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Phoksundo to Rara Trek

Posted on Nov 10, 2013 by Maze215 under Trekking

Tags: Rara Lake, Phoksundo Lake, Dolpo, Mugu, Jumla

Lake PhoksundoPhoksundo to Rara trek takes you from the Phoksundo-the deepest lake in Nepal in Dolpo to the Rara-the largest lake in Nepal in Mugu passing through Jumla the central town of Karnali Zone. Both the lakes are beautiful and amazing in their own respect and between these are many equally spectacular  passes which makes the journey more satisfying. This guide is also useful if you are trekking to either Rara or Phoksundo only.

 

1. Highlights of the tour


Some of the main highlights of the circuit are
1.    Shey-Phoksundo Lake
The mystic Phoksundo Lake with its distinct greenish blue colour which varies with time of the day is the main focus of Phoksundo National Park. It is widely considered as the deepest lake in Nepal with max depth of 650m but a recent research found the max depth to be 145m less than that of Rara [max depth – 160m]. The lake is picturesque and scenic. The view you can get from the surrounding trail to Shey-Gompa is one of the highlight of the main trek. The locals say that the lake is devoid of any organism but there are definitely no fishes or any large enough visible organism.

2.    Dolpo
Dolpo or Dolpa is the largest district of Nepal; more than 150 times larger than Kathmandu district in terms of area but it remains one of the least developed districts. The cultural traditions of Dolpa are basically linked with the Tibetan culture as people here are more closely connected with the Tibet and practice Bon religion [although not sure what that is]. The trail is part of ancient Tibetan salt caravan route. The trails and the lifestyle of Dolpo have been captured by Eric Valli in his Oscar nominated movie ‘Caravan’. Most of them are intact which is good. Still Dolpo is largely undeveloped so don’t expect good lodging and sanitary facilities


3.    The Scenic High Passes
For information, passes are generally the lowest point in the mountain range and the highest point on the route, from which one can travel from one side of the range to the other side. The passes are usually the only flat ground in the area. As the winds escapes from one side to other side of the pass, wind speeds are expected to be high at the passes usually after 12pm.
One trail crosses number of passes which are equally scenic and wonderful like the lake. The trek includes following passes
From Phoksundo to Jumla
Kagmara Pass [5115m]
Moure Langa [3894m – border between Dolpa and Jumla]
Gothichour La [2995m – passing a small scenic valley which is currently sheep breeding center]
From Jumla to Rara
Daphe Langa [3691m – another scenic pass]
Ghuchi Langa [3480m]
All these passes are as good as the lake. However all these passes mean that you will be constantly ascending and descending instead of gradually ascending. All the passes are almost always marked by Chorten and Prayer flags.

4.    The Kagmara Pass [5115m]
The 5115m Kagmara Pass connects Phoksunda valley to Kaigaun. The view from the Kagmara Pass is great. You can view the surrounding mountain range and even some otherwise unnoticeable lakes and glaciers. But the Kagmara pass is challenging as you need to spend a night outdoors, the trails are narrow and high at some point, crosses many streams at KangmaraPhedi [which can be difficult in rainy season], and very few people use this route. There are two caves at Kagmara Phedi where one can spend the night without the need of camps but sleeping bags are needed. There are no settlements in between Pungmo village and Army post on the next side of the pass which took us about 36 hours.
You can skip the Kagmara Pass and reach Kaigaun by returning to Sulighat and take the more popular path from there but that would add half a day to the tour.


5.    The town of Jumla
Jumla town lying on the on the banks of the Tila River is the district headquarter of Jumla District and the largest town in the Karnali zone. At 2514m height, Jumla is claimed as one of the highest rice growing areas in the world. Although that can’t be verified, you should definitely try local red rice with ghee which has a special taste. Although there is not much to see here we can resupply ourselves in Jumla town.
Jumla is the starting point of the 2 days trek to Rara Lake if you are planning to skip the Phoksundo Lake.

6.    Rara Lake
You probably already know that Rara is largest lake in Nepal. It lies at an altitude of 2980m [some records show it upto 3062m] and covers the area of 10.8 sq.km. It is almost 13km around the lake.To give you the idea of the size of the Lake, it takes around at least 5 hours to go around the lake which is possible as there are trails and view towers all around the lake. Rara also happens to be the deepest lake in Nepal with maximum depth of 160m. The lake is surrounded by pine, spruce and juniper forest. The snow capped Mountain range is of course visible. Given its size it is little inconvenient to capture photo of the whole lake.
There is a single Danfe Hotel alongside the military camp providing the lodging facilities. It is said that there were once settlements around the lake. King Mahendra after his visit in 1964, in order to preserve lake and the surrounding vegetation, moved and resettled the people to Chisapani.

7.    Experiencing Karnali
Karnali is the largest but one of the poorest and most remote regions of Nepal partly because of absence of road connection and low agricultural production. Planes are the main means of transport. The life in Karnali is difficult so don’t expect good lodging and sanitary facilities except in Jumla. If you are not ok with that bring your own sleeping bag. People here don’t bath for months because temperature is usually low and water is just too cold. I tried to shampoo my hair on way to Pokhsundo, It had turned out to be really difficult thing to do.
We did observed few improvements. Smokeless metal stoves have replaced traditional mud ones in most houses and toilets are now used by everyone. All the activities happen in the Kitchen where the heat of the stove is. However it all gets gloomy during winter when snow disrupts daily life in most of the area.

But there are of course some compromises to be made. Most part of Karnali is still undeveloped which mean no electricity, difficult trails. The lodging, fooding and sanitary facilities are at best basic. For more details of what is available and what is not check the ‘Facilities and Expenses’ section


2. Best Time


We made the journey in Octoberwhen the weather was fine. The Wikipedia page suggests the best visiting time to the Rara Laketo be September/October and April/May. From December to March, the temperature goes below the freezing point, and heavy snowfall occurs, blocking the way to the lake. Monsoon season is short in this region occurring between the months of July to October.

The same probably goes for Phoksundo Lake but it rains lot less here as it lies behind Dhawalagiri Range. Unlike Annapurna circuit the number of visitors in both the places is low even during prime season [at least for now]

3. Trekking Advices


These are some of the trekking rules we tend to follow, many of which are just obvious. Although it is not mandatory, it has proved to be useful.

1.    Trek yourself
Going through trekking agencies are absolutely not required. You can save that money and hire a local guide midway if you really want to, instead of paying for the trekking agencies. All bus tickets can be brought at ‘Gongabu bus Park’ where the counters are clearly labeled.
Things are little difficult for plane tickets. Generally for Jumla most airlines fly there but for Juphal in Dolpo and Talcha in Mugu, the airlines that operated more frequently were ‘Sita Air’ and ‘Goma Air’.

2.    Starting early
Start as early as possible in the morning. Usually 5am-6:30am but not late than that. It’s because the morning time is most comfortable for walking so the more distance we can cover in morning the better. It is better to have breakfast at next station or settlement. We tend to have Dal bhat at around 10-2pm. That way the meal will cover the whole day.

3.    Knowing about next point.
Before going to next point, try to know about the next point or settlement by asking the local people. For estimating time to next location, it is IMPORTANT to add at least 1 hour extra to the time specified by the locals. It is not their fault; it’s just that the local people tend to travel faster nor do they stop for photograph or rest.
When possible, we can ask for the contact no of hotel or dining place at the next station and make a phone call beforehand to prepare the food. It saves a lot of time by ordering the food earlier.  As a bonus, the contact no is useful if we happen to get lost midway. However don’t expect it to work every time as mobile network is extremely unreliable in remote locations.  As a note, the Karnali region is most covered by ‘Hello Nepal’ mobile service.

4.    Stay on same path
If going in large group [5 or more], there is no use trying to stay together. Some will be fast and some may be slow. But whenever path divides or is confusing, we tend to wait or make an arrow mark [  ] on the trail with our trekking sticks so that all of us stay in one path [even if that is not the right path].  The fastest of us would order the food at the next station saving time for others.

5.    Avoiding night travel
The average distance from 1 settlement to the other is 3 hours, so it is advised not to travel further if you reach a settlement at 4pm or later unless you are sure that the next point is nearby.

6.    Hospitality rule
It is considered rude to sleep in one and dine at other in these places. So you are to accommodate both in one place as far as possible.

4. Tour Itinerary


The tour Itinerary is based on the travel done on October 2012. Note that this Itinerary gives you how you should travel based on our experience and not how we travelled. As we tend to travel faster to save time, the Itinerary tends to be the shortest you can manage so you may add a day to the schedule. The other itineraries of the circuit on Internet are usually longer than this. Those itineraries are guided treks intended for foreigners who tend to have time.
The length of this tour is so much so that of the 7 members, 3 of them returned at Jumla due to fatigue. This guide is also intended to be useful if you are trekking to either Rara or Phoksundo only. If you are going to
Rara from Jumla skip to Day 9 on the Itinerary.
All the location name and heights are taken from the Map published by Himalayan Map House.

Day 1
Kathmandu to Nepalgunj

The bus from Kathmandu takes us to Nepalgunj, which is the main city in mid west region of Nepal. The tickets are easily available at Gongabu Bus stop counter. It is better to book the plane ticket a few days earlier either thorough an agent or through airlines office. Generally for Jumla most airlines fly there but for Juphal in Dolpo and Talcha in Mugu, the airlines that flies there are mostly ‘Sita Air’ and ‘Goma Air’. The ticket to Juphal cost us Rs 10,000 per person.
We stayed at our friend’s home which is at Nepalgunj but hotels are readily available. Check the ‘Necessary Items’ list and buy all the items here. Except at Jumla, it may be difficult to buy the items elsewhere in Karnali.

Day 2
Nepalgunj – Juphal [2475m] – Chhepka [2720m]

From Nepalgunj we fly to Juphal, which is a basic airport that connects Dolpa District to outside. The flights are always scheduled for morning. It is normal for planes to get delayed or even postponed due to weather. The planes are basic 7-9 seater ones. At the time of the visit the runaway at Juphal was unpaved hence landing was bumpy. From Juphal we hit Sulighat where road splits to Phoksundo valley and to Dunai the head quarter of Dolpa. There are few settlements where we can have the afternoon meal before finally settling down at Chhepka which is a small settlement of not more than 10 houses. The journey takes about 5-6 hours
The cost of meal can was 150 with lodging facility being free.

Day 3
Chhepka – Ringmogaun&Phoksundo Lake [3641m]

From Chhepka we start early towards north to Phoksundo valley. The paths aren’t confusing and are clearly marked. The road reaches Shumdhuwa after 4-5 hours of journey which is a major junction with fooding facilities. We travel through western road through forests and follow a steep climb upto a rest house from where the 200m high water fall can be viewed although from a distance. It has been claimed as the highest waterfall in Nepal. From here we also get the first glimpse of the Phoksundo Lake. It is then at most 2 hours walk to Ringmogaun or the place of Phoksundo Lake. You will reach peaceful Ringmogaun by evening. There are few hotels available here and a telephone network. After freshening up, a visit lake can be made.

Day 4
Ringmogaun – Phoksundo Lake view point – Ringmogaun– Pungmo [3500m]

We start at around 6am to take the path to Shey-Gompa to have the spectacular view of the lake from a height. This is the same path that is shown in the movie ‘Caravan’. The trail rises more than 400m above the lake. It takes about 2 hours to reach the top from where the whole lake is visible, you may move forward to PhoksundoKhola Camp but we returned back to Ringmogaon. From here we move return back to Samduwa and cross the bridge and head to small Pungmo village to cross the challenging Kagmara pass the next day.
Pungmo village is the last settlement before Kagmara pass. From Pungmo village, the next settlement is the Army Camp [no fooding facilities here] which took us total of about 18 hours of walking. If you aren’t prepared or intend to stay outside you can skip the Kagmara Pass and reach Kaigaun by returning to Sulighat and take the more popular path from there but that would add half a day to the tour.

Day 5
Pungmo – Kagmara La Pass [5115m] – KagmaraPhedi [3500m]

From Pungmo village we start early at 5:00am in morning. We pack as much food as possible then it is the gradual climb towards the Kagmara Pass. The Kagmara pass is a very wide and long pass and it took us nearly 2 hours to cross the pass only from the camp site. There are several streams on the way so a water proof shoe is necessary. Look for the sign of Acute Mountain sickness. The pass is marked by chorten and prayer flags as always. The top of the pass is too cold and windy to stay. But from the pass the surrounding ranges along with lakes and glaciers are visible.
We crossed the pass at about 2pm. It is then rocky descend to the KagmaraPhedi. Once at KagmaraPhedi, where we travel through the banks of Kagmara River, there are two caves or natural shelters used by people to stay. You are expected to use these as the next shelter spot is at least 4 hours ahead. We spend the night in 2nd shelter. It was October, and it was cold but we managed to light the fire. Water is cold but easily available.

Day 6
KagmaraPhedi – Kaigaon [2610m]

From the KagmaraPhedi we follow a narrow and difficult trail up to the army camp. It took us half a day to reach here. From this point the trial gets easier and there are settlements and monastry on the way. You can reach Kaigaon by evening where you can find lodging and fooding facilities.

Day 7
Kaigaon – MaureLanga pass [3894m] – Chotra [3380m]

This is indeed a really long distance to cover and including a 3894m pass. The trail passes through hillside and you can have meal at NauliGhot. After an hour of climb we reach MaureLanga Pass. This pass divides Dolpo district from Jumla. Like other passes you are bound to get a superb view, this time of the Bheri river valley and the surrounding hills. From the pass it is a long descent through thick forest to Chotra. Torches may be necessary.

Day 8
Chotra – Gothichaur La [2995m] – Jumla [2540m]

From Chotra, we first pass through Manigaon which is characterized by a long bridge. From here, we don’t take the bridge but move east. The road divides at one point; one takes you directly on route to rara and the other to Jumla. We take the road to left, and there will be people whom you can ask. The Gothichaur valley comes into view all of a sudden. The Gothichaur is a small scenic valley with streams, grassland and jungles in background. It is like a miniature version of Kathmandu valley. The valley is used for sheep breeding research project hence inhabited and clear of human activity but there will be plenty of temporary tent shops on the way.
Crossing Gothichaur we move towards Jumla. The settlements and people start to increase as we move towards Jumla. You should reach Jumla by evening. In Jumla you can buy the supplies. Don’t forget to have the local red rice at Jumla for dinner.

Day 9
Jumla – Daphe Langa [3691m] – Chautha [2807m]

The journey till now took its toll on us and of the original 7 members, 3 returned from Jumla by flight. So it was 4 of us heading to Rara. The trek to Rara is easier than that to the Phoksundo with better facilities and trails on the way.
Start as early as possible towards North. The hill we have to cross is visible from Jumla town. The road climbs gently up to Chauriyachaur which is a large field on the hill. The whole Jumla town can be seen from here. It is then a steep climb to the top of 3691m high Daphe Langa Pass. The DapheLanga pass is scenic. From here we descend through thick forest to the Bridge over river locally referred as ‘Lete Gad’.  We cross the log bridge to north side after which it is short climb to NauriGhat or Bumra. If you are able to reach NauriGhat [2755] by 3pm you can try to reach Chautha. As we had started late we had to settle in NauriGhat. Just don’t expect good rooms and toilets.

Day 10

Chautha – Ghuchi Langa [3480m] – Rara Lake [2980m]

From Chautha, we again ascend to GhuchiLanga pass at 3480m. This pass is greener surrounded by pine forest. After 30 minutes of descend the road can be confusing. We take the left path through pine forest on the left which takes directly to the Rara. [The other way descends steeply and takes you to Pina and to Gamgadhi which is the headquarter of the Mugu District which is the longer route.].
After some steep descend we then cross river and move ahead to small hamlet of Dhuir from which it is a steep climb of 30-60 minutes toJhyari which is a small village. After Jhyari the trails ascends and crosses the Park boundary marked by stone and reaches an open pasture. The map and other guide indicate a point from where the lake can be viewed but we weren’t able to find one. So you may as well hire a local person to guide the way to Rara. In the end the trail descend through forest to the Rara Lake on the wet land side.
The Danfe hotel is on the other side and is the only option there is.  I have not mentioned any time because you will be able reach Rara from Chautha at around 3pm.

Day 11
Rara Lake – Talcha

You can view the sunrise and explore around rara even stay an extra day here. It started snowing during our visit so we couldn’t stay for long anticipating bad weather. If you plan to stay a day more it is said that you can visit an old village of Rara and a point from which to view the whole lake although we couldn’t do that.
If you want to catch the plane at Talcha the following day, you have to move at around 1-2 as it is 3 hours walk to the Talcha Airport and you have to book the ticket for the next day. We move towards east through a jungle following the ridge. It is again easy to get lost here but all the way lead to main road which ultimately lead to Talcha.
At Talcha there are few hotels to stay but before that try to book your plane ticket. Ask the local people for ‘Goma Air’ and ‘Sita Air’ office which were the most frequent ones during the time we visited. Book the ticket for Sirgari or Nepalgunj whichever is available for the next day because there is nothing much to see in Talcha so it would be boring if you are stuck here. The return tickets were cheaper and cost us only Rs 3400.
If you want to extend the tour you can return to Jumla through Sinja which is said to be historical capital of Malla Civilization but you will have to figure that out yourself.

Day 12
Talcha- Surkhet or Nepalgunj

Weather is unpredictable here. For us it was snowing a day earlier and the next day it was clear without clouds. The airport is as basic as it can get with only one flight control tower and nothing else. It is normal for flights to get delayed. Fortunately your plane will arrive in time and you can leave.
From Surkhet or Nepalgunj take a night bus to Kathmandu

About the Schedule
The Phoksudo to Rara treks should take at minimum 12 days in total. If you tend to walk slowly, you can add a day to the schedule; just make sure to cross the pass before night falls. It is possible to start the Journey from Rara to Phoksundo but since Phoksundo is more difficult, it is better to complete it when you are fresh.
As mentioned earlier, this guide is also intended to be useful if you are trekking to either Rara or Phoksundo only. The above route can be shortened to
Jumla – Rara – Talcha [4 days]
Juphal – Phoksundo – Juphal [5 days]
Juphal – Phoksundo – Jumla [6 days] which is unnecessary if you don’t plan to visit Rara
 You should add at least 2 days for bus travel to Kathmandu from transit point of Nepalgunj [or Surkhet]

4. Necessary items


Gear  Accessories
Water Proof shoes [Rs 3000 & above]
Water proof moderately thick jackets
Few extra T-shirt [as at the end of the day it will be wet with sweat]
Sleeping Bags

 Trekking Stick [Rs 350]
Map [Rs 400]
Toilet paper, Brush/paste
A torch, Match or Lighter
A 500ml transparent pet bottle
Knife and whistle for survival in emergency
Medical   Food

Band Aid, Tube Betadine
Sancho, Paracetamol, Pain killer
Move, Bandage, Knee bands
Metrodazole tablet, Electolyte Solution like Nava jeevan
Sunscreen

 

 

None specific but you shouldn’t miss Nuts, beaten rice, Candies and some pre-cooked noodles

 

 

 


5. Facilities and Expenses


  • Electricity is not available in most places except in Jumla and on way to Rara. So make sure your cameras and Mobiles are fully charged
  • The Karnali zone is covered mostly by Hello Nepal network. You can buy the sim at Nepalgunj if you want to stay connected. NTC signal is available around Rara, Jumla and Juphal.
  • ATMs are available at Jumla only.
  • Drinking water was not a problem. We drank water directly from the streams without any problem.
  • The meal [Dal, Bhat] costs higher as we go up. It was highest at Ringmogaon at Rs 200 per meal. Elsewhere below, it was generally between Rs 100-150 for plain meal
  • Accommodation costs are normally free with the meal except in Jumla.
  • We incurred in total about Rs. 22000 per person for the whole tour including air fare and bus transportation cost but it depends on how you travel. It is recommended to skip meat. All the costs are of 2012, you may consider 10% inflation rate for estimate
  • As mentioned earlier, guides and going through trekking agencies are absolutely not required. You can save money and give a tip to the local people, hire a local guide midway instead of paying for the trekking agencies. All the people we met were friendly and helpful. However don’t trust them on time required to reach next point as our walking pace is slower than the locals.


6. Leave No Trace


Follow the basic rule of Trekking

"Take nothing but pictures.
Leave nothing but footprints
Kill nothing but time"
Carry all your plastic waste like wrappers, bags and bottles with you and dispose them when you reach a settlement. Where traditional stoves or improved smokeless stoves are used, they can be used as a fuel.



7. References and Useful links


All the location name and heights are taken from the Map published by Himalayan Map House
www.himalayan-maphouse.com
Acute Mountain Sickness [AMS] - Photo Gallery

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