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Jomsom

Duration                                 9 days

Max Elevation                      3800m

Standard                                medium

Season                                    October to May

Start                                        Nay a Pui (or Beni)

Finish                                       Jomsom

Summary                                The classic lodge trek starts with a long climb to Ghorapani, then drops into the world’s deepest valley. Crosses the main Himalayan range to Tibet-like country in Jomsom.

The trek from Pokhara to Jomsom and Muktinath boasts some spectacular mountain views, and the route actually crosses to the other side of the main Himalayan range for views of the northern flanks. This is a good trek if you wish to avoid high altitudes. If you don’t go to Muktinath you can remain below 3000m and still have a trek strenuous enough to be stimulating. To avoid the long haul over Ghorapani hill but you miss the spectacular view from Poon Hill you can start this trek from Beni and walk up the Kali Gandaki valley to Tatopani.

PLANNING

When to Trek

The Jomsom trek is possible throughout the year, although the best season is October to December and March to April. Leeches and rain can make the first few days of the trek unpleasant during the monsoon. There is occasional snow at Ghorapani in December and January, but this rarely closes the trail. Sometimes in the spring it is so have that you won’t see a mountain when you trek in the southern part of the Annapurna region.

Accommodation

The trek to Jomsom is the classic teahouse trek and boasts some of the best trekking lodges in Nepal. You can trek to Jomsom and back in 14 days, and you will share the trail with trains of mules and ponies travelling to Mustang and other areas in the far north of Nepal. This has long been a major trade and trekking route, so there are frequent facilities for trekkers along the way. Many of these are,surprisingly well-equipped hotels operated by Thakalis, people who inhabit the valley between Annapurna and Dhaulagiri.

THE TREK

Day 1: Naya Pul to Tikhedhunga

3-4 hours, 540m ascent There’s a small sign between two teastalls in Naya Pul that directs you to a steep trail leading down to a bridge over a small stream. To get to Birethanti, cross the bridge and walk through a clutter of teastalls and shops with radios that blare Hindi film music. The trail leads behind a ridge and becomes a rocky, but level, path along the east bank of the Modi Khola. It’s about a 20-minute walk to the Fishtail Lodge and a steel bridge. On the opposite bank of the river is Birethanti (l000m), a large and prosperous town with a winding street paved with large stones. There is a trail junction next to the ACAP eheckpost at the bridge. The trail to Ghorapani goes left, passing through the village. The right-hand trail leads up the Modi Khola to Ghandruk.

The hotels in Birethanti are excellent, but if you spend a night here it is a long, 1750m climb the next day to Ghorapani. It is more comfortable to break the climb into two stages by continuing to Hille or Tikhed-hunga for the night. (If you are returning from Jomsom, then Ghorapani to Birethanti is an easy, although long and knee-cracking, descent and Birethanti makes a good stopping place.) The Ghorapani trail follows the main street of Birethanti, going through bamboo forests and past a large waterfall and swimming hole. A small teashop provides cold drinks after your swim. The trail stays on the north bank of the Bhururigdi Khola to Baajgara, so don’t cross the large and inviting-looking suspension bridge.

Beyond a pasture used by pony caravans, the trail reaches Sudami, then climbs steadily up the side of the valley, reaching Hille at 151 Om. The Annapurna and See You lodges are among the several hotels alongside the wide stone trail. There are more lodges, including the Kamala and Lali Gurans, in Tikhedhunga, about 15 minutes (and 30m in elevation) above Hille. There is a large camp site just beyond Tikhedhunga near a suspension bridge. If you started from Naya Pul, this will be a short day. If you arrive early, you can easily trek on up the endless stone staircase to Ulleri.

Day 2: Tikhedhunga to Ghorapani

4-6 hours, 1360m ascent The trail crosses the Tikhedhunga Khola on a suspension bridge near the camp site, then drops and crosses the Bhurungdi Khola on a large bridge at 1520m. The trail climbs very steeply on a stone staircase that is said to have more than 3300 steps. There is only one trekkers’ lodge from the bridge to Ulleri, but several bhattis have tea and cold drinks. As you reach the Annapurna View Guest House, the tops of Annapurna South (7219m) and Hiunchuli begin to emerge from behind the hills.

The staircase continues to the large Magar village of Ulleri at 2080m. There are at least eight lodges in the centre of the village, and others above the village where the trail climbs gently through pastures and cultivated fields. The fields soon give way to deep forests as the trail climbs to Banthanti, a settlement of hotels in a clearing at 2250m.

Beyond Banthanti, there are magnificent oak and rhododendron forests. Unfortunately these forests have been known to harbour thieves it’s not wise to travel alone on this stretch. The trail crosses two sparkling clear streams, a small ridge and another stream before making a short, final climb to Nan-gathanti, a hotel complex in a forest clearing at 2460m. Thanti is a Magar word meaning ‘rest house’ or ‘dharamsala’. In the winter the trail can be covered with snow, and in many places it is sloppy mud, so all sorts of short detours are necessary in this section.

Ghorapani (2750m) is about an hour past Nangathanti. There are several hotels in Ghorapani, but most people continue to the pass and village of Deorali (which means ‘pass’), at 2870m, about 10 minutes beyond Ghorapani. There is a large, ugly collection of hotels, shops and camp sites, plus the requisite police checkpost, crammed onto  the pass at Deorali.

There is a big map on a signboard in the village showing the location of the lodges the Annapurna View and the Snow View Hotel are among the largest. The Super View is said to be one of the best. All the hotel keepers have standardised their prices, so it’s a waste of time to look for the cheapest food and accommodation. Ghorapani’s only telephone is near the Sunny Lodge in the north-eastern part of town. It is worth staying here to see the spectacular panorama of Dhaulagiri (8167m), Tukuche, Nilgiri (6940m), Annapurna South, Annapurna (8091m), Hiunchuli (6441m) and Tarke Kang (formerly known as Glacier Dome, 7193m).

Everyone rises early to make an early-morning excursion to Poon Hill (3210m), about an hour’s climb from the pass. At sunrise there is a spectacular unobstructed view of the high Himalaya. If you don’t get up early and climb to Poon Hill, you’ll be awoken soon after sunrise by numerous planes flying just above the pass on their way to Jomsom.

Day 3: Ghorapani to Tatopani

5-6 hours, 140m ascent, 1750m descent From the pass at Deorali, the trail makes a muddy, steep descent through rhododendron and magnolia forests, interspersed with a few shepherds’ goths, bhattis and pastures, to Chitre at 2420m. The New Annapurna View is at the top of the village and below, at a signposted trail junction, are the large Namaste, Lali Guras and Pine Forest lodges. The trail leading east is a short cut to Tadapani and Ghandruk that bypasses Ghorapani. The Jomsom trail goes west. There are several more trail junctions as you descend towards Tatopani. The correct trail almost invariably leads downhill.

Passing the Pun Sisters Guest House, the country begins to open up into a region of extensive terracing. At one point the trail crosses a huge landslide. Observe the way the slick mica soil has slid off the underlying rock. Beyond the blue sheet-metal architecture of Phalate (2390m) the trail descends to Ghopte Kharka, then to a wooden bridge over a stream.

The Shikha Top Restaurant marks the beginning of Shikha, a large and prosperous Magar village with many shops and hotels. Walk 15 minutes to the See You Lodge at Shikha Deorali, then descend on a slippery marble staircase to the Shanti View, above the large school at 1950m. Another long stone staircase leads to Shikha’s stone-paved main street and the Moonlight and Purnima guesthouses. Descend to a stream, finally leaving Shikha near the Travels Guest House. The trail makes a gentle descent across another slide area to the Nice Breeze Restaurant at the top of Ghara (1780m). There are several small teashops as the route descends through the village fields to a bhatti on the top of a rocky spur called Durbin Danda, at 1580m. A steep descent of 380m leads to Ghar Khola village with several restaurants and an ACAP checkpost. The trail from Beni joins the route here.

The Tatopani trail crosses the Ghar Khola on an old, swaying bridge, then makes a short climb above the Kali Gandaki and crosses the river on a large suspension bridge at 1290m. The peak to the north is Nilgiri South (6839m). On the opposite side of the river, the trail turns north and crosses several landslides. There are several ups
and downs as the trail makes its way upstream to Tatopani. At the south end of the village is the Trekkers Lodge, the trail to the hot springs and a police checkpost where you’ll be asked to register.

Tatopani means ‘hot water’ in Nepali the village gains its name from the hot springs near the river below the village. There are two cement pools on the banks of the river. Be sure to bring a bathing costume. Don’t pollute these pools by using soap in them. A monsoon flood in the late 1980s washed away a number of lodges and bathing pools, and the remainder of the village sits precariously on a shelf above the river.

As you arrive in Tatopani you’ll wonder if you have suddenly been transported back to Thamel in Kathmandu or the lakeside in Pokhara. Many of the lodges have garden restaurants and specialise in exotics such as steaks, pizzas and Mexican food, and most employ cooks trained in Thamel restaurants. The Old Kamala and Namaste lodges are at the northern end of town. The food at Dhaulagiri Lodge gets rave reviews and despite the dreary rooms in a three-storey cement building, the restaurant at Hotel Himalayan does a thriving business. Tatopani’s other facilities include many shops, a bank, blacksmith, tailor, shoemaker, bookshops, barber, lending library and several jewellers. This is citrus-fruit country, so you can stock up on small mandarins. Many people who are making only a short trek come from Pokhara and spend their time relaxing in the hot springs and enjoying the food and hospitality of Tatopani.

From the mid-1970s until 1985 the Kali Gandaki valley was the focus of the US Resource Conservation & Utilization Project (RCUP), and a vast amount of money was spent on an integrated approach to rural development. The primary legacy of this effort is a collection of Western-style buildings, both offices and residences, that you will encounter on your journey up the valley. When you see a facility that looks totally out of place, it’s probably an RCUP leftover.

Day 4: Tatopani to Ghasa

6-7 hours, 900m ascent The trek now starts up the Kali Gandaki valley, said to be the deepest in the world. The rationale for this is that between the top of Annapurna and the top of Dhaulagiri the terrain drops to below 2200m.

From Tatopani, the route climbs across several recent landslides, then passes through a small tunnel carved out of the rocky hillside and along a cliff-side trail high above the river to some bhattis at Guithe (1320m). On the opposite side of the river is the power plant that generates electricity for this area. Cross the Bhalu Khola on a high suspension bridge to reach Dana (1450m). Dana consists of three separate settlements. At the southern end of the village are the post office, houses and the Kabin Guest House, which has painted its graffiti-like advertisements on numerous trailside rocks, and the Dam Guest House. There are other less-fancy hotels on the banks of the Ghatta Khola in the centre of Dana. On the opposite side of the stream is the old part of Dana where the houses of wealthy traders have elaborately carved windows and balconies. The New Annapurna Lodge and Dana Riverside Lodge are at the north end of the village. Most of the people of Dana are Magars, although there are also a few Brahmans and Thakalis. The large peak  across the valley is Annapurna South the large village high on the hillside across the valley is Narchang.

Thirty minutes beyond Dana is the hamlet of Rupse Chhahara (‘beautiful waterfall’) at 1560m. The simple Rupse Lodge is in the village a few minutes before the waterfall after which the village was named. This may be the only restaurant here because a landslide in August 2000 washed away a bridge, several water-driven mills and the foundations of the restaurants that were perched on the hillside overlooking the waterfall.

Day 5: Ghasa to Larjung

41/2-51/2 hours, 720m ascent, 280m descent The trail crosses a ridge, descends to a stream, then travels through forests to the Bimala Hotel in Kaiku at 2180m and the Green Forest Guest House in Ghumaune. There are several small ups and downs and a long climb over a landslide. Finally the trail drops into a side valley where a long (107m), high suspension bridge crosses the Lete Khola. The contractor apparently thought the bridge would be used by orangutans, as the side rails are too far apart to be of any use to humans. There are more bhattis and the Namaste Lodge on the opposite side of the bridge. Climb 100m on a rough, rocky trail to a cold-drink shop, then it’s level to Lete, a spread-out town at 2480m. It’s a long walk through town on a trail that varies from well-crafted flagstone paving to a muddy wallow through piles of nettle-infested rocks. There are several bhattis and lodges here, including the large Lete Guest House. The New Horizon and Mountain Top are across from the police checkpost, near the Mustang English School.

It’s not clear exactly when you leave Lete and enter Kalopani (2530m). Passing the small Kasturi Cottage and See You Lodge, you reach the high school, the Kalopani Guest House (with Western toilets), and the huge Dhaulagiri Technical School at the north end of Kalopani. The technical school was established in 1994 and operates the nearby Pine Forest Lodge as a tourism training centre. There is a 360° panorama of peaks: Dhaulagiri, Tukuche Peak, the three Nilgiris, Fang and Annapurna.

A short distance beyond Kalopani the trail crosses the Kali Gandaki at 2510m where the river rushes through a narrow gorge. On the east bank of the river a stone-paved trail leads past a few houses and teashops, then alongside the old picturesque houses of Dhampu. An ACAP sign points to 6The Summer Route’, a short alternative route across the gravel bars of the river in case you want to skip the next climb. The winter route climbs on a wide stone trail to a wooded ridge, then descends to the Earth Home and Dhaulagiri Icefall Lodge in Kokhethati. The tip of Dhaulagiri peeks over the ridge on the opposite bank. Climb through hemlock forests on a steep rocky trail to another ridge, then descend through fir, juniper and cypress trees to a high suspension bridge over the Kali Gandaki at 2550m.

Trek through forests on the west bank of the river past a bhatti and over a ridge to a large side stream, the Ghatta Khola. There’s a good bridge a long distance upstream, but most local people just wade through the icy waters of the river. Don’t be foolish by following them if the water is waist-deep. The trail makes several ups and downs before a steep climb over a ridge. Descend and make a short walk across gravel bars to Larjung (2560m). At the southern end of Larjung are three hotels; the Larjung Lodge is the better one and may be able to offer information about the trip to Dhaulagiri Icefall. The Himalayan and River Side lodges are a few minutes beyond along the winding street of the village.

Side Trip: Dhaulagiri Icefall

A two-day side trip up the side of the Kali Gandaki valley will take you to the foot of the Dhaulagiri Icefall and provide great views of Dhaulagiri 1 and the Annapurna range. It’s a 1200m climb, so it’s a bit tough to climb up and back in a single day. There is no accommodation on this route, so you need camping arrangements in order to spend the night.

There are a few potential dangers to this trip: if it’s cloudy, route-finding is a problem there is a danger of altitude sickness, especially if you have just started your trek from Beni or Naya Pul; and there are avalanches in. and sometimes near, the icefall itself.

The mountaineering route up the icefall is a hazardous climb. Herzog’s expedition explored this approach in 1950 and abandoned it because it was too dangerous. In 1969 an avalanche in the icefall killed seven members of the US Dhaulagiri expedition.

The route starts just south of Larjung village, at the Ghana Khola with its wide gravel bed. Look for a small trail up through the forest on the south bank of the river. Make a short, steep ascent ui trees to some overgrown fields. Follow a small trail through these fields, then alongside a stream to reach a small lake. There is a clearing above the lake suitable for a vamp site.

Find the trail at the other end of the clearing and follow this into the trees. Turn right after about 10 minutes and climb through forests to a small hut, about an hour above the clearing. The path is now well defined, but extremely steep, in grasslands You should reach a cairn in another hour and a small basin with yak pastures in a further 30 minutes. There are great views of the Kali Gandaki below and the Nilgiris and Annapurna I across the valley. Cross the basin, keep slightly to the right and climb up to reach some large boulders in a further 45 minutes. The glacier is now immediately below with the icefall beyond. The return route is the same, although there are a few short cuts. Descend to the Ghatta Khola and continue down to the main valley-bottom trail.

Day 6: Larjung to Marpha

3-4 hours, 200m ascent, 80m descent Trek through Laijung past the school, cross a stream and trek for 10 minutes to Khobang at 2580m, an architecturally exotic town with narrow alleyways and tunnels connecting houses that are built around enclosed courtyards. This complex and picturesque system provides protection from the winds of the Kali Gandaki valley. Pass the Sunrise Guest House and Peaceful Lodge as you enter the village, then follow the trail along a narrow alleyway as it passes under several houses. You can make a side trip to the Kanti gompa on a hill just above Khobang. Near the trail is a small nunnery, the Madkhi Lhakhang, the southernmost Tibetan Buddhist temple in the valley. There are good views of Dhaulagiri and Nilgiri North (7061m) along this part of the trail. In 1972 the French adventurer Michel Peissel travelled up the Kali Gandaki in a hovercraft and managed to get this far before he was forced to abandon the project.

The trail leaves the village and passes some bhattis on a flat trail lined by willows. It then makes numerous climbs up and down on a high cliffside trail to Tukuche. If the water is low it’s possible to avoid some of the climbs by making short cuts across riverside gravel bars.

Cross the Thapa Khola and enter the large village of Tukuche (2580m), which was once the most important Thakali village. Tukuche (tuk, ‘grain’, and che, ‘flat place’) was the meeting place where traders coming with salt and wool from Tibet and the upper Thak valley bartered with traders carrying grain from the south. The hotels in Tukuche are in beautiful old Thakali homes with carved wooden windows, doorways and balconies. The whitewashed Himalayan, Laxmi and Sunil guesthouses are along the stone-paved main street and offer garden restaurants. The Tukuche Guest House has an extensive display of maps and charts showing estimated walking times between villages. There are more hotels beyond the gompa and large school at the northern end of town. The Yak Hotel, which makes its own apple juice, advertises a ‘real yak on display inside it’s worth a look. In contrast to all the German bakeries on the trek, the fancy High Plains Inn proclaims that it has a Dutch bakery. Tourism has not totally offset the economic effect of the loss of the grain trade, and many people have moved from Tukuche to Pokhara, Kathmandu and the Terai. A walk along the back streets of the village, particularly close to the river, will reveal many abandoned and crumbling buildings behind the prosperous facade of the main street. It’s worth spending some time here to visit the Tukuche Distillery or the village’s four gompas.

A dramatic change in the vegetation, from pine and conifer forests to dry, desertlike country, takes place during this stretch of trail. The flow of air between the peaks of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri creates strong winds that howl up the valley. The breezes blow gently from the north during the early hours of the day, then shift to powerful gusts from the south throughout the late morning and afternoon. From here to Jomsom, these strong winds will be blowing dust and sand at your back after about 11am.

There is a rough road between Tukuche and Jomsom, although it does not connect to any other roads and the only vehicles that travel on it are a few tractors pulling clattering trailers. The route heads north through desert-like country, passing some large boulders. Across the river is Chhairo, a Tibetan refugee settlement. There are two bridges, so you can cross the river, visit Chhairo and then rejoin the west-bank trail. Pause a minute along this part of the trail and look at the scenery – high snow peaks, brown and yellow clitYs, splashes of bright-green irrigated fields, and flat-roofed mud houses clustered here and there.

As the trail proceeds north, it passes the large stone buildings and orchards of an agricultural project set up in 1966 to introduce new types of produce into the region. The motivating torce behind this project was Passang Khambache Sherpa, who accompanied David Snellgrove during his studies throughout Nepal. There are a few small shops and the Shangrila Hotel provides basic meals. In season it is possible to purchase fresh fruit, vegetables and almonds here. Local apple cider and fruit preserves are also available in Marpha and Tukuche.

Between the agricultural project and Marpha is Om’s Home Marpha, a very clean hotel with excellent food and a range of accommodation from dorms to rooms with private baths. Pass a blacksmith settlement and a long whitewashed many wall to reach the entrance kani of Marpha (2680m), which is huddled behind a ridge for protection from the wind and dust. This large Thakali village exhibits the typical Thak Khola architecture of flat roofs and narrow paved alleys and passageways. The low rainfall in this region makes these flat roofs practical they also serve as a drying place for grains and vegetables. Fortunately the road bypasses Marpha and has not destroyed the atmosphere of the town.

In Marpha, the Thakali inn system has reached its highest level of development. Hotels have private rooms, menus, room service and indoor toilets. An extensive drainage system flows under the flagstone-paved street of this clean and pleasant village. There is a library (open from 5pm to 7pm) and impressive kanis mark both ends of town.

There are 16 hotels in Marpha and a surprising number of souvenir shops and pavement stalls. Near the southern end are the Hungry Eye Restaurant, the excellent Neeru Guest House and the Paradise Guest House. Hotels in central Marpha include Dhaulagiri Lodge and Baba s Lodge. Both have elaborately carved windows, comfortable inner courtyards and good toilet facilities the Miami has a solar-heated shower. A small sign identifies Bhakti Guest House; the proprietor, Bhakti Hirachan, is a good source of information and assistance.

Alongside a flagstone-paved trail just north of Marpha is the upmarket Hotel Trans Himalaya, which has rooms with attached bathrooms. The thing opposite the hotel that looks like a huge foghorn is a solar drying facility that processes apples, apricots and vegetables.

You can easily go on to Jomsom, but it’s not as interesting or pleasant as Marpha. The hotels in Marpha are smaller and more traditional and there is less wind. There are lots of things to do here, including climbing the hill to the west of town to the original settlement of Old Marpha. Other facilities in Marpha include the Yak Dance Pub (which has a pool table), numerous shops, a shoe repair facility and a moneychanger.

Marpha’s large, impressive gompa, Tashi Lhakhang, was renovated and enlarged in 1996. An efficient system allows you to deposit your backpack in a storage room before climbing the steps to visit. This is a Nyingma Buddhist gompa; as in Tengboche, the Mani Rimdu festival is celebrated in the autumn here. The gompa, like all buildings in Marpha, is painted with a whitewash produced from a special local stone.

Day 7: Marpha to Kagbeni

31/2-41/2 hours, 190m ascent, 60m descent It’s a long, but not unreasonable, day’s walk from Marpha to Muktinath, but it’s more interesting to take an extra day and break the trip with a stop at Kagbeni.

From Marpha, the trail rejoins the road along the side of the valley, climbing over a huge mud slide, then on to a few teashops and a trail junction. The trail leads to Shyang at 2800m, where the only facility is the small Hotel Pratichchya. The main part of Shyang is on a ridge a short climb above the trail. It’s an interesting and picturesque village with a large gompa and houses built in a traditional style. The trail crosses the Shyang Khola on a log bridge before climbing over a low ridge to Jomsom (more correctly Dzongsam, or ‘new fort’).

The road traverses out towards the Kali Gandaki and stays low, avoiding the trail’s two short climbs. Sometimes, when the river is high, the road is impassable. Follow the example of the many porters you’ll see when you choose your route.

Jomsom (2760m) is the administrative headquarters for the region and straddles the Kali Gandaki. The major inhabitants are government officials, army personnel and merchants engaged in the distribution of goods brought in by cargo flights and pony caravans. The town has three distinct parts. Passing the road to the large Jomsom Mountain Resort you’ll arrive at the concrete stairway to the Mustang Eco Museum. The entrance charge is Rs 50 and it’s open 9am to 5pm (4pm in winter) except Saturday and holidays. The trail enters Jomsom from the south, near the Dancing Yak Lodge, in a settlement properly known as Puthang. Just beyond is the airport, where there are large hotels, restaurants, shops and airline offices. The Hotel Snowland is opposite the airport. Nearby are the Lali Guras, Hotel Majesty, Hotel Mona Lisa and Xanadu (which serves excellent food in the Nilgiri Steak House). Each has a central courtyard surrounded by rooms, and meals are often served at a kodatsu, a Japanese-style table covered with a blanket to warm your legs with the heat from a charcoal brazier. There is a bakery at the Magic Bean Coffee Shop, pool tables at the Moondance Pub and numerous well-stocked shops, including a good selection of paperback books.

Indian tractors with trailers rattle along the road carrying sand, building materials and bouncing passengers. They were all dismantled and flown in by helicopter. There are numerous public telephone booths throughout the town. The Himalayan Computer Centre in the Alka Marco Polo hotel has email service. In front of the Trekkers Inn is a medicine shop and a moneychanger. On the opposite side of the road is an ACAP visitor centre and the mandatory police checkpost, where you register your passport details and collect another stamp on your ACAP permit.

The arrival of the morning flight from Pokhara is the highlight of the day in Jomsom. Most of the villagers come to the airport in the morning to see who has arrived or to patronise a collection of fruit and vegetable vendors that gather in front of the terminal. In addition to trekkers and locals you’ll discover that flights and hotels are booked by Indian pilgrims who fly to Jomsom and then trek or ride horses to Muktinath.

North of the airport, on the west side of the Kali Gandaki, are shops, bhattis, a shoe repair shop and a large army camp that houses the High Altitude Mountain Warfare Wing of the Royal Nepal army. You can often see the army rock climbing on the cliffs above. The military people jogging in the mornings are a bit incongruous in this remote location.

There are two bridges over the Kali Gandaki. Across the blue steel bridge are several government offices, including the post office. The main trail passes the hospital and more shops, then crosses the river on a wooden bridge that leads to Old Jomsom. Here you’ll find dwellings, the Nepal Bank, bhattis, shops, the large Dhaulagiri Guest House, Thak Khola Lodge & Jimi Hendrix Restaurant, bank, German bakery, ACAP  kerosene depot and post office. There’s a cluster of houses above the trail.

There are two routes up the Kali Gandaki from Jomsom. The traditional route follows the narrow main street of Old Jomsom past several shops and restaurants to the school and a statue of King Birendra at the northeastern end of town. The trail leaves the town and follows the broad river valley, sometimes above the river, but mostly along the rocky bank of the river itself as it passes beneath vertical rock cliffs. The trail crosses the Panga Khola (which you may have to wade if the water is high). A side trail here leads to Lupra, a Thakali village and a Bon-po gompa. Pass a walled tree plantation and climb over a small ridge to Chhancha Lhumba, better known as Eklai Bhatti (‘alone hotel’), at 2830m. Despite its name, it is a substantial outpost where the Hotel Hill Ton, Hotel Mortal and Holiday Inn offer a chance to get out of the wind. In the Kag-beni Lodge you can shop for ‘all kinds of Tibetan something’. The direct route to Muktinath leads straight up the hill behind the village.

Unless you are in a tremendous rush to get to Muktinath, you should follow the trail along the river from Eklai Bhatti to Kagbeni (2840m), a green oasis at the junction of the Jhong Khola and the Kali Gandaki. Kagbeni looks like a town out of the medieval past, with closely packed mud houses, dark tunnels and alleys, imposing chortens and a large, ochre-coloured gompa perched above the town. A few people still dress in typical Tibetan clothing, although the children have, even in this distant village, learned to beg, rather insistently, for sweets.

The large Alilgiri View Lodge at the southern entrance to the town is at the trail junction for the route to Muktinath. Follow the flagstone-paved trail as it turns left and descends into the village towards a large Tibetan-style chorten, the new Asian Trekkers Home and the recently refurbished Shungri La Hotel. Stay on the flagstone path past the Mount Everest Hotel and turn right at the Kali Gandaki Lodge to a footbridge across the Jhong Khola. The flagstone trail continues to the venerable Red House with its private gompa and Tibetan paintings on the dining room wall. The trail then leads through a tunnel to the Muktinath View and New Annapurna lodges clustered around a chorten. The trail passes through another tunnel to a row of prayer wheels, the Star Hotel and the ACAP office that administers upper Mustang. Although most hotels use stoves, many homes bum firewood that is collected from forests above Tiri, the village on the opposite bank of the Kali Gandaki.

There are telephones in the Star Hotel and in the Village Development Committee office upstream from the Kali Gandaki Lodge. If you arrive early enough, pay a visit to the Kagchode Thubten Shampheling gompa. The monks here are of the yellow-hat Gelup sect.

Kagbeni is the northernmost village in this valley that foreigners may visit without a liaison officer and restricted-area permit. The ACAP checkpost at the northern end of the village prevents tourists from proceeding towards Lo Manthang, the walled city of Mustang, without the proper documentation.

Side Trip: To Thini

The trail to Thini, the oldest village in the valley, starts in Old Jomsom. You can make an easy side trip to the extensive barley I fields, narrow alleys and gompa at Thini. There are no trekkers’ hotels here, but there are several bhattis. Thirty minutes beyond Thini, on the opposite side of the Lung-puhyun Khola, are the ruins of Gharab Dzong, the fort of the ancient king Thing Michen, and beyond is the small Dhumpha lake and Katsapterenga gompa.

Alternative Route: West Bank Trail

In 1999 a new bridge and trail was constructed up the west bank of the Kali Gan-daki. This trail provides an alternative to the original trail up the east bank.

The new trail leaves Jomsom just before the wooden bridge that leads to Old Jomsom and heads north-east along the west bank of the Kali Gandaki. A short distance out of town is a turn-off to a steep trail that leads to a telecommunications station high on the hill above and eventually to .Dolpo. The Kagbeni trail is almost perfectly level as it traverses the riverbed and makes its way around side ridges on a route carved out of the rock. After about an hour of walking you will pass another trail that leads to the villages of Phalla and Dhagarjun and on to Dolpo. Just beyond this trail a new long suspension bridge crosses the Kali Gandaki. It’s then a short stroll into Eklai Bhatti.

Alternative Route: Direct to Muktinath

The direct route to Muktinath climbs from Eklai Bhatti along a windswept slope to a plateau above the Kali Gandaki, then turns east up the Jhong valley. The trail ascends to Khingar through arid and desert-like country, in the same geographical and climatic zone as Tibet.

Day 8: Kagbeni to Muktinath

11/2-3 hours, 990m ascent The trail to Muktinath starts at the southern end of Kagbeni, behind the Nilgiri View Lodge. It makes a steep climb up the Jhong valley, passing the windmills that sometimes provide electric power for Kagbeni, and joins the direct trail to Muktinath below Khingar. Along the way you’ll see hundreds of small piles of rocks erected by pilgrims to honour their departed ancestors.

The walk from Khingar at 3400m to Jharkot is a delightful one among meadows, streams and poplar and fruit trees. There are often flocks of cranes in the area. The trail is high above the Jhong Khola as it climbs to Jharkot, an impressive fortresslike village at 3500m. The New Plaza Hotel and Hotel Sonant are in the centre of town, and just above the village is the Himali Inn, which offers solar-heated rooms. Jharkot, with its picturesque kani and large gompa, is well worth exploring, and many people suggest staying here instead of Muktinath. There are some peach trees nearby; people press the peach seeds to make oil. Across the valley you can see the ruins of Dzong, the ancient capital of this region, and the smaller villages of Purang and Changur.

Climb over some walls, then trek past the village mule stables and up a steep, barren hillside on a wide trail. The first part of Muktinath you reach, at 3710m, is known as Ranipauwa and is the site of a large rest house for pilgrims and a host of hotels, bhattis and camping places. This area is often crowded with pilgrims and foreign tourists. The Shree Muktinath Hotel and Mona Lisa are good, but the North Pole Lodge is reported to have the best food in town. More mediocre choices include the Hotel Pole Star, Nilgiri View, and Lali Guras Lodge. The Hotel Dhaulagiri View & Bob Marley Restaurant also has a good reputation – if you like reggae. It’s wise to avoid the smaller, local-style hotels that cater to Hindu pilgrims. In the middle of the settlement are a police checkpost, a poorly maintained government camping ground and an ACAP visitor centre.

The temple and the religious shrines of Muktinath are about 90m in elevation above Ranipauwa. There are no hotels, and the temple committee does not allow camping. Muktinath is an important pilgrimage place for both Hindus and Buddhists. The holy shrines at Muktinath are in a grove of poplar trees. They include the Buddhist temples Gompa Sarwa and Marme Lha-khang. There is a temple of Shiva and a pagoda-style temple, Vishnu Mandir, which contains an image of Vishnu.

In Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Vishnu is Avalokitesvara, who is the protective deity of Tibet and is 1 reincarnated as the Dalai Lama. Around the 1 temple is a wall from which 108 brass 1 waterspouts, cast in the shape of cows? heads, pour forth sacred water. Even more I sacred is the water that issues from a rock m inside the ancient Tibetan-style Jwala Mai j temple a short distance below the pagod&fl Inside this gompa, behind a tattered curtain, are small natural gas jets that produce a perpetual holy flame alongside a spring that 1 is the source of the sacred water. This auspicious combination of earth, fire and water* is responsible for the religious importance of Muktinath.

The Tibetan Buddhist saint Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava) is believed to have 1 visited Muktinath in the 8th century. You’ll often see Tibetan women wearing elaborate turquoise-embedded headdresses engaged* in devotions at these shrines. There is an annual horse-racing festival called Yartang in late August.

The most charming description of Muktinath is the one on the signboard erected by  the Ministry of Tourism at Jomsom:

Day 9: Muktinath to Jomsom

3-4 hours, 990m descent It’s an easy walk back to Jomsom, although it becomes tedious if there is a strong wind. This is not the time to decide that you are going to try to cross Thorung La and trek around Annapurna. If you have come in this direction from Pokhara, you probably do not have the warm clothing and boots necessary for crossing the pass. It is also a long, hard climb of 1600m from Muktinath to the pass.

After a night in Jomsom you can make a same-day connection to Kathmandu via Pokhara. In the early morning, Jomsom airport is the social centre of the town with tourists and locals vying for the limited number of seats.