The Exploration of the trek took place in JUNE 2014 in cooperation with The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). Before the trek, please inquire about the current trail conditions from Api Nampa Conservation Area Office in Khalanga or contact Tourism Development Society in Dhangadhi. Photographs: Jitendra Bajracharya / CIMOD
What to Experience ?
Established only recently in 2010 to conserve the natural beauty and eco-systems in the region, Api Nampa Conservation Area is one of the remotest areas of Nepal. The great Mahakali Valley, steep gorges, waterfalls, different types of forests, open yak grazing areas and the Himalayan mountains, including Mt. Api (7132m), the highest peak in the Far–West Nepal, are some of the few highlights of the conservation area.
Besides nature, this trek also allows you to experience the unique culture of the Sauka people who live in their traditional villages (Changrue) in the Himalayas. The Saukas make their through animal rearing and trade, and more recently by collecting Yarshagumba, a fungus that grows on a moth larva. This is a type of traditional medicine, found at high altitude grasslands, such as on the base camp of Mt. Api.
This is a challenging trek but it allows you to experience some of the most dramatic places nature has conceived as well as unique local cultures
- Day 1:
Khalanga (882m) – Huti/Ghoreto Bazaar (1,307m) [6h 45min] Our trek starts in Khalanga and leads to the village called Huti. On the trek, we get to enjoy the beautiful sceneries along the Mahakali River, with steep mountains on both sides. Walking along the way, we cross several small villages and small streams. Next to the Bhadi stream, we find small teashops which offer traditional tea and snacks. Passing through the Timurbata village and taking a steady climb, we reach Jaitikot, where we have our lunch. After around an hour from Jaitikot, we cross a suspension bridge over Bhadi River. Along the way, we pass through traditional cultivated terraces with potatoes, maize and other grains. After a climb, we reach a challenging but beautiful Kalagaad cliff that offers an amazing view of the Mahakali Valley and the Indian mountains. One more hour and we arrive at the Ghoreto Bazaar of the village of Huti. [6-7h trek] Accommodation and food: In Huti, there is one teashop that offers accommodation for up to 6 people (very basic) and there are other shops that offer food. There is also a government building with some beds that may, on request, accommodate up to 6 people. Another option is to put up tents.
- Day 2:
Huti/Ghoreto Bazaar (1,307m) – Tusarpani (1,805) [6h] After breakfast we start our hike in the morning through a great community forest with excellent spots for bird watching. You can observe a variety of birds, among them some endangered vulture species. Do not forget your binoculars! Two hours from Huti, we reach the locality of Chandakot in the village of Dhaulakot, where a cup of tea will be waiting for us. We will continue to Sunsera (2h hike), where we will have our lunch. If we find the time, we should explore a little bit of the traditional way of living. From Sunsera, it is another 40min hike to Gorakhanath temple, located at a fantastic spot overlooking the Mahakali valley. From the Gorakhnath temple, we follow a side valley of Mahakali into the mountain area and reach Tusarpani after another 30min walk. This village derives its name from a spring that emits water from underneath a big pine tree. The locals believe that the water is sacred as it has never dried out. [6h trek] Accommodation and food: There are some small teashops which offer tea, local food and basic lodges. Another option is to put up a tent at the local school premises.
- Day 3:
Tusarpani (1805) – Dumling (1,795m) [6h 30min] From the side valley, we walk back to the main Mahakali Valley and climb up towards the village of Mal. Along the way, we pass people, on their way to collect Yarshagumba in the high alpine grasslands. While talking to them, you realize how difficult, but important Yarshagumba collection is for them. We pass more villages and rhododendron forests and climb the highest point of the day’s trek (2004m) at a place called Bithamdar. Afterwards, we reach Rangthal. There we take our lunch, For the rest of the day, the route continues along the Mahakali Valley with gentle ups and downs, till we reach Dumling. In Dumling, the houses are beautifully decorated. Just 20min further, next to a small stream, we find a small trading centre, where we stay for the night. Only a few meters further down, we find a beautiful waterfall with a pool for a short, refreshing bath. [6–7h trek] Accommodation and food: There are some teahouses available at Dumling and you can have local food or instant noodles. Modest accommodation (for up to 10 people) is available. If you eat food at the same teashop, accommodation is free of charge.
- Day 4:
Dumling (1,795m) – Dopake (2,266m) [6h 30min] After breakfast, we leave Ghatte Khola (Dumling) and continue our trek along the Mahakali Valley which gets steeper as we move forward. We enter the land of the Sauka, with steep valleys, few cultivated areas and high Himalayan mountains. After about 2.5hwalk along the beautiful gorge, we reach our lunch place Tambakoo, a teashop on the banks of the River. While the lunch is being prepared, you can enjoy the waterfalls of Tambako. After some lunch, we continue our way, constantly climbing upwards through different types of vegetation towards Dopake. In between, we pass Gati Bagad, where we can have some tea and refreshments. Dopake is a small settlement where we stay overnight. [6–7h trek] Note: From Dumling, the trail at some places is difficult and not maintained well. Landslides and heavy rains might have washed some parts of the trail away. Please inquire from locals in Dumling about the condition of the trail. Accommodation and food: There are some teahouses available at Dopake and you can have local food or instant noodles. Putting up a tent is also an option.
- Day 5:
Dopake (2,266m) – Kuntison (2,965m) [4h 30min] The gorge of Mahakali is steep, and in the early morning, the sun does not reach the village yet. It can be cold and only a few people live up here for the summer months. During winter, most of them move down the valley to spend the cold months in Khalanga. Starting early morning, we continue our way. After 2.5h steady climb, we reach an open pasture land with horses and goats grazing. In a small teahouse, we have our lunch and a short break. With clear blue sky and a warm sun, we wait for the lunch and enjoy the great view of the snow-covered Himalayan mountains. After the exhausting trek thus far, it feels very peaceful and beautiful to be here. On the other side of the gorge, in India, there is also a settlement called Buddhi, which in former times was part of the larger Sauka settlement. Today, there are the Sauka villages of Buddhi and Garbyang in India and Changru and Tinker villages in Nepal. Each village has its traditional grazing area. Don’t start too late from Buddhi, because we have to cross Buddhi River, where the water-level rises steadily during the afternoon. Walking another hour, we reach Kuntison where we stay overnight. This is a common meeting point for Yarshagumba collectors and traders. If lucky, we may see some collectors cleaning and preparing their Yarshagumba pieces before selling. [4–5h trek] Note: From Dopake, the trail is difficult at some places and not maintained well. Landslides and heavy rains might have washed some parts of the trail away. Please inquire from locals in Dopake about the condition of the trail. Accommodation and food: There is one teahouse at Kuntison, which offers local food and accommodation. Another option is to put up a tent.
- Day 6:
Kuntison (2,965m) – Api base camp - lower (3,765m) [4h 30min] After half an hour walk, we cross the Api River, which flows down the beautiful glacier valley of Api. From here, there are two ways. Either we follow the Api River on the leftside of the stream, till we meet another path leading to the plateau (shorter) or we continue the path along the Mahakali valley, till we meet another path that leads east in the direction of Api (more secure). Both of these routes converge below a ridge. From there, the trail continues to climb till we reach a plateau, the lower base camp. The trail is steep and the climb is sometimes difficult but the views from the open plateau at 3,800m are amazing. At the plateau, we find about 50 tents of the Yarshagumba collectors coming from different Sauka villages. Along the slopes of the Api Himalaya Range, each day the collectors are searching for Yarshagumba, the Himalayan Gold. For nearly two months, they remain at this high altitude and try their luck in finding Yarshagumba. They are very welcoming, and being in a warm tent with some hot Tibetan tea, it makes you forget the cold temperatures outside. This grassland is traditionally the grazing land for cattle from the Garbyang village which now lies in India. This place is considered sacred and preserved well. For centuries, people have been coming here to graze their cattle and livestock. [4–5h trek] Note: The trail towards Api base camp is quite steep and often the trail are washed away by landslides. The trail goes over a gravel field, which can easily slide down. During afternoons, the wind may be strong over the ridge, so the chances of stones falling are high. Accommodation and food: You have to bring your own tent and cook your own food. The collectors might offer you firewood or tea.
- Day 7:
Api Base camp - lower and upper (3,765m)– Api Lakes/Yerpa Lake (4,400m) – Exploration day If the weather is clear in the early morning, the views are breathtaking. You may like to make some smaller hikes around the camp or walk to the upper base camp and explore some nice glacier lakes. The Sauka people believe that the divine lord resides within these mountains. The nature is still untouched and remains conserved. The route to the upper base camp follows the Api Khola to reach another plateau (about 1.5h). From there, we cross the plateau, follow a small stream and walk up a moraine to reach Yerpa, the first glacier lake (up to 4400m), at the foothills of Mt. Api. From the ridge on the right side, we have an amazing view of the Himalayan mountains and the Api Khola valley. Another lake is hidden behind the next ridge, which can be reached after another hour. For overnight stay, we come back to the lower base camp. [4–5h trek] Note: As you climb more than 4400m be aware of altitude sickness. Accommodation and food: You have to bring your own tent and cook your own food. The collectors might offer you firewood or tea.
- Day 8:
Api base camp - lower (3,765m) – Gaga/Changrue (3,055m) [4–5h trek] We leave the Api base camp and start our walk down the same way in the direction to Changrue, the Sauka village. We follow the path along the ridge and not down the Api valley. After some time, we pass the beautiful, untouched pine forests on our way down to Mahakali River. Along the Mahakali, the pine forests continue. Before we reach the point where Tinker Khola, Nampa Khola and Mahakali River join, we pass a sacred wetland and open grazing areas along the river. We are close to Gaga, a place with a simple, but good hotel next to Tinker Khola. Just above Gaga, the picturesque village of Changrue is located. You have a chance to see it the next day. [4–5h trek] Note: The trail towards Api base camp is quite steep and often the trail gets washed away from landslides. During afternoons, the wind can blow strongly over the ridge, so watch out for falling stones. Accommodation and food: At Gaga, there is one good hotel that offers food and accommodation for 100 NPR/person.
- Day 9:
Gaga (Changru) (3,055m) – day to take rest Changrue is a traditional Sauka village with beautiful old stone houses. It transports you to a traditional alpine village 200 years ago. You can see artistic wood carvings on doors and windows. Usually, families stay only during the summer months; during winter, they move down to Khalanga. Their main source of income is trade with China and India. They travel on yaks and horses and use the old trading route via Tinker valley to Tibet. Accommodation and food: At Gaga, there is one good hotel that offers food and accommodation for 100 NPR/person. Additional day If you want to explore more of the Sauka land, you can walk into the Tinker valley for one extra day and stay at Tinker village, or take a day-long walk into the Nampa valley. Both of them are beautiful alpine valleys with grazing areas and few traditional settlements. The Tinker valley is a habitat for snow leopards, but they are very shy and difficult to spot.
- Day 10:
Back to Khalanga Option 1: Indian route only open for Indian and Nepali citizens [1.5 days] This route takes you to the Indian side of the Mahakali River over a small bridge with a border checkpoint called Sitapul. There, you follow a quite, good trail along the river back to Khalanga. After a day’s walk, you reach a paved road with public transport, which brings you back to Darchula and Khalanga. Note: This route is only open for Indian and Nepali citizens. The border crossing point at Changrue is not open for other international travelers. Option 2: Nepali route [4 days] This route is actually the same way you that you took to Changrue. Since we walk downhill, the trip can be done in four days with overnight stays in in between Dopake, Dumling and Sunsera.