Namaste! Most people traveling to Nepal begin in Kathmandu, as we did in Part I, before they make their way up to the foothills of the Himalayas and the Annapurnas. At over 4000ft above sea level, Kathmandu is already fairly high, but if you are planning on heading to Jomsom at 8800ft, or above, you will need to acclimate. Here are some heavenly spots to stop as you make your ascent.
Only 45-minutes from Kathmandu is The Dwarika’s Himalayan Shangri-La Village Resort at Dhulikhel, a picturesque mountain village where they say the peaks speak. Using traditional Newari architecture, the resort is equally as divine as its sister hotel in Kathmandu, Dwarika’s, and very similar in design, except that at 5577ft, it overlooks the Kavrepalanchok valley with 180-degree views of the Himalayas. For centuries Dhulikhel has been an important trading center on the ancient commercial route linking Nepal to Tibet. It was only in 1965 when the Araniko Highway was built that the town became accessible to foreign tourists. The town’s unique Newari cultural antiquities and architectural monuments make it a must-see for anyone interested in ancient Hindu town planning and design. The stone paved streets, worn brick buildings, open courtyards surrounded by traditional houses with flower pots, and old pagoda-style temples with glittering Gajurs speak silent volumes of the rich history and cultural heritage of the people. Bhagwati Temple situated at the top of the western part of the town is the best place to see views of Dhulikhel and the surrounding mountains. Another stunning spot to watch the sunset or sunrise is sitting on the terrace at the hotel’s Himalayan Restaurant, amongst the rhododendrons and apple trees.
Pokhara is the central meeting point for mountain climbers, trekkers, pilgrims, and tourists. Known as the hippy Mecca of the southeast, the main street is filled with vendors hawking their wares from trekking and camping gear to Tibetan prayer flags, pashmina scarves, hand-carved sculptures, t-shirts, jewelry, and art works. There is a funky international vibe that fills the bars and cafés in the busy season, bursting with colorful characters full of good yarns as they come and go. Local attractions include the Barahi Temple in the middle of Fewa Lake, Devil’s Fall–a beautiful waterfall, Mahendra Cave, also known as the house of bats on account of its winged inhabitants, and the World Peace Pagoda, which commands a grand view of the Annapurnas. In no other place do the mountains rise so quickly, making it a tricky place to get to when the weather is bad. Within 30km, the elevation rises from 3200ft to over 24,000ft. The Dhaulagiri, Annapurna and Manaslu ranges, each with peaks over 26,000ft, can be seen from Pokhara on a clear day. Although the highest among them is Annapurna I at 26,545ft, it is Machhapuchhre, aka Fishtail Mountain, which dominates the skyline with its snow-capped fishtailed pinnacle rising in the center.
The scenic Fishtail Lodge is ideally situated on a private peninsular looking across to Fishtail Mountain with Fewa Lake on one side and a forest-covered hill on the other. The only way to gain access to the private lodge is by boat or on the shuttle “float” that uses a rope to pull you from one side of the river to the other. Once on the premises, guests are surrounded by lush gardens and vintage round bungalows from the 1960’s, which could have easily featured in a classic Bond movie. Originally owned by the Nepalese royal family, the lodge has afforded shelter to a variety of world leaders, royalty, and heads of state, including HRH the Prince of Wales and Jimmy Carter. The rooms are beautifully appointed with picture bay windows and terraces to make the most of the stunning views. By the bed are the Teachings of Buddha as a reminder that you are on sacred land where many pilgrims have passed before on their journey to enlightenment. Its old world charm gives the Fishtail Lodge character and history, and a unique sense of time and place in the special part of the world.
After a few days of exploring the local area, weather permitting, a beautiful but nerve–wracking twenty-minute flight will whisk you up the valley to Jomsom in the Mustang district of Nepal’s Trans-Himalaya, where the real hiking begins and altitude sickness can set in if you don’t take the right precautions. (Before embarking on a physically strenuous journey at altitude, visitors should be in good physical condition and be prepared to handle the side effects.) In Jomsom, the winds can blow furiously and for days sending travel plans literally into the wind. Jomsom has a number of simple guesthouses where it is easy to get stranded since the weather can change at a moment’s notice. A popular favorite is Om’s Home Hotel, which is clean and comfortable and features a scenic restaurant with enormous windows looking up at the mountains and a pretty courtyard to sit in. There are a number of beautiful hikes in the immediate area, including to the historical village of Thini.
The famous Jomsom trail passes through the Lower Mustang region of Nepal, ending at the village of Kagbeni, filled with prayer wheels, flags and a Buddhist monastery. The trail follows the Kali Gandaki River, which forms the deepest ravine in the world; on one side lays the Annapurna mountain range and on the other side is Dhaulagiri. Between the two ranges, there are views of eight of the 20 highest mountains in the world. Travelers can tackle the trail either on foot, horseback, bike, motorcycle or vehicle. Himalayan Mountain Bike Adventures has been going since 1988 and offers a variety of bike tours, including a Magical Heli-Biking trip that promises 100% off-road biking, all downhill with the greatest close up aerial views of the Himalayas, rivers, villages, and remote village life that few get to see or experience. The culture along the track is a rich mixture of Hindu and Tibetan Buddhism, and most of the villages have a local monastery or temple that will sway even the most hardened atheists. Wilderness Travel has also been offering camping and trekking tours in Nepal for 30 years. The Ultimate Everest trip is a spectacular 20-day trek to Everest Base Camp crossing the stunning 17,780ft Cho La Pass. Everest Adventure is an action-packed 9-day trek among the majestic giants of the Himalaya culminating at Tengboche Monastery, the impressive spiritual center of the Sherpa people. And Annapurna Sanctuary is an 11-day trek to the mountain-ringed Annapurna Sanctuary, one of the most spectacular places on earth, with its 360-degree panorama of snowy Himalayan giants including Annapurna (26,545ft).
The Jomsom trail’s highest point is Muktinath at 12,476ft, a holy pilgrimage site of temples sacred to both Buddhists and Hindus for centuries. It is known as “the place of salvation”. The most suitable time to visit Muktinath is from March to June, as the weather conditions are too dangerous in other months. The journey passes through many archeological sites and temples. In late August and early September, set around the full moon, the Pompo Yartung Festival features horse racing, gambling, drinking, and dancing–Tibetan style, creating an incongruous scene against the staggering backdrop of the mountains and the sacred atmosphere. Gazing in awe, all one can do is breathe, put your hands together in prayer, and bow in silence before exhaling with pure joy at the beauty and mystery of this magical place.
Rates: Rooms at Fishtail Lodge, range from US$150-$170 p/night. Email: email@example.com. Rooms at The Dwarika’s Himalayan Shangri-La Village Resort start at US$165 p/night for a double. Tel: 977-11-490612 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Travel Information: Pokhara is approximately 35 minutes flight from Kathmandu. By road it is a five-hour drive taking in spectacular views of the hills, valleys and gorges, although this can be difficult and sometimes dangerous if there are any demonstrations happening. There are daily flight connections between Jomson and Pokhara, although cloud cover and high winds particuarly at Jomson frequently cause delays and/or cancellations. Local airlines covering the area include: Yeti Airlines, Buddha Air, and Gorkha Airlines.