The Hidden Himalayas : Humla and the Limi Valley

By Chhewang N. Lama

Hidden deep within the Himalayas is Humla — most northern and remote district of Nepal.

Humla is an area of extreme geographical conditions: elevations range from 1,524m at the lower basin of the mighty Karnali River to as high as 7,337m in the Saipal range. Summer is pleasant in Humla, but the winter is harsh and cold, rendering the area isolated and snowbound.

Life in Humla continues at a pace unaffected by the rest of the world. Here, villages are medieval and the lives of their inhabitants are intimately entwined with the rhythm of nature. Access to Humla is difficult, but those who persevere are rewarded with the most beguiling scenery and culture in Nepal.

“Remote, impoverished, Humla is forgotten by all but those who live there. Crisscrossed with pilgrimage paths and ancient trade routes, Humla has rarely been a destination itself. Few have bothered to discover the pattern of existence in this faded tapestry of landscape and culture,” writes Carrol Dunham in his book Hidden Himalayas.

Humla is culturally diverse. The northern highlands of the district are occupied by the Bhotias, while the southern valleys and riverbeds, including Simikot, are inhabited by the Khasas (presently known as Hindus). Bon, a religion with archaic roots in Siberian-Mongolian shamanism (and influences from Persian Zoroastrianism and Indian Shaivism) flourished in Humla before the arrival of Buddhism in the 14th century.

Some of the oldest monasteries in Nepal can be found in this region, some are 400-1000 years old, and the unique culture of the past is still in practice. Here, amidst the scenery of the pine forested Karnali gorge, the beautiful Mt Saipal (7,200m) and the Nalakankad mountain range, you are witness to people attired in traditional costumes who tread a path alongside yak and sheep caravans.

Limi Valley

Limi valley is an area untouched by modern changes and, for many, it is believed to be the present form of the mythical Shangri-la. This valley is the only remaining place where you can still experience the fresh Tibetan culture and costume, thanks to the existing matrimonial relationship between people in western Nepal and Tibet.

During the Cultural Revolution much of the Tibetan culture and monasteries in Tibet were destroyed. This destruction however failed to affect Limi Valley as it lies within a small corner of Nepal, known to some as small Tibet.

From the moment I arrived and throughout the duration of my time in this region of the hidden Himalayas, I became inspired. I felt deeply touched by the outstanding scenery, the curious nature of rare species of wildlife and the friendly hospitality of the Limi people. If I am honest, I do not think my words could ever express the sheer beauty of this magnificent place.

Each day, traversing the ancient salt route provided something different. Never did my eyes feel the fatigue of gazing upon similar scenery, the scale of things here is grand. Rich green terraces line the valley as if carved from creation; overhead eagles effortlessly soar, wild deer cavort on nearby rocks and yaks bask in the cool turquoise waters below.

For us this was a reconnaissance trek, exploring new routes in a remote area currently untouched by modern tourism. Starting in Simikot, we followed the route of the ancient salt caravan heading towards Hilsa, the border town with Tibet. In walking this route, I was taken back to a historic place, a place untarnished by the modern age, a place quite frankly of utter peace and serenity.

What I found difficult, however, was the paradox of existence that seems to occur out here. Humla is poverty-stricken, possibly one of the poorest regions in the world. However, people here were glowing despite of all the hardships. Like beacons, their auras shone with a full spectrum of color; the color of hope, acceptance and compassion. It was here amidst utter poverty that I witnessed (for possibly the first time), an authentic sense of wealth.

Before embarking on this journey, I had previously read anecdotes of explorers who had come across this place. What stood out through their words was a common reference to the people of Limi. Believed by some to be the modern form of Shangri-La, the people of Limi emit a fantastic glow. Their smiles and laughter are contagious beyond belief but far more than this is their vibrant life color which casts a blessing upon those lucky enough to stumble through here.

There is simply so much I could write about this magnificent place; its beauty has touched me far deeper than anywhere else I had previously visited. For me, Humla and Limi Valley represent the true Hidden Himalayas, an Earthly manifestation of the Kingdom of Heaven. If the fabled Shangri-La does exist, then look no further.


About the Author

Originally from Nynba valley in Humla region of Nepal, Chhewang is a travel consultant, tour leader and a business developer for travel tourism and leisure. Lama is inspired by the magic of the mountains and its people and is passionate about both his work & sharing the amazing experiences of Nepal. He is the with the Nepali tourism industry for over 6 years & is the founder of Responsible Treks. He can be reached at
nyinba@gmail.com

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