Makalu Trek; April - May 2011

Makalu Trek

My longest and hardest trek to date; 23 days walking the mountains and valleys of the Makalu trekking route, the "Great Himalayan Trail" and the Arun River valley. Just getting through it gave me a great sense of accomplishment. It was my best and most sustained physical accomplishment; harder than climbing Aconcagua in some ways. I increased my tolerance for discomfort - wet boots and soaked clothes, insects and leeches, weary bones. I also had an opportunity to reflect on and practice Buddhist teachings such as "You must neither maintain regrets nor cherish anticipations" and "This pain is an external stimulus that I can choose not to react to." In the words of Thomas Steinbeck, "You don’t take a journey – the journey takes you."

On the other hand, there was none of the stress we bear back home in "the other civilization". None of the electronic distractions, the multi-tasking, the nagging turmoil of world events. There was solititude, a real sense of peace and a natural rhythm from dawn around 5:30am to lights out at 9pm.

I also deepened my appreciation of Dhiren, Prem, Purba and the rest of our Nepali crew. It was my 4th or 5th trek with them and they never cease to amaze with their skills, spirit and friendship. John has spent many years building trust and rapport and has assembled a group of extraordinary people who make these adventures possible, and a genuine pleasure.

Khembalung - purpose of the trek

Guru Rimpoche, the legendary figure who established Buddhism throughout the Himalaya, is thought to have established several "hidden valleys" which will serve as refuges for Buddhist treasures and followers when war and other calamities engulf mankind. These are the valleys on which Shangri-La is based, and Khembalung is one of them.

My friend John has been researching the legends and trying to find the physical places on which the Khembalung accounts are based. We are in the Makalu region of eastern Nepal to look at two of the passes between Nepal and Tibet for features that match the accounts.

The guidebook(s) - how hard can it be?

There are multiple Tibetan manuscripts which are "guidebooks" for the route to Khembalung. Some of these have translated and used in journal articles and books. For example,

If you look at the translation in that account, you will find that it's not exactly a roadmap. Here's an excerpt:

  1. "After crossing to the other side of these areas, look in the direction that water runs. Then go towards the left side of the water. You (should) go towards Chekarlung (name of a valley). Look from the left side of the top (of the valley?). There is a (rock?) which looks like a Lachak of a protector deity that was placed there. Above this area there is a pass called Pho Ropola. Climb up to the summit of this mountain.
  2. "On top of that (mountain) there is rock (which looks) like a horse's saddle. If you go (towards) the horse's saddle, there is a pass. That is the pass of Tromen (?). You should not take this pass, but (rather should) go to the left three arrow-shots (i. e. as far as an arrow can be shot three times). There is a lake called Dudtsho. Alter you arrive at the lake offer Chang (beer) and the blood of a human being, dog and horse. (Also offer) jewels and three brown goats decorated with colored ribbons to Surarakye.
  3. "You should then follow the left side of the river from that lake as far as three Gabge (?). You will find a path. On the right side of the road only human beings, goats and sheep may pass: If you go as far as three Gabge, then there is a jungle path. If you go as far as an arm-span (?), the road comes to an end in a waterfall. That is Dipshing (magically hidden). Between the rock and the water people can walk single file. If you go through that, go down the mountain path three rope lengths, then there are two paths. Take the path that goes up as far as ten rope lengths, and (there) this river turns into another rock. There is Pama (a kind of tree), evergreens, and Langma (another kind of tree): If you go through that you will arrive inside Khembalung.

Our challenge: compare clues in the guidebooks to the landscape and vegetation we're traveling through.

Journal and pictures

As always, I kept a daily journal of my adventures, thoughts and feelings. The "Malaku Trek" link on the left will get you started. The links in the table below can be used to get quickly to a particular day of the trek. Each day's journal entry is accompanied by pictures, which you will see in the green bar on the left. You can click on any picture and get to a bigger image and caption.

This web site is based on the journal I kept during the expedition. If you'd like to read through the actual journal offline, you can download the PDF version:
Get the Makalu Trek Journal

I have selected 245 of the 1,032 pictures I took during the trip. The images on the web site are "snapshot" format, about 1/4th the size of the originals. If you have a particular favorite, I can send an original by email.

Seventeen (17) of the pictures are "Panorama" shots comprised of two or more individual pictures merged with Autostitch, a wonderful piece of free software. The panorama shots are 528 pixels high and as wide as they need to be to show the whole view at that height; use the scroll bar at the bottom of your browser window to move to the right for more of the image.

Let us know what you think, and enjoy the tour. Click on the "Makalu Trek" link in the upper-left corner of this page or any of the destination links below to get started.

Friday 4/29 Kathmandu to Tumlingtar Friday 5/13 Cave Camp to Kholakharka Khola
Saturday 4/30 Tumlingtar Saturday 5/14 Kholakharka Khola to Chhironchoma La
Sunday 5/01 Tumlingtar to Dhara Deurali Sunday 5/15 Chhironchoma La to Dhungge Kharka
Monday 5/02 Dhara Deurali to beyond Num Monday 5/16 Dhungge Kharka to below Tin Pokhari
Tuesday 5/03 Num to beyond Seduwa Tuesday 5/17 Tin Pokhari to Bakim Kharka
Wednesday 5/04 Seduwa to Dhara Kharka Wednesday 5/18 Bakim Kharka to Chepuwa
Thursday 5/05 Dhara Kharka to Khongma Danda Thursday 5/19 Chepuwa to Namse
Friday 5/06 Khongma Danda to beyond Mumbuk Friday 5/20 Namse to Lungsung
Saturday 5/07 Mumbuk to Yangri Kharka Saturday 5/21 Lungsung to below Simma
Sunday 5/08 Yangri Kharka rest day Sunday 5/22 Simma to Gobani
Monday 5/09 Yangri Kharka to Kharka Monday 5/23 Gobani to Kuwapani
Tuesday 5/10 Kharka rest day Tuesday 5/24 Kuwapani to Mane Bhanjyang, then Tumlingtar
Wednesday 5/11 Kharka to Kalo Pokhari Wednesday 5/25 Tumlingtar to Dharan
Thursday 5/12 Kalo Pokhari to Cave Camp Thursday 5/26 Dharan to Kathmandu
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