Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Nar Phu Valleys of Nepal - II

In October 2015, South Col Expeditions trekked to the valleys of Nar and Phu bordering Tibet in remote Nepal. The first part of the route and day wise schedule is here
This is the second and concluding part.

October 5 2015
Phu to Nar Phedi
The morning was cloudy once again and we left at 7 10 am. The lodge was very expensive charging around Rs 750 for a dal Bhat possibly one of the highest in Nepal. We retraced our steps down the valley and this time took the lower route back across the river. We made good time and got into Kyang by 9 50 am.

After a brief stop we set off for Chyakhu and got there by 11 05 am. Chyakhu was busy as some European groups had stopped there for lunch. We saw some yaks fighting in the meadows near the tea house. For non camping groups Chyakhu is a good option after Meta as there is a small house with two rooms which can be used for the night next to the tea shop. From Chyakhu we continued down the valley in beautiful autumn light and got to the trail junction of Nar at around 1 35 pm. From the junction there is a steep downhill over a very stony path - it was also extremely dusty and windy and blew my cap and pack cover off. The bridge was reached in about 25 minutes and then there is another uphill climb to the monastery which takes around 20 minutes. The monastery is brand new and the rooms are also excellent the best we have had on this trek so far!

Phu Village
Phu to Kyang 2 hrs 30 min to 3 hrs; Kyang to Chyakhu 1 hr to 1 hr 15 min; Chyakhu to Nar trail junction 1 hr 30 min to 1 hr 45 min; Nar trail junction to bridge 20 min to 25 min; bridge to monastery 20 min to 30 min.

October 6 2015
Nar Phedi to Nar village.

Doorway Nar Phedi Monastery
We left from Nar Phedi monastery around 8 10 am. Ajmal had decided to go down to Koto Qupar as he was not feeling very well and we gave Sushil one of the porters with him. I was sorry to see him go but I realised that it was the best decision for him and he was not really enjoying the uphill climbs due to his poor health. Our climb was relentless for the first one hour and we reached a small pass. From here the climb continued uphill and in about forty minutes reached another high point which showed up as 3995 metres on my altimeter . From here there was a very fine view of Kangaru and Pisang peak was in front of us for most of the way.  The trail then levelled off for some time and passed right below Pisang before climbing up to another small pass. The trail then eased off and was passed through a gate which had probably been erected to keep the yak and sheep within their pens. Within 15 minutes of passing through this gate, the path reached a level plateau with ten magnificent chortens against a backdrop of the snow peaks and the barren cliffs. 

Chortens before Nar Village with Kangaru Himal
It was truly a magnificent sight and the artists who had built them so many years ago on this windswept exposed plateau must have been truly great men! From here  a short ten minute walk brings you to the entrance of Nar village.

Nar Phedi to 1st pass 1 hr; 1st pass to 2nd pass 30 min; 2nd pass to plateau with chortens 1 hr 15 min; chortens to Nar village 15 to 30 min. Total time would be between 3 to 3.5 hours.

Travels in Nar village
We stayed at the Shanti lodge which is one of the older lodges in the village. The owner Shanti Galay was extremely helpful and friendly.  I knew that sometime in the 1980s King Birendra had given permission to a photographer Nick Wheeler to document the villagers of Nar and Phu. The book they brought out was called Cloud Dwellers of the Himalaya now sadly out of print. In 2006 Wanda Viequex had visited Nar and Phu with a copy of the book and had managed to show the photographs to many of the villagers who were able to identify themselves so many years ago. In particular she visited the home of "cover" girl Pema Bhutti who was possibly in her seventies at that time.  I was  interested to find out if she was still alive nine years later  in 2015 and also visit her house. Shanti directed us to her house in the village. It was the harvesting season. All the fields had been harvested of barley and on every roof top of every home threshing and winnowing of the grain was taking place. Whole families were busy with this all day and it presented a spectacular sight.  We found the house and found Pema Bhutti's daughter and husband with their grandchildren.  We learnt that Pema had passed away in 2008 after suffering from cancer. They knew about the book but did not have any copy with them . They also confirmed that none of the villagers in Nar would have a copy. 

 Pema 's daughter Pemba Chenzom and husband Mingmar Copel Gurung gave my guide Shyam and me tea in their kitchen. They wondered if it was possible to get some sponsorship for their grandchildren to go to school in Kathmandu.  
From here we continued to walk through the village photographing the houses, harvesting, the village folk which was extremely interesting. Below in the fields of Nar we saw most of the cattle were grazing including yaks, horses and sheep. It was a beautiful sunny day with the peaks above the valley, the pleasant autumn sunshine, the harvesting in full force and the roof tops of the three monasteries glinting in the mellow evening sunshine. At around 4 pm I decided to walk back around 20 minutes the plateau with the ten chortens. The evening sunlight had illuminated them beautifully backed by the peaks of Chombu and Kangaru. We were also able to see Pisang peak above us and Chulu East a popular trekking peak on the Annapurna circuit. Shyam and I sat  on the grass for some time and savoured this idyllic surrounding. Nar is a village where I could happily stay a few days interacting with the village folk and photographing their life and fast vanishing culture.

Harvesting Nar Village
October 7 2015
Nar to Kangla Phedi
The morning dawned clear but I was greeted with the news that one of our group Ashutosh was not feeling well- he had been suffering from a throat infection right through the trek and was now quite breathless. He took the decision sadly to descend to Koto Qupar by making a night stop at Meta. We were sad to see him go but realised in his present condition crossing the pass would be both difficult and risky. After breakfast I went down with Shyam to see the old Samten  Pelgye Ling monastery which had some remarkable old statues. 

Interior Samten Ling monastery
A nun from Kathmandu showed us around - interestingly she had been to India! We had an early lunch and left Nar at around 12 noon. We left through the exit gate of the village and started a climb out of the valley. After about half an hour the gradient eased a bit and we found ourselves in a broad valley with Pisang Peak and it razor sharp ridges on the left. The trail continued to climb gently through yak pastures and high above we spotted two herds of blue sheep , one of them quite large around thirty animals high above the  valley floor. The path then went around the hill and from the viewpoint before going down we saw Kangguru, the summit of Manaslu, Ngadi Chuli and much closer the top of Pisang Peak. We soon reached a small campsite with a broken down stone shelter which is the Kangla Phedi Base camp. The beginning of the trail to the pass could be seen clearly over moraine and scree slopes.  Just behind our camp to the east was a small snowy peak which could not be identified. We planned to start at 5 am tomorrow so as to cross the pass between 8 and 9 am and hopefully get the wonderful view of the northern sweep of the Annapurnas.

Night sky and the Milky way at Nar Phedi
Nar to Kangla Phedi 2 hrs to 2 hrs 30 min

October 8 2015
Kangla Phedi to Kangla pass to Ngawal
The night was very cold in the tent, especially my toes which I could not warm up despite the best of efforts. I got up around 3 45 am and started the laborious job of packing up the sleeping bag and then my rucksack. After this I stepped out at around 4 15 am and began to dismantle my tent . Using gloves and a headlamp it was tough going and the minus 8 Celsius temperature did not help matters very much. The fly sheet was frozen and I had to pack it up with the ice hoping to dry it out in the sun in Ngawal this afternoon. The kerosene stove was purring in the kitchen shed and we all had hot coffee and muesli with milk. We finally got away around 5 35 am.  The trail initially left the campsite and started a slow climb upwards to a small bridge in around 20 minutes. From the bridge the path climbed relentlessly through a series of switch backs  until it reached a small chorten in about an hour and a half. From this high point looking east we could see over the valley the peaks of Chombu, Kanguru, Manaslu, Ngadi Chuli , Himal Chuli and the sheer cliffs of Pisang peak. To help in the snow trail markers in orange and blue had been positioned at regular intervals , a welcome feature. This morning was perfect as there was not a cloud in sight and no wind or snow. The trail continued past a few false summits until it reached an emerald green glaciated lake at 5200 metres in about 2 hrs 45 min from Kangla Phedi. The pass was visible from the lake another 30 min away. We eventually got to the top around 8 50 am to be rewarded with a spectacular view of the entire northern sweep of the Annapurnas including Lamjung Himal and in the far right corner Dhaulagiri. Below us we could see quite clearly the new road which was now being used by jeeps and buses connecting MaƱang to Besisahar . The airstrip of  Hongde was also visible and to the west of that was the village of Ngawal our destination  for the day.

View from Kang La
We left the pass around 9 30 am and headed down one of the steepest scree slopes which I have encountered. For an hour we had to gingerly make our way down testing each steep and using our trekking poles for support. I wondered how difficult this descent would be in snowy conditions. After an hour and a half we reached the grassy slopes and began to descend on a well trodden path towards the valley. From the pass to Ngawal was a drop of around 1700 metres in around 3 to 4 hours which is a knee crunching descent and we were all feeling it towards the end. In around 2 hrs and 30 min we could see the village of Ngawal below us but it was still an hour away. Finally around 1 15 pm we entered Ngawal having walked for around 8 hours without any meals or major stops. The pleasures of the Annapurna circuit like a hot shower, good meals and comfortable beds awaited us!

Lake on the trail to Pisang
Kangla Phedi to 1st chorten 1hr 30 min; 1st chorten to emerald lake 1 hr 15 min; emerald lake to Kangla pass 30 min. Total time from Kangla Phedi to the pass would be between 3 to 4 hours depending on walking speeds and stops.
Kangla pass to Ngawal 3 hrs 30 minutes to 4 hours.

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