Day 1: Kathmandu–Nepalgunj ALL DAY
As the flight from Nepalgunj (150m) to Talcha leaves before any flights from Kathmandu arrive, you will have to overnight in Nepalgunj.
There are some hotels in town and a few, more basic places to stay near the airport. Whichever option you choose it is advisable to book in advance, as they are frequently busy. There isn’t much to see or do in Nepalgunj so most airlines recommend that you book a mid-afternoon flight.
Day 2: Nepalgunj–Talcha–Rara Lake 3¼hrs
The flight to Talcha airport (2740m) is magnificent and thrilling! First you fly over the Nepali terai, covered in dense jungle, before climbing over the pahar of west Nepal. Vast forests pass under the wings; this is one of the least densely populated areas of the Himalaya, aside from the very highest mountain regions. You then follow the Karnali Nadi and the final approach to Talcha involves a diving 180° turn in the valley to the airstrip; it’s quite a thrill!
You climb up and through the rapidly growing village of Talcha straight into the National Park. Take your time as the sudden altitude gain can cause mild altitude symptoms. Once in forest the gradient eases and 2 hours after landing you reach the edge of Rara Lake (2980m).
You then walk around the lakeshore (where there are plenty of views of the surrounding hills) for 1¼ hours to the National Park office, where there is a campsite, teahouse and registration post.
Day 3: Rara Lake All day
Rara Lake is an idyllic place; the astoundingly clear water surrounded by protected forest is a nature-lover’s dream. It is a good idea to have an acclimatisation day here as there will be some steep climbs during the trek and getting used to the altitude now will be useful in the days ahead.
A walk around the rim of the lake (13km, 5½hrs) is really worth the effort – see if you can spot the stele marking the cardinal points; nobody knows how or why they are here. On the north-eastern bank is Rara Mahadev Temple, decorated with woodcarvings of elephant, peacock and people. On the full moon in July/August locals gather here to honour the god Thakur, who, legend says, created the lake by firing an arrow at the western shore and then built the eastern bank by stamping down the earth. The swirling rock formations at the eastern end of the lake are said to be his footprints.
There are some old canoes near the army camp that you might be able to use. The lake water is extremely clear for swimming, but cold; Park rules stipulate that you must use buoyancy aids.
Day 4: Rara Lake–Karnali Nadi camp 2½hrs
Walk to the eastern end of the lake and take the left fork, signposted Gamgadhi (2095m, 1½hrs) and descend to the sprawling district centre of Mugu. The trail is easy to follow the entire way, the last section is on a road that links to Talcha.
The main bazaar, which runs along the ridge, is a good place to buy simple supplies. There are a few very basic teahouses in the town and after looking around it’s a good idea to head down to the campsite.
Take the trail from the top of the bazaar at the western end of the town – you will have passed it on your way into Gamgadhi. Descend at a constant gradient for an hour to the Karnali Nadi, where there is a campsite (1740m) before the suspension bridge.
Note that the constant passing traffic could pose a security issue for your group so don’t leave things lying around, or consider continuing to Bam.
Day 5: Karnali Nadi Camp–Bam 5hrs
Cross the suspension bridge and ascend a steep rocky trail, turning left at 1920m and again at 2046m to crest a ridge at 2180m (1½hrs). Descend to a small river and then climb to Luma (2073m, 30 mins).
The trail climbs steadily from here through fields and then pine forest to another ridge (2600m, 2hrs). Take your time to look at the stele about 20 minutes from the top of the ridge, they are similar to those at Rara Lake.
It’s then an easy traverse to Bam (2700m, 40 mins) before a slight climb to the school where you can camp. There is also a simple dhaba (eating place) here.
Day 6: Bam–Jogimara 6½hrs
A contouring trail leads to a stream near Ghachaur (2650m, 1hr) where the climb to today’s pass begins.
First ascend steep switchbacks before entering forest; it will take about 3½ hours to reach Chankheli Lagna (3594m), where there are some good views of the Kanjiroba range to the south-east and endless hills to the north. It is then a very pleasant 10-minute descent to a great campsite beside the Rauli Khola (3005m) and another 15 minutes to the teashop at Jogimara, where you can sleep in their loft.
Day 7: Jogimara–Piplan 6hrs
It is an easy ascent for about 100m to round a hill-spur at 3120m before descending about 500m to the Milchham Khola (110 mins). Then another small climb that involves crossing a landslide, which is still close to another ridge (2717m, 30 mins) with views of the lower valley and Rimi village, where there is a teashop (2552m, 1hr). If you are trekking this route in reverse, you might want to camp here to break this day into two stages and then continue to Jogimara tomorrow.
It is a long traverse to Deuri (70 mins), where you pass a large school before a slight descent to Darma (30 mins). Head through the village to the helipad on the far side and then descend steep switchbacks to the main riverside trail, which winds around to a suspension bridge over Humla Karnali.
Cross the bridge and then it’s a short climb to Piplan (1700m, 1hr) where you can camp in the school.
Day 8: Piplan–Apsia Lekh 6¾hrs
Pass through the village to the helipad where a trail turns right and begins to climb slightly before steepening to switchbacks to Nimagaon (1980m, 1½hrs).
Continue up through the village for another 1½ hours to crest a ridge and where the rail starts to traverse through a shallow basin to another ridge (2724m, 20 mins) beneath Korka village. You do not need to enter Korka. An easy descent for 30 minutes brings you to a stream, which would make a good lunch spot.
The trail then climbs again but not as steeply to Puma (2805m, 70 mins) where you could camp in the small school grounds. Just beyond the school the trail forks, turn right and climb switchbacks through pine forest for 1¾ hours to Apsia Lekh (3195m), a broad grassy ridge makes a great campsite. There are great views of Saipal Himal towering over the depths of the Karnali Nadi valley. There is a good water source about 100m downhill on the eastern side of the ridge.
Day 9: Apsia Lekh–Punkha Khola 4¼hrs
After yesterday’s strenuous walk, today is much easier so take your time and enjoy the morning views! The day begins with a lovely contouring trail and great views of Saipal Himal and the surrounding valleys to Kallas (45 mins) where there is a teashop. Then descend to Nunyapani Khola and ascend an easy trail to a ridge before another easy descent past Phuche to Rodikot Khola (2386m, 2hrs). The trail then climbs an easy gradient for the next 1½ hours to a campsite beside Punkha Khola (3010m) and the base of tomorrow’s climb.
Day 10: Punkha Khola–Yanchu Khola 6¼hrs
Ascend steep switchbacks through forest for roughly 500m before the gradient eases a little. There is a kharka at 3512m, which could be used as a campsite but water is another 30 minutes beyond. Steep switchbacks lead to the Margor Lekh Bhangjyang (4037m, 3½hrs) with great views north to the Simikot valley, Saipal Himal and endless ranges to the south. The trail descends slightly as it traverses steep hillside to the Bhigauda Dada (30 mins) before becoming very steep and switchbacking down to the Yanchu Khola (2100m, 2hrs).
There are several campsite options in this valley, your choice will depend on the time taken to cross the pass and the number of herders and livestock at each place. There is a kharka about 10 minutes before the Yanchu Khola, or a site in a forest on the far bank or, if dry, one of the grassy sections beside the river a little further downstream (10 mins).
Day 11: River camp–Simikot 6½hrs
Descend the true right bank of the river for about 15 minutes before a gradual climb to Durpa village where the trail then contours past the school.
Beyond the village wind around open hillside and then begin the long, dusty descent to the pilgrimage site of Kharpunath (2100m, 3hrs) where there are a few teashops. This is not a very secure campsite and if you need to stay here you will have to be very careful of your possessions. A better option is to walk up the true left bank of the Humla Karnali for 30 minutes to another collection of teashops before turning right into the Kudila Khola valley, where there are more camping options.
If you have the energy, continue to the comfortable hotels and teahouses of Simikot. From the Kudila Khola, head upstream, crossing small tributaries for 45 minutes or so to a few teashops and a rigid metal bridge, which you cross and then start the long switchback trail to Simikot (2985m, 2hrs 20 mins). You enter the large bazaar town from the south and most of the teahouses and hotels are near the airport entry on the far side of the village, but the opportunity for a shower and a comfy bed are great motivators!
Day 12: Simikot–Nepalgunj–Kathmandu
There are daily flights from Simikot to Nepalgunj and you should try to book seats on the first flight so that you can connect easily to Kathmandu the same day.