Nepal, Kathmandu Valley: How to make the most of Himalayas on your own

When we decided to travel to Nepal, our first thought was dedicated to the Himalayas. With dreamy eyes, we imagined ourselves on top of the mountain giants looking over the landscape ready to spread the wings and fly. Then the facts crashed down on to us. We are not any rock climbers, we do not have any real experience with extended hiking and we have a really low budget, which doesn’t allow us to hire any guide. Bah. What are we going to do? That’s when we discovered the Indigenous People’s Trail. It was perfect. Ten villages spread across the Kathmandu Valley connected by a walking path, each and everyone representing different community and culture.

Trekking without money and guide

I do not promote brainless hiking without knowing what you’re doing. It’s fairly dangerous. It’s important to stay safe and enjoy your piece of adventure. Indigenous People’s Trail, though, is a great trek even without a guide or high budget. The distance of approximately 90km can be covered in one week, 5-8 days and the highest elevation reaches a little bit over 3000m, which makes it safe to walk even without special equipment or worries about altitude sickness. Moreover, the idea of walking from a village to a village secures a dry place to sleep and warm food to eat as long as you reach the day’s destination. Drinking water is available on the way, even though it’s better to have a filter bottle. Thus you do not really need a lot to carry with you. Basic necessities, good boots, sleeping back and high spirits.

Where to start

The best starting point for independent trekking is Mude village located in Ramechhap District, some 100km east of Kathmandu. Hop on the bus enjoy 4.5 hours drive through the Nepali landscape and ask the driver to drop you off in Mude. There is a very little chance to figure out where exactly it is on your own. The village consists of metal shacks, a couple of brick buildings and a few shops with the same assortment, dry canned food, biscuits and some toiletries. If you stand in the middle of the road you can see from one end to another. We chose one of the shops in search of dinner and bed. An elder couple welcomed us warmly, prepared dal bhat – rice and lentils, traditional staple meal – on a wood-fired stove and invited us to stay at their place for the night. That was smooth.
Waking up with huge excitement we started the track next morning following basic instructions from Wikipedia.

What happens if you don’t reach the village

We walked briskly through small settlements watching kids playing in the dust and old people carrying baskets on their backs full of wood or leaves. Our strategy was to ask locals about the directions and always follow the bigger road in case of a crossroad. Despite that, we reached Dhunge, 2083m after six hours, two hours later than expected. We could have stayed here but encouraged by yummy noodles for lunch we continued. The locals showed us a ‘shortcut’, steep endless stone stairs planted in the hill, which brought us into a thick white fog. One hour before the dusk it was impossible to walk further, and thus we decided to overnight outside. It wasn’t windy or rainy but we didn’t manage to start a fire. We couldn’t see more than a meter ahead but it felt safe. Bundled up in sleeping bags with the starry sky over the heads we shivered the whole night through.

Thulo Sailung, the highest point

How was our surprise when we got up and found out that the highest point of the trek Thulo Sailung, 3300m was right above us! In good visibility, it’s possible to see Anapurna on the west. On the top of the hill, there are three distinctive rocks – tiger, snake and cow – representing rivalry and co-existence of Hinduism, Buddhism and Shamanism. The legend says that one day a tiger pursued a cow grazing on Sailung when a snake appeared in between. The tree turned to stone and the cow was saved. The religions are present alongside the trail in temples, stupas and monasteries. Moreover, Ramechhap district is known as the homeland of 21 indigenous communities and the trail allows encountering at least six of them: Sherpa, Newar, Thami, Tamang, Yolmo and Majhis.

Points of interest

The trail isn’t well marked and getting temporarily lost is a part of the experience. Crossing deep valleys, terraced rice fields and long hanging bridges with missing planks we got introduced to shepherds, invisible people hiding up in the crowns of trees, monks and nuns. Prayer flags, chortens and mani stones inscribed with mantras are scattered along the route. Raj Veer, 1630m used to be an impressive Buddhist monastery unfortunately brought down by the earthquake in 2014. Only two nuns, bold and fully dressed in red, remained when we visited this place. Continuing downhill we passed through the Sherpa village of Dadhuwa-Dara and a Tamang village, each with their Buddhist gompas. Surkey, the beautifully terraced settlement is home to Thami community, incredibly welcoming and caring people. If you get lucky you can even get invited to a local wedding (like us!), taste local specialities including raksi – traditional homebrew made of fermented rice and blend in local customs, dancing and playing traditional both-sided drum Madal. Khandadevi is a Hindu temple complex on top of the hill encircled by ancient stonewalls with small bells. Daily animal sacrifices are still carried out today and Vishnu birthday is traditionally celebrated here. The last stop of the trail is Lubughat 533m, a village built on the river Sun Koshi and home to Majhi people, traditional fishermen.

Where to finish

It’s up to you how long time you spend on the trail. There is plenty to discover. The concept of homestays allows you to overnight in any of the villages and local people are happy to host you. In the case of an emergency, you can always stay outside for the night. It happened to us twice, the second time when we took the wrong turn and spent the night by Sun Koshi comforted by the sound of the flowing water. Yet starring at a troop of curious monkeys (probably macaques) hanging out on the tree above us the very next morning. There is only one bridge crossing the majestic river, right in the town of Lubu. From here you can hop on one of the adventurous buses, which do not go often and get a ride on top of the roof holding to a single handrail crossing the magnificent mountain cliffs and shallow waters without bridges. That’s your ride back to Kathmandu. Bahala Na (a phrase borrowed from Filipino), whatever will be will be.

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