dolma. On the descent, we pass by the frozen waters of Gourikund Lake and enter the Zhong Chu valley, making camp near the 13th century Zutul Phuk Gompa after 6-8 hours of walking. A great day!
Zutul Phuk to Tirthapuri (14,982 feet) via Darchen
An easy 3 hour walk leads us out of the Zhong Chu above a narrow gorge. Once back in Darchen, we drive 3 hours to Tirthapuri to complete the Kailash kora. One of the holiest sites in all of Tibet, Tirthapuri is where Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) meditated and performed miracles centuries ago. Hot springs at the site are where legend says the demon god Bhasmasure was burned to death.
Drive Tirthapuri to Tholing
Today we begin the excursion to the amazing Guge Kingdom ruins, starting at Tholing Monastery. The most important and influential monastery of historic West Tibet, Tholing was built in the 11th century by Rinchen Zangpo. He and Atisha, an Indian king, were responsible for the revival of Buddhism in Tibet. So strong was Tholing that its influence once spread from Kashmir in the west all the way to Assam in NE India! While much of Tholing was destroyed or damaged by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, many wonderful aspects and artworks remain. With luck, we’ll have views to the SE stretching all the way to Nanda Devi in India!!
Tholing to Tsaparang
Today we’ll go to the remains of the famed Guge Kingdom and its capital of Tsaparang. Founded in the 9th century by Wosung Langdarma, the Guge Kingdom is home to over 100 monasteries and was a focal point of Buddhism in Tibet until 1630 when it was overthrown by angry Buddhists upset about the spread of Christianity in Tibet by Portuguese missionaries aided by Guge. Fortunately, much of Guge escaped destruction during the Cultural Revolution, and remains one of the most culturally rich – and least visited – places in all of Tibet. Lama Govinda and Li Gotama visited it in 1948 and wrote:
After the Valley of the Moon Castle and the awe-inspiring canyons on the way to Tholing, we feared that perhaps Tsaparang would come as an anti-climax or at least something that could not compete with the natural wonders through which we had passed. But when, on the last lap of our journey – while emerging from a gorge and turning the spur of a mountain – we suddenly beheld the lofty castles of the ancient city of Tsaparang, which seemed to be carved out of the solid rock of an isolated, monolithic mountain peak, we gasped with wonder and could hardly believe our eyes.
Should be amazing!
Spare day – either continue visiting Tsaparang or more exploration of Tholing and the environs. We shall see!
Drive back to Tirthapuri
Another day in the saddle, but after some amazing places, sights, and sounds!
On to the mountain! Today we drive to Gurla Mandhata Basecamp!!!