Team आत्मन् (Ātman) – the innermost essence of each individual
When Saurabh approached HAL in late 2021, we discussed various options (Upper Mustang, Dolpo, Kanchenjunga, Humla) as a potential multi day camping adventure. The natural and cultural landscape, remoteness of a place, ease to arrange logistics, and trip cost were some of the variables we chewed over. Another element Saurabh and his group took into consideration was creating direct social impact in a cause that resonated with them. Once Humla as the destination for the trip was finalised Saurabh reached out to local nonprofits, to learn about the work and assess the possibility of partnership. Five members (Saurabh, Dipti, Eva, Steve and George) of Victoria Club Tread from Victoria, BC, set the objective to raise funds for education of children with disabilities, supported by HEAD Nepal, a Simikot based NGO in Karnali Province, Nepal.
A plan was set; to fly to a remote airstrip in Rara (starting point for the Mugu/Dolpo trek last year), head north to Simikot, follow Mugu Karnali river to get to Hilsa, a border town and turn east to Limi valley and back down to Simikot while crossing two Himalayan passes. Trip in numbers; total distance: 285 km, range: 1627m to 4995m, elevation gain +17971m, elevation loss -18213m.
Getting to the starting line is not always easy
Just days before leaving for the trip we had to change the starting point (and the itinerary) from Talcha to Simikot because the incessant rain in early October caused landslides in Mugu. The whole section of trail north of Bama was swept away and the landslide area was impassable. It was the same erratic weather that made our Manaslu team turn back (trip report here) We left a day later than planned because we had to secure the tickets to Simikot navigating the poor booking system (if there is one!) of airlines to remote areas.
HAL is expert not only at navigating the Himalayas but the country’s bureaucracy! After staying in Nepalgunj for the night, we took an early flight the next morning and got to Simikot, the district headquarters of Humla, a long journey from Kathmandu. The town is perched at an elevation of 2,950 metres (9,678 feet), and offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains. We spent the day acclimatising to the altitude, exploring the town and preparing for the trek.
Off we go!
We set off from Simikot and began our trek through the massive Mugu Karnali valley. The first few days were relatively easy, as we followed the river through lush forests and terraced fields. We camped along the way, enjoying the peace and solitude of the wilderness. At Kermi, just east of the village we dipped in hot springs overlooking unnamed peaks in the west. Our team had one of the best lunch spots at Salli Khola. Later we were fortunate enough to camp here on our way back.
The terrain became more challenging as we continued our trek, with steep ascents and descents through rugged mountain topography. Despite the difficulty, the views were breathtaking, and we were rewarded with stunning vistas of snow-capped peaks and high altitude desert valleys. At Yari we stayed for two nights to acclimatise, sightings of herd of blue sheeps (Nyaur), drinking Su chya (Tibetan butter tea), chewing on dried yak cheese, took part in deusi-bhailo (Singing ritual during Tihar; festival of lights celebrated predominantly by Hindus) celebration & ate momos. We told ourselves, another day in paradise.
We crossed our first Himalayan pass at Nara La (4,548 metres/14,907 feet), which offered panoramic views of the surrounding mountains to get to Hilsa, a small border town on the Nepal side. What we thought was a possible sighting of snow leopard footprints, after confirming later with our biologist and conservationist friend Rinzin Phunjok Lama disappointingly it turned out to be a Himalayan fox print!
In the east from Hilsa was awaited and talked about, Limi valley. ‘For centuries before, the three villages of Limi Valley – Halji, Til and Jang – were the focus of a vibrant caravan trade with neighbouring Tibet and part of the larger sacred landscape surrounding the holy Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar.’ Team Atman camped at the confluence of two rivers just below the village of Til, campfire throughout the night under the milky way. In Halji we saw a glimpse of Tibetan village life and got an opportunity to explore Halji, Rinchenling monastery which is said to be more than eleven centuries old. Rigzin, Amrit and Urgen coming from Tibetan Buddhism heritage helped our group a lot with translating, and explaining the culture and traditions or communities along the trail.
As we continued following the Limi valley, Dzang was the last village on this side of Nyalu La. We restocked some of our green supplies. Thanks to the people of Dzang. And we have been doing this along the trail, trying to buy whatever we can from rural communities and only ferrying goods from Kathmandu and Nepaljung which cannot be found in local communities. We camped near the hot springs east of Dzang, with big smiles on our faces. Our side trip was to reach the border with Tibet at Lapcha and get a view of Mt. Kailash, but were unable to do so due to heavy snow north of Takche and a risk of snowfall. So we set our eyes on crossing Nyalu La before the weather deteriorated.
Talun Khola was our last camp on our ascent to second pass Nyalu La (4,996 metres/16,388 feet). We reached Nyalu La which was covered in snow, knee deep at some sections. But the track was made by other travellers, mostly villagers travelling between Limi and Simikot. The ascent was slow due to snow, but the views from the top were truly breathtaking, with the Tibetan Plateau visible in the distance. Despite the challenges of the terrain, we were constantly in awe of the beauty of the region. We were also struck by the feeling of being connected to the past, as we walked on trails that had been used by our ancestors for centuries. We celebrated getting to the top by drinking rum (just a sip!), feasting on balls of tsampa and chocolate!
Once we rejoined the trail at Salli Khola where we had lunch on day 3 we drew a plan to do a side trip to Railing Monastery and the nearby village of Dojam rather than pushing ourselves to get to Rara.
A stop in Simikot gave us a chance to re-energize and restock, before we head out to explore a section of Ning valley. Mystical Railing gumba was worth a visit, a centuries old Monastery perched on the mountain side where pikas and blue sheeps roam the slopes. Locals say that Railing got its prominence after Padmasambhava also known as Guru Rinpoche visited the area between the 8th to 9th century. Our souls felt at peace here.
Our 25-day camping adventure came to an end as we made our way back to Kathmandu. Despite the challenges we faced along the way, we had a truly unforgettable experience, and we were grateful for the opportunity to explore the wild beauty of the Limi valley. We left feeling grounded and present, with a renewed appreciation for the grandiosity of nature and the universe. A special tribute to our crew members; Gopal Rai (Head Chef), Lakh Bahadur Rai (Sous Chef), Rigzin Lama (Support staff), Man Bahadur Shahi (Support staff), Amrit Lama (Mule’s man), Urgen Lama (Mule’s man), Sudeep Kandel (Lead guide) and nine mules who helped ferry goods up and over the mountains.
The initiative from members of Victoria Club Tread is called ‘Himalayan Education Fundraiser’. The goal of this fundraising initiative is to improve and provide inclusive education for children with physical disabilities and/or visual impairment, aged between 5 and 15, currently enrolled at HEAD Vision Home and HEAD Enable Home in Simikot, Karnali Province, Nepal. If you want to learn more about the project please visit https://himalayanedufund.com
HAL specialises in high altitude treks, fast packs and climbs in the Himalayas. Come join us! 2023 trip dates are out now.
Picture gallery from Humla trip 2022 below.