Kathmandu to Arughat Bazar by bus/jeep (8-10hrs)
You can take a direct bus from Kathmandu to Arughat, a rough unsealed road from Dhading to Arughat. In Arughat (600m), a pleasant market town straddling the Budhi Gandaki river, walk into town, cross the suspension bridge.
Arughat to Lapubesi (5-6hrs)
Many now take a jeep to Soti Khola to save 3hrs of walking but the road remains untrafficked and passes through pleasant fields and villages.Trek through Gurung and Magar villages on the more scenic upper road where there is a choice, staying on the left bank (true right) of the Budhi Gandaki, which you will be following to its source. It is around 1.30 hrs walk to town of Arkhet (760m) could easily be your first night if you arrive early enough from Kathmandu. Climb on stairs as the valley becomes wilder, prettier and narrower and descend to Soti Khola (710m). There’s a swimming hole in the Soti Khola, popular with locals. Packhorses ply the trail from here on. Trek on through shady sal forests then climb up and down for some time on an exposed track blasted from the cliff and views way below of wild rapids, eventually dropping to the Gurung Labubesi (880m; Lapubeshi).
Lapubesi to Tatopani (4-5hrs)
Continue up-river, climbing sometimes and at other times down on the gravel riverbed, passing through Machhakhola (930m), continue on the same side of the Buri Gandaki, up and down again and across sandy riverflats. The monkeys and langurs in the jungle above can knock rocks down, so watch out. Large Gurung villages are way above while the track passes few houses, like lower Khorlabeshi (960m) which was largely destroyed by a huge rockslip 24 years ago. Goat herders passing through this area wear the distinctive smoke-browned capes called bokkhu made famous in the book Honey Hunters of Nepal. Continue up and down over a couple of ridges to Tatopani (930m; ‘hot water’) where there are hot water spouts under the sheer cliffs that provide a delightful evening shower and soft skin due to natural minerals.
Tatopani to Philim (5-6hrs)
Climb over a ridge and cross the Buri Gandaki on a new suspension bridge, circle under cliffs and climb a little to Doban (1000m; Duvan). After a landslip and Yaruphant (1140m) cross the bridge across the Yaru Khola (1363m) and emerge onto riverflats at Yaru (1140m) for lunch. Look downstream at the massive rockfall that chokes the river. Just past Yaru, cross to the true right bank and enjoy easy up and down to Jagat (1410m), a neatly flagstoned Gurung village where jagat (‘tax’) is collected on Tibetan trade. Walk up the riverbed then climb over a rocky ridge to Salleri (1440m) with views of Sringi Himal (7187m), then descend to Sirdibas (1430m; Setibas, Tara). You’ll see your first signs of Buddhist culture here. Look out for rakshi spirit being distilled from millet beer in roadside kettles on this day. Continue up-river on the left bank, up and down before crossing Nepal’s longest suspension bridge to the east bank and a tiring climb up to prosperous Philim (1590m; Dodang) surrounded by rich fields of maize, potato and millet.
Philim to Chumling (5-6hrs)
Traverse north out of Philim on the obvious track signposted to the Larkya La, through some pretty forest with views up the narrowing valley. After 1hr climbing enter the increasingly misnamed Ekle Bhatti (1600m; ‘lone teashop’) with at least six bhatti, then traverse high above a spectacular gorge, entering a largely uninhabited area of pine trees. Eventually drop to a trail junction going left to Ghap and right to the Tsum Valley, just above Gum Pul (‘bridge’). Climb on a well-graded but exposed track through pines and rhododendrons, looking down on the other trail across the river. Climb on zigzag steps, increasingly exposed, and gain your first glimpses of the narrow lower Tsum Valley, very steep across the Siyar Khola (Shiar Khola) which drains from the very top of the valley. Across the Buri Gandaki is Himalchuli (7893m) above steep cliffs. Walk through a largely intact and peaceful temperate forest into Lokpa (2240m; Lakuwa), surrounded by barley fields. Descend through beautiful forest, crossing two new bridges, circle under a huge bluff on the river then climb steeply on deteriorating exposed stairs. After about 30mins start to traverse north through pines and rhododendrons, still climbing and with very steep slopes. The hidden valley of Tsum stretches enticingly ahead. Eventually descend to a deserted bhatti Ghumlong (2130m) on the river. The path straight ahead climbs steeply to Ripchet (2470m; Ripche) in about 1hr; the path to Chumling (2360m) crosses the Siyar Khola on a wooden bridge and up. After about 30mins, below Chumling, take the level track to right (east) for 15mins to arrive at a lodge with 6-8 beds. Make sure you climb up to Chumling and check out the old gompa, the traditional houses, orchards, clinic and beautiful stone streets. This is Buddhist agriculture, with conical pine needle haystacks among the prayer flags. From here on trails are lined with artistic chortens and mani walls made of thousands of stone slabs carved with deities and prayers.
Chumling to Chhokang-Paro (3-4hrs)
Cross the suspension bridge just east of the hotel and traverse through rich farming land of maize and potatoes. The houses are classic Tibetan with barricades of firewood on the roof, but without flat roofs as it rains and snows here. Cross a huge slip where rocks and flood cleared the area even up onto the opposite bank, covered with a forest of new trees. Up the valley to the east are superb views of several of the 7000-7400m Ganesh Himal, of long suspension bridges on the opposite bank, and far above the perched village of Ripchet (2468m). Cross the Serpu Khola and climb for over 2hrs on well-graded but exposed track to upper Tsum and the joined villages of Chhokang-Paro (3010m), stone houses with a few iron roofs nestled under cliffs. The valley opens here into spacious fields of barley, maize, buckwheat and potato, but wheat has been abandoned due to ‘hill bunt’, a disease which turns the heads black and causes total crop failure. Herds of thar often graze the wild cliffs to the north, coming right down to the fields. If the air is clear Himalchuli (7893m) can be seen down valley.
Chhokang-Paro to Nile (3-4hrs)
Most people can climb to 3000m without getting altitude sickness, but the altitude gain in these track notes above Chhokang-Paro is right at the 300m per day suggested for safety. Explore the village. Thar are often sighted near here. The friendly people speak Tsumba, related to Tibetan, but often little Nepali and are quite unused to visitors.Head east through small villages and past a local school, climb over a ridge of chortens and past Lamagaon (3202m) through the flat fields, looking across the extensive crops and river to the huge courtyard of the Rachen Gompa (3240m). This nunnery is the female equivalent of the main Kathmandu Kopan Monastery. Pay visit to Milarepa’s Cave (Piren Phu), where the bringer of Buddhism to Tibet is reputed to have meditated. The cave is being extensively restored and a donation of Rs500 is suggested. Cross the Shiyar Khola, pass through hamlets of Phurbe (3251m) and Pangdun (3258m) and pass an unusual round stupa before reaching the larger village of Chhule (3347m) through an impressive entrance gate (kani). The children here all wear the Tibetan dressing gown called chubas and there are many yaks. Head upstream to cross the bridge and climb to Nile (3361m; Nyile, pronounced Nee-lay). Both villages are in traditional style with inclusion of livestock compounds into the houses and sheltered verandahs for drying crops.
Nile to Mu Gompa (1-2hrs)
Visit Mu Gompa as a day trip, continuing on to Rachen Gompa or Chhokang-Paro, or stay overnight in Mu Gompa and visit the isolated Dhephu Doma nunnery and gompa and even climb above it for great views – ask at the nunnery. Make up valley on the west bank, enjoying sunrise on the narrowing valley walls and yaks being put to pasture. The final climb up to the large Mu Gompa (3700m; Mugumba) is through dry Tibetan country, with rows of chortens and widening mountain vistas. This is a large monastery with over 100 monks and an ancient gompa. On three sides now are tantalising views of the border with Tibet, with frequently used passes to the east (Ngula Dhojyang or Mailatasachin Pass, 5093m) and west (Thapla Bhanjyang, 5104m) just out of sight. Some people climb to Kalung (3820m) or Bhajyo (4030m) and camp, making a daytrip to the passes for a view into Tibet. Option: Hike to Bhajyo: It takes about 4hrs to climb to the pass from Bhajyo and 3hrs down. From Mu Gompa there are extensive seasonal yak pastures in all directions, the Lungdang Glacier to the east and high peaks in all directions. The isolated 600 year-old Dhephu Doma Gompa (3900m) is 30-45mins uphill on the obvious westward track and has two resident nuns who report seeing snow leopards and musk deer and may give you tea. The inside of the gompa has been repainted by monks from Tibet and there are some ancient thankas.
Mu Gompa to Rachen Gompa (3-4hrs)
Return down valley through Chhule, and continue down as far as Phurbe, where the Sheraps (sic) Homestay with camping looks clean and comfortable. Stay on the east bank of the Siyar Khola and cross flat boulder-covered plains following the power lines to Rachen Gompa (3240m), where it is possible to inspect the ancient gompa if you want and the many young nuns are very friendly. Families in the Tsum usually have at least one family member as either a monk or a nun.
Rachen Gompa to Gumba Lungdang (5-6hrs)
Continue south until a bridge crosses to the west bank and pass again through Chhokang Paro then drop below on the previous trail towards Chumling. After about 2hrs, see a small white gompa on the left at Gho (2485m). Descend on a narrow trail passing the gompa on your left and drop to a wooden bridge over the Siyar Khola. This is a good place to wash clothes and yourself after the lack of water further up the Tsum. Cross the bridge to Domje (2460m, Dhumje, Tumje) which has a Tibetan herbal medicine clinic and school but no food or lodging. The track onwards climbs just behind the clinic, which may be out of sight so take any clear trail that heads upwards. Climb very steeply through pines and rhododendrons until the track starts traversing at a mani wall with prayer flags. The track is exposed and narrow. Finally, in the pine forest, take a prayer flag marked uphill trail and make a zigzag climb through huge silver pines to reach Gumba Lungdang (3200m), perched on a ridge with small cells for the nuns scattered through the beautiful rhododendrons above. This small gompa with 40 nuns has an intense and engrossing puja from 6.00-7.30pm each night unless the nuns are on holidays or elsewhere, which is for some months each year – enquire in Chhokang-Paro.
Day trip to Ganesh Himal Base Camp (7-8hrs)
Circle from the gompa through a white gateway (kani) and below the nuns’ housing, between two houses
Gumba Lungdang to Lokpa (7-8hrs)
This can be a taxing day so start early. Descend to Domje, where there are no lodges or bhatti, by the upward track. Cross the Laudang Khola on a new swing bridge between the two lowest houses in Domje and stay on the south (true left) bank of the Siyar Khola (contrary to the map). Traverse 10 mins on a new trail through lovely forest until a choice of upper or lower trails – either works, the lower is best. Cross some very deep gorges on new swing bridges to picturesque Ripchet (2470m; Ripche) where there is a homestay and you can get lunch if you ask around. Take time to look around at this perched fertile valley of barley and buckwheat with evocative chortens in the fields backed by pine forest. Descend on steep loose stairs to the deserted bhatti Ghumlong (2130m) on the river, which you passed through some days ago. Climb again through the pristine temperature forest to Lokpa (2240m).
Lokpa to Ghap (4-5hrs)
Continue from Lokpa down the exposed track until the track from Philim comes in from the left. Turn right, cross the Buri Gandaki on a solid bridge after about 1hr and traverse to a welcome bhatti just around the corner for tea and a last look up the Tsum Valley. Enter a very narrow gorge with loose tracks, up and down, up and down. Cross to the east bank (true left) at one point and then back again to the west bank on a new suspension bridge. After about 2hrs reach Sirdibas (1860m) with comfortable Manaslu and Rubinda lodges. In another hour enter Nupri (‘the western mountains’) through bamboo forests to Deng (1800m), inhabited by Gurungs who practice Buddhism. Just beyond Deng recross to the east bank and climb to Rana (1980m) and pass Bihi Phedi (1990m, Himal and Manaslu hotels) with the trail up to the stone-carving village of Bihi (2130m; Bhi). The river roars below. Continue in and out of continuous wild canyons, with a village perched in every conceivable cropping situation, cross the Serang Khola coming from the north and climb steeply again before finally circling into Ghap (2160m; Tsak). The mani walls here and onwards as far as Bimthang often display intricate quality carvings of various Buddhas in meditation, incised in the hard local stone by a family of carvers from Bihi. A side-trip from a bridge below Bihi can take you up to Prok (2380m), with an ACAP office and emergency radio and an excursion to Kal Tal (3685m; Kalchhuman Lake), then back down to Ghap.
Ghap to Lho (5-6hrs)
Enter a beautiful forest of fir and rhododendron with many birds, staying on the south bank, cross north on a wooden bridge with a roaring narrow canyon below then cross back to the south bank on a new swing bridge with grey langurs watching. The main trail now climbs on well-made stairs, but a highly recommended narrow shortcut to the right just after the bridge and along the riverbank is far quicker and through superb pine forest. After about 1hr, climb a zigzag from the river to the neat village of Namrung (2660m). while wandering around village where carvings from Bihi have been painted in colours above a gateway. The architecture characteristic of upper Nupri starts here: several houses gathered together about a common courtyard and livestock shelters on the ground floor, with heavy wooden shingle roofs and log stairs to dark verandahs. Pass mani walls, fields and houses through Banjam (2800m, Banzam). Enter the fir, rhododendron and oak forest before climbing to Lihi (2900m; Li, Ligaon) with the Lihi Hotel in 1hr, then onto Sho (2950m, Syogoan) where there is a bhatti but no lodges yet. The platforms in the fields are where people keep overnight watches to chase bears from their crops. Most people from here onwards wear traditional Tibetan dress, with the children in small chubas like dressing gowns, asking for shim shim (Tibetan for candy). Some have impeccable English due to an Australian aid project. There are some particularly fine paintings in the kani (gate arches) that you pass before Sho. Shrip (3000m) has good losges and a leisurely walk onwards, in and out of gullies to Lho (3180m; Logoan). There are excellent views of Manaslu (8163m) and Manaslu North (7157m) from the mani wall at the far end of the village and from the gompa on the hill to the west.
Lho to Samagaon (2-3hrs)
This short day takes you into the mountains with time to enjoy and acclimatize. The views of Manaslu are stupendous. Easy walk to Shyala (3520m, Syal, Syalagaon, Shyaula) up a pine and rhododendron gully with moss and gin-clear stream. Enjoy 360° views from here due to a fire and extensive deforestation and extensive building including the largest lodge on the trek under construction. Another easy hour to the large village of Sama (3530m, Samagaon, Ro), losing the gigantic views of Manaslu but entering a world of yaks, pastures and houses which seem to have grown from the stones. Only potatoes and barley can be grown at this altitude. Day-long acclimatisation trips can be taken from here to Pungyen Gompa or to Manaslu Base Camp (4900m) An afternoon walk to the Kargyu Chholing Gompa is recommended.
Samagaon to Samdo (2-3hrs)
Another short day because of the altitude, with time to go via the iceberg-covered Birendra Tal (3450m) under the Manaslu Glacier, wade the exit stream depending on the time of year and drop down to pick up the main trail from Sama to Samdo. Easy walking through yak pastures up a broad valley with long mani walls, marmots in April but not November standing on their burrows. Finally leave the treeline behind, although low-lying juniper is all around, climb to a ridge and drop to cross the Buri Gandaki on a wooden bridge. It takes some time to reach the white kani above but immediately behind is Samdo (3860m), a very picturesque village dedicated to yak herding, so much so that there are more animal and fodder shelters than human accommodation. Side valleys and Samdo Peak call out for afternoon wandering but take a jacket as cold wind can come up at any time. The Larkya La trail is ahead up valley and left. You can see the main track for Tibet over the Larjyang La (Lajyung Bhanjyang, 5098m) sloping up to the right from the Larkya La trail and you can make an excellent afternoon acclimatisation walk of 4-5hrs return to 4500m up this trail, seeing lots of blue sheep and yaks and entrancing views, but the pass itself is a full day trip. The first village and road in Tibet is about 2hrs beyond the pass with access currently blocked by China even for locals. There is a lot of Chinese and Tibetan alcohol and food for sale in Samdo.
Samdo to Dharamsala (2-3hrs)
Descend beyond Samdo on a broad trail, dropping to cross the much-reduced Budhi Gandaki at 3850m. Pass the trail to Tibet to the right and climb left after a mani wall, traversing through juniper with many marmots in April but not November when they hibernate. Cross two ravines on narrow tracks, very icy towards winter. There is no Larke Bazar despite what many maps assert; at one time traders from Namche Bazar came through Tibet to trade in this area and maybe some of the scattered stone shelters you will pass were part of that market. Dharamsala (4480m; Larke Phedi, Larkya Resthouse) is now a seasonal village with dark stone rooms and tents for at least 50 people. The views are marvellous. A large herd of blue sheep call the tussock-covered hills home and we saw snow leopard prints in fresh snow around the toilets.
Dharamsala to Bimthang (8-10hrs)
Note that if snow has fallen overnight and there have been high winds, then there may be less snow as you climb making the pass still crossable. Climb steadily over the ridge behind Dharamsala and beside the large lateral moraine of the Larke Glacier. The climb is not difficult but it is long and rocky underfoot, particularly as you top the moraine. Look for cairns and metal snowpoles which assist route finding. Descend past four frozen lakes and make a final tiring climb to the left up to Larkya La (5160m), marked by prayer flags. It takes about 3-5hrs to reach the pass and it can be very cold and windy with a risk of exposure if under-equipped or ill. The peaks to the west are Himlung (7126m) near Tibet and Kang Guru (6981m) and Annapurna II (7937m) in the Annapurna Range. Trek west on a high moraine ridge exposed to wind for some distance, on the right side of a deep gully, then drop steeply on loose scree, eventually traversing left on more steep scree. There are several places where snow or ice would make this treacherous and some groups fix a rope on the steepest piece. Make a long descent on loose gravel to a welcome more level area with grassy moraine, where the angle eases. The track now runs left of the large lateral moraine, rocky at times, in a widening and beautiful valley all the long way to very scenic Bimthang (3720m; ‘plain of sand’), a descent of 1400m in about 3hrs. The views during the descent are huge – icefalls and mountains in all directions, a medial glacial lake (Pongkar Tal) between the Pongkar and Salpudanda Glaciers, and the joining of these two glaciers with a third glacier to form the Bhimdang Glacier whose lateral moraine towers over Bimthang.
Bimthang to Dharapani (7-8hrs)
Walk south below Bimthang behind the moraine wall for some time before crossing the Bhimdang Glacier, which can be loose underfoot. Climb up the far moraine wall quickly to avoid stone-fall and enter some of the best forest in Nepal. If you are in rhododendron season, the mauves, reds, pinks and whites are stunning amongst the huge pines and the views of the back of Mt Manaslu are superb. Descend rapidly along the true right bank of the aptly named Dudh (‘milk’) Khola through a bhatti at Hompuk (3420m) in a forest clearing. Gentle riverside walking continues rapidly to Karche (2700m; Karache, Surki Khola, Suti Khola) for lunch after about 3.5hrs. In the next hour you will see many signs of a glacial flood, with tree trunks smashed and banks undermined, the track becoming quite rough. Climb steeply over a ridge and drop to Gurung Goa (2560m, Gho), the first real village since Samdo. The valley becomes more agricultural as you pass fields and copses of oak and rhododendron, staying on the north (true right) bank until Tilije (2300m; Tiljet). Pass under a stone arch, cross the Dudh Khola and descend rapidly towards the Marsyangdi Valley through scrubby forest. Cross back to the north bank just below Thonje (1900m; Thangjet, Thoche) and climb up to join the main round-Annapurna trail, over the Marsyangdi Khola on a long suspension bridge. Turn left into Dharapani (1860m) for the night.
Drive Dharapani to Besisahar- Kathmandu.
Jeeps now ply for a bumpy ride back to Besi Sahar and to Kathmandu (6-8hrs).