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Nar Phu, Thorung La, Tilich & Khopra Trek

Nar Phu, Thorung La, Tilich  & Khopra Trek

Phu Gaon

I’m trekking in the Nar-Phu Valley, a remote and sparsely visited region near the Tibetan border which is open to tourism since 2002. The trail leads along the Phu River in a deep gorge; often the path is very exposed, cut into vertical cliffs hundreds of meters above the river. To the west is Pisang Peak, to the east is Mount Kanguru, the view back south is dominated by Lamjung Himal and the tremendous Annapurna II. I pass through old, abandoned Khampa settlements; with every step I walk north the landscape gets drier and drier.

After two days I reach Phu Gaon a few hundred of years back in time. Dark flat stone houses, prayer flags everywhere, narrow alleys. Next day I hike up the hill next to the village to the Tashi Lhakhang Gompa. The weather is perfect, the location of this small monastery beautiful. The hill is full of Chortens, colourful Mani walls and hundreds of prayer flags blowing in the wind.

Later on I continue towards Himlung Himal (7126m), the path is hard to find, I follow the moraine east. Altitude, strong wind, dehydration and the exertion all contribute to a splitting headache. From the top of the moraine I get my view of Himlung, Nemjung and Himjung, beautiful White Mountains, in stark contrast to the brown hills in this dry area.

Nar Gaon

Next day I walk from Phu Gaon to the other village in this area, Nar Gaon. I follow the valley south, after a few hours the path branches off to the west. The views are spectacular: Kanguru to the east, Lamjung Himal and Annapurna II south, Pisang Peak straight ahead looks rather bleak from the north.

Early afternoon I reach Nar Gaon. I stroll around the village, thinking about the next days. Tomorrow I want to set off early to cross the Kang La Pass (5322m). Then it begins to snow heavily.

Next morning the whole valley is covered with a thick layer of snow. All I can do today is stay here and wait. I go for a walk through the village, the warm sun melts the snow quickly. In the evening the weather finally improves. The sky clears, revealing Pisang Peak and Kanguru, illuminated red by the setting sun.

Kang La (5322m)

My alarm goes off at 3, at 3:30 I start from the lodge. The stars in the sky and my headlamp are guiding my way through the night. I move up the valley quickly, trying to reach the pass as early as possible before the clouds roll in. For some time I follow a little stream, the trail is faintly visible through the snow. I ascend the slope to my right, then I continue west. After a while the narrow valley opens up a bit. At the head of the valley I can now see the trail again, zigzagging up the slope towards the pass. After what feels like an eternity I reach the end of the valley and join the path again! Now the hard work begins, up the long, steep slope towards Kang La. The last few hundred meters are particularly strenuous, through knee-deep snow. I need to rest a lot, the view east is incredible. Manaslu, Ngadi Chuli, Himal Chuli can be seen in the far distance, Kanguru, Pisang Peak, Chombi and Gyaji Kang are shining bright in the early morning sun.

Finally I reach the pass (5322m), marked by a cairn with a sign and prayer flags. I’m glad I reached pass early enough, hardly any clouds in the sky. And what a view! The whole Annapurna range is unfolding before my eyes. Annapurna II (7937m) is simply breathtaking and dominates the view. Lamjung Himal and the Myabasa Danda ridge to the south-east, Annapurna III, Gangapurna, Roc Noir and Grande Barriere south-west. I can even see the very tops of Machhapuchhare and Annapurna I – a rare pleasure from the north.

I have a long break on the pass, and then I start the 1700m descent to Ngawal. The first few meters down are steep and treacherous, over loose, slippery slabs. Very slowly, step by step I make my way downwards.

After a while the slope eases. I take it easy for the rest of the descent; it’s a long but easy stroll down to Ngawal. At 11am I reach Ngawal. It is still early, I don’t feel too tired and so I continue to Manang. I’m now back on the popular Annapurna Circuit.

Great Ice Lake

From Manang I’m heading for Tilicho Lake (4920m). In Khangsar I stop for tea. From Khangsar I go on, after a while the infamous landslide area begins.

Quickly I continue on the narrow trail, past bizarre looking rock formations, the river deep below to my left. I stay the night at the Tilicho Base Camp Lodge. Next morning I have an early start, it snowed at night and the landscape looks winterly. Grande Barriere and Roc Noir get closer with each step, the view back on Gangapurna, Chulus and the Marsyangdi Valley is awesome.

 Soon the path eases; some more walking on flat ground, then the lake comes in sight!

Roc Noir and Tilicho Peak are hidden by clouds, small avalanches roar down the slopes of the Great Barrier. Glaciers reaching right into the lake are cracking loud. I walk around the viewpoint at the south-eastern shore, it is cold and windy and after a couple of hours I go back.

Thorong La (5416m)

Next morning I walk in bad weather from Shree Kharka to Thorong Phedi. I pass Gunsang, Yak Kharka, Ledar, and cross the suspension bridge between Ledar and Thorong Phedi. In the afternoon the weather improves, I walk through another landslide area but the path is well trodden and easy to negotiate. On the slopes above I can see plenty of blue sheep.

This is snow leopard territory and I constantly keep an eye out for the big cat – in vain. Eventually I reach the lodges of Thorong Phedi (4530m), the sky clears for sunset revealing great views back on Gangapurna.

Next day I start at 5 towards the Thorong La Pass. Day is already dawning, making my headlamp needless. It is a bitterly cold, clear morning. I follow the line of trekkers trudging up the hill. Then the sun finally rises over the mountains, warming me up instantly.

At 8 I reach the Thorong La (5416m), notched in between the sixthousanders Khatung Khang and Yakawa Kang. The view from the pass exceeds my expectations. The Chulu Peaks, Putrun Himal and the ever present Annapurna II are towering skyhigh in the east; the Kali Gandaki Valley lies deep below in the west.

It is extremely windy and I start the long descent to Muktinath very soon. I more or less run down, losing altitude quickly. Before noon I arrive in Muktinath (3760m), a sacred place for both Hindus and Buddhists. I spend some time resting and watching the many Indian and Nepalese pilgrims at the main temple, and then I go to the neighbouring town of Ranipauwa for lunch.

Kali Gandaki Valley

In the afternoon I continue to the medieval town of Jhong. From the slopes north of Jhong I get fantastic views on the Nilgiris, Tilicho Peak and Dhaulagiri I, even the top of elusive Annapurna I comes into sight.

Walking through Jhong I’m looking for a place to stay the night but all the lodges seem to be closed. I have no choice but to go on with heavy legs. Dead tired and just before sunset I arrive at Kagbeni.

Next day I spend the morning exploring town and its surrounding area. With its ancient houses and beautiful location at the Kali Gandaki River, this place blows me away.

For a short distance I walk north along the Kali Gandaki River to the tiny settlement of Tiri. Like yesterday the weather is just perfect. In Tiri I hike up to the small monastery for more beautiful views. From this vantage point I can peek into Mustang, the former Tibetan kingdom in the north.

Two days later, I’m heading south along the Kali Gandaki to Kalopani. I take it easy and do plenty of side trips off the main trail. In the beautiful village of Naurikot I stop for breakfast and enjoy the awesome views, especially on Dhaulagiri I, the seventh highest mountain in the world.

Dhaulagiri I (8167m)

I continue west from Naurikot and ascend the lower slopes of Dhaulagiri to a small cave and waterfall. From here views are even better. At this point the Kali Gandaki Valley is one of the deepest valleys in the world, with an altitude as low as 2550m in between the eight-thousanders Annapurna and Dhaulagiri.

Khayar Lake (4600m)

From the lodge at Kopra Dhanda I start at 5 towards Khayar Lake, a sacred lake for Hindus at the foot of Annapurna South. It’s a hazy morning, I’m praying for good weather today. The trail to the lake is okay to find, frequently walked by pilgrims. After a couple of hours I cross the snow line, at around 9 I reach the lake at ~4600m. The shore is lined with tridents and bells, symbols of the Hindu god Shiva. I circumambulate the lake, scramble on the slopes around and take in the wonderful scenery. Clouds come and go, allowing close-up views on Fang and Annapurna South occasionally.

Through thick fog I walk back, retracing my own footsteps in the snow. The atmosphere is eerie, the view very limited. Luckily it doesn’t rain.

Next day I descend in the rain from Kopra Dhanda to Tadapani through a dense forest. I pass Bayeuli and Dobato, in the afternoon I reach the lodges of Tadapani, beautifully located at a scenic clearing.

The trek comes to an end with a spectacular sunrise next morning, the Annapurnas rising majestically one last time.

Tadapani sunrise: Annapurna South, Hiunchuli, Annapurna III, Machhapuchare, Annapurna II

—–Tobias Pantel —–

Why You Should Visit Nepal!

Nepal is one of the best tourist destinations in Southeast Asia. The country, located between two giants, India and China, is filled with varieties of beautiful natural features as well as diverse cultures. Here are some reasons to visit the beautiful country, Nepal.

The highest mountain in the world

Nepal is known as the home of the tallest peak of the world, Mt. Everest. It is located on the northeast side of Nepal and borders with India in the east and Tibet in the north. The majestic mountain lies in the Khumbu region, which is mostly inhabited by the Sherpa community. Due to this reason, Sherpa people have now become synonymous with mountains and mountaineering.

Various trekking routes in the Khumbu region celebrates the beauty of Everest through multiple angles. The majority of the tourists come here to trek till Everest Base Camp, but the daring ones aim for the summit. Every year, thousands of tourists flock to the Khumbu region to bask in the scenic views of Everest and its neighboring mountains like Ama Dablam, Nuptse, and Lhotse.

Besides the Base camp trek, there are other alternatives in the Khumbu region like Island Peak trek and Gokyo Lakes, where tourists can enjoy the serene beauty of the region. To travel and trek in the Kumbu region, tourists need to prepare necessary permits before heading out.

Different culture

Nepal is one of the culturally diverse countries in the world. Due to this reason, Nepal stands out from rest in terms of culture. The country houses 126 ethnic groups, and the government has recognized 59 indigenous nationalities. All these ethnic and indigenous communities have their own set of cultures and traditions, thus making each of them unique and charming. The mutual harmony that coexists between all these different cultures also highlights the charms of Nepal. 

Delicious variety of cuisines and friendly people

The diverse culture gives birth to a wide range of cuisines across the country. From east to west, various foods are unique to that particular region only. Dal Bhat (rice and lentil soup) is the staple food of the country, and besides that, there is a wide range of food that suits the palate of each tourist who visits Nepal.

Momo, Newari Khaja set, and Thakali khana set are some of the most popular dishes one should not miss out when in Nepal.

According to geography, climate, and crop availability, different communities have their unique cuisine. For example, the Newari population is mostly inhabited in the hilly region like Kathmandu valley, so they have a variety of meat and vegetable dishes. For the Sherpa people, potato, barley, and maize are the staple crops, so their dishes also revolve around these crops.

Similarly, the Gurungs who mostly inhabit the western hills primarily include buckwheat and millet in their cuisines. Enjoy delicious food served by lovely and welcoming people. The warm hospitality of the Sherpas in the Khumbu region, as well as Gurungs and Thakalis in the Annapurna region, adds inviting and pleasing charm. You would want to revisit Nepal once you have tasted their local cuisines and warm hospitality.

Land of Tigers and Rhinos [Abundance of wildlife and bird watching destination]

The dense forests of Nepal are home to a variety of flora and fauna. In the south, rare and endangered animals like tigers and rhinos are found. Especially in the southwestern side of the country, there is an abundance of tigers and rhinos. These animals are found within protected areas like Chitwan National Park and Bardia National Park.

Along with tiger and rhino, elephant, water buffalo (Arna), Blackbuck deer, and many other species of animals reside in the dense jungles of these protected areas. These national parks are also the perfect place for bird watching activities. During wintertime, a wide range of migratory birds like a mallard, common teal, and grey-headed lapwings come from the north to these forested regions and spend their winter here. Thus, winter is the perfect time for bird enthusiasts to go and do bird watching.   

Religious diversity

Even though the majority of the population is Hindus, Nepal is a secular country where people respect each other’s festivals and celebrations. More than 80% of the population follows Hinduism, so the majority of people celebrate festivals like Dashain and Tihar heartily.

Similarly, 8% of the people follow Buddhism, and their main festival is Buddha Jayanti, where they celebrate the birth of Gautam Buddha. 4% of the Islamic population celebrate various festivals annually, like Ramadan. The ethnic and indigenous communities of Nepal follow Hinduism, Buddhism, or a mix of both.

Peace, Serenity and Stunning views

The tranquility of the serene and stunning views is another unique quality of Nepal. In the mountainous region, the beautiful villages are surrounded by scenic views of mountain ranges, thus making it the perfect place to relax and enjoy the beauty of nature. There are also cities and towns in the hills, where tourists can enjoy some quiet time. The best example is Bandipur, a small village in Tanahu, where the peaceful environment is accompanied by picturesque views of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges.

Around Kathmandu Valley as well, there are various viewpoints where the splendid mountain vistas are visible. Nagarkot and Dhulikhel are two famous places where tourists can get such views and enjoy the tranquility near the bustling capital.  

Beautiful Lakes

Most of the lakes of Nepal are freshwater and are formed by the melting of glaciers. Pokhara, the second biggest city in the country, is also known as the city of lakes. Along with the famous Phewa, there are other lakes like Begnas, Rupa, and Khaste lakes, which are all equally beautiful and breathtaking.

Besides these, there are several other scattered throughout the country. Rara Lake, the deepest and biggest freshwater lake of Nepal, lies in the far-western region of Nepal, is another famous scenic lake of the nation. It is said that the lake changes its color into different shades of blue every season.

Due to the ecological value of this lake, Rara National Park was established in 1976. Gosainkunda and Tilicho lakes are some of the holy lakes of Nepal that are visited by thousands of pilgrims every year.   

Rich in art and architecture

Nepal has diverse art and architecture, signifying the different cultures. Handicrafts are one of the most popular representations of the Nepalese art. Various communities and regions have their unique trademark in craftsmanship. For example, Palpa is renowned for handmade Dhaka prints, which are then made into different things like purses, shawls, and coats. Similar to these handicrafts, the architecture is also distinctive.

Generally, Nepalese architecture exhibit three styles that are Stupa, Pagoda, and Shikhara style. The architecture of houses in Chitwan and Solukhumbu is entirely different. The ones in the south are made to withstand heat and are made with bamboo, while in the north, stone tiles and houses are pretty common.

Trace the birthplace of Lord Buddha at Lumbini

Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was born in Lumbini, Nepal. Thousands of tourists flock to this pilgrimage site every year to pay homage to the birthplace of Buddha. In the premises of Maya Devi temple, there are twenty-five monasteries built by various countries like Thailand, Cambodia, German, China, and many more. Tourists can learn more about Buddhism by visiting these monasteries. Tourists can pay respects to the holy birthplace and also explore the museum as well as yoga and meditation centers.

Experience adventurous activities

The best adventurous activity to do in Nepal is trekking. The country is blessed with many great and majestic mountain ranges and rugged trekking routes, making it the best place for backpack traveling and trekking. Various trekking routes are graded from easy to strenuous, thus fitting the taste and level for every tourist.

Easy treks can mostly be done within a week, and the best example for it is Poonhill-Ghorepani trek in the Annapurna region. For strenuous trekking options, Everest Base Camp trekking would be the best. There are other treks like Tamang Heritage Trek, where tourists get to learn about the Tamang culture and traditions.

Along with trekking, the country is famous for various adventurous activities like rafting, bungee jumping, and rock climbing.

Naturally gifted country

This small country, with the average north-south distance of 193 km comprises of flora and fauna ranging from tropical trees in the south to pine and fir trees grown in the alpine climate in the north.

The climatic variability and the rich biodiversity of Nepal is one of a kind. Nepal homes various rare and endangered animals like the snow leopard, birds like the spiny babbler, and plants like the Himalayan Yew (Yarsagumba). The country is also abundant with various kinds of freshwater resources ranging from ponds to rivers. Most of these water bodies originate from the melting snow of the Himalayas.

Pilgrimage and Pleasure

Alongside Lumbini, there are numerous temples and religious sites that are always crowded with pilgrims from around the world. The holy Hindu temple of Pashupatinath, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is located at the heart of Kathmandu.

Similarly, Boudhanath Stupa, a revered site for Buddhist pilgrims, is also found in the capital city. Besides these religious landmarks, there are many other temples and stupas around the country that hold sacred values to the local people. Kalinchowk Bhagwati, Manakamana, and Muktinath are some of the temples that are frequented by pilgrims every year.