Damodar Kunda, A Hidden Pilgrimage Site in Upper Mustang
Many travellers in Nepal have not heard of Damodar Kunda. There are a couple of reasons for this. The kundas (ponds) are located in the restricted Upper Mustang region, in the midst of a rugged landscape. To get there one must cross two passes over 5000 metres, making it quite a challenging destination. Pilgrims are the most common visitors here, eager to reach this site because of its divine significance.
My trip to Damodar Kunda was a bit unpredictable. I had wanted to visit this holy site but I did not know the way. I only knew that I shouldn’t attempt it on my own. In hindsight, this was correct and I am glad I did not do it on my own. A nice gentleman at the Annapurna Conservation Committee referred me to a local in Yara, who told me to make my way to his village if I wanted to head to the ponds. The next day I made my way to Yara from Lo Manthang and started off my journey to one of the most untouched parts of Nepal.
The local I was referred to in Yara has the responsibility of delivering supplies to pilgrimage various sites throughout the region, including Muktinath. Even though he traverses this same trail over 30 times a year, knowing that he would have a companion on his next trip comforted his family a lot. Many people complete the return Yara to Damodar Kunda trek in four days so they are properly acclimatized, but we did it in just three. Even though I did not face any severe effects from the high altitude, I would advise against this as I was severely exhausted by the time I returned to Yara.
On the first day we went from Yara to Ghuma Thanti via Luri Gumpa. I was very surprised that we did not encounter any other groups or even individuals the entire day. Once we got to Ghuma Thanti we made food in an open fire and slept in a hut made with tin. The tin huts (thanti in Nepali) are without doors, so I recommend taking a tent if you are travelling in a group.
The next day we departed Ghuma Thanti and headed towards Damodar Kunda. Usually, expedition groups stop at Batsyak camp on the way, because going directly to the ponds requires crossing two high passes on the same day. The first pass is the Kyumu La, 5300 m, and the second is the Batsyak La, 5450 m. Even with the awareness of the challenge ahead of us, the local guide was confident that we could cross both passes on the same day. And so we did.
As we trekked towards the ponds I was able to understand why thousands of pilgrims come here. Perhaps it was the exhaustion and the sheer emptiness of these parts that was making me feel this way. Moreover, not having seen anyone else for couple of days definitely puts one in a different mindset.
Just when I thought we would not see another living creature for another day, we bumped into an expedition group in Damodar Kunda who were headed for Manang via the Saribung La. These were the only people we encountered in our three-day trip. Luckily for us they had enough supplies to cook two extra dinners, and give us blankets so we could crash on the ground of the tin huts.
While the trek is astoundingly beautiful, anyone going there should be cautious of the high elevation and lack of accommodation. I think most foreigner travellers avoid this region as there is no accommodation here, apart from primitive campsites. Even though this is one of the most challenging treks I’ve done, I also highly recommend it to travellers wishing to see parts of Nepal that are utterly barren and vast.
Article and photos by Shubham