visiting sacred Muktinath, Nepal

Trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles – day 1 | 2 | 3/4

Waking up in Kagbeni, the morning sky was perfect.

Niligiri North (7061m) from the rooftop

I thought I might catch a bus or shared jeep up to Muktinath so started walking the (shockingly paved) main drag.

I ended up on foot for 3-4 hours, but still enjoyed the road walk.

The highlight was weird Serthang Selfie Park. Yep, everyone stops here to take selfies.

Happily, this viewpoint is protected from evil spirits including ZOMBIES.

I stopped too as it was my first look at massive Dhaulagiri (8167m).

Walking asphalt is super easy. And the views kept getting better.

In arid Tibetan lands these solar powered water boilers are popular.

On arrival in Ranipauwa (3710m) I went straight to Mustang Cycle to organize my bike for the next day. They recommended the newest lodge. Probably the best room I’ve had, so far.

Muktinath (3800m) is one of the holiest pilgrimage sites in the Nepali Himalaya for both Hindus and Buddhists. There are far more pilgrims than trekkers at any given time.

In the afternoon I walked up to the main temple complex above town.

Muktinath (3800m) looking back to the village.

Many pilgrims choose to ride horseback. Indeed, this seems the biggest industry in town.

It’s easy to get confused as to what’s a Buddhist temple and what’s a Shiva temple.

Vishnu is worshipped here as Muktinath, the Lord of Salvation, 􏰩􏰟while Buddhists associate the deity with Chenresig, the Tibetan bodhisattva of compassion (yes, it’s complicated).

From there I continued over 2 suspension bridges to the village of Jhong (Dzong; 3580m) on the other side of the ‘river’.

Six years ago one huge statue of Shiva was under construction. I sat on the roof at dusk, I recall. It’s finished now.

Great views from up there.

Muktinath in November is also filled with relieved trekkers having successfully crossed Thorung La (5416m) on the Annapurna Circuit, the highest most will ever climb.

That’s it between the peaks. It snowed up there during yesterday’s crossing.

Trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles – day 1 | 2 | 3/4

visiting Kagbeni, Nepal

Trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles – day 1 | 2 | 3/4
One of my favourite places in Nepal.  Medieval Tibetan-style Kagbeni village is weird and wonderful.
… closely packed mud houses, dark tunnels and alleys, imposing chortens and a large, ochre-coloured gompa perched above the town. …
I flew from Pokhara 6:15am. Earlier the better for Himalayan flights. They get cancelled when wind comes up.
Arriving Jomsom (2760m)
I had breakfast and hung around until 10am to see if I could buy an NTC sim card for my phone. It’s the best network for the high Annapurna.
No luck. Only Nepalis can buy those in Jomsom, I was told.
I left immediately as Jomsom is a place you only visit because of the airport.
10am I started the easy walk up to Kagbeni (2840m). You can take the dusty road. Or walk aside barren Kali Gandaki, the river separating Annapurna from Dhaulagiri (8167m).
Another reason to come here in November rather than April is being able to stay off the road more.
It was good to be getting back to Tibet. Kagbeni is far more Tibetan than Nepali.
And Kagbeni looks much the same as it did when I first visited in the 1990s. Aside from Yac donalds.
On arrival I immediately headed for another new business – Cafe Applebees. It’s an upscale, modern coffee shop … but with excellent views to the forbidden kingdom of upper Mustang.
I’m still planning on taking a guided trip to Mustang. One day.
One place in Upper Mustang you ARE allowed to visit without a restricted-area is Tiri village. To get there you cross a bridge over the Kali Gandaki and hike about 45min on the west bank of the valley.
I do love the light in Tibet.
Here’s the view looking back to Kagbeni.
On my return I walked the river.
The other highlight of Kagbeni is Kagchode Thubten Sampheling Gompa, a Buddhist Monastery dating back to 1429.
It was guarded by Ram.
Arriving on the 5th day of a 5-day festival, many monks were in attendance. Throat singing, huge horns, cymbals and percussion. I doubt much has changed here since 1429.

Click PLAY or watch a short video on YouTube.

Trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles – day 1 | 2 | 3/4

WHAT happened to Nepal’s Royal Trek?

trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles

The Royal Trek was named because Prince Charles and his 90 person entourage followed this route in 1981 shortly before he married Princess Diana.

It was once a BIG DEAL. Mick Jagger did it too, for example.

Some walked a loop to and from Pokhara. It was jungle.

But by 2019 (during the dry season) you could drive most of this route. Take a taxi to any of these villages. Buses run to each, in fact.

Road building has degraded the experience to the point where very few hikers now visit.

That’s a shame because it’s a great way to see three of the highest peaks in the world from one spot: Manaslu 8,156m, Annapurna 8,091m, Dhaulagiri 8,167m.

Companies will still guide you. 9 days for $600 and up.

We did it independently in 2 days. Walked no more than 35 km.

A taxi from Lakeside, Pokhara to Kalikasthan cost $26.

It’s almost entirely a road walk now. Dusty at times.

Do not go unless the weather is clear. You want to see the big mountains including Machapuchhre (Fishtail).

The highlight for us was not the mountains, however, but learning about Gurung village life in the foothills.

You’ve heard of the Gurungs. They’ve been prominent soldiers in Nepalese, British and Indian armies.

Winter is coming. They were bringing in firewood.

Every village now has water pipes. But in the old days it was carried up from far below. Rain collected in giant concrete cisterns.

Our plan was to hike to Syaklung where I assured the guys there should be plenty of guest houses and restaurants.

Despite having 3 online map apps and a hard copy of the Around Pokhara Valley map, our main method of navigation was to ask people ‘which way to the Royal Trek?’

Eventually … we were lost.

Backtracking to the village of Lipeyani, we were incredibly fortunate to meet a gentleman named Rishi who had come up to the family farm for the Diwali festival. We met his people too.

Moma is age-71, but still works the farm. Her eyes have been damaged from decades of cooking smoke.

She picked fresh ginger and chilies. Their small, hard oranges were excellent too.

Rishi’s brother brought fresh buffalo milk for our coffee (Nescafe).

For Diwali, Nepalis clean and decorate their homes.

Fresh coats of mud applied.

They illuminate the interior and exterior of their homes with diyas (oil lamps or candles), electric lights, etc. .

They offer puja (worship) to Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and wealth. Many homes have a trail into the house.

Rishi suggested we stay in his village instead of Syaklung Danda, our intended stop. We were very happy we did.

It was Dal Bhat for dinner, of course. The staple. But for an appetizer we were offered a special treat — dried, smoked, spicy goat meat from the high Himalaya. They call it sukuti.

That night we were welcomed into the annual Diwali festivities. Much dancing, chanting and singing. And a bit of drinking. I had the local boiled rice wine called roxy.

We slept well on hard mattresses. And dreamed of having the big vistas early morning.

It dawned not as clear as the previous day, but we did see the three big peaks from one vantage.

Mission accomplished, we decided to walk out as directly as possible to Begnas Lake. Our Royal Trek route ended.

It was mostly downhill on dirt or paved roads.

Rice looks to be the most important crop.

Rishi is a specialist in rural development. He told us these village are in trouble. The young people leave for the cities, India or the Middle East, and those who remain have trouble making ends meet. He consults on new initiatives for the foothill farmers.

Begnas lake is impressive, but I prefer Lakeside, Pokhara as a tourist destination.

We took lunch at a local restaurant in Begnas Tal Bahar, then caught the Lakeside bus.

It’s only 30km back to town, but the local bus is SLOW. If I did it again, I’d taxi back to Pokhara.

Other highlights:

  • hillside rice terraces
  • no permits required
  • a good first Nepal hike to start acclimatization
  • low risk of altitude sickness

Best months for the Royal trek are March – May and September – December. It can get cold at night.

Annapurna: A Trekker’s Guide by Sian Pritchard-Jones and Bob Gibbons might still include the Royal Trek. Lonely Planet Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya (2016) does not.

If you like this vista, do the Royal Trek on your own. You’ll be unlikely to see any other foreigners.

day hiking Peace Pagoda, Pokhara

One popular destination close to Pokhara, Nepal is Shanti Stupa, a Buddhist pagoda-style monument.

There are great views of the Annapurna range on a clear day.


Though you can taxi, cycle, or walk — best is crossing Fewa Lake by local boat.

A long paddle, Josh helped out the boatman.

From the bottom it’s a steep climb on stone stairs. Perhaps 45 minutes.

It’s  115 feet tall and 344 feet in diameter.

We’d come up for sunset not knowing that it closes about sunset. We didn’t get the chance to see Buddha.

So the highlight for me was the flower gardens.

We returned by boat, as well. It was dark by the time we got back to Lakeside.

The Diwali festival was ramping up. We happened upon three fire dancers at landing.

Worldwide, there are many similar Peace Pagodas. Check out any you come across on your travels.