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Sep 29, 2017

How to trek to Shey Phoksundo Lake by land?

Since 2015, I had been planning to go on a trek to Shey Phoksundo, but one thing or the other was preventing me from doing it. This year, I finally managed to go on a trek to Shey Phoksundo Lake. Normally, the trekkers fly up to Juphal airport from Nepalgunj and start the trek. I, however, didn't want to fly. I wanted to reach Shey Phoksundo Lake by land. But the information was hard to come by since the majority of the people take the flight option. Therefore, I did some research, asked local people of Dolpa and the neighboring districts for information and figure out a more rewarding route to the lake. I did take a flight on the way back though as I did not want to walk the same route again. Me and six of my friends departed for the lake on 17th September and returned home on 27th September (11 days). Following is our itinerary. I hope this information will be useful for anyone wishing to trek to Shey Phoksundo by land.

Day 1: Depart from Kathmandu for Musikot, Rukum by bus

We took a night bus to Musikot, Rukum from the Gongabu Buspark. It is necessary to book the
tickets at least a day earlier or else you won't get seats. The bus departed at 1 pm, and the fare cost us Rs. 1,500 per person. The seats were comfortable enough, but the ride was too long (~23 hours). Therefore, you should make sure that the seats are comfortable and the bus has an AC.

During this travel, for the first time in my life, I saw a driver who could drive for 24 straight hours. And guess what, he looked fresher than us at the end of the journey and he drove very very cautiously. When we stopped for breakfast, he told us that 24 hours of driving was not even his record. His record is a straight 36 hours drive from Biratnagar to Rukum. God bless him!

Day 2: Musikot to Aathbiskot/Radi by Jeep

Shey Phoksundo Lake
We reached Musikot at around noon. Musikot is the headquarters of Rukum district and is a small
settlement atop a hill. We had our lunch in one of the several eateries present there. The food was decent, but we wasted a lot of time waiting for the food to be prepared. We should have grabbed an instant food item. We almost missed the vehicle to Aathbiskot/Radi. 2-3 Jeeps go to Aathbiskot from Musikot every day, but all of them leave before 1 pm. Luckily, we were seven people in our group, and we almost filled a Jeep. Therefore, an extra Jeep left for Aathbiskot that day. Else we would have to wait until the next morning for a ride. If you have fewer people in the group, I recommend you to get the vehicle first and then look for food. The local apples and bananas were incredibly delicious.

The road to Aathbiskot is very rough, but the scenery is amazing. We reached Aathbiskot at around 7 pm. We stayed in a teahouse near the vehicle stand.

Day 3: Aathbiskot - Khagenkot - Tallu - Tribeni - Khadang by Jeep

We had to walk for about 15 minutes from Aathbiskot to reach Khagenkot where we found a Jeep that took us up to Tallu. The ride was about 3 hours long. The road is slightly better than the previous one but rough nonetheless. We made a good decision of having a heavy breakfast before leaving.

Photo by: Anmol Bajracharya
On the way, we found a very beautiful waterfall. It is mesmerizing. The locals said they don't have a name for it. Therefore, we decided to name it Anmol Jharana. Make sure you stop the vehicle for a while and capture some beautiful photographs as we did.

On the way, we also saw a funeral procession of the local people. I had never seen anything like that. Dozens of people were walking downhill to the riverbank carrying an incredibly long piece of white cloth with red color at the ends. The cloth stretched from the top of the hill to the riverbank. It looked as if the hill had been painted with a white and red stripe along the walking trail. Our fellow passengers told us that the length of the cloth indicates the economic and social status of the deceased person. Once the cloth is brought down to the riverbank and the procession is completed, the cloth is given to the personal tailor(s) of the deceased person.

We reached Tallu at around noon. The dal bhat with local pickle was delicious. We spent an hour for the lunch break and hurried along the way because we had a long way ahead to our destination for the day.

We walked for about 5 minutes and crossed a trail-bridge to reach the other side of the river from where we could get a vehicle for up to Tribeni. The vehicle was jam-packed, but like everywhere in rural Nepal, the conductor managed to find a seat for every one of us even in the already packed vehicle. The ride was excruciating though - more than 19 people packed into a vehicle with 14 seats and it was super hot. The three-hour ride seemed like an eternity. We should have waited for another vehicle, but we were told that it was not certain whether another vehicle would come.

The track has been opened up to Khadang, but the Tribeni - Khadang section had not been inaugurated yet, so the vehicle dropped us at Tribeni. The track must have been inaugurated by now.

From Tribeni we asked a tractor for a lift. The experience was awesome. It felt like standing on a big vibrator and having your whole body vibrate. We had so much fun for almost two hours before we reached Khadang.

At Khadang, there were just two hotels that provided accommodation. We stayed at the Sharma Hotel. The dinner was delicious. They also served us the meat of blue sheep.Although rooms were available, we chose to sleep on the balcony in the open so that we could look at the night sky. It turned out to be a wise decision.

Day 4: Khadang - Tripurakot - Supani - Suligad - Kagani Village (9 hours of walking )

On day four, we woke up early in the morning, grabbed a breakfast of Satu and biscuits, packed our bags and departed at 7 am. We had to walk up to Supani before we could catch a vehicle for Suligad. We walked alongside the Bheri river which originates partly from Shey Phokundo Lake, our ultimate destination for the trek. The early morning scenery of the tall rocky hills and the ferocious river Bheri was amazing. I don't I am articulate enough to describe the beauty and serenity. After walking for around 2 hours, the trail narrowed down and moved along the rocky precipices. This part of the walk was terrifying. We had to almost crawl on all our fours at times, and the trail was so narrow that the stones we stumbled upon were falling to the river dozens of feet down below. The adrenaline rush lasted for almost an hour. We also met a few people who were cracking and breaking down the huge rocks to make way for a wider trail.

Photo by: Govinda Siwakoti
After walking for an hour, we reached a small village where an army personnel stopped us and told us to wait for an hour before walking ahead. He informed us that they were using explosives to break down rocks to widen the trail and were preventing people from traveling the trail while explosions were taking place.

So we decided to eat the lunch and prevent wasting time. While the lunch was being prepared, we tasted some local apples. Oh my, my! The apples were so delicious that every one of us ate at least two apples - the same people who hated eating apples found in Kathmandu. No wonder they talk so highly about the apples of Jumla, Mugu, and Dolpa.

After spending about one and a half hour playing ludo and having lunch, we resumed our journey. We walked for another 3 hours in scorching heat to reach Tripurakot where I drank six glasses of water. Yeah, I was that thirsty!

Then, we walked for another 30 minutes from Tripurakot to reach Supani where we found a vehicle waiting for us to take us to Suligad.

After driving for about 30 minutes, the vehicle dropped us at Suligad, the starting point of the trek. We registered our names at the Nepal Army post, ate some Dadims (sour pomegranates) from the nearby trees and started walking. It was almost 5:30 pm when we started our walk towards Kagani.

It took us two and a half hours to reach Kagani village although the locals said that it takes them only about 45 minutes to an hour. The trail is not very steep or difficult though. You just walk uphill for a few minutes and then downhill for a few minutes alongside the river. There are a few hotels in Kagani. We stayed in a hotel called Chhamkuni Hotel where the host served us one of the most delicious meals of the trip.

Day 5: Kagani - Sangta - Chhepka - Raichi - Jharana Hotel (10 hours of walking)

We left Kagani at 6:30 am after a heavy breakfast of biscuits and Satu. After walking for an hour, we reached a place called Sangta where we had tea in the only lodge available there. Then we walked for another three hours to reach Chhepka village which is one of the largest settlements in the route. An old woman served us delicious dal bhat and tea at her hotel in Chhepka.

Chhepka Village
At 11:30 am, we left Chhepka with the hope of reaching Jharana Hotel by the end of the day although the locals advised us that we should target reaching only Raichi if we didn't want to walk in the dark. But we wanted to reach Jharana Hotel that day so that we could reach Shey Phoksundo Lake early the next morning. We walked through countless uphills and downhills, crossed several trail-bridges, passed through varied landscapes to reach Jharana Hotel by 7:30 pm that evening. We were exhausted by the time we reached Jharana Hotel. If you are in no rush or in no mood to walk so much in a single day, I recommend you to stay at Raichi or Samjhana Hotel.

Our desire to reach Jharana Hotel was also fueled by the funny remark made by local women whom we met on the way. She lives in a tent house on the way to Raichi. She serves tea, coffee, and food to the passerby to generate income for her family. Here is an excerpt of our conversation:

Sonam Chhuki: Why are guys here?

Us: To visit the lake. We heard it is very beautiful.

Sonam Chhuki: Why would you bother to come such a long way just to see the lake. It's not that beautiful!

Us: Well, you have been living near it for your whole life, so it's not special for you. But I am sure it's going to be special for us. By the way, do you think we can make it to Jharana Hotel tonight?

Sonam Chhuki: I don't know. You guys seem to walk very slowly. Tell me, when did you reach Chhepka from Kagani today?

Us: At 10:30. 

Sonam Chhuki: When did you leave Kagani?

Us: err... umm... 6:30 am.

Sonam Chhuki: (Gasps) Hahaha, that long? You guys won't reach Jharana Hotel even by 10 in the evening. Hahaha! 

Us: (Smile meekly)

The lady at Jharana Hotel was very hospitable and friendly, and it was one of the better accommodations we found on the trip.

Day 6: Jharana Hotel - Ringmo - Shey Phoksundo (4 hours of walking)

The trail becomes very steep, almost vertical from Jharana Hotel. We left the hotel at 7:30 am after a heavy breakfast of tea, Satu, biscuits, chocolates, and Dalmoth Chiura. The locals are said to take just two hours to reach the Lake, but it took us almost four hours. The delay in part was due to the numerous breaks we took to take photographs. For almost three hours, we walked steep uphill to reach a place called Hawa Ghar which has a small hut where you can rest and observe the scenery.

Jharana Hotel
From Hawa Ghar, it took us an hour of walk to reach the Shey Phoksundo Lake. The walk from Hawa Ghar is relatively easy, and the trail is so beautiful with trees of different colors shedding different colored leaves on the trail.

We reached Shey Phokundo at around 11:30 am and were instantly pulled into the charms of its beauty and magnificence. Looking at its deep blue and serene waters, we forgot the passage of time. Hours felt like a few minutes in the presence of Shey Phoksundo Lake. It was worth all the trouble.

We spent the whole day roaming around the lake and taking hundreds of pictures and spent the night at a nearby hotel. The next morning too, we spent hours absorbing the beauty and serenity of the lake and making our best efforts to capture the lake in our cameras.

Day 7: Shey Phoksundo to Chhepka  (10 hours of walking)

We left the lake (unwillingly of course!) at 9 am and started our journey back. We retraced the trail throughout the day to reach Chhepka where the same old lady welcomed us with tea and served us delicious dinner. We were exhausted this day because we had to walk until 8 pm continuously. If you don't want to do that, I suggest you to either start earlier from the lake or stay at Raichi.

Day 8: Chhepka - Sangta - Kagani - Suligad - Dunai - Juphal (5 hours of walking)

Origin of Bheri River
Day 8 didn't involve much walking. We walked for about 4 hours to reach Suligad where we were hoping to catch a vehicle to Dunai. We waited for a vehicle for almost an hour. Two of them arrived but were so packed that we decided we better walk. We walked for about 40 minutes to reach Dunai, the district headquarters of Dolpa. We ate Dal Bhat at Blue Sheep Inn which seemed to be the most popular restaurant in Dunai. The restaurant well deserved the popularity. The food was delicious - comparable to any Thakali Bhanchha Ghar in Kathmandu.

At 4 pm, we left for Juphal in a Jeep as we had decided to return on a flight. We reached Juphal by nightfall. As we asked around, we found that it would be almost impossible to find the tickets for the flight next morning. One has to book the flights at least 24 hours earlier. Worried, we looked for a way out. Then, we found out that a certain hotel owner was also the manager of the flight bookings. So, we went to his hotel and asked if he could arrange tickets for us and if we could stay at his hotel. He was happy to do both.

Day 9: Juphal to Nepalgunj

Juphal Airport
We were at the airport by 6:30 and the flight were on because the weather was clear. But unfortunately, two patients arrived at the airport who needed to fly to Nepalgunj for treatment immediately. We could not say no. Therefore, only five of us flew to Nepalgunj and gave up two seats for the patients. We waited for our friends in Nepalgunj for a day and returned to Kathmandu the next day on a night bus.

The plus point of having to stay in Nepalgunj? We discovered an amazing Biryani place called Mubarak Biryani at Fultekra Road. A must try if you are a Biryani lover!!

Some Useful Information:

Total Cost of the Trek: Rs. 18,000 per person
Total Days Taken: 10 Days
Need to Carry Tents? No
Need to Carry Sleeping Bags? No.

Things to Carry:

1. Warm clothes (2-3 pairs, a wind cheater is also recommended)
2. Comfortable and sturdy trekking shoes
3. Raincoat/umbrella
4. Torch Light (Of good quality) + a few lighters + head light (can be purchased in thamel)
5. First aid (basic medicines) plus if you have any medical condition specific medicines
6. Sleeping Bag (Optional)
8. A swiss knife (Optional)
9. A map (Can be purchased in Thamel)
10. Walking stick ( Optional)
11. 4-5 pairs of socks ( the more the better)
12. Water bottle +Sunscream +sunglasses (optional) + Toileteries like tooth-brush, paste, soaps, shampoos
13. Watch (To keep track of time in absence of cellphone)