Trek to Darchula and the Api Nampa Conservation Area
There I stood, on paths previously trod by the famed Limi salt traders, who ventured further north into Tibet, while staring a the riverbanks of the most western flank of Nepal, into what was once the territory of the Gurkha Kingdom. Alone in this remote district of Nepal, I stared into India from my vantage point inside the Api Nampa Conservation Area.
Far off the beaten track of Nepal’s tourist industry lies the Far West region. Yet over the last few years, tourism has fast started to advance to this, Nepal’s most rural region. With direct roads to Rara Lake, trekking to Phoksundo and the Khaptad National Park and the famous jungle of Bardia, there is huge tourism potential, and it’s starting to be realized. Yet, there is a district within the Far West with none of the even limited tourism of the other parts of the region. Darchula. The most untouched district of an incredibly untouched region.
There are several reasons for this lack of footfall in the district. Dhangadi, the nearest airport, is an arduous and uncomfortable 18 hour bus ride away. Hotels are basic, and trekking requires more preparation and equipment than more established trekking routes in other parts of the country. Comfortable tea house treks cannot be done here. And yet there is so much potential in this borderland.
There are many reasons to persevere in your journey out west and continue to Darchula. After all, if heading west, why not keep going until you cannot go any further? Darchula, the home of the Khasa Kingdom, the predecessors of the late house of Gorkha, is steeped in legend, but not in tourism.
Darchula is home to the Api Nampa Conservation Area (ANCA), Nepal’s newest Conservation Area. The ANCA has so far failed to attract the number of tourists other parks and conservation areas in the country have. This is to the undoubted detriment of the conservation area’s bank balance, but to the definite benefit of the tourist. With numbers of international tourists numbering in the tens annually (as opposed to thousands around Annapurna or the Solukhumbu), the region is as quiet and undisturbed as it is remarkable.
A trek to the Thaisan Plateau is stunning and achievable in a five-six day loop, giving astonishing views. The camping on the plateau near Brahmatopi is a special delight. For more adventurous travellers, a two week trek to Api Base Camp, the highest peak in Western Nepal (7132 metres), traverses up the course of the legendary Mahakali River. Here trekkers are afforded not only fantastic views of the Nepal Himalaya, but of the Himalaya on the fringes of the Nanda Devi National Park, in India’s Uttarakhand state.
Bordering India to its west and the Tibetan Autonomous Region to its north, Khalanga Bazar is the district headquarters and start and finish point to any journey here. It’s a bazar touched by migration. Separated by the Indian town of the same name by only a small steel suspension bridge, the bazar has an obvious frontier and multicultural feel to it. There are enough supplies, gems and shops here to fuel any expedition into the Himalayas. Hotels are plentiful and the owners know many guides and porters, who can assist in planning any trip.
A trip to Darchula can be combined with a stay in Bardia, or to the grassland and savanna of Shuklaphanta National Park near Mahendranagar, home to the biggest congregation of swamp deer in the world. In the mountains, a stop-off at Dadeldhura is also an option, and good way to break up the long bus rides from the hills.
Article by Maximillian Mørch