Trekking On Treacherous Trails—the Humla Trek

Image: The Great Himalaya Trail

It is the most remote and least developed region of Nepal, which probably makes it one of the worst places to live on planet earth. But, puzzling as it may seem, the people who inhabit this region are, on the whole, full of humanity. Perhaps it’s true that adversity brings out the best in humans. Similarly, this is a region that can also bring out the best in any trekker worth his salt. And yes, this is the region of numerous ancient salt trade routes. You’ll see a lot of mules around, mostly in caravans, carrying heavy looking loads and either scampering down steep boulder-ridden trails or clambering steadily uphill on similar tracks. All such things make this region a delight for true-blue adventurers. This is Humla, the northernmost district of Nepal, and the gateway to Mount Kailash, where Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati have their residence. The highest mountain in this area is Mt. Saipal (7,031 m).

This is also where the Limi Valley is located; a valley that will bring to mind imagined pictures of an enchanted and mythical Shangri-la. There is hardly any sign of modernization here; everything is as nature ordained it to be. Trekking in this virgin land begins from Simikot (2,910 m; the district headquarters) which can be reached by plane from Nepalgunj (about 50 min). It’s easy to get to Nepalgunj; there are plenty of regular flights from Kathmandu (about 1 hr). From Simikot, you take the route used by salt traders and their mule caravans since ages gone by, to Hilsa (3,720 m), a town on the Nepal-Tibet border. Point to note: this is actually the last part of the Nepal section of the Great Himalaya Trail.

The remoteness of the place and the wild beauty of nature is something that makes this trek something extraordinary. Add to this the fact that you’ll have to make as many steep ascents as steep descents, and you are all set for one of the toughest treks you have undertaken in your life.  However, the awesome scenery will surely help you cope better by diverting your mind from all that tough work. You’ll pass through neatly aligned terraced fields, deep green gorges, cascading waterfalls, lovely lakes, forests of pine trees, and plenty of rock strewn trails. The mighty Karnali River will be in your sight most of the time as will be snow-capped peaks on the horizon. Like mentioned before, everything here is pretty much nature-ordained. Some other things that will grab your attention will surely be the groups of sturdy yaks grazing peacefully on the meadows and the caravans of sheep carrying 10-12 kg loads of salt on their small backs.

Coming to the hike itself, there’s not much respite on the trail, as you’ll be immediately confronted with a steep climb on leaving Simikot. You will observe that, sometimes, the salt route goes along the valley wall and you will see waterfalls cascading down from some pretty high places. You might probably come across some nomads on the way and see several small villages around the top of the hills above the gorge, some which you will walk through, villages like Majhgaon, Kermi, Yalbang, and Tumkot. All this is of course well and good, but you’ll perhaps now be thinking that all that hiking up and down is pretty punishing on the legs. The descents are no less grueling than the ascents because they are mostly steep descents, and you’ll surely be doing a lot of skidding and balancing while going down. By and by, you will want to call it a day, even though you might not really have made it that far. So, it’s time to set camp, and what better spot for this than at the foot of the Chongsa basin? Pray that the weather holds, as, at this height, it’s possible for the weather to turn nasty without much warning.

Image: The Great Himalaya Trail

The next morning, you set off for the Nyalu Pass (4,950 m). It will test you, this walk. It’s a long and arduous hike, there’s no question about it, and you’ll be really thankful to have reached its end. You will be treated to truly splendid views from the pass, views that are panoramic and far-reaching. Enjoy it while you can, because actually, your ordeal isn’t over as yet. The descent after crossing the pass is a pretty difficult one. Take your time, you don’t want to be losing your balance and taking a tumble on the rough and treacherous trail. Finally, you’ll come to a lovely valley that’s grass-filled and has a large lake along with several smaller-sized turquoise colored pools, around which you might see herds of wild yaks munching away merrily on the luscious grass, which they will probably continue to do even as you approach them, so completely unfazed are they at the sight of strangers. You might also sight some other wildlife such as the wild goat, ground squirrel, musk deer, and the Himalayan marmot.

At the edge of the valley, near the lake’s end, you will walk on silt beaches that appear to be whiter than white. It’s something else, walking on all that fine white silt. Nevertheless, you have to leave it behind and keep on walking. Further ahead, around a corner, you’ll find yourself on the upper reaches of Limi Valley where you will now walk along the calmly flowing waters of Tankchhe Khola (river). All this could well put you in a meditative state. However, this might not last long as you could now be accosted by mule caravans clattering down the route. The scenery will also undergo a drastic change. The landscape now takes on more of a Grand Canyon nature—deep gorges with sheer sides of rock. Then on, you keep on descending to the border town of Hilsa. As you near your final destination, you will no doubt marvel at what you have gone through in the past days: you have hiked up and down, up and down, almost continuously; you have walked through lovely Eden-like valleys, along rivers with crystal clear water; seen beautiful turquoise lakes; and traversed the treacherous trails going though deep gorges and boulder strewn ravines. To put it all another way—you have experienced nature at its best, and maybe, at one of its wildest.

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