Plying the Ancient Karnali Salt Trail
Historically, the Karnali region of western Nepal flourished on trade between Tibet and the lower hills and plains of Nepal and India. Traders from the Karnali used sheep and goat caravans to bring salt from Tibet down to the plains and trade it for grains and other food, which they then carried back to the mountains where food was scarce. Though the traditional salt trade disappeared after roads came into the region, the ancient trading corridors are still used for seasonal migration of livestock to different grazing areas, and provide excellent opportunities for off-the-beaten-path treks.
One of the important livestock corridors is through the Kawadi Khola River Valley and up to the grazing area called Saina, a beautiful valley at the base of Mount Saipal. This river valley marks the border between Bajura and southern Humla districts. The area can be approached via Kolti (this is the nearest road and air access) or Gamgadhi.
From Kolti, you can walk along the Karnali River for one day to reach a village called Kawadi. Alternatively, from Gamgadhi, you can visit Rara Lake and then walk for about two days to reach Kawadi village. From Kawadi you break away from the Karnali River and take a trail that follows the Kawadi Khola. It takes about three days to walk from Kawadi to the Saina grazing area. There are a handful of small villages along the way that do not have guesthouses, but the local people are happy to make space in their homes to host you, or you can bring a tent and camp. If you stay and eat in a village, you should offer your hosts a few dollars per person per day.
On day 1, walk from Kawadi village to Maspur village. Day 2, walk from Maspur village to Gumba village. Day 3, walk from Gumba village to the Saina grazelands (also named as Ranikharka on maps of the area).
There are no permanent residents in Saina, but depending on the time of year, there are yak herders or goat and sheep herders who stay there with their animals. During monsoon season especially you will see a lot of animals and herders coming from Humla, Bajura, Achham, and Jumla districts.
It is best to have your own tent and food for the nights that you stay in Saina. After reaching Saina, you can hike all the way up the valley to the base of Mount Saipal, where a small glacial lake marks the source of the Kawadi Khola. You can also continue beyond Saina over a high pass (about 4700 meters) to get to Tchala village.
From Tchala, it takes one day to reach Simikot, where you could finish your trek. Beyond Tchala is a restricted area, and foreigners will need a permit and guide to continue. If you are trekking independently, you cannot enter Simikot and will need to turn back from Tchala and return to Kolti or Gamgadhi to finish your trek.
There are almost no foreigners, or even domestic tourists, in this area and tourism infrastructure is extremely limited beyond Kolti. Kawadi is the last place with any market, and has small shops selling biscuits, chow chow, and other basic goods. Once you enter the Kawadi Khola Valley there are no shops, so you must either carry all of your own food or plan to eat at the homes of local people. No-one speaks any English, but locals are very welcoming and willing to help. I loved my time in this area, with amazing scenery, authentic culture, and wonderful hospitality.
Topographical maps of the area can be found on this website.