3/4 UPPER MUSTANG & UPPER DOLPO

Trek trip report – Part 3. Chharka to Shey Gompa

Day 18 Oct 19 Chharka 4100 – Mu La 5030m – Ghajyan Sumna / Syaule

A long steady climb (with 3 gullies to cross) from Chharka to the Mu La ( or Mo La, or Mola La on some maps). Some incredible rock folding in the hills around Chharka. Stunning views of Dhaulagiri just before reaching the pass. It is a 4-5 hour climb to the pass, depending on your speed and number of breaks. It’s then a fairly gentle descent down a valley carved by several joining rivers, some can be rock-hopped but others need to be waded. There are several campsites close together; the difficulty is the Dikhun Khola river. This river freezes overnight and horsemen won’t cross it in the morning, so whether you are travelling north or south, you need to cross this river in the afternoon and camp on the other side (Campsites marked on map at Kharka (on the trail to Dho Tarap), Ghajyan Sumna and Syaule). Even in the afternoon take care when wading across the river; it is quite deep in places, and the rocks are very slippery. One member of our group slipped and fell, cracking several ribs… as it was late afternoon, her clothes froze pretty much instantly. Luckily we were camping right next to the river- prime yak grazing territory…more noisy nocturnal visitors!

Day 19 Oct 20 Ghajyan Sumna – Chorten Margo camp approx. 4550.

This was a lovely walk down the east side of a wide river valley. Lots of small birds flitting around by the river and pikas hiding under scrubby bushes. Numerous small frozen streams to negotiate; no major river crossings. The valley widens even further where the Panjyen Khola meets several other rivers coming in from the west; along the west bank of the river you can see the construction of the road leading to Dho Tarap, although we didn’t see any vehicles, only yaks and donkeys. On the west bank of the river is a group of Chortens… hence the name of the campsite (even though it is across the river).

Day 20 Oct 21 Chorten Margo camp – Pu Gompa 4010m.

Just an hour walk to Tinje / Tinjegaon/ Tinkyu , crossing a very medieval looking bridge into the village, where the local women were threshing grain. Many of the houses had greenhouses attached, our cooks were quick to purchase fresh vegetables! There is a “road” from Tinje to the border, so there were numerous pimped-out motorbikes passing through the village. We then followed the pretty Panjyan Khola river valley to Phalwa and on to Pu Gompa. This trail is passable by motorbikes, there was very little motorised traffic but plenty of donkeys. We camped just beyond Pu Gompa. Today was about 6.5 hours, including a long stop in Tinje and a long lunch break… so maybe 4.5 – 5 hours walking all up.

Day 21 Oct 22 Pu Gompa 4010 to Khomagaon (? 4300m) via Shimen village and Shimen La/ Nang La 4375m.

Easy walk along the river valley to pretty Shimen village; cross the river then up to the Nang La. There are small sections of the trail damaged by landslides; watch out for the yak trains – luckily I was almost at the top when I ran into them, I wouldn’t like to meet them on the narrower sections of path. Less than three hours from Pu Gompa to the top of the pass, including significant yak stoppage time. Lovely views from the pass, and the obligatory Himalayan griffin flying around looking for a meal. Then a traverse around the hillside, drop into the Koran Khola valley and a steady climb up the other side to Khomagaon (a little over two hours from the pass to Khomagaon… then a bit more trying to find the campsite). Apparently Kim Bannister of Kamzang buys quite a lot of textiles here, so usually you will be inundated with local women selling their wares. However, when we were there it was like a ghost town as everyone had gone to Pu Gompa for a huge festival. Just hungry kids… these kids are pretty bold. I wouldn’t leave anything of value lying around here. Our Nepali crew kept a guard posted the whole time; this was the only place we visited that our crew warned us to keep everything locked up.

Day 22 Oct 23 Khomagaon to Saldang.( variable altitude – the village is sprawled across a hillside, anywhere from 3750m- 4000m)

 The trail out of Khoma is not clear; apparently there has been a lot of erosion, so the hillside above the village is a mass of gullies. There seemed to be ten different paths; after an hour or so, they all arrived at a pass (not marked on my map), from where it was quite a steep descent, then a traverse around the hillside to the Nagon Khola. There are stunning views to the north and south along this river valley. Nice new suspension bridge across the river to Saldang. The village is very spread out across the hillside… as usual, our campsite was at the top of the village! Saldang has a lovely gompa; it is a bit of a procedure to locate the man with the keys, however the stunning, detailed paintings inside the gompa make it worth the effort.

Saldang is a real meeting point… major trails north and south along the river valley; trails east to Shimen; trails west to Shey Gompa; trail northwest to Bhijer and on to Rara.

Day 23 Oct 24 Saldang to Namgung 4430m.

It’s a 500m or so climb out of Saldang (approx. 1hr to a small pass), then a nice traverse around the hillside to Namgung., 2.5 – 3.5 hours in total. Look out for blue sheep above the trail. Also look out for the massive icicles where a small stream crosses the trail just above Namgung! We camped just north of the tiny village, and visited Namgung gompa in the afternoon. The sun slips behind the hills around 3.30pm, be prepared for the sudden temperature drop.

Day 24 Oct 25 Namgung 4430m to Shey Gompa 4343m via the Sele La 5100m.

Cross the river by whatever means are available (there is supposed to be a bridge but this wasn’t in evidence) and begin the climb to the Sela La. Approx 2 -3 hours to the pass (beware the false summit), followed by a fun steepish descent – easiest to just use momentum and jog down. It’s an easy two hours from the top of the pass to Shey Gompa, dodging yak herds along the way. Stunning views along the final half hour or so of walking. Keep an eye out for lammergeiers and griffons. Take a visit to the gompa in the afternoon. Be prepared for extreme cold here – the sun drops down around 3.30pm / 4pm and temps immediately drop to zero, with minus 15C temps overnight.

Day 25 Oct 26 Rest day at Shey Gompa.

Have a sleep in – don’t crawl out of your sleeping bag until the sun hits the tent! It’s possible to do a kora around Crystal Mountain (no-one in my trekking group did, apparently it takes anywhere from 7-10 hours). Alternatively, take a walk to Tsankang Gompa, (set into a cliff) about a 3 hour return trip – there is a “high route” and a “low route” to the gompa, both have stunning views. It’s also great to just climb some of the surrounding hills for incredible views of Shey gompa and the surrounding area. Apparently there is a trail from Shey to Bhijer, however it is rarely used so I’m not sure what state it is in.

Part 4 – Shey gompa to Juphal… to be continued.

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