Jomsom to Lo- Manthang
You will be subjected to further checks and registration when you pass through Kagbeni on your way up-valley. Clearly Tibetan in character, with flat-roofed stone houses huddled around a distinctive Monastery, Kagbeni marks the start of the restricted area. Similar settlements are passed on the way to lo Manthang, becoming more and more outlandish as the valley climbs and the surrounding hills become increasingly arid and spectacular.
North of Kagbeni the kali Gandaki assumes truly epic proportions, as the trail enters a stark wilderness of towering conglomerate cliffs, eroded into fantastic pillars and shapes by the wind which howls up the valley every afternoon. Between these multi colored pastel walls of shale, the braided river snakes its way across a flat bed stones, with the trail running along it at the first. In spring, the volume of water increases dramatically due to snow-melt and forces travelers on to a higher path. From various cre4sts on the high path stunning panorama views are revealed, especially on the first day as Nilgiri and Dhaulagiri rise like gargantuan sentinels either side of the Kali Gandaki to the4 south. Do try to take in some of the villages that lie off the main trail. Tangbe and Chhuksang, the first villages after Kagbeni, are mostly inhabited by Thakalis, but beyond the valley is populated by Lo-pas of Tibetan origin. The trail to Lo Manthang is a major highway due to its historic importance as a trade route, and nowhere is it really difficult. After Chhuksang it crosses to the west of the valley and stays there all the way to Lo Manthang. Chele is the first village on the west, reached after crossing a steel suspension bridge and ascending a high bluff above the river.
The manicured stacks of juniper and brushwood that adorn the roofs of orange and white houses in chele and many other villages in the area are not winter firewood but auspicious display of wealth. Clusters of chortens in the center of villages testify to the Buddhists faith of the inhabitant, while numerous wayside hostelries, complete with courtyards and stables for mules, and are further reminders of the commercial thoroughfare that the valley once was. None of these inns have metamorphosed into the deluxe trekkers’ accommodations found lower in the Kali Gandaki at villages like Marpha and Tukche, but they are certainly interesting. The one at Ghami contains a small monastic cell, and you can eat your dalbat to the sounds of chanting, the ringing of bells and the clash of cymbals. This establishment and a similar one at charang, belong to members of the Lo royal family.
High on the bizarrely sculpted cliffs that tower overhead you will spot numerous seemingly inaccessible caves and hermitages, many of which are used by monks as meditation retreats. The way to lo Manthang also crosses several minor passes as it skirts around the hillsides on the west of the Kali Gandaki, and from each the views are tremendous, with the Annapurna’s, Tilcho pe3ak and Nilgiri to the south and the brown hills of Tibet to the north.
Take your time on the last couple of days, and soak up the fantastic scenery, architecture and culture of this unique place. Your permit allows you ten days for the journey from Kagbeni to Lo Manthang and back, and though you could easily complete it in less you may wish you had more time.
A couple of hours beyond charang the trail reaches a crest and suddenly, set in awide depression known as ‘the plain of aspiration’, the exotic walled city of Lo Manthang lies before you. There is only one entrance to its maze of streets- in the northeast corner, sheltered from the wind. The best way to orientate yourself once inside is to climb onto the roof of one of the inns. Within the 10m (33ft)high city walls are approximately 150 private dwelling, several monasteries and the Gyelbu’s palace. Visible a short distance to the north is a prominent hill topped by two ruined forts, and from there it is possible to look south across Lo Manthang to the distant Annapurna.
Walk- out via Ghar
The cost of simply being in Lo Manthang precludes spending any real time in the area, and most people turn tail and walk out after two nights. Vary your route on the way back, and take the westerly trail to Ghami via Lo Gekar and Ghar Gompahs. According to legend the great saint Guru Rimpoche visited Ghar. The tiny rooms inside are decorated with paintings depicting him, and on the walls many brightly painted carved stones are arranged in wooden frames. Descending from the next spur into village of Dhakmar is idyllic, with a stream running by and a massive red eroded cliff standing in dramatic contrast to the surrounding yellow- grey hills. Camp at Ghami and Samar before leaving the restricted area again at Kagbeni. There is another wild and difficult alternative eastern route out from Lo Manthang to muktinath via Tange and Tetang, which may enable you to sneak out unnoticed if your permit has expired, but it involves many rivers crossing some long, waterless days.