Unlike in many other high-altitude parts of the world, in Nepal you can find settlements up to 4000, sometimes even 5000 metres. After a long day of walking in the heat and dust, uphill, it is always comforting to arrive at a welcoming village, surrounded by stunning peaks. Many have a beautiful gompa (monastery), often somewhere on a hill, where visitors can observe ceremonies. Those high on a hill and built under a rock are often meditation places of Guru Rimpoche, the enlightened one who was born from a lotus flower.
Having trekked along many of the main routes of Nepal, I have seen dozens of such villages, and fell in love with every one in their own way. But, here are a few that have stayed in my heart, and that are worth a few days’ exploration.
Kyanjin Gompa (3800 metres), Langtang Valley Trek
I felt right at home in Kyanjin Gompa, on the Langtang Valley trek. I spent meal times with the owner of the guest house, eating with her and her daughters. Her story is one she shares with most villagers after the 2015 earthquake: her husband died in Langtang village, down valley, where a landslide swept everything away, leaving her to raise their daughters alone. She was warm and humble. She made soup and dal bhat for me every day and treated me like a daughter.
There is plenty to do around Kyanjin Gompa:
- climb the peak just above the village, Kyianjin Ri (4600 m)
- climb Tserko Ri (4970 m), which offers glimpses of Tibetan peaks
- tackle the expedition-like summit of Yala Peak (5800 m), which requires an overnight in a tent
- explore the Langshisha Valley, which continues beyond the village for 12 km without any further settlement.
Bimthang (3800 m), Manaslu Circuit
I don’t know if it was my tiredness after crossing the Larkye La Pass and the joy of seeing the flat on which the village was set, or the imposing Mt. Manaslu towering above, or the hot shower I took after 10 days of trekking, but Bimthang is my number-one favourite village in the Himalaya. It is not as big as other popular villages (like Manang, Namche Bazaar, or Muktinath), but it is full of color and has the most beautiful sunsets over Manaslu. There is also a small, hidden lake behind the moraine at the end of the village, which shouldn’t be missed.
If you want to spend a few days here, you can walk to another lake with stunning views of Himal Peak. It is about a two-hour walk from the village. You can also just chill in the grass, drinking fresh seabuckthorn juice and taking in the views.
Samagaon (3750 m), Manaslu Circuit
The path to Samagao goes up, and you may feel like you will never reach the end of the suspension bridge. But then, a few steps further up you see the village stretched on the big flat at the feet of Manaslu. This is the starting point for expeditions to the summit. It’s quite a large village, with amazing surroundings: the lake, the monastery and the two horns of Manaslu that appear in good weather will make you want to stay, despite the cold and the basic food.
There are several day trips you can do, which are necessary for acclimatization purposes. Birendra lake is just a half-hour walk, passing the beautiful gompa above the village.
Another acclimatization route is towards Manang Base Camp. The trail goes along the river and into a forest, which lights up with colors in autumn. Once out of the forest you’ll find yourself high above turquoise-hued Birendra Lake.
Manang (3519 m), Annapurna Circuit
Most trekkers will arrive in Manang after a week of trekking on the Annapurna Circuit. After the lush jungle scenery, you finally see the valley opening into mountain scenery. The rivers flow slowly here; the river bed is wide, and the Annapurnas tower above. Manangi culture is rich here, with the oldest monastery in the region being just 45 minutes’ walk from Manang, in Braga.
The best views over the peaks are across from them, on the way to Ice Lake (4600 m). The climb will prepare you very well to cross the Thorong La Pass. A short walk to the Gangapurna Glacier and its lake is a great way to spend the afternoon, before heading to the local cinema for a mountain-themed movie.
Kagbeni (3700 m), Annapurna Circuit
After crossing the Thorong La I stopped for a few days in Muktinath, where there is plenty to do, including visiting the famous temple. Then, I walked to Kagbeni and saw from high above this oasis of green, in arid Mustang. The river flows wide and calm next to it. The best Yak Burger can be found here too, at Yak Donalds!
To get a glimpse of Mustang without paying the high fee to enter Upper Mustang, head to Kagbeni. Simple stone houses, strong winds and delicious apple pies make this an enjoyable place to spend some time in.
Beding (3800 m), Rolwaling Valley Trek
The Rolwaling Valley is a lesser-known and greatly underestimated valley in central-eastern Nepal. Here you will find the biggest glacier lake in Nepal, Tsho Rolpa, a secluded place where you can spend a couple of days camping. The highest village here is Na (4200 m), but Beding is bigger, with a beautiful monastery that’s been recently renovated.
While staying here, don’t miss the “last place where Guru Rinpoche meditated before flying off into a new dimension”, as a local explained it to me. This monastery is between Beding and Na. It’s up a hill and resembles, on a much smaller scale, the famous Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Bhutan. Here, the lama took me to see the small meditation place of Guru Rinpoche, under a rock. Out of all the monasteries and gompas I have visited, this simple one remained closest to my heart.