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  • Kathryn

Nar Phu Valley - a hidden gem!

Updated: Dec 2, 2019


Nar Phu Valley lies like a hidden gem in the eastern Annapurna Conservation area. Its starting point at Koto (2600m) is on the Annapurna Circuit, but only a tiny fraction of the visitors that pass through the village on this popular trek enter the restricted area of Nar Phu (various spellings used including Narfu) – perhaps only a few hundred a year. As a restricted area it requires a special permit (which at 6th Oct 2019 when we started the trek was $100 US each for the 8 days we were within the restricted area) and a guide.


This was our second trek with Ramesh. My husband, Tommy and I chose to combine a trek through the Nar Phu Valley with the Manaslu Circuit. Koto, the starting point is only a short day’s trek from the end point for the Manaslu Circuit at Dharapani and it seemed like a wonderful opportunity to visit this ancient culture and unspoilt landscape. It was a great decision – many thanks to Ramesh who helped us plan the trip and so ably guided us on the two challenging treks and over 2 high passes – and to Susi our porter who carried all our kit - without both we would never have made it!


This is the story of our trek in October 2019, mainly in photos since pictures speak a thousand words - certainly more fluently than I can - and hopefully it conveys a small sense of the stunning landscape and culture of Nar Phu we were privileged to visit. Click on the map below to see the route of our journey (or here).







 

Day 1 – Koto to Meta

Time: 5hrs 10mins. Distance: ~14.5km. Ascent: 900m.

Meta: Altitude 3560m, Coordinates: 28.655072, 84.238394


Having spent 11 days trekking in the Manaslu Conservation area, successfully crossing Larke Pass (5106m), we had benefited from the acclimatisation it gave us but started the Nar Phu trek with tired legs! We left Koto early on a bright, sunny morning and instantly noticed how quiet and peaceful the trail was – we saw only a couple of small groups all day.


The path followed the narrow gorge of the Nar Khoto river...

The Nar Khoto river gorge
The Nar Khoto river gorge

...often cut into the cliff face and climbing high above the river, passing through forests of pine and bamboo with beautiful native grasses and shrubs.

Trail from Koto to Meta
Trail from Koto to Meta

The trail was well maintained and fairly easy walking and after a couple of hours we found a picturesque tea-house at Chhomchu and decided to stop for an early lunch, not being sure there would be another before we reached Meta.


After lunch, we continued up the gorge for another couple of hours, crossing the river a couple of times …

before a steep climb up to Meta,

The climb up to Meta
The climb up to Meta

the landscape becoming more rugged and barren as we reached 3560m...

and our hotel.

We enjoyed a few last minutes in the sun before it disappeared behind the mountains opposite and as the temperature dropped we were grateful for the warm stove in the dining room and blankets provided at night.


 

Day 2 – Meta to Phu

Time: 6hrs 30mins. Distance: ~16.5km. Ascent: 520m.

Phu: Altitude 4080m, Coordinates: 28.772800, 84.273095


We woke to another cool, bright morning and a clear view of the mountains including Lamjung Himal (6883m).

Lamjung Himal (6883m) from Meta
Lamjung Himal (6883m) from Meta

Leaving at 7.30am the trail was fairly flat to start - Nepali flat at least - with some dips and climbs as we crossed tributary streams. The scenery was dramatic with massive, sheer rock faces on the opposite side of the river...

and a green/brown landscape on our side – the vegetation sparse in places, reflecting the dry climate of the region: mounds of prostrate conifers, and grasses and birches colouring with autumn.

As we climbed towards Kyang, the valley broadened and if anything became more breathtaking...


Glacier above Kyang
Glacier above Kyang

Arriving at Kyang about 11am, we had lunch at a beautiful, newly-built stone tea house. It's clear Narfu is preparing for more tourists and it would definitely be a nice place to stay longer, though the menu and accommodation prices would be a bit of a shock to those used to Annapurna Circuit prices (budget on $30-35 per day pp).

The trail after lunch continued to climb with precipitous drops at times…



Trail to Phu (4080m)
Trail to Phu (4080m)

and a final steep ascent into the ancient village of Phu (also spelt variously as Fu or Phoo!).

The ancient village of Phu (4080m)
The ancient village of Phu (4080m)

Little seems to have changed the village in the 5 centuries it has existed. Buildings blend into the surrounding landscape with little modern comfort other than solar electricity and tea-houses are very basic!

After finding our room and a quick coffee/hot lemon we went for a walk to Tashi Gompa on the hill opposite the village and were welcomed for a private tour by the Lama, but sunset is early in the steep sided valley and it quickly became cold at this altitude as we returned to the tea-house for dinner and early bed. Trekkers are usually in bed soon after 7 and we were no exception!


 

Day 3 – Phu to Nar Phedi

Time: 5hrs 20mins. Distance: ~15km. Descent: 590m.

Nar Phedi: Altitude 3490m, Coordinates: 28.663980, 84.228215


Most itineraries suggest an extra night in Phu to allow for acclimatization ahead of the Kang La Pass. It is close to Himlung Base camp which makes a good day trip trek (acclimatization doesn’t mean a rest!). Due to schedule constraints, and having already spent time acclimatizing before crossing Larke La Pass on the Manaslu circuit, we decided to press-on. So the plan today was to re-trace our steps down the Phu valley to the monastery at Nar Phedi.


Before starting out at 7am we took a trip around and above the village; peaceful and cold having snowed a little in the night at higher altitudes,

Village street in Phu
Village street in Phu

and were lucky enough to spot some blue sheep (not blue and not sheep!) – well camouflaged against the landscape!

Blue sheep
Blue sheep

...and may’be our fanciful imagination but a large round print could even have been a snow leopard! (watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qcLZiH_hIs and be inspired!)

The route back down to Kyang was, if anything, even more spectacular in the morning light. The geology of the region would be fascinating to know more about – the huge variety of rock colours, formations and and structures, beautiful - sadly though I'm no geologist!


Our descent included lots of Nepali flat (i.e. plenty of uphill!), so after a brief but much needed scenic stop for a snack above Kyang...

we continued down to Chyako stopping at another of the smart new tea-houses for lunch...

Lunch stop at Chyako tea-house
Lunch stop at Chyako tea-house

and one of the nicer outside loos in 3 weeks of trekking (:

The route to Nar Phedi diverges from the Meta path down a steep sandy/rocky path, across an exciting suspension bridge across the gorge...

before arriving at our destination for the night, the Satek Gompa.

Satek Gompa at Nar Phedi
Satek Gompa at Nar Phedi

This is the largest gompa in the region with 8 young trainee Buddhist monks from the local villages or Phu and Nar. We shared a dining room with them and were privileged to have a glimpse of the austere life they live albeit in a beautiful location.


 

Day 4 – Nar Phedi to Nar Village

Time: 3hrs. Distance: ~4.5km. Ascent: 775m.

Nar: Altitude 4285m, Coordinates: 28.681428, 84.199625


Today was a short hike before the big day crossing the pass tomorrow. From our comfortable room we could hear the monks up early at prayers and celebration while we had a bit of a lie in!


After a leisurely breakfast we went for a tour of the Gompa – only a couple of years old, replacing the old and smaller gompa lower down the hillside, the interior is beautifully and ornately decorated with thangkas, gilded statues and prayer books.


The path to Nar starts from the gompa and climbs steeply up to the ridge for the first kilometre or so, then flattening off we passed through a gate in a stone wall at the edge of a beautiful yak pasture. With blue skies setting off views of the mountains of Kanguru (6981m), Pisang Peak (6091m), Chombi (6704m) and other unnamed peaks in the background, chortens and herds of yak it was picture perfect and one of the special moments of the trek.

Yak pasture above Nar Phedi
Yak pasture above Nar Phedi

Chortens on entering Nar
Chortens on entering Nar

Although Yak are domesticated animals, they were slightly nervous of having their photos taken at close range (!) so a friendly yak herder helped us get close to get our obligatory Hairy Yak photos...

Hairy Yak!
Hairy Yak!

Yak [1] are valuable animals both for their meat and milk as well as beasts of burden for transporting loads and farming. We were lucky enough to try Yak, or actually Nak (as its from the female!) cheese which was delicious; similar to Emmental though expensive.

After our photo session we continued up to Nar arriving late morning, and found a nice tea-house for the night on the hillside above the village where we could relax on the patio in the sunshine. Nar is a pretty village on a plateau in the open valley with terraced fields and grazing animals – after lunch we took a walk up the mountain behind the hotel which has a great vantage point to look down over the village, across to Pisang Peak and up the valley towards Kang La pass where we would head tomorrow.

Nar Village (4285m)
Nar Village (4285m)

Pisang Peak (6091m)
Pisang Peak (6091m)

[1]The Yak, WIENER et al, RAP publication 2003/06 http://www.fao.org/3/ad347e/ad347e00.htm#Contents

 

Day 5 – Nar to Ngawal via Kang La Pass

Time: 7hrs 15mins. Distance: ~14km. Ascent: 775m.

Kang La pass: Altitude 5320m, Coordinates: 28.688472, 84.124314

Ngawal: Altitude 3560m, Coordinates: 28.648676, 84.101844


We had successfully crossed the Larke Pass on the Manaslu Circuit a week earlier (more about that in another post soon!) but there was still a feeling of trepidation and uncertainty about our next day’s challenge. A trek of this nature certainly requires fitness and we had both prepared as well as we could before our trip, but its not possible in the UK to prepare for the altitude or to be sure how we would cope. Ramesh was monitoring our blood oxygen levels and pulse daily, and it was clear we had benefited from the earlier high altitude trek and although we would be trekking even higher than before we should be ok – I certainly felt I was breathing more easily than our previous night above 4000m.


We had breakfast at 4am and set off in the dark at 4.30, Ramesh pointing out the next place to put my feet with a flashlight! It was a clear star-lit night, cold but still – exhilarating once we started and with a steady but gentle slope we got into a rhythm and made good progress. Another group staying at the same tea-house set off slightly before us but when their guide took a wrong turn we passed them not to be overtaken again!

After an hour the sun started to light the sky behind...

Sunrise on route to Kangla pass
Sunrise on route to Kangla pass

and the frosty ground around us and we passed more yak, feeling a little sorry for them as there seemed little for them to graze on.

Yak above Nar
Yak above Nar

After a couple of hours the slope steepened and we very slowly but steadily made our way up to the pass, stopping regularly to admire the wonderful views behind us (nothing to do with our stamina!) - Chombi (6704m), Kangaru 6981m and Manaslu (8163m), Ngadi Chuli (7671m), Himalchuli (7893m) and Pisang Peak all visible and magnificent in the clear morning sky.

Chombi (6704m), Kangaru 6981m and Manaslu (8163m)
Chombi (6704m), Kangaru 6981m and Manaslu (8163m)

We finally reached the top about 9am. It was nothing like crossing Larke Pass which is a broad flattish summit. Kang La is a narrow, knife-edge ridge and as we reached it the sudden views to the Annapurnas literally took what little breath we had left away.

Annapurnas from Kangla Pass
Annapurnas from Kangla Pass

For Tommy and I, it was our Everest moment and there were plenty of photos to celebrate and record the occasion. We have to thank Ramesh and Susi again for getting us there – they were both amazing and we really couldn’t have done it without their support.

Kangla Pass (5320m)



The descent from Kang La is almost as challenging as getting up. It’s a steep, loose scree slope with a vague zigzag path to follow.

Descent from Kangla Pass
Descent from Kangla Pass

And a very distracting view! Lamjung Himal (6983m), Annapurna II (7937m), Annapurna IV (7525m), Gangapurna (7455m), Annapurna I (8091m) and Tilicho Peak (7134m) – all new to us after crossing the pass and into the Annapurna Conservation area.

Spectacular views of Annapurnas from Kangla Pass
Spectacular views from Kangla Pass

After about ¾ hr the trail becomes less steep and more stable; heathers, grasses,conifers and birches colouring the landscape.

Trail down to Ngawal (3560m)
Trail down to Ngawal (3560m)

Trail down to Ngawal (3560m)

And with tired legs we reached Ngawal, passing a sign indicating the exit point of the Nar Phu trek. The village is on the Annapurna Circuit and after days without seeing more than a couple of other trekkers it was a bit of a shock to be back on a busy tourist route, but we were also looking forward to the forgotten luxury of a hot shower!


 

We went onto Manang from our Nar Phu trek before heading back to Kathmandu via Besishar. There are lots of options to extend a trip to Nar Phu or combine it with other treks. Do contact Hairy Yak Adventures to plan your adventure .. you won't regret it!


#NarPhu #Narfu #Kangla #HairyYakAdventures