Trip Report – Honeymoon on the Great Himalayan Trail – West
By: Matthew and Anna Ross
Source: Australia Section Newsletter (February 2018)
Trek Overview: The Nepal Section of the Great Himalaya Trail stretches across the entire length of the country. From border to border the high route is 1700km long. Variations of the route can be made to suit the group. Average walkers can complete the entire trek in around 5 months, and the GHT has been done by a trail runner in 28 days. We had 10 weeks in Nepal so we fitted in what we could in the time we had.
Our Trek: Last October and November my new wife Anna and I went on a different sort of honeymoon. We trekked 850km – or about half of the Nepali Great Himalaya Trail.
The trek took us about 7 weeks (47 days of walking) and we trekked west to east starting in the far west town of Simikot. Our journey traversed several distinctly different areas of Nepal, some of which are rarely visited by any tourists.
Starting in the far west town of Simikot we were literally jumping into the deep end – as Simikot is a remote town and doesn’t have many tourists pass through. We’d done our planning and preparations and were not going to have a guide for all of our trip – just for 2 sections. So after disembarking the small plane and the local police questioning us we started walking our Great Himalaya Trek. The feeling of taking the first steps of such a long trek that we’ve been dreaming of doing and planning and getting ready for a long time is great.
We started off carrying camping gear and food for about 4 – 5 days and cash in 100 and 500 rupee notes (equivalent to USD$1 and $5) for the entire trek. We weren’t sure exactly how far we’d make it each day or where we’d be able to buy a meal, but things seemed to work themselves out as we went, as is often the case in Nepal.
The first week or so we found harder – our bodies were getting used to carrying our backpacks up and down steep hills, but our legs got stronger, and packs got lighter as we progressed.
The villages we passed through in the far west seldom see any tourists, and it was often the children who greeted us and would come to see what these strange people are doing in their village. We experienced genuine kindness in these areas – being given apples or walnuts to eat, and even the couple who own a tea shop gave up their bed for us. The locals were busy mostly with threshing their grain by beating it on the roofs of their houses. We ended up camping just 4 nights in the western section, the other nights we were in lodges or a room of some sort with a roof over our head.
We had our first rest day (day 10) at Nepal’s largest lake – Rara Lake which is opening up to domestic tourism with an airstrip nearby. The peaceful surrounds of the lake were great for a relaxing day, and there were other travellers to talk to.
We caught a bone-shaker bus to the next town – Jumla (but would rather walk next time), and started our next section of our GHT – following the old trade route to Dunai. We were recommended to take this route from Jumla to Dunai as the mapped GHT high route heads off in a very remote section that we weren’t recommended to take.
At Jumla for the first time on our trek we were able to buy food that wasn’t Dal Bhat, and stock up on Snickers bars. We noticed that the buildings around Jumla used sawn timber in their construction and some even had corrugated iron on their roofs. This was in comparison to the stone / mud and roughly split timber houses further west.
After five more days of trekking and a rest day with mostly lodges for accommodation we made it to Dunai on day 18. Dunai is a larger town and starting point for many Dolpo treks. Here we devoured plates of mutton momos and samosas.
From Dunai we made a side trip to one of the highlights of our trek – Phoksundo Lake. The water of Phoksundo is an amazing azure blue and the surrounding mountains give the lake an amazing backdrop. The small village of Ringmo is close to Phoksundo and was once a stop over for traders going to / from tibet. The old village is still intact, with several newer lodges nearby. We had planned a rest day at Phoksundo, but with such breathtaking scenery we had to experience as much as we could while there.
Back at Dunai we met up with our guide and 2 porters who were to join us for the next 10 days as we had to traverse a fairly remote section of Dolpo and cross the Dhaulagiri Himal to get to Kagbeni.
Our guide was from the Khumbu area and we were getting closer to winter. Both of these things meant that there wasn’t much information about tea houses that may be open, and there was a lessening chance that the remote tea shops would be open. At first we were told that we’d find tea shops each day except 1, then as we got further along our guide found out that we’d have to be cooking our own meals for 5 nights. This threw our food planning into chaos but we were able to buy rice and tinned tuna / sardines along the way to cook ourselves.
This section of Dolpo is in the rain shadow of the Annapurna Range and is very dry and very little grows in the ground. We passed through 2 villages where the main source of fuel for cooking is dried yak dung as there’s no timber around. We saw caravans of horses bringing back loads of yak dung and people carrying large sacks.
The coldest night on our trek we were camped at 4960m altitude, we wore all our warm clothes inside our -5C sleeping bags. It was -14C in our tent in the morning, but I’m sure we were warmer than our crew who didn’t have mattresses. We had a slow start that morning, after the sun’s warmth reached us it was easier to pack up.
The highest pass we crossed was Jungben La at 5550m on day 31. The appeal of selfies has reached the Khumbu it became evident as our guide produced a selfie stick from his jacket pocket and we all posed for photos on the pass. He later showed us that he had been snapping photos of us during our trek while he was walking behind us.
We reached Kagbeni on day 33 where our guide and porters travelled back home and we had a rest day. We were able to send our camping gear back to Kathmandu with our guide. We savoured the delicious food that the various lodges and cafes in Kagbeni had, since we were now in a touristy area we didn’t have to only eat Dal Bhat for dinner.
The next 2 sections ahead of us were the Annapurna and Manaslu sections and since we were walking west to east we were going against the flow of all the tourists which often resulted in comments to us that we’re going the wrong way. The scenery in the Annapurna section is breathtaking, and anyone who’s walked the Annapurna Circuit would agree.
We crossed Thorong La (5416m) and the following day (day 37) were in Manang. Manang has become a sort of a trekkers paradise with small movie theatres, trekking equipment stores and bakeries that have fantastic chocolate croissants and danishes.
We finished the Annapurna section of our GHT trek on day 40 when we got to Dharapani. Here we met another guide who joined us on the Manaslu section of the trek.
The Manaslu section was a great way to end our tre
k, the scenery was very beautiful and being a tourist trek, we could enjoy a soft bed and hot meal each evening. Crossing Larkey La (5200m) was the longest day of our trek – our guide wanted to start at 4am, but we negotiated for 5am. Although we had to climb the steeper side of the pass and descend the more gentle slope we were getting used to crossing 5000m passes – this was the fourth on our trek.
The prices for food on the Manaslu section were high, prices in the remote sections of Dolpo were not as high and in Dolpo there were fewer places to spend our money. But when you’re burning calories all day, even pizza for breakfast is not out of the question.
Somehow we managed just about the entire trip without much rain, only a couple of small showers came between day after day of clear blue skies and mostly great views of nearby peaks. Manaslu was no exception and we had fantastic views of the summit from the village of Lho. The remainder of the trek we walked down the valley, our guide happy for us to walk fast and cover the kilometers. In the lower valley closer to Macchakhola the road building efforts became evident once again. We learned that they are planning to build a road all the way to the Chinese (Tibet) border and hope to be completed within 5 years. This will certainly change what it is like to trek in the Manaslu area in the future.
We made it to Soti Khola at the end of day 47. From here we were able to catch connecting buses back to Kathmandu. It was quite an amazing experience to be trekking in the Himalayas for such a length of time and be immersed in the culture of Nepal. It was also an unforgettable honeymoon.
Posted By: Narina Sutherland