Three Passes (Nepal)
This is Part 2 of my 14-day trek on the Three Passes trek in Nepal’s Sagarmatha National Park. Check out my previous post for background information on this spectacular trek into the heart of the Nepali Himalaya.
Most hikers today start the Three Passes trek by flying into Lukla. I was interested, though, in seeing the Middle Hills region and experiencing the full range of what the trek has to offer. So I started in Jiri, where the old mountaineering expeditions, including the first summit attempts of Mt. Everest, began their journeys decades before air travel allowed quick access to the Himalayan interior.
I’m glad I did. This region of thriving jungle and meticulously terraced hillsides offers a window into a completely different side of Nepal. It also has far less trekker traffic than the higher sections of the trail, making for a more peaceful and enjoyable experience. The trek over this section is a roller coaster of big climbs and steep descents, but is well worth the effort.
The guide book recommends 6 days for the expedition route from Jiri to Lukla. This is a relaxed schedule that allows plenty of sightseeing along the way. I had a tight schedule with my next trek (the Annapurna Circuit) scheduled for a little over two weeks later, so I made it to the Lukla area in 4 days.
Pre-Hike – Kathmandu to Jiri
I left Thamel (Kathmandu’s tourist area) at 6:30 AM for the 15-minute walk to the local bus park to catch the 8:00 AM local bus from Kathmandu to Jiri. I finally arrived dozens of stops, hundreds of passengers, and two new Facebook friends later. It took a full 11 1/2 hours to cover the 200 kilometers from Kathmandu. There’s nothing like a day crammed into a tiny bus seat with your backpack on your lap to prepare you for two weeks of intense high-altitude hiking.
Day 1 – Jiri to Deurali
From Jiri (2,100m), the trail follows the road to a fork at the end of town. The trek takes the higher road to the left for a short distance (less than a kilometer) before the trail breaks away from the road and plows directly up hill. The trail between Jiri and Shivalaya, the next large village, is a bit sketchy. There is a road that goes to Shivalaya, but the trail is a shorter and better option, even with a bit of backtracking every now and then. I found the locals to be quite willing to help keep me on the right path.
I took my first alternate route near the end of the first day as I left Sangbadanda (2,180m). The trail splits just past the village, with the lower trail rising directly to Deurali (2,705m), my ultimate destination. The other marches straight up a ridge and rises several hundreds of meters higher to the Thodung cheese factory (3,090m).
Thinking I knew where to go, I marched on through Sangbadanda without consulting my map or guide book. I charged the upper trail and knocked out several hundred meters of climbing over the next hour. It wasn’t until I reached a lone house nestled in a clearing near the crest at 3,000 meters that I realized my mistake.
The family that lived in the decrepit stone-walled house clearly received few visitors. Thrilled at the prospect of a paying guest, they pleaded with me to spend the night. I was intent on making Deurali that night and managed make my escape before they resorted to locking me in. Determined to get something out of me, they insisted on having the two young girls (6 and 9 years old) guide me the last hour down to Deurali. I acquiesced and, under the expert direction of my new guides, headed toward my first night’s lodging in Deurali.
Day 2 – Deurali to Lamjura Bhanjyang
Early the next day, the trail descended steeply from Deurali (2,750m) to Tharo Khola (1,480m), where it crossed into the Guarashankar Conservation Area (“GCA”). The GCA, like Sagarmatha National Park and the Annapurna Conservation Area, was created to conserve natural resources in an area that was already heavily populated.
Because it crosses through this populous region, the lower sections of the Three Passes trek give hikers close insight into the lives of the existing local communities. This interaction can be a double-edged sword, though. While it leads to many positive encounters and opportunities to learn about local culture, the poverty of the local communities creates awkward tension for passing trekkers.
This plays out primarily in the form of constant begging by local children along the route. Nearly every child I passed along the way, and there were many, begged for chocolates, sweets, or pens. Faced with these entreaties, a natural inclination to provide the desired but meaningless assistance from a position of privilege battles against more long-term thinking and the Nepali Government’s frequent requests to ignore such pleas. This makes for some heavy thoughts that contrast starkly with the beauty of the surrounding natural environment.
The trail rises steeply from Tharo Khola to eventually reach a pass at Lamjura Bhanjyang (3,530m) that is the highest point on the old expedition route. Along the way, the trail follows a steep, newly completed path toward Kinja (1,630m), then rises through Chimbu (2,170m), Sete (2,520m), Dagchu (2,820m), and Goyom (3,060m).
I wanted to use the early days to begin the process of acclimatizing and chose to stay at the highest point on the pass. This seems to be a rare choice as the two young women proprietors of the tea house, along with the 9-year old son of one of them, showed the extreme curiousity of people unused to many foreign visitors. They really got a kick out of my phone and the little boy spent the night exploring every app and function. I’m mostly certain there isn’t permanent damage.
Day 3 – Lamjura Bhanjyang to Jubing
The trail below Lamjura drops gradually through a beautiful and haunting forest until it reaches the large town of Junbesi (2,680m). There, it climbs steeply to the southeast to Phurteng (2,900m). The trail then cuts back to the northeast, generally following the contour lines, as it heads to a crossing of the Ringmo Khola (river) and the town just on the other side that bears its name (Ringmo, 2,720m).
From a large stupa in the center of Ringmo, the trail turns quickly to the left (north) as begins the climb over the pass at Trakshindu La (3,071m). The trail ducks through a colorful gate at the crest of the pass and, passing by the massive Trakshindu Gompa, descends for several miles until it reaches a long suspension bridge over the Dudh Khola (1,510m). A short climb from the river leads to the small village of Jubing (1,6180m).
Day 4 – Jubing to Thado Koshi
From Jubing, the trail starts a long climb to Khari Khola (2,010m). Along the way, I struck up a conversation with a farmer from the Nepali lowlands in town to visit his mother. We stopped for a break in Bupsa (2,360m) and shared an interesting discussion on business, governance and politics over an excellent glass of lemon tea.
Clouds came in soon after I left Khari Khola and I spent the rest of the day dodging rain as I made my way north. Since I was heading to the Everest region, I bypassed the trail junction toward Lukla (in Karte), and took a more direct route north through Muse and Chaurikharka (2,650m).
I stopped for the night in Thado Koshigoan. Even arriving at dusk, I could already tell that my time on the quiet expedition route was over. Group after group passed throughout the evening with most heading toward Lukla and their return flight to Kathmandu.
That’s it for Part 1. Look out for the next post on the Three Passes trek soon.