My backpack is heavy on my shoulders and it seems like I have been walking forever in these forests. The mist is coming in, and I wonder if I am on the right trail, as my GPS is showing me slightly off route, and I keep going up although I thought I should be going down. The trail twists and turns, through the mushy jungle forest. It is not like other well-marked and wide trails in the Nepal Himalaya: this is more of a path, and does not seem to have been walked by many people. I haven’t seen anyone all day, except the local people in the two-house village, two hours behind me.
Most people who will set foot on the trails of the Hinku Valley are on their way to climb Mera Peak. Consequently, many will also miss the best part of it: the lesser-travelled forest, the small villages where people’s faces light up when they see a foreign face, the Panch Pokhari lakes and the rugged trails. The valley should be a destination in itself, not just a pass-by on the way somewhere else. However, the accommodation is very simple and scarce, and the trail not very easy to follow, so it is better to arrange a porter and a guide.
The easiest way to access the valley is by flying into Lukla. From there, instead of turning left and taking the well-trodden path to Everest Base Camp, you turn right and wander off through the forest with the highest number of bears in Nepal, towards Chutanga and over the Zatrwa La pass (4620 m). After the pass, you descend into the Hinku Valley.
However, if you want to explore more of the valley and not climb over 4500 metres in two days, you can either go from Lukla towards Panggom, or take a jeep to Salleri from Kathmandu and start your walk there. From Salleri to Panggom or Lukla it will take you three to five days, depending on your pace and fitness level. I chose the long and hard option of walking from Salleri. In Kharikola, you leave behind the frequented path to Lukla/EBC and you start your solitary journey.
I sat on a rock, on the side of the river, and sighted heavily. I felt exhausted. I oscillated between the pure joy of being alone in a mesmerizingly beautiful forest and the despair of not knowing how far the next village was (in hours, not kilometers), and when I would see another person again. I took in the beauty around: fog, tall trees with trunks full of moss, a path covered with fallen leaves, earthly textures and colors.
In this place, not even the map was helpful, as it wasn’t very accurate. I was very happy to have a tent with me and food. I decided to camp just before Chatra Khola. However, I wouldn’t recommend anyone else do the same, as there have been bear sightings right in that area. Between Sibuje and Thaktok (where the path unites with the trail coming from Lukla) there are hardly any houses where you can rest. At Chatra Khola there is just one basic house, which is not even a teahouse, but you will get shelter and food here. From Kothe onwards, up towards Mera Peak Base Camp, the trek is easier, more frequented, and the accommodation better. In Kothe is also where you pay the park permit to enter the Makalu-Barun National Park.
You can go as far as Khare and even Mera La (the pass above base camp, from where you can already see Everest Peak) without needing a permit to climb the mountain. If you do want to summit, you can arrange everything in Khare.
In Kothe I heard about the magical lakes of Panch Pokhari, situated 4600 metres above sea level, and considered a sacred pilgrimage place. Even though the trail there was not on the map, the villagers assured me it is an obvious path, more frequented and easier to hike than the one I had come on from Sibuje. It is a long, full day’s walk from Kothe to Panch Pokhari, with a steep ascent from 3500 metres to 4600 metres. It is on the opposite side of the river to the one I had come on, and indeed, the way is obvious and easy. But the climb is continuous, and quite exhausting. There is only one teahouse, just before the lakes. If you do embark on this trail, make sure you are able to camp and have food of your own, in case you cannot make it all the way, or have a guide and porter with you. You might not even find the trail on some maps.
Is it worth it? Definitely! When I reached the lakes it was almost sunset. A sea of clouds had gathered just below me. The fog that had been weighing on me in the forests below was now forming the perfect sunset scene. On the other side of the valley I could see all the way into the Khumbu Valley, with its majestic peaks. The light was warm up here. It was quiet. The echoing steps of a porter going down to a teahouse was the only sound. The wrinkles of the lake as the wind caressed it blurred the perfectly blue reflection.
From here, it is almost straight downhill to Kiraule, which is 2000 metres lower. You need strong knees to do it in one day, but the trail is easier and there are a few villages on the way. The valley on this side is less rough, with gentler hills and flourishing agriculture. Kiraule is a truly Himalayan village, spread out on an entire hill, with a beautiful monastery protected by a wall of tall trees. You can get a shared jeep to Salleri or Kathmandu from Bung, just two hours from Kiraule.
This was one of the more remote treks I have walked in Nepal. What really stuck in my mind was the forest: dense, with many birds as well as bears and foxes (I saw one fox near Kothe village). The highlights of this trek include views of foggy hills, incredible mountain views all the way to Everest (from Mera La you see all the summits in Khumbu Valley as well as Kanchenjunga, Barunte, and Makalu), a small monastery that was a meditation place of Guru Rinpoche, the sacred lake of Panch Pokhari, and the traditional Himalayan villages of Kiraule and Bung.
If you want to experience the true wilderness of the Himalaya and find solitude, you should definitely consider the Hinku Valley trek.