Nepal is not all about high mountains and beautiful sceneries. The country sandwiched between China and India is equally famous for diverse religious and cultural attractions. Khumbu region, which is home to Mt Everest and other beautiful peaks and attractive sceneries, is one of the 50 popular mountain tourism destinations in the world. Beautiful glacial lakes, rich bio-diversity and unique culture, lifestyle, language and attire of different ethnic groups are the other attractions of Khumbu Region.
As Buddhism is the dominant religion in the region, Khumbu area is home to many ancient monasteries. Not only Khumbu, even Lower Solu area in the district and other neighboring districts like Khotang and Okhaldhunga have numerous monasteries of great religious and historical significance. Despite having immense tourism potentials, locals have yet to reap benefits from this ancient heritage. Realizing this very fact, Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN) with support and cooperation from the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation, Nepal Tourism Board, SNV Nepal and The Great Himalayan Trail Development Program have developed a new tourism product, linking ancient monasteries in these three districts.
The Monastery Circuit Trek – as the new product has been called – links important monasteries in Lower Solu, Khotang and Okhaldhunga districts. This cultural trail links Kurima, Jhyalsa, Junbesi and Thupten Choling monasteries of the lower Solu region with Maratika monastery of Khotang and Kikidhung and other monasteries in Okhaldhunga district. The trail has been designed in such a way that one can start the trek from all the three districts. The trek begins either from Phaplu airport of Solukhumbu, Rumjatar airport of Okhaldhunga or Lamidanda airport of Khotang district. But we recommend you to start the trek from Lamidanda district.
State-owned Nepal Airlines and private operator Tara Air fly tto Lamidanda airstrip from Kathmandu. A walk of 5-6 hours or a drive of about four hours on a dirt road takes trekkers to the Halesi Mahadev temple. Referred to as the Pashupatinath of the east, Halesi Mahadev is one of the holiest shrines in Nepal. The temple is situated at the top of a small hill inside a beautiful cave. Situated at an altitude of about 5,000 feet, the temple area has three caves that are believed to represent three eyes of Lord Shiva. Buddhists, who worship the caves as Maratika monastery, believe that Padmasambhava (the founder of Tibetan Buddhism) and his wife Mandarava freed themselves from the circle of life and thus became immortal in these caves.
According to a Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva hid himself in these caves after demon Bhasmashur, who had got a boon from Lord Shiva himself, tried to kill him. In one of the caves, Lord Bishnu is believed to have helped Lord Shiva by killing demon Bhasmashur. There are good hotels and lodges for accommodation in the area as the area happens to be a popular pilgrimage.
The second day of the trek begins from the Halesi Mahadev temple area and passes through beautiful villages of Arkhaule and Lamidanda before stopping at Kharpa for the night. Kharpa is a small village with a few hotels and good camping sites.
The third day’s trek meets Rawa Khola at Armara and progresses along the river before crossing it at Bhaise. The trek then reaches Dumre Dharapani where accommodation is available on home stay. The village is also home to a beautiful monastery.
The fourth day’s trek meets the old Halesi-Phaplu trekking route at Aiselukharka – the old district headquarters of Khotang. Aiselukharka is one of the major trading centers in the district. This hilly marketplace has hotels and lodges, hospital, police post and good communication facilities. After having lunch at Aiselukharka, the trek passes through Deurali to reach Harishe for the nights stop. Harishe and Jhakribas areas have three monasteries.
On the fifth day, the trek progresses through Deurali to Kurima for the night’s stop after making a short detour to a monastery at Diyale. The trail meets the GHT Sub Trail at Parma Ri that has a helipad, a few hotels and lodges, communication facilities and good camping sites.
After spending night at Kurima, the trek progress through the GHT Sub Trail via Mude to reach Chitre for the night’s stop. Chitre is a small village with a helipad, a few lodges and two monasteries. It is a popular stopover for trekkers on the GHT Sub Trail in Lower Solu.
On the seventh day, the trek passes through the village of Dhodre to reach Dimbul for the night stop. Accommodation at Dimbul is on home stay.
Over the next six days, the trek passes through Nirkum, Sibuje, Bung, Khiraule and Cherem before meeting the popular Jiri-Everest trekking route at Kharikhola. There are beautiful monasteries in Khiraule, Sibuje, Bung, Panggom and Kharikhola. Kharikhola is abuzz with foreigners during peak season as this happens to be a popular stopover on popular Jiri-Everest trek. There is a monastery and beautiful mani walls in this village that has a police post, good lodges and excellent camp sites.
On the 14th day, the trek reaches Takshindu after crossing the Dudh Koshi River on a suspension bridge. The trail is largely downhill and is passes through Juving village. The trail offers magnificent views of Kusum Kangaru (6367 m), Mt Numbur (6959 m), Khatang (6853 m) and Karyalung (6681 m). Takshindu gets its name from the beautiful Takshindu Monastery. This Sherpa village also has a cheese factory.
On the 15th day, the trek reaches Thupten Chholing Monastery through the beautiful Ringmo Village after crossing the Takshindu Pass (3010 meters). Ringmo is a beautiful Sherpa settlement with grass fields all around. The trail then passes through Junbesi village to the Thupten Chholing Moanstery.
The trek descends to Junbesi village on the 16th day and heads toward Phaplu airstrip after visiting the Junbesi monastery. We can end the trek at the Phaplu airstrip itself and fly back to Kathmandu. But if you want to continue, the trek progresses through other beautiful villages in Lower Solu and enter Okhaldhuna district.
On the 17th day, the trek progress through Pikey Peak for night’s stop at Ngwar. Pikey Peak that gets its name from Sharpa clan deity offers magnificent views of seven 8,000-meter peaks – Everest, Kanchanjunga, Makalu, Lhotse, Manaslu, Annapurna and Dhaulagiri. Apart from exciting mountain views, the place is rich in terms of bio-diversity and natural attractions. It is also popular among locals and tourists as a BBC Monument. Ngwar has a few lodges, a monastery and excellent camping sites.
On the 18th day, the trek reaches Kikurding Monastery in Okhaldhunga through Takling Danda that offers beautiful mountain views.
The next day, the trek progresses through Chaplu Bhanjyang and Phapre before reaching Tolu Gumpa – a popular monastery in Okhaldhunga district. There is also a small monastery in Phapre.
On the 20th day, the trek reaches Patale through beautiful villages of Jhapre and Sigane. Patale is a beautiful Sherpa village lying in the northern part of the district.
The next day the trek reaches Rumjatar – the ending point of the trek – from where flights to Kathmandu are available. State-owned Nepal Airlines and private carrier Tara Air operate scheduled flights to Rumjatar airstrip.
(Itinerary and photo courtsey: TAAN)