Tackling the Great Himalaya Trail - from Kanchenjunga to Humla
The Great Himalaya Trail refers to a network of trek trails that form one of the highest and longest trails in the world. While on the trails, there are two route options. The high route remains very close to the high peaks, while the cultural path takes lower trails.
The entire Great Himalaya Trail covers the whole of the Himalayas, starting from Pakistan through Nepal and across India and Bhutan. However, in this article, we will only focus on the Nepali section of this upper trail, which is almost 1700 km in length.
From east to west, the high route in Nepal starts north of Kanchenjunga Base Camp, continues through northern Nepal, and ends at Hilsa, which lies at the Tibetan Border of Humla District. You will be trekking at altitudes of up to 6,146m, and the complete high-route trek will take around 150 days to complete. You must be very fit and totally prepared with all the required equipment, travel insurance, and mountaineering gear. If you choose this trek, you will also need ice climbing skills.
The lower route is significantly shorter than the high route measuring around 1,500 km, and you will be trekking for about 100 days in the mid-hills of Nepal, reaching a maximum height of 4,519 meters at the Jang La Pass. The lower route passes through local diverse ethnic settlements and forests, pastures, and cultivated fields.
Trekking the whole Great Himalayan Trek is very difficult and intensive, so it is good to approach the trek in sections. Here are the upper trail sections of the Great Himalaya Trek.
It is the eastern part of the Great Himalayan Trail in Nepal and is named after Kanchenjunga (8,586m), the world’s third-highest mountain. Mt. Kanchenjunga lies in a protected area full of alpine meadows, pristine forests, and high-altitude wetlands and is one of the least populated regions in Nepal. This region is home to more than 2,000 species of flowers.
To reach the Kanchenjunga Base Camp, you need to begin from Tumlingtar. As you trek, you will pass through friendly Rais and Limbus villages that gradually give way to Sherpa and Tamang settlements up north at higher elevations. Most of these ethnic groups actually migrated here from Tibet in the north.
From the trails in the northwest, you will see Makalu and Everest. Most GHT (Great Himalaya Trek) trekkers start their journey from Jhinsang La Pass in the Kanchenjunga region. The route then proceeds through the Walung settlement, known for stone and wood houses, and enters the Makalu region.
Here are some highlights of the Kanchenjunga section trek.
- Mout Kanchenjunga (8,586m)
- Alpine forests, meadows, and wetlands
- Wildlife red pandas, Himalayan black bears, snow leopards, Assamese macaque
- Forests full of varieties of rhododendrons, orchids, lilies, and other flowers
- Sherpa settlements
- Yanglung Glacier
2. Makalu Barun
To the west of Kanchenjunga lies the Makalu Barun section of the Great Himalaya Trek. The trek now proceeds in Makalu Barun National Park after crossing Lumbha Sambha from the Kanchenjunga region, as you enter the Everest section, you must cross the challenging three cols (passes). This is the toughest technical trek in Nepal, only dwarfed by climbing higher mountains.
You can reach the Makalu Barun region by flying to Tumlingtar (400m), and then you will head to Makalu Base Camp (4,755m). These trek regions are scarcely populated, and you will pass through several rhododendrons and pine forests to reach Barun Valley, where the Makalu Base Camp lies.
From the viewpoint just above the Makalu Base Camp, you can enjoy the views of some of the tallest mountains in the world, including Everest (8,848m), Lhotse (8,516m), Makalu (8,463m)
The trek to Makalu Base Camp will last around ten days. After Makalu Base Camp, as you head west, you will cross the three cols - East Col (6,146m), West Col (6,143m), and Amphu Labsta (5,848m) - and enter the Everest region.
The Barunste glacier lies between the east and west cols and forms the most challenging section of this trail. The Amphu Labsta also provides glorious views of Everest, Lhotse, and Island peak, and after crossing Amphu Labsta, you will enter the Imja Tse Valley. From the Imja Valley, you will head to Namche Bazzar, followed by Lukla, from where you can fly back to Kathmandu.
- Arun and Barun Valleys
- Three high cols - East Col (6,146m), West Col (6,143m), and Amphu Labsta (5,848m)
- 440 species of birds
- 25 species of rhododendrons
- Red Pandas, Clouded Leopards, Asian Golden Cats
- Pass through five climatic regions from Tropical to Alpine
- Everest (8,848m), Lhotse (8,516m), Makalu (8,463m) mountains
The Makalu Barun section of the Great Himalayan Trek joins the Everest/Rolwaling section at the three cols. Reaching this section of the Great Himalayan Trek is easier than previous treks. You can fly to Lukla from Kathmandu. However, you can also trek to this region from Jiri.
This is perhaps the most well-known section of the Great Himalayan Trek due to the Everest Base Camp trek. Thousands of trekkers/adventurers travel to this region each year. The tourism infrastructure in this region developed with lodges/teahouses at the right places. You will be passing through several Sherpa towns/settlements and monasteries. There are various trek routes, but we recommend the “Three High Passes” trek.
This region provides magnificent views of the highest mountains, including Everest, Cho Oyu, Makalu, and Lhotse. There are numerous high passes and high-altitude lakes that will make your trek eventful and fulfilling.
Edmund Hillary (one of the first persons on Everest) and Shipton (an English mountaineer) crossed the three cols and headed to the east in the Makalu region in 1952.
But, as you head west from Khumbu, the Great Himalayan Trek enters the Rolwaling Valley from the Tashi Lapache (5,760m). This is a very challenging pass and used to be the shortest route the Sherpas used to take to reach Kathmandu.
After entering the Rolwaling Valley, you will come across the two traditional villages of Bigu Gompa and Beding. While on the trails, you can enjoy the fantastic views of Gauri Shankar. Unlike Khumbu, Rolwaling is much more diverse with Tamangs, Sherpas, and Gurungs.
- Three of the highest peaks - Everest, Lhotse, and Cho Oyu
- Sherpa settlements and lifestyle
- High altitude animals, yaks, snow leopards, deer, etc.
- Ancient monasteries, including Khumjung monastery, said to have housed yeti scalp
- Sagarmatha National Park
- High altitude lakes - Gokyo Lakes
- Three high passes -
- Highest glacier on Earth- Khumbu Glacier (4900m)
- Three high passes - Kongma La, Chol La Pass, and Renjo La Pass
4. Langtang and Helambu
The Everest and Rowling section of the Great Himalaya Trek joins Langtang and Helambu in the west near Jugal Himal. This section is the easiest to reach. You can simply walk out of Kathamndu and head to Helambu. Helambu is revered by the Buddhists and its inhabitants call themselves Hyalmo. These locals are related to the Sherpas in the east.
You will be trekking in the Langtang National Park, which contains small secluded lakes, out of which Gosainkunda is very popular as a sacred lake for both Buddhists and Hindus. After crossing the Tilman Pass (5,308m), you will reach the Langtang region. From the pass, you can get sights of Tibet and fantastic views of glaciers, and snowy peaks, chief out of them is the Langtang Lirung (7,227m).
- Langtang village and Kyangiin Monastery
- Panoramic mountain views from Kyanjin Ri (4,773m)
- Snow-capped mountains, waterfalls, and several suspension bridges
- Majestic views of Langtang Lirung (7,345m), Gang Chhenpo (6,388m), Naya Kanga (5,846m), Dorje Lakpa (6,966m), Kimsung (6,781m), and Yansa Tsenji (6,575m)
- Red pandas, Snow leopards, musk deer, bears, langurs, etc
- Amazing Lirung and Kimshung glaciers
- Old and significant Buddhist monasteries, stupas, and monuments
- Cheese factory and hike to Tserko Ri (5,450m)
- Lush green forests and meadows
5. Ganesh & Manaslu
The Langtang and Helambu section of the Great Himalaya Trek joins the Ganesh Himal region in the west. Manaslu mountain roughly lies at the midpoint of the Great Himalaya Trek.
To trek to this section of the Great Himalayan Trek, you need to head west of Kathmandu. Most trekkers reach Syabrubesi on a bus and follow the Tamang Heritage Trail, named after ethnic Tamangs. You can choose to stay in tent camps or homestays that Tamangs run. If you are an adventurous type, you can hike Tiru Danda ridge.
As you trek west, you will come to Ganesh Himal (a collection of seven major peaks), named after the Hindu god of fortune. The Ganesh Himal range reaches the Budhi Gandaki River in the west and then comes the Manaslu region.
The Manaslu circuit trek circumnavigates the Manaslu mountain (the eighth-highest peak in the world). The route is remote and physically demanding but enriching. While on the trails, you can witness Buddhist and Hindu villages, rhododendron forests, raging rivers, gigantic mountains, and terraced farmlands.
While on the trails, you can enjoy the hot springs at Tatopani, picturesque villages, and views of gigantic mountains until you reach Samagaon. From Samagaon, you can get close-up views of Manaslu. The trek heads further west to Dharamshala and crosses Larkya La Pass, reaching Bhimtang and Gho. Most trekkers then trek to Dharapani and return to Kathmandu.
- Ethnic villages, home to Tamangs, Magars, Larkes, Gurungs
- Buddhist monasteries, Hindu temples
- Wildlife, including snow leopards, gray wolves, blue sheep, Himalayan tahr, and musk deer
- Manaslu mountain (8,156m), Lamjung Himal, Mt.Annapurna II, etc
- Traditional villages
6. Annapurna and Mustang
The Great Himalaya trek continues westwards from Dharapani in the Manaslu section, entering the Annapurna region. Most of the Annapurna region hikes start from Besishahar and reach Dharapani via Jagat.
From Dharapani, Annapurna Circuit Trek progresses through Pisang, Manang, and Yak Kharka, gaining a height of 5,416m at Thorong La Pass before descending to Muktinath. From Muktinath, Annapurna Circuit turns south to Ghorepani. Most trekkers visit the famous Poon Hill View Point before heading to Pokhara.
Annapurna region treks are world-famous and bring thousands of tourists/trekkers as the trails in this region are convenient and the views are spectacular. Most trekkers reach Poon Hill Viewpoint to enjoy the fantastic panoramic view of several mountains, including the Annapurna ranges, Macchapuchhare, Dhampus peak, and Dhaulagiri.
The Great Himalaya trek, however, continues from Muktinath westward to Chhuksang and heads north to Upper Mustang, reaching Lo-Mangthang (3,810m) - an area that still follows the Tibetan culture. There are other variations of this trek, chief among them are the Nar and Phu Valley.
Most people will return to Chhuksang and then to Jomsom and take a flight to Kathmandu after finishing this section of the Great Himalaya Trek. However, the Great Himalaya Trek trail heads to Kagbeni from Chuksang and proceeds west.
- Stunning views of Mt. Annapurna, Thorung Peak, Nilgiri, Dhaulagiri, Lamjung Himal, Annapurna II, Chulu West, and Chulu East, Tukuche Peak, and Annapurna IV
- Tranquil lakes, glaciers, deep gorges, and stunning waterfalls
- Muktinath Temple - a holy temple for both Hindus and Buddhists
- Thorong La Pass (5,416m)
- Natural hot spring at Tatopani
- Ancient Buddhist Monasteries
- Lo-Manthang - the capital of Mustang
7. Dolpa Trek
From Kagbeni, the Great Himalaya Trek proceeds further west entering the Dolpo section. Inner Dolpo seems frozen in time, with Tibetan Buddhism's influence all over the settlements. The monks here draw intricate Thanka Pantings, and wooden dolls (dokpas) tell a tale of serious spiritual engagement in these harsh lands.
Though the southern parts of Dolpo are green because the rain shadow of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountain forms a barren land northwards. At Shey Gompa and Dho Tarap, you will encounter some of the highest-inhabited places on Earth. The locals here live a semi-nomadic life and Eric Valli’s film Himalaya gives you an idea of life in this region. The Phoksundo Lake in this region is one of the most well-known lakes in Nepal. Its turquoise waters look hypnotic.
Most trekkers fly to Juphal from Nepalgunj and start to trek briefly to the east and then head to the north, reaching Sulighat, Phosundo Lake, and Saldang in the north and descending south via Jang- La Phedi, Tokyu Gaon, and Tarap Kola. They will then return to Juphal and fly back to Kathmandu via Nepalgunj.
The Great Himalaya Trek continues west through the Phoksundo National Park and enters the Rara region.
- Capture the Tibetan lifestyle of the local inhabitants
- In Jhupal, you will find a language only spoken in two villages
- The Phoksundo Lake
- Shey Phoksundo National Park - known for snow leopards
- Kang La Pass (5,360m), Nagdala La (5,353m), Saldang La (5,220m), Jang La (5,090m) passes
- Rare and remote root for serious trekkers
8. Rara and Jumla
The Great Himalaya Trek continues west from the Dolpo section into the Rara National Park in the Mugu district. The upper Great Himalaya trail and lower Great Himalaya trail route meet at Rara Lake.
Rara National Park covers an area of 106 km square and consists of alpine and sub-alpine ecosystems, wherein you can find 51 mammal species, 49 wetland species, and 241 species of birds.
Historians believe that the Nepali dialect started in Sinja Valley in Jumla. The Nepali inscription on cliff walls found at Sinja supports this theory. This is also a region where the distinction between different beliefs gets blurred, and locals combine Buddhist, Hindu, and Shamanic practices in their religious practices. The culture, lifestyle, and even the dress reflect this unique amalgam.
Most trekkers start their trek in this section by flying to Jumla and heading west. Though remote and far from Kathmandu, this region carries great historical significance.
The Great Himalaya Trek links to Humla in the west.
- Rara National Park
- A blend of Buddhist, Hindu, and Shamanic religious practices
- Specatacular Rara Lake
- Pristine forests, alpine meadows
- A paradise for bird watchers
This is the westernmost section of the Great Himalaya Trek in Nepal that continues westwards from the Jumla region. It is also the least explored region of Nepal and appears Tibetan in lifestyle, tradition, and culture.
Most of the settlements in this region are isolated because of snow and the high mountains surrounding them. The ancient salt trade routes passed through these regions.
This final section of the Great Himalaya trek follows the turquoise Karnali River and heads to Mount Kailash in Tibet. You can reach this section of the Great Himalaya Trek by flying to Simikot from Nepalgunj.
- Humla, also known as the Hidden Himalaya
- Ancient salt trade route
- Mt. Saipal (7,031m)
- Authentic remote mountain lifestyles
- Alpine meadows, flora, and fauna
- Halji’s Rinchenling Gompa - a monastery more than eight centuries old
These nine trek sections complete the higher route of the Great Himalaya Trek. You can choose to complete the whole trail at once, but almost all people choose to finish the Great Himalaya Trek trail in several sections. Because of the nature of the trek, you will need a qualified guide for your safety, progress, and success.
Discovery World Trekking has been organizing treks and tours in remote Nepal for over a decade. If you wish to complete the section of the great Himalaya Trek route in Nepal, you can call/Viber/WhatsApp us at +977-9840055491 or email [email protected].