Shey Phoksundo Trek 2021 (Travel Diary – Nepal)

Alright, this is going to be a really long post. I don’t want to start but I want to write it down before my memory gets hazy and I start forgetting details. Wait…it won’t be that long now that I think about it – just our travel itinerary and a bunch of photos should do the trick!

Before going into details, if you are someone checking for the travel itinerary, I have summarized our route in the table below. The cost estimate for our trip should come to around NPR 25k per person.

Travel itinerary (without flights) of Shey Phoksundo Trek 2021

DAYSTART POINTEND POINT
1Kathmandu – Gongabu Bus Station (Starts 3-4 pm)Night Bus
2You wake up in a moving bus (If you managed to get some sleep)Tallu Bagar – The bus brought us to Radi, and from there we took a jeep to Tallu Bagar
3Tallu Bagar, JajarkotTripurakot, Dolpa – We changed two jeeps to reach here
4TripurakotChhepka – a jeep brought us from Tripurakot to Suligad, which is the entry point of the National Park and start of the trekking route. From Suligad, we walked to Chhepka and stayed there (Lunch at Kageni, a place between Suligad and Chhepka).
5ChhepkaRingmo/Shey Phoksundo – (Lunch at Saijol)
6Ringmo/Shey Phoksundo – We spent a day here to explore the lakeStill at Ringmo
7RingmoReturn JourneyKageni – we covered a lot of distance this day (Lunch at Rechi).
8KageniTallu Bagar – Exited the national park at Suligad after a short trek, and it took three jeep rides to reach Tallu Bagar (We failed to have proper lunch due to rush for connecting vehicles)
9Tallu BagarNepalgunj – Reserved a jeep; arrived at Nepalgunj in the evening.
10Nepalgunj – Bus station (Starts around 5 pm)Night Bus
11You wake up in a moving bus (No you haven’t reached Kathmandu yet)Kathmandu – You arrive at Kathmandu in the morning.

[Edit: June 15 – Added Map and Caption]

Map Caption: Green Spots indicate the main places we stayed/passed on our journey – Tallu Bagar (lower left), Tripurakot, Suligad (Park Entry Point), Chhepka, Ringmo/Phoksundo; Orange Spots – Juphal and Dunai is part of the easier/popular travel route (which we did not take) – you can fly directly to Juphal, travel to Dunai, and then enter the national park from Suligad.

Account of 11-days journey from Kathmandu to Shey Phoksundo and back.

Day 1: Gongabu Bus Station, Kathmandu – Night bus to Radi/Rari, Jajarkot

On Monday (March 29) at 3 pm in the afternoon, we arrived at the bus station in Gongabu to catch our night bus to our first destination- Radi/Rari in the Jajarkot district. There were six of us in three seats, the bus left at like 4 pm…maybe. Kathmandu was covered in smog and I was hoping to get out of the valley asap to greet bluer skies and walk in the mountains. The memory of the ride is vague, the sky was grey, it turned dark soon and by the time we stopped somewhere for dinner, the bus was smelling really bad cause of oil change or something like that. Thankfully the smell went away and they shut down the insanely loud tv/music and I actually caught some sleep (ikr).

Day 2: Somewhere (woke up in a moving bus) to Radi/RariTallu Bagar, Jajarkot

Sometime during the morning, we had to change the bus into a more uncomfortable one. The driver had claimed his bus had “mechanical issues”, and to “help us” reach Rari smoothly he had “arranged” another bus. Shortly after we boarded the other bus, the first bus zoomed past us. So the bus ride continued. And it sucked. The bus was hot, dusty, and cramped; for a while I wondered if I would get sick before the trek even started. Well it was not the first time I had a bad bus experience but it had been long enough that I had forgotten (already forgotten this too). We arrived at Radi at around 3 pm (which was unexpected as we thought we’d reach there late in the evening and stay there) so we decided to catch a jeep to Tallu Bagar, the next settlement, to stay the night. There was that incident of the half-cooked noodle, but the jeep ride was nice (maybe the best one of the whole trip) and we arrived at Tallu Bagar and found a good hotel (with a very cute puppy), following the recommendation of our two fellow passengers who had been traveling with us from Kathmandu. Exhausted from the long ride from Kathmandu, we freshened up and settled in for the night.

Day 3: Tallu Bagar, JajarkotTripurakot, Dolpa

After a light breakfast, we left our hotel to catch our Jeep ride. There was a minor(?) dispute about seating arrangements but somehow in the end we (somehow) kept our good seats (the other party were to take the next jeep). The jeep started, we cheered, and like half an hour later it broke down and we got stuck in a random place for a few hours.

The jeep was suspicious from the start! And that music system was acting funny all the way. The other groups who we had left behind earlier after winning the seating arrangement dispute, now passed by us (cheering inwardly, I’m sure), followed by many other jeeps that came after us. But we had accepted our situation and enjoyed the break and explored the area. It was actually nice. There was this nice bridge, and a couple of settlements near where our jeep broke down, a nice riverbank, and lots of rocks (I pretended to be one for a while). We found a really nice shop to get special tea and snacks too.

We got stuck here for a few hours, but there was plenty of space to explore

Eventually, the jeep got fixed and we were off again. The driver treated us to some meat at a lunch stop (maybe because we never complained), and I almost choked while eating it but managed to pretend nothing happened (I think no one noticed). And we carried on and somewhere along the way the driver announced that we had entered Dolpa district.

We reached another place where we had to change jeep to reach Tripurakot, our planned destination for the night. The jeep was super cramped. We registered our names at a checkpoint, got into the jeep, after an uncomfortable ride arrived at the stop, and after a short walk reached Tripurakot at around 5 pm. We met some friends of friends there who helped us find a good place for to stay. And we settled in for the night.

Tripurakot town. This place is famous from the Tripura Sundari Temple (you can see it in the distance…the small white spots in the hill…no I don’t have better photos…)

Day 4: TripurakotSuligad (Entry point of Shey Phoksundo National Park) – Trek to Chhepka

After a short jeep ride from Tripurakot to Suligad….now there had been a vehicle strike here for the past few days regarding disagreement on vehicle fares, but we got lucky that it had been somewhat resolved on the day we arrived at Tripurakot, and so it did not interfere with our plans. We arrived at Suligad where a Jhulunge Pul (swinging mini suspension bridge) over the Bheri river leads into the Shey Phoksundo National Park area. Hello Trekking!

Our team of six, and two fellow travelers who had been traveling with us from Kathmandu

I first saw the lake Phoksundo in the movie Himalaya (aka Caravan) when I was young, and it had been on my checklist of places I wanted to visit ever since. We crossed the bridge and after a short walk, came to the small Suligad settlement where we got our park entry tickets at the counter.

Suligad, where you get your entry tickets for the National Park

We stopped at Kageni around 11 am for lunch in a nice little place called Raju Hotel. The place looked amazing with cherry blossoms. The sunshine, the green lawn, good food, and the flowers, were all perfect.

Raju Hotel in Kageni!

We felt refreshed and continued our trek. The trail was along the river; sometimes along the riverbank and sometimes a little higher, and we had to cross some bridges. We could see local people with their horses and mules, transporting stuffs, going on their daily routine. Some places had sunshine and some had shades. It was a relaxing walk. There were no foreign tourists on sight and we later learned that this was not the time of the year popular with tourists. We did find few fellow Nepali travelers.

Small settlement of Chhepka

We were lucky that we kept getting good recommendations for places to stay from people as we traveled. We arrived at Cheppka, our stop for the night at around 3.30 pm. There we stayed at Jharana Hotel. It was a pleasant place. The hotel was undergoing renovation and everything was new. They were literally bringing in new pieces of furniture into our room. We got nice rooms and since we arrived early, had time to freshen up and relax before evening set in. We talked a lot about everything (I mostly listened) till late into the night (wish I had taken more photos of the evenings and not just the trek).

Day 5: ChhepkaSaijolRingmo / Shey Phoksundo Lake

This was it – the day we had set to reach Ringmo, the village at the shores of Shey Phoksundo. It was going to be mostly an uphill walk today. We sent most of our stuff on a horse so we could walk light. After breakfast we left Chhepka and started our journey.

Short stop for some warm tea

The view along the river trail kept changing. Well, it was mostly trees and river and bridges but it was beautiful. No buildings and grey smoggy sky of Kathmandu on sight. Feeling tired felt good too. I felt that the months of the pandemic-fear exercising paid off. When news of the virus spread first at the start of 2020 and that it was affecting the lungs, like many, I had been seriously concerned. Back then I was at a point where I did not care much about stuff (health). The virus was a slap back into reality that the world had enough craziness and uncertainty outside that I needed to keep it cool on the inside and snap out of it.

Saijol, where we stopped for lunch

We stopped at Samjhana Hotel in Saijol for lunch at around 12.30 pm. We rested there a while and started walking again at around 2 pm. The sign there said Ringmo was 3.5 hours away.

Ringmo our destination was 3.5 hours away from Saijol

Saijol was at around 3200m while our destination Ringmo was 3600m, according to an information board outside Samjhana hotel. After walking a while we started climbing, and it started getting really windy.

We could see a group of local travelers with their horses ahead and our horse was mixed there. Somewhere near the top, our paths separated. There was supposed to be a wider-higher-longer path for the horses and mules, and a shortcut for just people. We trod on and finished the climb. From there was a level trail. We passed by a big waterfall (I heard from the monk the next day that it was one of the biggest waterfalls in Nepal).

And we finally met the caravan of horses ahead as the trails that had separated before converged again. We arrived at Ringo at 5 pm, earlier than the estimated time.

A guy was trying to persuade us to go to his hotel but we already had a recommended hotel and the guy wandered off disappointed. We arrived at Lama Hotel, our designated place of stay.

Lama Hotel in Ringmo

It was getting cold. It was the first time during this trip that I felt really cold, and I was thinking about the warmest clothes packed at the bottom of my backpack. The first thing I did was go to the roof of the hotel as the owner had said we could see the lake from there. It was cold and windy up there but I caught my first sight of the lake far ahead. A small section, a dull grey colored lake. We changed, freshened up (the water was so cold!), and settled in the common area which also served as kitchen and dining. The room had the traditional design common in the mountains – a big room with a central fire stove which produces warm food and drinks, and heat and comfort for people. We were happy to finally arrive at our destination and made plans for the next day – when to start exploring, food to carry, route to take, etc. It felt nice. I was getting to know more about everyone. After dinner, we settled in for the night. And since we were planning to stay there the next night as well, we didn’t have to worry about packing bags and stuff. The rooms were cozy and the blankets were warm, and the pillows were just right, and I fell into a deep sleep.

[Recommended reading music: Le Sel Bruno Coulais Himalaya]

Day 6: Exploring the Shey Phoksundo

We got ready, had breakfast, packed our food, tea, and water bottles, and headed out. Some of us had visited the lakeshore near the village earlier and even the day before to observe the famed changing colors of the lake. But it was the first for me (the grey lake from afar, seen the previous day didn’t count…).

It was amazing. The lake felt pristine and other-worldly. Hypnotic shades of blue. The clear waters. The magnificent shorelines and the shimmering surface as the sunlight hit the surface, the ripples of the wind. It was so many things and it was one.

We started walking along a trail that would take us to a viewpoint. From there we had planned to go to another spot from where we could see the entire lake. Now the Y-shape of the lake is stretched out over a long distance and you cannot see the entire shape unless you are at a very high point or maybe flying. We also saw a small forest fire on our trail. Soon we started climbing. It was a steep climb, and as we got higher it started getting more and more windy.

The first viewpoint. It was getting really windy!

When we reached the viewpoint we could see most of the southern side of the lake and it was a beautiful sight. But the wind started getting stronger as we trudged along the trail. In the end, we made it to a point where we saw the other hidden corners of the lake. Have to admit – at times, walking that narrow rocky trail on the steep slope with that crazy wind felt a bit reckless. But the chance to see the other end of the lake was alluring. It is hard to find the right time and right people to travel with, so this trek was a rare opportunity. Reaching that point was satisfying. There was this temptation, to go further ahead but having reached here, it would not bother me as much. And the wind was really crazy…

Panorama view of Shey Phoksundo from the Lake View Point

On our way back, after we descended from our higher vantage point, we found a spot near the shore to have our lunch.

Smoke from the forest fire near the lakeshore
Our picnic. We had buckwheat bread, tea, biscuits, and some other light snacks.

Then we went to the shore to see the lake up close. It was breathtaking. Watching the clear blue waves crashing on the shiny pebbles on the shore over and over and over and over and over and over – was hypnotic. The wind, the blue lake, and the mountains far away. I made a pile of six stones to offer my prayers to the universe. Prayers and some resolutions – nothing dramatic…things you repeat to yourself to be better. It felt different whispering it to the wind on a mystical blue lake in the mountains. The words felt more powerful(?).

Panorama view of Shey Phoksundo from the shore

We returned back and as we reached near the village half of us went to see the old monastery dedicated to the old Bon religion, on the other side of the lake. The view was pleasant and we walked along the shore until we arrived at the monastery.

On our way to the monastery
Pal Shenten Thasung Tsoling Gonpa

There was a lonely monk there who seemed happy to have visitors. We talked and stayed there a while and returned back to Ringmo village. I had two bowls of Rara noodles and a lot of salt/Tibetan tea. After another pleasant evening in the common kitchen area, we went to sleep.

Day 7: Goodbye Shey Phoksundo: RingmoKageni

Now today was the day we had planned for the longest walk of our trek. We would be covering the distance we had previously covered on two days, on our way to the lake (now it was mostly downhill and easier to cover more distance). We bid farewell to Ringmo village and Shey Phoksundo and started our return journey.

Goodbye Ringmo
We stopped at Rechi for lunch on our way back.
Rechi Settlement

After a whole day of walking across the familiar landscape and places, retracing our steps, we arrived at Kageni at Raju Hotel. We had stopped here before for lunch – the place with cherry blossom and the sunshine and the green lawn. Today, it was almost 6 pm when we arrived at Kageni and we were exhausted. The hotel owner was very nice and after some rest and a nice dinner, we settled in for the night. Think I blacked out.

Day 8: KageniSuligadTripurakotTallu Bagar

After a light breakfast in Kageni, we set off. We arrived at Suligad, the entry point of the national park and from there, our trek came to an end.

Message in red near park entrance – asking people to be aware and take safety measures against the corona virus

Now the start of a series of vehicles to head back to Kathmandu – from Suligad we got a jeep to Tripurakot and after a short walk, caught another jeep to yet another jeep and then finally to Tripurakot. To sum it up – 3 jeeps from Suligad to Tallu Bagar. We spend the night at the same hotel where we stayed before (the one with the cute puppy). At night, we could see wildfires on the hills far away.

You can see these old wooden statues outside some homes in the region.
We arrived back in Tallu Bagar. The smog seemed to have spread across this region as well.
From our hotel rooftop we could see forest fires on distant hills

For the next day, we made arrangements to reserve a jeep to take us directly to Nepalgunj.

Day 9: Tallu BagarNepalgunj

The jeep ride was okay. Since we had no other passengers we felt more relaxed.

It was a long ride and we arrived at Nepalgunj in the evening. The hotel was good and slightly off…you know that weird feeling, that something is not quite right. But we had nice rooms and hot showers. We explored nearby for a while to see local sights and returned, and settled in for the night.

Day 10: Nepalgunj – Night bus to Kathmandu

We had some time to kill as we had reservations for the night bus to Kathmandu, and it would only leave at 3 pm. I woke up late and later we explored the city a bit (a three wheeler tempo ride and mostly sitting in a cafe). Back at the hotel we packed our stuff and took a ride to the bus station. The bus was comfortable and it started moving. The wheels rolled, the bus moved forward, bringing us closer to Kathmandu. We saw more wildfires on our return trip too.

Forest fire in Dang seen from our bus window. We saw lots of these fires throughout our journey.

Day 11: Somewhere on the road – Kathmandu (Home)

We arrived at Kathmandu sometime in the morning (April 8). It was a sunny day. The six of us went our separate ways – returning to our normal lives. I arrived home. It was a good trip. I would like to go back to Shey Phoksundo someday…not anytime soon but in the future when my resolutions have seen some form of conclusion. Someday, years from now.

[June 19] Drawing Lessons #10 Pencil sketch: Landscape – Shey Phoksundo lake, Nepal [3rd week]

-End-

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