Upper Mustang-Phu Valley Traverse Via Saribung La: Day 17 – Koto To Tal

Last revised: August 22, 2022.

Previous Post: Day 16 – Meta To Koto

Day 17 – Koto To Tal

When we arrived at Koto the night before, it felt like the trek was over. We had

  • gone up the Kali Gandaki valley,
  • walked across to the Khumjungar Glacier and Saribung La, and
  • down the Phu/Nar Valley.

There was more commotion in Koto than we had seen in a couple of weeks.  And coming up the Annapurna road were the occasional jeeps, trucks, and motorcycles. During the afternoon, a couple of dozen hikers – mostly in their twenties – came through Koto on their way to Chame.  I wondered how they were coping with the dust kicked up by the vehicles on their shared path.  We would find out this day as we set off for Tal.

I did know that we would be losing another 900 meters of altitude this day.  And while we eventually walked down into Tal by mid-afternoon,  it did not start that way.  The first two hours of the morning walk are uphill!  Koto is at 2600, and Timang is at 2750.

To our left were fields; to our right, the steep slopes of pine-covered hills that morph into the Annapurnas! The first hour was, for some reason, the worst regarding vehicle traffic.  Trucks and jeeps, one after another. Gauging which way the wind was blowing, I moved to one side of the road or the other and tried not to breathe for a minute while the dust cleared.  No images of vehicles in this post!  I put my camera away to prevent dust from getting inside.

We slipped past one small farming settlement after another – Thanchowk, Timang, Danaque – and by 11, we were in Dharapani.  We would have a lunch break here before finishing our walk down to Tal, with the last stretch on a trail across the river from the road.  Walking without thinking about vehicles coming from both directions was a treat.

local Annapurna road traffic west of Timang

Walking through the villages certainly made clear the guesthouse economy that has developed over the past forty years since the Annapurna Circuit was created as a trekking trail.  Before that, the local economy was built primarily on farming and trade. As more trekkers come up to Chame by vehicle, what will happen to all those who invested in guesthouses in hopes of getting their share of the money spent on food and accommodation?

Timang at 2750 would be our high point of the day.  Just after Timang, there was a tired-looking  ACAP trailhead map for a camping trek south into the Annapurna range.  It crosses Namun La and passes by Dudh Pokhari, a lake sacred to Hindus, before coming back down, descending to Siklis and a road to Pokhara.  The views of the Annapurna peaks and of Lamjung Himal from another 2000 meters up would certainly be superb!

The Namun La Side Trail & Acclimatization

As I looked at the map,  I did wonder about the acclimatization factor if you approached the pass from Timang at 2750.  On the map pictured above, the pass is at 4860 meters  – a 2100-meter ascent.  You’d figure at least three or four days would be needed to allow bodies to adapt, yet the distance from Timang to the pass is not all that great.

Even more alarming,  when I checked the Himalayan Maphouse map (see above)  that evening, the altitude indicated was 5560 meters.  That is 700 more than the elevation on the map board!  A look at the Nepal Govt topo from 2000 provided yet a third number,  one close to the Himalayan Map House figure – it was 5496.

A third map – the 1:125,000 Annapurna Circuit map from 2002 by Shangri-La Maps –  also has the 5560 figure for Namun La. ( (Click here to see the map!)

If trails like this one are going to be offered as alternatives to walking on the Besi Sahar – Manang Road, then we need to start with accurate numbers.  At 5560, Namun La would be higher than Thorung La’s 5416!

When I got home more research on Namun La and turned up some websites, a few quoting the ACAP figure but most the Himalayan Mountain House one!  I also found a gripping trip report of a 2007 trek from Siklis over Namun La to Timang at the Summit Post. Org website. Click on the title – once you start reading, you will not stop!  Marooned In The Annapurna Wilderness.

The report notes thisabout the pass:

The Namun is a high (5,560 metres) and difficult pass formerly used for migration and trade between Tibet and the Gurung (Ghurka) Nepalis of the region but now virtually unused by anyone other than the occasional trekking party. Once across the Namun, a long 1-2 day descent would put us on the tourist path at Timang…

More googling somehow led me to the Mountain Kingdoms website,  where I found a new-for-2018 trek titled Namun La, Annapurna Wilderness Trek. It includes this highlight – “Cross the remote and challenging Naman [sic] pass, 4,850m/15 ft.”  

So what is the actual altitude? Who is right?

An email to Mountain Kingdoms received this response based on a trek the representative had made in the fall of 2017.

The height you are looking at on the map of 5560m is a spot height – i.e., the height of an adjacent hill – it’s not the height of the actual pass, which is 4850m.  I had a friend accompanying me when I did this trek last November and his Garmin showed this to be an accurate height for the pass.

Update: I stumbled into this image on a website – either a trip report or a trekking agency promo – whose URL I did not record. It shows trekkers and suport team in front of a Namun La sign!

As the classic Annapurna Circuit dies as a trekking route,  the locals can either forget about appealing to trekkers or redefine what Annapurna trekking means by developing alternatives that will take them off the dusty and increasingly busy road.  This high-altitude trek would be one such offering; others include the Nar/Phu trek and the traverse from Manang to Jomsom via Tilicho lake.  the Annapurna Base Camp is already an established off-road trek. Unfortunately for the guesthouse owners, off-road would mean away from their properties on the Besi Sah Sahar-Manang Road.

(See here for a map which shows the Mountain Kingdoms trek route (Siklis – Dudh Pokhari – Namun La – Timang – Dharapani) over nine days.  Combining it with a walk up the Naar/Phu valley or a traverse from Manang to Jomsom via Tilicho Lake would undoubtedly make for a different experience than what is left of the Annapurna Circuit!

a morning view SE into the Annapurnas


While the future may lie in leaving the classic route and going high, we were staying low! Next up – Danaque – or Danakyu on both the topo and HMH maps.

approaching Danaque from Timang

the Annapurna road through Danaque – a look back at where we came from

Tsering and Bill lead the way through Danaque

New Manaslu Hotel Danaque

I sipped on my first bottle of Coca-Cola of the trek, and after a half-hour pause, we were on the downhill again.  By 11, we would be sitting in the dining hall of a Dharapani guesthouse and enjoying the shade while our cook team whipped up their last lunch!

Dharapani and South To Tal

the Marsyangdi and the Annapurna Road between Dharapani and Karte

the Annapurna road south of Dharapani – a closer-up shot of the scene above

the Marsyangdi passes by Karte with the  Annapurna Road on the right

As we approached Karte (see the image above), an alternative trail leading upriver from the village was visible.  When we got to the bridge crossing the Marsyangdi, the map answered the question of where that trail went – up to Dharapani.  The sign also points trekkers to three guesthouses in the village.

We continued to the main road and soon came to another pedestrian bridge, which we crossed.  It took a half-hour to reach Tal, away from the road on the other side of the river. Along the way, we could walk down to the river and take in some beautiful beach views; the bends in the river here have led to the collection of sediment piling up over the millennia!

The River Left Trail To Tal:

looking up the Marsyangdi from just north of Tal

the trekkers’ trail to Tal is visible on the left; the road to Manang is visible on the right

approaching Tal from the north

a view of Tal from the north – the Besi Sahar-Manang Road is on the other side of the Marsyangdi

the entrance gate at the north end of Tal

downtown Tal – early May 2018

Our guesthouse side lawn would be our last campsite of the trek. it was fairly quiet in the village.  While there were at least a dozen guesthouses, there seemed to be few trekkers. Increasingly, they are skipping the lower section of the classic Annapurna Circuit – i.e. the part from Besi Sahar to Dharapani, and just taking a jeep ride up to Dharapani or even Chame. The trip by vehicle can be done in eight hours or so.

Vehicles can access the village from the south end, where there is a bridge over the river to the switchback road up to the Manang -Besi Sahar road.  A parking lot is between the village entry gate pictured below and the river.

Tal’s southern entrance gate – a shabby welcome statement

In the early evening, I walked to the village’s south end.  The mildew-covered entrance gate and a dilapidated billboard make a negative first impression on trekkers coming up the road from Chamje.

The guesthouse dog gave everyone a reason to use those earplugs again.  Since we had left the settlements along the Kali Gandaki, night times had been very quiet.  In Koto and Tal, we were reintroduced to village life!

The next day would be our last in the Annapurna region. On the itinerary was a half-day of walking to Chamje and then a jeep ride to Besi Sahar – the trip was almost over though our arrival in Koto already felt like the end of the journey.

Something for World Expeditions and their Nepal agency, Highland Excursions, to consider –  eliminate the unappealing road sections of the trek by –

  • Ending the trek at Koto and gaining a day by driving from Koto to Besi Sahar.
  • Gaining another day by driving from Kagbeni to Chele and then walking to Ghiling from there.
  • Spending the two days saved in Lo Manthang, supposedly the #1 cultural highlight of a trip to Upper Mustang,

The roads up to Lo Manthang from Jomsom and Besi Sahar to Manang will only improve and see more vehicles.  Better roads mean worse trekking.  The trek route and itinerary need to change in response to what is happening.


This entry was posted in hiking/trekking, Nepal. Bookmark the permalink.

Your comments and questions are always appreciated, as are any suggestions on how to make this post more useful to future travellers. Just drop me a line or two!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.