Gillian Holdsworth’s Trans-Nepal Trek Diary
Part Four: 17th – 24th September
Monday, 17th September
We left our ‘unexpected’ campsite early and the porters had dal bhat before departure today – a new strategy! They all flew up the next hill!
Today was our first 5000 metre pass, the Kagmara La – and we were walking through snow spattered country with the 7000 metre peak of Kanjirdoa to the north and Kagmara Himal to the south-east.
It was one of those classic Nepalese passes where every time you think you have reached the top, you find there is more uphill to go!
We finally crossed at 3.30 – not hanging around long because of the wind-chill – and dropped down into the desolate landscape of the Pungmu valley where we camped at 4600 metres. A tough day!
Tuesday, 18th September
Had a ‘lie in’! The departure time 8 a.m. Headed down the Pungmu valley all day with spectacular views of Kanji Roba towering above us to the northwest.
Stopped at the village of Pungmu – a small settlement of about twelve houses where the travelling rice salesman was in town – supplying the village with rice from the lower hills.
Agriculture is very marginal here and they grow only buckwheat, potatoes and wheat. We continued down the valley, camping at a hospital which practises Tibetan medicine.
The Tibetan doctor (Amchi) showed us round – he has one room full of drying herbs and plants and his consulting room was full of the final product – bottles of powders and pills, all hand-made from local herbs.
It was very interesting!
Wednesday, 19th September
We walked up the Phoksundo river, passing a spectacular waterfall to the village of Ringmo where we camped at Phoksundo lake – a stunning turquoise and aquamarine lake at 3600 metres surrounded by steep, snow covered mountains.
Along the west side we could see the path to Shey gompa cut into the rock face – the route we would take tomorrow.
We took the afternoon off – bathing in the lake (not very warm), visited the monastery (the people of lower Dolpo are in the main Bon, a form of Buddhism which pre-dates Buddha’s birth) and watching the people of Ringmo harvest their potatoes and store them underground in order to protect them from the winter floods and snow. The lake that night shimmered in the moonlight – quite haunting!
Thursday, 20th September
We left Ringmo for the Roman valley – climbing steeply above Phoksombo lake to
4100 metres, and descended to the Phoksombo river at the northwest side of the lake.
We walked along this wide valley until it finally narrowed into an impressive canyon.
After crossing the river, we were joined by a group of dolpo pa (people from Dolpo) heading north.
One of them was Tinlé’s son (for those of you who are familiar with the leading character in the film ‘Himalaya’). They were camping in a cave and eating potatoes for supper, so we invited them to join us for a more substantial dinner for which they were grateful (dal bhat).
We had a fascinating evening learning about the way of life in these remote mountain parts.
Friday, 21st September
We broke camp early as we had a long day with a 5100 metre pass to cross. However, having missed the ‘short cut’ to the pass we had a series of debates over the map as to where exactly we were! Finally we took a longer route with a higher pass, 5320 metres, arriving at Shey gompa at 6 p.m. A long tough day! There is not much in Shey gompa except for a monastery, a mountain retreat, a few small houses and nomad tents. At the top of the Sacred Valley is the Crystal mountain – which we were unable to see as it was raining, snowing and covered in cloud. I am sure it is a great place for meditation, but for us it was cold and wet!
Saturday, 22nd September
Woke up to sleet and low cloud. Made a visit to Shey gompa – there are eight lamas here – but only one currently in residence, the rest are farther north, harvesting before winter which starts in late October. They can have up to one metre of snow here, apparently.
The gompa is 800 years old but was renovated thirty years ago and has some interesting paintings and statues of green tara and guru rimpoche (Buddhist gods) – both old and new. The weather cleared and we headed north east to Namlong gompa over our second 5000 metre pass in two days – it is becoming a habit!
Sunday, 23rd September
Left Namlong gompa for Saldang – where we hoped to buy kerosene. En route we spotted a flock of blue sheep only 100 metres from the pass. They are rare and shy, and we were lucky to see them so close.
Saldang is a stunning terraced village above the Nagon valley. We lunched by the river – it was very hot. We saw a huge yak train of 50+ yaks bringing goods from Tibet. The herders smelt strongly of Chinese brandy!
We continued on to the village of Koma (4300 metres). These villages are very remote – three days walk from the Tibetan border which we can see across the valley – a staggering landscape! We are surrounded by 6000 metre mountains; grey, pink and white in the evening light. It is incredibly arid – an arctic desert!
There are about thirty families living here and it is harvest time – buckwheat and wheat. A tough, but beautiful, place in which to live.
Monday, 24th September
Walked from Koma to Shimen – a very organised village with irrigated barley and wheat fields. We continued up the river valley, meeting a party of thirty Germans from Munich on the trail. It began to rain and there was an icy wind blowing down the valley.
We finally stopped at a nomad’s tent (they use Chinese army tents nowadays) for respite from the rain, where we met a group of Maoists doing pre-election lobbying! We pressed on to the village of Faal where we camped, drying ourselves in another nomad’s tent.
This family had a Chinese motorbike which they had carried from Tibet on a yak last year – they use it for herding yaks apparently – incongruous! The people in this village trade with Tibet in beer, brandy, cigarettes, salt, rice, cooking oil, clothing, shoes and obviously new motorbikes! We had a fascinating evening.