Friday, October 11, 2019

Trek to the Lost Valleys (Part I)

Greetings Everyone,
We have returned to Nepal for the 8th time to trek to the lost valleys of Naar and Phu. Only opened to tourism since 2003, the trek from Naar and Phu to Mustang had been on our “to-do” list for a number of years. We booked our 19-day trek through a US-based tour company, One World Trekking. We had used this company in the past and found out that Chet who had guided us in the Dolpo region in 2016 would be our trip leader once again. We arrived in the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu on October 3 and spent only a few nights here before driving to the start of our trek. 

We piled into our minivan along with our entire trek crew consisting of Chet, Dorje our climbing sherpa, Kumar our cook, 2 cooking assistants and 5 porters for the 8-hour drive to Besisahar. It took us nearly 2 hours to drive the 10 miles out of the Kathmandu Valley! Our departure coincided with Dashain, the biggest holiday of the year, and everyone wanted to escape the city to visit their families in the countryside. Finally, we reached the Gorkha District and the traffic diminished a bit.

Kathmandu Valley Traffic

We didn’t reach the town of Besisahar until 5:00 PM. Here we had to transfer into a jeep for the remaining drive to Jagat. Back in 2009 when we trekked the Annapurna Circuit the road ended here, now it continues all the way to Manang. The road started off ok but as it started to climb higher into the mountains it became very narrow, rocky and muddy. Due to recent rains, some sections had been washed out and we had to drive precipitously close to the edge of a cliff. Night had fallen making the drive even more precarious.

Transfer to 4x4 in Besisahar

We reached the village of Syange around 8:00 PM, 12 hours after we had set off from Kathmandu! Chet decided to spend the night here in a guest house rather than continue to Jagat in the darkness. We were relieved to be done with the drive and calmed our frayed nerves with a cold Everest beer.

A Cold Beer in Syange!

The following morning we opted to trek the extra hour and a half to Jagat. Our porters assembled their loads and we headed out around 7:20 AM.

Our Crew Packing Loads at Trek Start

We followed the road to Jagat where many guest houses had been built. Things are changing rapidly in Nepal due to an increase in the number of trekkers and the demand for better accommodations.

Jagat

We stopped for tea at the village of Chyamche where we left the road and followed a trail along the west side of the Marsyangdi River.

 Marsyangdi River

We continued on reaching the village of Kharte around 4:30 pm. Chet opted to spend the night here rather than continuing on to Dharapani, 20-30 minutes away. We had already trekked 12 miles over the course of 9 and a half hours and I was getting tired. We settled into the 3 Sisters Hotel & Restaurant for the night.

Our Guest House in Kharte

Another early start had us staying on the road to Dharapani and on until Danaque where we stopped for a break. Just past the village, a stream was flowing fast over the road and Chet had to help us get across on rocks.

Fast Stream Crossing

The old trail left the road and entered a beautiful pine, oak and rhododendron forest.

Rhododendron Forest

Later in the afternoon, it started to rain but fortunately, we were close to Koto, our final destination for the night. We chose to stay in another guest house rather than camp in the rain. We were getting spoiled by these relatively luxurious accommodations but knew that at some point we’d have to camp.

Our Guest House in Koto

The next day we left the Annapurna Circuit and headed into uncharted territory.

Leaving the Annapurna Circuit

We were on our way to Phu (or Phoo) village, a side trip on our long trek. We crossed the Marsyangdi River for the last time and headed up the heavily forested Naar Khola Valley. The throng of other trekkers, jeeps bumping along the rutted road and the string of guest houses fell by the wayside as we entered this peaceful and secluded valley.


Last Crossing of the Marsyangdi River

The trail continued to climb passing underneath a rushing waterfall and on to the settlement of Dharamsala where a passing mule train nearly knocked me off my chair.

Hiking Under a Waterfall!

As we were making the final climb to Meta, rain began to fall and we donned our rain jackets and pants for the final push. We reached the Mayta Guest House & Restaurant where we spent the night. The mule train carrying supplies for another expedition climbing Himlung Peak past Phu had already arrived and we shared the warm fire in the dining room with the porters, sherpas, and muleteers.

Waiting for Dinner

The following morning the weather had cleared and we had our first view of the stunning Annapurna Range. As I stood on the balcony admiring the scene, I was reminded why we keep coming back to Nepal to trek in the high Himalayas.

Morning View of the Annapurna Range

We pressed on toward the village of Phu. The forests had given way to barren fields, a reminder that winter would soon be approaching. We stopped at the settlement of Chyakhu for a cup of tea. The marigolds were attracting a variety of bees and colorful butterflies.

Butterfly

The high point of today’s trek was around 13,000 feet from which we could see the winter settlement of Kyang below.

View of Kyang

Tonight we would camp for the first time. Kunar had set up his kitchen in the stone hut of the camping area. Chet had spotted a herd of Blue Sheep nearby and we stalked them in order to get a closer look.

Blue Sheep Near Camp

On October 10th we reached the fabled village of Phu. The approach to the village was marked by the “leaning tower of Pisa”, an imposing hunk of granite at the base of the steep climb to the Phu Gate.


“Leaning Tower of Pisa”

We entered through the spectacularly located Phu Gate where we stopped for a photo op.


Marc at Phu Gate

Ancient chortens lined the trail and the ruins of an old Dzong or fort sat strategically placed on the flatlands before reaching Phu.


Peggy Passing by an Old Dzong

Camp had been set up below the village where we’d spend the next two nights.


Our Camp near Phu Village

That afternoon we set off to explore Phu. Opened to tourism in 2003, the village now has a number of guest houses in its lower quarter. We climbed above Phu to an old gompa which was locked but fortunately, the caretaker was on his way up with the key. Inside the 600-year old gompa were some masks, thankas, and scrolls containing Buddhists texts. The caretaker showed us some other relics including a human skull!


Inside an Old Gompa at Phu

From the gompa, we had a birds-eye view of Phu. From this vantage point, we could see that the village had been built amphitheater-style with the terraced barley fields behind.


Phu

The next day we returned to Phu to access the Tashi Lhakhang Gompa. A side trail led to a suspension bridge over the Phoo Valde Khola and climbed steeply to the gompa. On the way were many chortens, mani walls and prayer flags whipping in the wind.


Prayer Flags Near Tashi Lhakhang Gompa

The views of the surrounding mountains including the pyramidal-shaped Bhrikuti Peak were spectacular. 


Bhrikuti Peak

As we approached the gompa, I could hear the beating of a drum. We found the entrance but it was locked. Chet knocked on the door and the lama dressed in a red robe with long hair came and let us in. He told Chet that he was from Tibet and that the gompa was only 67 years old.


Inside Tashi Lhakhang Gompa

We paid our respects before returning to the outside to climb to the top of the hill where more glorious views unfolded. This is why I put up with the rigors of trekking! Mani walls with blue-painted stones, prayer flags fluttering in the wind and the red-roofed gompa with the village of Phu perched on the hills beyond provided endless photo opportunities.


View of Phu from Above Tashi Lhakhang Gompa

Below was a stupa where an old woman whose hands were gnarled with arthritis had stopped to pray. She followed us down the trail and we stopped to greet her before continuing on.


Old Woman at Tashi Lhakhang Gompa

We returned to our campsite, happy that we had made the side trip to Phu. Tomorrow we’d retrace our route back toward Meta before taking the trail to Naar Village. Stay tuned to see if Naar Village is as special as Phu!

We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

Our route map:


Blue: Minivan/jeep Route, Red: Trek Route

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