Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda At Night

Previous Post: Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda – The Golden Heart of Myanmar

During my one week’s stay in Yangon, I visited the Shwedagon three times, once in the late morning and twice in the late afternoon.  While there is no bad time to visit, clearly certain days and certain times will be busier and more atmospheric than others.

Something magical happens as dusk approaches.  I say that even though My visit coincided with the once every five years regilding the main stupa.  As you can see in the image below,  the central stupa was covered with bamboo matting!  In spite of that,  the combination of the fading light and the increasing numbers of people – monks, nuns, locals, visitors from afar –  upped the wow factor and created an experience I will not soon forget!

My previous post (see the link above) has more explanatory text and maps.  Here I’ll let the images of the two late afternoons into evenings that I spent there do the talking!

shwedagon at dusk

Shwedagon – bamboo matting and all – as dusk approaches

the NE corner of the Shwedagon terrace as dusk approaches

monk at Shwedagon under a Buddha statue

monk at Shwedagon under a Buddha statue

Shwedagon Buddha statues

Shwedagon Buddha statues

Buddhist women’s group walking around the Shwedagon

Shwedagon and child hlding Buddha image shrine on the right

one of the eight days of the week stations at the Shwedagon

one of the eight birthdays of the week stations at the Shwedagon

Yangon families sitting on the Shwedagon terrace at dusk

traffic on the Shwedagon terrace at dusk

monks lighting candles around the Shwedagon

Shwedagon terrace and Naungdawgyi Pagoda

Shwedagon in the later evening


My Other Myanmar Posts:

“Mingalaba” From Myanmar, Land of The Golden Pagodas

Sule Paya – Yangon’s Downtown Heart

Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda – The Golden Heart of Myanmar

Ballooning Over The Plains Of Myanmar’s Bagan

The Uninspiring Buddhas Of Myanmar’s Bagan

A Morning Stroll Through Mandalay’s Zay Cho Market Area

Pindaya’s Shwe-oo-min Pagoda & The Cave of the Ten Thousand Buddhas

Myanmar’s Inle Lake – Things To See and Do – Day One

Myanmar’s Inle Lake – Things To See and Do – Day Two

A One-Day Tour of Bago, Myanmar – Checklist of Must-See Sites

Bago’s Shwemawdaw Pagoda – Myanmar’s Tallest Stupa

Bago’s Hintha Gon and the Rebuilt Kanbawzathadi Palace

An Afternoon In Bago – Visiting the Reclining Buddhas

An Afternoon In Bago – the Mahazedi, the Shwegugale Paya, and More

Posted in Buddhism, Easy Travelling, Myanmar | Leave a comment

The Kathmandu Valley’s Patan April 2018: Part 1 – Durbar Square

Related PostThe Temples of Lalitpur (Patan) Before & After The Quakes

Patan’s Durbar Square suffered significant damage in the April 2015 Gorkha Earthquakes. The post linked above shows what it looked like before and immediately after the earth stopped shaking.

My perfect Newar Buddha from Patan! – Vajrasattva seated on a lotus with vajra and bell

In April 2018 I paid a return visit to the town. The last time (November 2006) I had spent half my time there looking – obsessing? –  for that perfect Buddha statue!  This time I just focussed on documenting the state of the square and the nearby streets and temples to the north.

Durbar Square:

Patan’s Durbar Square is a compact and small space compared to Kathmandu’s sprawling version, even if it has the same 1000 NPR entrance fee.   It is certainly much easier to manage! On the west side are a half-dozen temples; the Royal Palace complex faces the temples on the square’s east side.  The image below – an aerial shot taken from the south –  shows what it looked like before the 2015 quakes.

Patan’s Durbar Square Before the 2015 Quakes – see here for the source of the image from the Nepali Times and more interactive information

And just below is a shot I took in 2006 from a rooftop café on the south end of the square. It no longer looks quite like this.  A couple of temples have collapsed completely and others have suffered significant structural damage.

One temple which survived without damage was the Krishna Temple (Chyasim Deval). It will be where most tourists begin their Durbar Square visit.  Since 2006, the Patan tourism officials have put the ticket booth in front of it.

Patan - Durbar square

From the ground level perspective of the shot below, all looks the same in 2018. I took a few shots of the octogonal-shaped temple (mandir) dedicated to Krishna and slowly made my way to the other end. As for the Krishna Mandir, it was built in the 1630’s thanks to the king’s belief that he had seen the god and his consort Radha standing at that very spot one evening. Given its location, these days it is a popular spot for tourists and locals to sit and watch Patan walk by.

looking down Patan's Durbar Square from the south end - May 2018

looking down Patan’s Durbar Square from the south end – May 2018

Patan Durbar Square - south end - Krishna Temple (Chyasim Deval)

Patan Durbar Square – south end – Krishna Temple (Chyasim Deval)

Just across from the Krishna Temple along the Royal Palace exterior wall are a series of stone statues, with ones depicting the monkey-god Hanuman and Ganesha among them. (At least, I think that is Ganesha draped in the red covering!)

stone statues at south end of Patan's Durbar Square

stone statues at the south end of Patan’s Durbar Square

Ganesha stone statue Patan Durbar Square

Ganesha stone statue Patan Durbar Square

Patan Durbar Square stone sculpture

Patan Durbar Square stone sculpture

As I walked further down the square from the Krishna Temple, the reality of 2018 became more evident.  It basically has the look of a construction site!  Two temples collapsed completely –

  • Hari Shankar Mandir – a three storey temple originally built in 1706
  • Jagan Narayan Mandir – the oldest of the square’s temples dating to 1566

Even the ones that remained standing are surrounded by scaffolding and fences.

Durbar Square Patan May 2018 - scaffolding everywhere!

Durbar Square Patan May 2018 – scaffolding everywhere!

looking to the south end of Patan's Durbar Square

looking back to the south end of Patan’s Durbar Square

The Harishankara Temple Rebuild on Durbar Square Patan May 2018

The Hari Shankar Temple Rebuild on Durbar Square Patan May 2018

The Yoganarendra Malla column with the statue on top, which collapsed in 2015, has been put back up and work is proceeding on the Hari Shankar Mandir.

Patan May 2018 - Yognarendra Malla Statue and Stone Pillar restoration

Patan May 2018 – Yoganarendra Malla Statue and Stone Pillar restoration

The architectural jewel of the square – and a living temple for the Newari Hindu community – is the Krishna Temple at the north end of the square. In the images above and below it is the temple with the scaffolding going up to the top.

looking down to the north end of Patan's Durbar Square - may 2018

looking down to the north end of Patan’s Durbar Square – may 2018

Every once in a while I looked up to the top of the temple in amazement as workers scampered about without harnesses and rope on the metal pipe rigging (an upgrade from the traditional bamboo) in their flip-flops!

workers on the top of the Krishna Temple – Patan Durbar Square April 2018

On the Royal Palace side of the Square, photogenic doorways, statues, paintings, and strut work had me framing image after image as I walked north towards the Bhimsen Mandir.

an entrance on the Royal Palace side of Patan’s Durbar Square

Bhairab painting on Patan Durbar Square wall - May 2018

Bhairab painting on Patan Durbar Square wall – May 2018

Patan Durbar Square May 2018 roof strut wooden sculpture of Taleju

Patan Durbar Square May 2018 roof strut wooden sculpture of Taleju

The Bhimsen Mandir marks the north end of the square. At its entrance two stone lions keep guard. Non-Hindus are not allowed entry!

Patan Durbar Square North end Bhimsen Temple entrance with lion guards

the Torana above the entrance to the Bhimsen Temple on Durbar Square Patan

Just across from the Bhimsen Temple is a rooftop café from which I got the following shot of the square.  Visible from left to right are the Royal Palace’s Taleju Temple, the top of the scaffolded Krishna Temple,  the Vishwanath Temple, and the Bhimsen Temple on the right.  In the foreground, the brick-lined sunken water tank is the Manga Hiti. The two wooden pavilions between the water tank and the square – the Mani Mandap – collapsed in 2015 and were being rebuilt in early 2018.

looking southwest over Patan’s Durbar Square from a rooftop café

A look back at the restaurant on the fifth floor of the building you see in the image below and then it was on to the Royal Palace.

I did spend about an hour in the Patan Museum with its impressive collection of Buddhist-inspired cast bronze statuary.  The museum opened in the late 1990’s after a renovation of the northern section of the palace with Austrian aid.   A later post may focus on what I saw and why it is a worthwhile use of your time unlike, for example, a visit to Kathmandu’s disappointing National Museum

Patan Durbar Square northeast corner

Inside The Royal Palace:

Of the various sections of the Royal Palace, the two I focussed on were Mul Chowk and Sundari Chowk.  They are located at the south end of the Royal Palace and was where the royal family lived until the dynasty came to an end with the arrival of the Gorkha army in 1769.  That year would also be the end of Patan as the capital of a small independent kingdom in the Kathmandu Valley.

Mul Chowk

Patan Royal Palace interior courtyard – door and flanking statues

Flanking the elaborate doorway are statues of two Hindu goddesses, with Jamuna on the left and Ganga on the right.

Patan Royal Palace interior courtyard door

Patan Royal Palace interior courtyard – lock on the door

Patan Royal Palace courtyard statue

Patan courtyard statue close up

Sundari Chowk

In Sundari Chowk,  there is more elaborate stone and woodwork. The Tusha Hiti a sunken fountain dating back to the time of King Siddhi Narsingh Malla in 1647.

an elaborate torana – Royal Palace Patan

Patan Royal Palace water spout

Patan Royal Palace water spout close-up

Bhandarkhal Garden

Behind Sundari Chowk is Bhandarkhal Garden with the pool of water you see below.  In the background, the tops of two of the Royal Palace’s temples – the Degu Talle and the Taleju Mandir – can be seen.

Patan Royal Palace pond

Parts of the Palace complex were roped off in early 2018 while work continued in its restoration.  I took a brief coffee break before continuing with my Patan tour.  I was headed north of the square to a Buddhist monastery/temple complex known as the Golden Temple; I also wanted to visit the Hindu  Banglamukti Temple.

Next Post: Patan April 2018: Part 2 – The Golden Temple and Vicinity

Related Posts: 

Temple and Street Shrines of Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley – “God Is Alive; Magic Is Afoot”

The Kathmandu Valley And Its UNESCO Cultural Heritage Sites

Kathmandu’s Durbar Square After the 2015 Quakes – Worth the $10. Ticket?

 Swayambhunath: Buddha Eyes Over The Kathmandu Valley

The Boudhanath Stupa – The Heart Of Nepal’s Tibetan Community

Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley: The Temples of Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur Three years After The 2015 Quakes – Part 1: Durbar Square

Bhaktapur Three Years After the 2015 Quakes v- Part 2: Taumadhi, Potters’, Tachapol Tols

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Bhaktapur Three years After The 2015 Quakes – Part 2: Taumadhi Sq., Potters’ Sq., and Tachapal

Previous Post:  Bhaktapur Three years After The 2015 Quakes – Part 1: Durbar Square

The return visit to Bhaktapur continues!  While Durbar Square is undoubtedly the one site that all visitors will see, there is more!  Just around the corner from the square is Taumadhi, the real heart of the town and the place where locals meet and hang out. And not far away is Potters’ Square – that is, a newer version which no longer includes pottery manufacture thanks to twenty years plus of cheap imported Chinese plastic bowls!

Taumadhi Tol

The key mandirs on Taumadhi Square dominate the view below – Nyatapola on the left and Bhairab on the right. The two-storey building in the foreground is a recent construction; it houses a restaurant. I took advantage of a second-floor table to get some shots from a different perspective as I had lunch, though the shot below was taken from the fourth floor Garuda Bar on the southwest corner of the square.

The 30-meter high and five-storey Nyatapola Mandir was built around the year 1700 C.E. (i.e., 300 years ago) and has remained standing through the various earthquakes which have rattled the Kathmandu valley.

Bhaktapur Nyatapola view from the rooftop restaurant

view of the east side of the five-storey Nyatapola in Bhaktapur

Across from Nyatapola Mandir is the Bhairab Mandir, a three-storey temple with a shrine at the front that always seems to have devotees.  A smaller temple on the side collapsed during the earthquake. On the other side of the square, a commercial block also suffered significant damage but is still standing.

a view of the Bhairabnath Temple from the top of the Nyatapola steps

At the northeast corner of the square sit the wheels of the cart used during the annual Bisket Festival to carry the box containing the head of Bhairab! See the internet-sourced image below for a look at the cart in action!

wheels of the Bisket Festival cart in Taumadhi Tol

wheels of the Bisket Festival cart in Taumadhi Tol

Bisket Festival - cart in Taumadhi Tol

internet-sourced image of the Bisket Festival with the cart in Taumadhi Tol – see this Himalaya Times article for the source

Taumadhi Tol – steps of the Nyatapola and Bhairab Mandir to the right

Newari matrons at the Bhairab Mandir shrine on Taumadhi Tol

I saw the red-draped matrons in the image above in front of the Bhairab Mandir shrine. Then I looked across the square to a group of young women in their late teens.  Given that 40% of Nepalis are under 25, I wondered where traditional Nepali culture was headed as it collides with a more enticing set of images and narrative.

Taumadhi Square – younger Newaris with a modern focus

Bhaktapur’s Taumadhi Tol Bhairab Mandir – the central exterior shrine

the central image of the Bhairab shrine – Taumadhi Tol

looking down the steps of the Nyatapola in Taumadhi Tol Bhaktapur

From the top of the Nyatapola Mandir, I got a backside view of the lions, elephants, and the wrestlers Jayamel and Phattu at the bottom of the steps – missing are the two griffins and the two goddesses Singhini and Byaghrini which are behind me.

Torana above one of the Nyatapola’s doors

Nyatapola Torana detail – central image of Taleju

Nyatapola sculpture on temple exterior

mask on the wall of the Garuda Bar overlooking Taumadhi Square in Bhaktapur

vegetable market on the edge of Taumadhi Square Bhaktapur

a view of Bhaktapur’s Taumadhi Square from the east

Bhairab Mandir in Taumadhi Square May 2018 evening shot

the northeast corner of Bhaktapur’s Taumadhi Tol at dusk – on my way home to Tachapal

Potters’ Square:

A short walk down the narrow street in the image below – past the restaurants and the guesthouses – and I am in Potters’ Square.  it looks very different in 2018 than it did on my first visit in 1996.  Gone are the finished clay pots that covered a part of the square; gone are the pottery makers.  The local industry is on its last legs thanks to cheaper modern alternatives – i.e., plastic ware from China.

the street from Taumadhi Tol to Potters' Square

the street from Taumadhi Tol to Potters’ Square

The square looked like a construction zone in May of 2018 with piles of gravel and bricks here and there.

Potters' Square Bhaktapur May 2018

Potters’ Square Bhaktapur May 2018 – it is a mess!

Potters' Square Bhaktapur May 2018 shrine

Potters’ Square Bhaktapur May 2018 shrine

detail from the torana of a Potters Square shrine

thangka shop - young women painting

thangka shop – young women putting paint to the mandala outlines

Potters' Square Bhaktapur May 2018 puppets hanging around

Potters’ Square Bhaktapur May 2018 puppets hanging around

Potters Square - Bhaktapur May 2018 wall shrine

Potters Square – Bhaktapur May 2018 wall shrine

Potters; Square - Bhaktapur May 2018

Potters’ Square – Bhaktapur May 2018 – piles of gravel and a couple of dozen clay jars

shrine Potters Square - Bhaktapur May 2018

shrine Potters Square – Bhaktapur May 2018

a collapsed corner of Potters Square in Bhaktapur

Tachapal Tol (Dattatreya Square)

At the end of my visit – I had just completed a three-week trek from Upper Mustang down the Phu Valley – instead of spending my last two days in Kathmandu, I stayed in Bhaktapur.  It was a good choice;  I got the quiet of the town instead of the traffic and pollution of the capital.  The place I stayed at was the Peacock Guesthouse on Tachapal Tol, an area of the town I had not visited before.

Tachapal predates the other squares in the city and goes back to the 1300’s; the building with the Peacock Guesthouse in it is of the same age – an example of classical Newari construction.

At the top of the square is the main attraction –  the Dattatreya Mandir. Dattatreya built in the 1420s when Bhaktapur was still the capital of a kingdom ruled by Yaksha Malla, who controlled the entire valley.

Bhaktapur Tachapal Dattatreya Mandir

Bhaktapur Tachapal Dattatreya Mandir

In front of it is a pillar with a winged Garuda figure on top.   The Garuda faces the two human figures – the very same wrestlers I saw at the Nyatapola in Taumadhi Tol.

dusk on Tachapal Square Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur Dattatreya Square May 2018 dusk

At the opposite end of the square from the Dattatreya Mandir is a two-storey temple which I somehow managed not to get a shot of!  A block of buildings from the 1300’s and 1400’s included my Peacock Guesthouse, as well as the restaurants whose signs you can see in the image below.


Bhaktapur Tachapal Peacock Guesthouse

Bhaktapur – Tachapal Peacock Guesthouse

Bhaktapur’s Peacock Guesthouse courtyard – now the restaurant seating area –

courtyard of the Newari building next to the Peacock Guesthouse

the way to Peaceful Restaurant next to the Peacock Guesthouse on Tachapal Tol

the street off Tachapal Tol in Bhaktapur with the Peacock Window

the Peacock Window above the street near Dattatreya Mandir

I really enjoyed my two nights and a full day in Bhaktapur.  Being able to walk around the town at dusk after all the day visitors had left was a special treat, as was going for an early morning stroll as the various squares were just coming to life for the day.

The town suffered significant damage in 2015 and with my focus on the public buildings – the temples and royal palace – in the old town area, I only got a partial picture of the full extent of that damage.  Hopefully, the townspeople have been able to access the funds received from international sources to aid in their own residential reconstruction projects.


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Bhaktapur Three Years After The 2015 Quakes – Part 1: Durbar Square

Related Post: Kathmandu’s Durbar Square After the 2015 Earthquakes – Is It Worth The $10.U.S. Entry Fee?

How has Bhaktapur coped since the Earthquakes of 2015?

A few months ago I uploaded this post – Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley: The Temples of Bhaktapur – with images of Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square and Taumadhi Tol from the years before and just after the Gorkha Earthquakes of April 2015. The post also provided some historical context and imagery that I won’t repeat here!

Instead, I’ll focus on what I found on my third visit (May 2018) to the town on the east side of the Kathmandu Valley.  Unlike Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, which suffered greater damage and where little rebuilding has taken place, Bhaktapur is in better shape.  Only Potters’ Square is still a mess.  Its Durbar Square is also more pedestrian-friendly, a real treat after dodging the relentless waves of motorcycles in Kathmandu.

A visit to the main Bhaktapur sites – Durbar Square, Taumadhi Tol, Potters’ Square, and Tachapal Tol –  will cost 15,000 NRP (that is about $15. US!) for those visitors who are not from SAARC countries or from China.  They get to pay 5000 NRP.

Since I was spending two nights at the Peacock Guesthouse at Tachapal Tol in the eastern part of the town,  I got the “free” extension to my visitor’s ticket which made the cost seem more reasonable.   Spending my last two days away from the traffic and big city feel of Kathmandu for the quieter charms of Bhadgaon (as the city is called by its inhabitants) turned out to be a good decision.

A visit to Bhaktapur will usually begin at the ticket office near the entrance gate on the west side of Durbar Square.  On the map below it is on the upper left-hand side.

Before entering the square, I first treated myself to a cup of coffee at the 4th. floor rooftop café of a building on the edge of the square. It was about 8:00 a.m. and not at all busy yet.

a view of Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square from the west

visiting Buddhist monks on the morning food round

Then it was down to the entrance gate and the west end of the square.  As you walk in, the Royal Palace is on the left (north). On the south side of the square are a couple of restaurants, including the one from whose patio I snapped the shot of Gopi Nath Temple below.

Gopi Nath Temple – aka Jagannath

I went over to see the two superb stone sculptures near the entrance. They are of Ugrachandi and Bhairab and date back to the rule of Bhupatindra Malla, whose own statue is on the stone column in front of the Sun Dhoka in the middle of Durbar Square. It was also during his reign that the Palace of the Fifty-Windows and the Nyatapola in nearby Taumadhi Tol were built.

Ugrachandi statue at the west end of Bhaktapuir's Durbar Square

Ugrachandi statue at the west end of Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square

Bhairab - the Kathmandu valley's favourite blood-thristy vengeful god

–  Bhairab – the Kathmandu valley’s favourite blood-thirsty vengeful god – statue in Durbar Square Bhaktapur

Walking up the brick base of the Gopi Nath Temple, I looked down the square. In front of the temple is a Garuda figure on a stone column. Also visible is the bamboo scaffolding by one of the three temples that collapsed in the 2015 Quakes.

the column in front of Gopi Nath Temple (aka Jagannath)

While not a lot of buildings collapsed completely, a number did suffer structural damage. Cracked or buckling walls were in evidence, as were the wood beams set up to bolster them. As I walked by the poles set up on the side of the National Art Museum (once a wing of the Royal Palace)  I thought -“You really think these are making a difference?”

looking to the east end of Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square

Bhaktapur – entrance to National Art Museum

Unfortunately, the Museum was not open on the two days I was in the city. It is apparently worth the extra 100 NRP admission.  Maybe next time!

Heartening to see on a wall on the square was this poster about a sterilization and anti-rabies vaccine campaign for street dogs in the city.  I saw fewer dogs than in Kathmandu and the ones I did see seemed in good shape, including the dog below!

Bhaktapur Durbar Square – a handsome fellow in the classic downward dog pose

The Golden Gate (aka Sun Dhoka) is considered to be the finest single artistic creation in the Kathmandu Valley. I took a few more pix and then stepped inside, past the wooden wall buttresses and past the salvaged stonework in the courtyard.  Damage inside the Royal Palace compound, as well as  “no photography” and  “only Hindus” rules, meant I exited soon after entering!

Bhaktapur – Durbar Square Golden Gate (Sun Dhoka) May 2018

Bhaktapur – Sun Dhoka torana – Taleju and Garuda figures













Bhaktapur – Royal Palace – salvaged stonework being stored during reconstruction

Facing the Golden Gate is the  Bhupatindra Malla column.  After three visits over a twenty year period, I finally thought to take a shot of the top of the column!

the top of the Bhupatindra Malla column in Bhaktapur

Next to the column and the Taleju Bell is the Vastala Temple. It collapsed in 2015 and is in the process of being rebuilt.  The prominent use of bamboo poles perhaps indicates the use of traditional methods of construction!

the rubble in front of the Vastala Temple Bhaktapur – Durbar Square May 2018

Vatsala Durga Temple ruins – work in progress May 2018

Vatsala Durga Temple ruins – step guardians May 2018

a view of the east end of Bhaktapur Durbar Square May 2018

Just east of the Golden Gate on the north side of the square is the Palace of The Fifty-Five Windows. In the image below it is in the background, with the  Chyaslin Pavilion in front of it.

Chyaslin Pavilion and the Palace with some of the 55 Windows!

east side of the Palace of the 55 Windows  – cracks and stucco damage from the Quakes

At the east end of the square, just beyond the Chyaslin Pavilion, are two temples which collapsed in 2015, leaving only their multi-levelled brick plinths, and even they were somewhat damaged.  Both are now being reconstructed.  In the case of the Fasidega Mandir, it may even turn out to be an improvement!

Bhaktapur’s Siddhi Lakshmi Mandir (Lohan Dega) in May 2018

Bhaktapur’s Siddhi Lakshmi Mandir (Lohan Dega) – human figures at bottom of stairs

Bhaktapur’s Siddhi Lakshmi Mandir (Lohan Dega) – human figure on the east side of stairs

Siddhi Lakshmi Mandir on the left and Fasidega Mandir plinth on the right

The temple on top of the Fasidega plinth collapsed in the 2015 Quakes. A new temple in shikhara-style will apparently replace the unloved white dome-like structure.  Other than having cleared away the debris, there was no sign of rebuilding in May 2018.

Fasidega Mandir plinth with step guardians

Stone Lions at the east end of Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square

I walked back into the square and walked south, past the Shiva Guesthouse where my wife and I had stayed in 1996 on our first visit.  From our room, we could look down on the square and the Vatsala Durga Temple, the very temple that had figured prominently in the 1993 Bernardo Bertolucci movie Little Buddha.  Apparently cast members, including Keanu Reeves, had stayed in the guesthouse during the filming.

Bhaktapur Durbar Square Shiva Guesthouse

Just south of the  Vatsala Durga Temple ruins is the Pashupatinath Mandir, which escaped the quakes with little damage. I turned around and went into the Shiva Guesthouse restaurant for a bite to eat before continuing my ramble through the various squares of the town.  Coming from two days in Kathmandu, I felt like I was decompressing, thanks to the quiet and relative absence of advertising and motorcycle traffic.

looking north towards the Pashupatinath Mandir and the Shiva Guesthouse

My coffee break over, I walked past the two destroyed temples at the east end of the square and down the street connecting it with Taumadhi Tol.  I was hoping to see the Nyatapola Temple, the tallest in the valley, still standing!

See the next post for the pix –

Next Post: Bhaktapur Three years After The 2015 Quakes – Part 2: Taumadhi Tol, Potters’ Sq., and Tachapal Tol


See also the following Kathmandu Valley Posts:

Temple and Street Shrines of Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley – “God Is Alive; Magic Is Afoot”

The Kathmandu Valley And Its UNESCO Cultural Heritage Sites

Kathmandu’s Durbar Square After the 2015 Quakes – Worth the $10. Ticket?

 Swayambhunath: Buddha Eyes Over The Kathmandu Valley

The Boudhanath Stupa – The Heart Of Nepal’s Tibetan Community

Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley: The Temples of Bhaktapur

Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley – The Temples of Patan (Lalitpur)

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Mapping Bolivia’s Cordillera Real Trekking Routes

This upload is mostly an expansion of the map section from my introductory post on Trekking Bolivia’s Cordillera Real – Maps, Basic Info, and Planning Advice. It only deals with the maps available for trekkers keen on an independent walk down the Cordillera Real from Sorata to Huayna Potosi and beyond.  See the intro post for more on the best time to go, reputable trekking/climbing agencies, and acclimatization suggestions.

Related Post: Trekking Bolivia’s Cordillera Real – Maps, Basic Info, and Planning Advice

A trekking group’s first decision will be which side of the Cordillera it will walk down –

  • the east side – the Classical Route
  • the west side – the newly developed “route” which avoids

The Classic East Side Route 

Trekking In Bolivia coverYossi Brain, whose climbing guide to Bolivian peaks (Bolivia: A Climbing Guide, 1999) remains a useful source twenty years after publication, also did a trekking guidebook.

Trekking In Bolivia: A Traveler’s Guide, released in 1997, was perhaps the first book in English to provide a comprehensive introduction to Bolivia’s trekking possibilities. With Brain, as well as Andrew North, and Isobel Stoddart as the authors,  it was published by The Mountaineers. 

The route that they describe is what I will call the “classic” one. It begins in Sorata at the north end of the Cordillera Real and then heads to the east side of the mountain range for seven or eight days before cutting across to the west side near Condoriri and then continuing on down to Botijlaca on the north side of Huayna Potosi.  Most trekking agencies in La Paz still offer this trek – or sections of it – to prospective trekkers.

Here is a map of a typical itinerary for the classic route from north of Sorata down the east side of the range (until Day 7 when it cuts through the Cordillera for the west side) –

Bolivia's Cordillera Real  - Classic east side trekking route

Trekking Bolivia’s Cordillera Real – Classic east side route

Andes Pitkethly

Another book, The Andes: 28 Treks and Climbing Peaks, written by Val Pitkethly and Kate Harper and published in 2009, describes a version of this mostly east-side of the Cordillera trek.  Since Google Books has a copy of their book online, you can read what they have to say here. (Just go back to page 94 for the start of their six-page treatment.)


Here is the map from The Andes: 28 Treks…  It starts in Sorata unlike the one above.

(The book is, by the way, an incredible goldmine of South America trek possibilities  if you’re looking for inspiration!)

The CLassic Trans-Cordillera Real Trekking Route

  • Day 1 – La Paz – Sorata
  • Day 2 – Sorata – Ancoma
  • Day 3 – Ancoma – Cocoyo
  • Day 4 – Cocooyo – Chajolpaya
  • Day 5 – Chajolpaya – Chacapa
  • Day 6 – Chacapa – Palca
  • Day 7 – Palca – Huarihuarini
  • Day 8 – Huarihuarini – Lake Kottia (aka Laguna Khotia)
  • Day 9 – Kottia Laguna – Laguna Ajuani
  • Day 10 – Ajuani – Jurikhota
  • Day 11 – Jurikhota – Cerro Austria – Laguna Chiari Khota
  • Day 12 – Base Camp Condoriri
  • Day 13 – Condoriri – Liviñosa
  • Day 14 – Liviñosa – Chacapampa (Botijlaca) – La Paz

Wikiloc, a route-sharing app, has a couple of versions of the classic route available.  Click on the map image to access the one uploaded by isards de la Cerdanya in April 2011.

wikiloc route image - Cordillera Real 2011

Click on the map image to access the Wikiloc site – or click here.

A more recent Wikiloc upload of the same classic route as done by Moebius1 in July 2014 and can be accessed here.

I used the Wikiloc app for three weeks of hiking in the Bariloche area and found it to be a worthwhile investment. See here for more info on ios or android versions.

A Point of Clarification –  Chakapampa or Botijlaca?

Some trek itineraries use the name Chakapampa (or Chacapampa with a “c” instead of a “k”) to indicate the end point; others use the name Botijlaca.  Both are correct.  Chaka Pampa literally means “the flat place with a bridge”.  It was there that the electric company built the hydroelectric plant called “Botijlaca”. Andean Summits is one of the agencies that use the name Botijlaca in its itineraries.

The New West Side Route:

Why A New Route?

Given increased mining activity in the Sorata area, as well as on the east side of the Cordillera, the Andean Summits team, as well as others, have developed an alternative route that stays on the west side of the Cordillera until the last full day of the trek.

Instead of the traditional first eight days of the classic route which goes north and east from Sorata, this one heads southeast from Sorata to Millipaya and Alto Llojena and then on to Lago San Francisco.  Doing so, it avoids the mining roads and the potential for trouble in the sometimes boisterous mining communities on the east side.

our Cordillera Real Trek Route – the west side alternative

This is the route we did. Often the “trail” is no more than shepherds’ paths and llama tracks up and down and across valleys; just as often we were relying on our guide’s experience (he has done the route several times) and the GPS track on his Garmin device. To restate the obvious, this is not at all like walking the Huayhuash Circuit trail or along the Inca Trail or the trails in Torres Del Paine Park.

KML/GPS Track of Our Route:

Here is the track created by my Spot Connect with its once-every-ten-minutes location when it was working as it should.  It recorded 449 individual GPS waypoints during the two-week trek.   On occasion (see the map below) it missed recording a location for an hour or more so it is less than perfect!

GPX Viewer - Outdoor View of Cordillera Real Route

my GPS waypoints in GPX Viewer (Outdoors View)

north of Lago Warawarani - the worst section of my recorded Route

the worst section of my GPS track – the section north of Warawarani

If you have a better track and would not mind sharing, please email me!  I’d be happy to post a link to it here for the benefit of future trekkers keen on experiencing what you and I did!  

You can download the route from my Dropbox folder  –

Kml format (199 kb)

GPS format (221 kb)

The kml file will open in Google Earth and will provide incredible 3D views of the terrain you will be traversing;  I opened the GPS file in my GPX Viewer app (available in both ios and android versions).  The two images above are from the app, which I set in Outdoors view.

Note: comments from Felix and other trekkers who used my file will provide excellent feedback on how reliable the track is.  Read through the comments at the end of this post –  Trekking Bolivia’s Cordillera Real – Maps, Basic Info, and Planning Advice


1. A New Map of The Cordillera Real De Los Andes

I found a copy of the Liam O’Brien map in a La Paz bookstore called The Spitting Llamaat Linares 947. Titled  A New Map of The Cordillera Real De Los Andes, the map is a 2009 reprint of the original from 1995.  The scale is 1:135,000.  It is unclear if any changes were made in the reprint; the glacier limits shown on the map are based on Landsat images from 1989 and 1992 and are thus about twenty-five years old.

One thing the map definitely illustrates is the confusing state of transcribing Aymara names into English.  For example, the massif referred to as Chearuku or Chiaroco on other maps appears as Ch’iyaruq’u on the O’Brien map.  Ancohuma becomes Janq’uma. It will probably take a few more years before a uniform English spelling of the various peaks and valleys of the Cordillera develops. Using Spanish language rules to transcribe Aymara sounds into English seems a bit silly.  Until the dust settles, Google a different spelling and you often get a different set of websites!

2. NIMA (US Govt Defence Dept Agency) – 1:100,000 maps

NIMA - US Govt

Another map set is that published in the late 1990’s by NIMA (National Imagery and Mapping Agency),  a U.S. Govt agency and branch of the Defence Dept.

Bolivia - topo index for Cordillera Real Norte

The 1:100,000 maps which cover the Sorata to Illimani stretch of the Cordillera Real can be downloaded below –

You can purchase the above maps at $20. U.S. a sheet from Omnimap.com, a North Carolina, U.S.A. business that has been selling maps since 1982.  Or – you can do what I did and download them from the University of Texas’ online map library and print off the parts you need yourself or just upload them to your iPad for paper-free use.


3. Alpenverein Maps – Cordillera Real Nord and Sud

One more map possibility:  There is a 1:50,000 German Alpine Club map – click on the title for the information – TREKKING MAP – CORDILLERA REAL NORTH / ILLAMPU (BOLIVIA) | ALPENVEREIN. It covers a small area, as the image below shows. It may be more appropriate for those planning a summit of Illampu than for those planning a 120-km walk down the cordillera’s east or west flank.

Nord sectionThere is a second map which covers the area of the Cordillera around Illimani.

The two maps were published in 1987 and would be the oldest of all the maps mentioned here.

You can find a copy of the map at The Maps Company. See here for their list of Andes maps.

4. Day-By-Day Trip Report With Satellite Images, Elevation Charts & Photos

My series of posts on each day of our trek also has maps, elevation charts, satellite images, and photos which would be of help in finding your way down the Cordillera without too much drama!

We began our trek, not in Sorata (2700 m) but off the highway (3900 m) about fifteen kilometers south of the town.  Starting from Sorata would add an extra day to the trek.

You can access the day-by-day posts with the following links –



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Kathmandu’s Durbar Square After the 2015 Earthquakes – Is It Worth 1000 NRP?

See also: Temple and Street Shrines of Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley – “God Is Alive; Magic Is Afoot”

Is A Durbar Square Visit Worth the 1000 NPR?

Of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Kathmandu Valley, Kathmandu’s Durbar Square took the biggest hit. It is also the site where, three years after the Gorkha Earthquakes of 2015, the least progress has been made in reconstructing the seven temples which were totally destroyed and repairing the many buildings which suffered less serious structural damage.

Kathmandu Durbar Square entry fees

Note: 1000 Nepalese rupees are worth about $10. U.S.

That $10. U.S. ticket is the fee charged easy-to-identify “foreign nationals”.  Interestingly, Chinese visitors also get dinged for the 1000 NPR entrance fee. At Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square, they pay at the SAARC rate, one third of “foreign nationals”.  Locals pay nothing;  other South East Asians (citizens of nations who belong to the SAARC) pay 150 NPR.

Over the past decade, the entry fee charged non-Nepalis to walk around the public square has risen substantially.  Where the money actually goes to is an open question!  Here is the  record of the fee increase over the last decade:

  • 2007 –   200 rupees
  • 2009 –   350 rupees
  • 2010 –   500 rupees
  • 2012 –   750 rupees
  • 2015 – 1000 rupees!

I took the photo below in 2006 – it shows the Trailokya Mohan Mandir; on the left side of the image are a couple of pillars of the neo-classical Gaddi Baithak.

Kathmandu- rickshaw drivers at rest by the Trailokya Mohan Narayan Temple

The photo below was taken shortly after the Gorkha Earthquakes of April 2015;  the Trailokya has collapsed, as has the larger Maju Dewal, and the nearby Narayan Temple. Still standing, but with some structural damage, is the Gaddi Baithak.

A.P. photo of Kathmandu’s Trailokya Mohan Narayan Temple soon after the 2015 quake

A drone image I sourced online can be seen below. I labeled the various buildings.

Finally, the image below from my April 2018 visit shows the columned facade of the Gaddi Baihak covered with a green tarpaulin. The plinths of the Trailokya Mohan,  the Maju Dewal, and the Narayan Mandirs can be seen, as well as some rubble belonging to the Narayan Temple next to the Shiva Parvati Mandir, which survived the quake.

So – given all the damage, is spending 1000 NPR for an entrance ticket to the square worth it?  As is often the case, it all depends!

Option A – Give In and Get the Ticket!

If you plan on wandering about the area for a couple of hours and occasionally sitting on temple steps and watching Kathmandu life go by, then – yes – get the ticket. The square is Kathmandu’s living room and a fascinating place to experience the present chaos and the past glories of Nepal’s capital city.

The 1000 NPR is a rip-off given that you get no sense that most or any of your “generous contribution”  has made any difference in reviving the square to a semblence of its former glory.  However, given all the money you spent just getting there from your home (my return airfare was $1600.), arguing about the difference between what you want to pay and what you have to pay seems a waste of time.  Better to just swallow your disgust and accept that as a tourist who is visibly from a wealthy country you will be expected to cough up $$. The entrance fee isn’t going to be going anywhere but up, regardless of what we may think about it.

The more you read up about the area and its significance before you go, the more you will get out of it.  A decent hardcopy guidebook like The Rough Guide To Nepal with its 6-page section on “The Old City” and accompanying map may be all you will need as you wander around, stopping occasionally to sit and read the relevant bits of the guidebook.

Option B – Visit During Off Hours!

Not everyone is into dilapidated four-hundred-year-old buildings or the history behind them. Certainly, if you are only going to spend a half-hour there or if you really object to the 1000 NRP on philosophical grounds –  you can find something else to spend 1000 rupees on.

What you could do instead is visit the square before the ticket booth opens at 8:00 a.m. or after it closes at 5:00 p.m. – your dawn or dusk photos could turn out to be pretty neat! Note – earlier or later is better since you will be less likely to be chased by a uniformed ticket enforcer!  You may save 1000 rupees but convenient it is not.

Option C – Get A Multi-Day Pass!

katmandu Durbar Square Visitor Pass

Even better, if you plan on spending a couple of days in Kathmandu before and/or after your trek, you can make your day pass a multi-visit pass for free.  Chances are pretty good that you will be walking through the square on your way to somewhere else during your stay.

Take the ticket you just purchased at one of the ticket booths and walk over to the KMC Site Office on Basantapur Square (the row of buildings on the other side of the square from the Royal Palace).  You’ll need to show your passport and have a passport photo so the clerk can create a card for you.  It only took a couple of minutes the morning I got mine!   Now you can experience the Square at different times and on different days and the 1000 NPR cost doesn’t seem so bad!

see here for the source of the map image

I approached the square from Ganga Path on the bottom right-hand side of the map above. The ticket booth is difficult to miss and if you do, someone will be chasing after you anyway. Now that you have your ticket, you walk down the large open space – Basantapur Square –  pictured in the image below.  Apparently, the area once housed the royal family’s elephant stables but those buildings are long gone.  The space now serves as a venue for vendors to spread out their goods on blankets and low platforms.  The office where you get your ticket extended for the duration of your stay in Nepal is in that row of buildings running down the south (left) side of the square in the image.

Kathmandu Durbar Square – south

Durbar Square Kathmandu – vendors with goods

On the north side of the square is one side of the old Royal Palace. The monarchy in Nepal was abolished in 2008 and even before that the Royals had abandoned this palace complex for a newer and more private residence to the north.  Still, this palace – the Persian word is Durbar – is the heart of the old city and has many of the oldest buildings.

The entire length of the palace complex on the north side of Basantapur Square suffered structural damage. The governments of China and of the USA have taken on the restoration of parts of the complex, with the Chinese focusing on the SE corner of the palace and Basantapur Tower while the Americans are sponsoring work on the Gaddi Baithak, an early 20th C. addition to the palace complex.

Basantapur Tower – Chinese-sponsored rebuild

Kathmandu Gaddi Baithak restoration April 2018

Kathmandu – Royal Palace – view of columns

As you walk to the west end of the square – and corner of the Gaddi Baithak – you come to the home (the Nepali term is “ghar”) of the Kumari. Guarded by a couple of lion statues, the door to the house leads into a central courtyard. (All the fencing in the area meant I did not bother trying to frame a shot!)  Visitors are allowed to enter the Kumari Chowk of the house but are forbidden from taking photos of the Kumari herself.  She is believed to be the embodiment of the goddess Taleju. a favourite deity of the Malla and later dynasties which ruled the Kathmandu Valley.

From the moment of her selection until her first menstrual period she spends most of her life within the confines of the house.   The tradition began in the late 1600’s and has survived the fall of the monarchy,    The last Kathmandu Kumari, Matina Shakya, served as Kumari from 2008-2017 when she surrendered her role to the current Kumari, Trishna Shakya. (The search is confined to members of the Newari Shakya community.) In the time of kings, she served as a living talisman of the monarch’s legitimacy.  See the following mini-essay for an in-depth look at the history and significance of the Kumari.

The Future of Nepal’s “Living” Goddess: Is Her Death Necessary?

woodwork above Kumari House entrance

Kumari House courtyard

visitors to Kumari Ghar waiting in the courtyard for her appearance

Torana above interior courtyard door in Kumari house – the 10-armed Taleju

On the southwest corner of the Royal Palace complex is another open area.  It is the one illustrated in the first few images of this post.  It obviously took quite the hit in 2015.

Kathmandu Durbar Square – Ticket Counter

Steps away from the ticket booth – one of six placed at the various entrances to the square – are the ruins of the Kasthmandap, completely collapsed in the Gorkha Earthquakes of 2015. For centuries the open pavilion served as a resthouse for traders and travelers on the route from the Ganges Valley to Tibet. Indeed, it is thought to be the source of the town’s name.

I recall staring through the fence at a pile of rubble and wondering whether I should bother taking a photo!


Remarkably little reconstruction has occurred in the three years since the Gorkha Earthquakes of 2015.  Nearby flower sellers displayed their garlands on sheets of plastic.

I walked up five flights of stairs to a rooftop restaurant where I took the shots below; in both cases, I am looking south

Maju Dewal temple base Durbar Square Kathmandu April 2018

Maju Dewal mandir on the left with smaler still-standing Ashok Binayak behind

A few minutes later as I walked by the Shiva Parvati Mandir – one of the temples still standing – preparations for a ceremony of some sort seemed to be in progress. I looked at the young girl dressed and looking like I imagined the Kumari in the house across the square might look.

Kathmandu Durbar Square north – ceremony

From the Shiva Parvati Temple the route continues past the Taleju Bell on one side and some exquisite woodwork on the other.

three-storey corner building with the windows of the 32 virtues

classical Newari strut work on a Durbar Square building in Kathmandu’s Royal Palace area – the north end

As you walk into the third open area of the Durbar Square site, the Pratapa Malla Column comes into view and behind it the Jagannatha Mandir.  In the image below you see them, as well as the Hanuman Dhoka at the right-hand side. What you don’t see is the unforgettable stone image of Bhairab.  He is the six-armed and rather fearsome representation of Shiva, complete with human skulls in the crown on his head and a corpse on which he is dancing!  He always seems to be the object of some devotion.


Bhairav shrine Durbar Sq N Kathmandu

Pigeons are plentiful in this corner of the site with bird feed sellers stationed around the King Pratap Masll column providing just the encouragement the birds need to stick around!

Durbar Square – north section – pigeon central –

Durbar Square – north section – pigeon central – another view

pillars and struts of a temple in Durbar Square – north section

Kathmandu – Durbar Sq N woodwork

The following photo was taken somewhere near Hanuman Dhoka. It looks like a small shrine built into a wall. It is one of the stranger collections of idols I have ever seen.  If you know the story let me know in the comment section below.

In front of the Agam Mandir is the veiled statue of Hanuman, the monkey-god who was Ram’s faithful side-kick in the Hindu epic Ramayana.  The statue – and the living god he represents – was placed there to prevent evil spirits from entering the palace compound through the gate (dhoka is the Nepali term).  I’m not quite sure of the logic here but to protect humans from that deadly stare a veil was placed over the statue.

Hanuman Dhoka and statue

Walking through the Hanuman Dhoka, you enter Nasal Chowk, the courtyard used for coronation ceremonies during the period of the monarchy.

Nasal Chowk looking south towards Basantapur Tower

Chinese information board on their restoration project

In the image below the coronation platform is on the bottom left; at the top is a five-storeyed temple Panch Mukhi Hanuman Mandir.  it is one of three such in the Kathmandu valley,  the others being the Kumbheswor Temple in Lalitpur and Nyatapola Temple in Bhaktapur.

inside Nasal Chowk with five-storey Panch  Mukhi Hanuman Temple

Back through the Hunuman Dhoka and I continued my walk out of Durbar Square, past the ticket booth that marks the square entry and on to Indra Chowk.  I was going up to the Thamel area, Kathmandu’s tourist ghetto.

I visited the Durbar Square area three times during my stay in Kathmandu. The multi-pass card was definitely worth the minimal effort to get it, especially since it doesn’t cost any extra than a one-day pass!

There are still things I missed seeing this time.  If there is a next time, I wonder how much progress will have been made in the interim.  Given how things seem to work in Nepal, my guess would be that it will take a decade or two for the restoration to be complete, during which time everything else will be that much older and worn out.

Taleju Temple behind Lions’ Gate

Kathmandu Durbar Square N – the Lions” Gate to Taleju Mandir

Kotlingeshwar Temple (left), Mahavishnu Mandir (center), and Kakeshwar temple (right)

Kotlingeshwar Mahadev Mandir on the north side of Durbar Square, Kathmandu

Below is the Kakeshwar temple;   it was rebuilt after the 1934 earthquake with a shikhara-style top placed on a Newari-style ground floor.  Behind it are the Taleju Mandir and a wing of the royal palace complex.

Kakeshwar temple with the Taleju Mandir behind it

Not far from the Kotlingeshwar and Mahavishnu mandirs is another ticket booth.  Walk past it and head north and you are on your way to Thamel, passing through the Indra Chowk pictured below.  The streets pulsate with life and commerce and small street shrines to Shiva and Vishnu and other Hindu deities.  Yes, it can be chaotic, especially with the honking motorcycles and automobiles, and the air pollution is bad but after a third visit to Durbar Square in twenty years, I can’t help but say – Wow, what an amazing place Kathmandu is!  Is it worth 1000 NRP? Absolutely!

Indra Chowk Kathmandu – just north of Durbar Square

the way up to Thamel from Durbar Square and Indra Chowk

Related Posts:

The Kathmandu Valley And Its UNESCO Cultural Heritage Sites

 Swayambhunath: Buddha Eyes Over The Kathmandu Valley

The Boudhanath Stupa – The Heart Of Nepal’s Tibetan Community

Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley: The Temples of Bhaktapur

Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley – The Temples of Patan (Lalitpur)

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Temples & Street Shrines of Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley – ” God Is Alive; Magic Is Afoot”

This gallery contains 30 photos.

Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley continues to captivate!  This May was my third visit. I spent a week there – a few days before and three after my Upper Mustang trek.  I revisited most of the UNESCO World Heritage sites to see how they … Continue reading

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

Previous Post: Day 16 – Meta To Koto

Day 17 – Koto To Tal

The night before when we arrived at Koto it really felt like the trek was over and done. We had gone up the Kali Gandaki valley, gone across the Khumjungar Glacier and Saribung La, and gone 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 did eventually walk down into Tal by mid-afternoon,  it did not start that way.  The first two hours of the morning walk is 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 in terms of 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 Koto, with the last stretch on a trail across the river from the road.  It was a treat to walk without thinking about vehicles coming from both directions.

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 and yet the actual 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 is 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 a number of 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. Of the pass, the report notes this –

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 even I found a new-for-2018 trek titled Namun La, Annapurna Wilderness Trek which 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.

As the classic Annapurna Circuit dies as a trekking route,  the locals can either forget about appealing to trekkers or they can 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 Annapurna 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 kept on to the main road and soon came to another pedestrian bridge, which we did cross.  It took a half-hour to reach Tal, away from the road on the other side of the river. Along the way we were able to walk down to the river and take in some beautiful beach views; the bends in the river here have led to the collection 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 at least a dozen guesthouses,  there seemed to be few trekkers about. 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 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.  Between the village entry gate pictured below and the river is a parking lot.

Tal’s southern entrance gate – a shabby welcome statement

In the early evening, I took a walk to the south end of the village.  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 make use of those earplugs again.  Since we had left the Kali Gandaki villages night times were fairly 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 –   please 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 from Besi Sahar to Manang will only get better and see more vehicles.  Better roads mean worse trekking.  The trek route and itinerary need to change in response to what is happening.

(coming soon) Next Post: Tal to Kathmandu

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Upper Mustang-Phu Valley Traverse Via Saribung La: Day 16 – Meta To Koto

Previous Post: Day 15 – Phu To Meta

Meta To Koto – Himalayan Map House

  • time: 7:00 – 2:00 p.m. with many rest stops
  • distance: about 14.5 km.
  • the high point of the day: Meta at 3586 m
  • maps: Himalayan Map House Annapurna Circuit Trek Map.  See here for info on hardcopy maps from Himalayan Map House.
  • Nepal Govt Survey Dept 1:50,000 topos:  2884 05 Chame; 2884 Bagarchhap

Meta to Koto – approx. 14.5 km.

6:15 a.m. – our Meta campsite on the front lawn of one of three or four guesthouses in the village

6:20 a.m. – our tent crew dismantling the tents while we have breakfast at Meta

Just above and to the south of our guesthouse (it may have been the Terelha Guesthouse and Restaurant) was what looked like a newly constructed Hotel Marpa International.

Meta – the new Hotel Marpa International

Steps leading down from our guesthouse to a lower level and, at least his morning, a group of donkeys waiting for their day to begin.

an overview of the guesthouse scene at Meta – three or four choices

620 a.m. – Meta donkeys waiting for another Naar/Phu workday to begin

And then it was off – Koto on the Annapurna Circuit was the day’s destination and it felt like the end point of our trek even if the official end was Besi Sahar. This day we would meet seven trekkers coming up from Koto, more than we had met in the nine days from Tsarang.

Also noteworthy was the number of bridges we crossed as the trail bounced from one side of the Naar Khola to the other.

first bridge south of Meta

looking down at the Phu Khola  on the trail to Koto from Meta

About an hour into our walk we passed by Singenge Dharmasala. If you’re coming from Koto it is a possible tent site before moving up that last 1 1/2 hours to Meta; the porters’ shelter, the outhouse, and the litter at the site show that some have. I guess it would all depend on how tired you were when you got there. It certainly has none of the views and facilities that Meta has! There is that steel bridge just south of  the site and five minutes further down a waterfall that the trail passes under.  It would make for a brisk shower! (Not the place to lose your footing!)

Dharmasala – a possible stop on the way to Meta from Koto

waterfall over Meta-Dharmasala trail

the 2nd bridge down from Meta











waterfall over Koto-Meta trail near Dharmasala

looking south from the Koto-Meta trail

a porter with a 1 m x 3 m corrugated aluminum sheet

the porter passes us by on the way to Meta and beyond

bridge #5 S of Meta on the trail to Koto

Meta-Koto trail cut into the rock wall

9:40 a.m. – a teahouse stop on the Koto-Meta trail

Just a bit south of our tea stop was a more substantial teahouse – the 3 Sister Restaurant and Lodge. For those coming off the Annapurna trail from Koto (2600) and making the ascent up to Meta (3560), it might be a good intermediate stop instead of trying to do Koto-Meta in one long hard day.  By now the pine forest and the lush vegetation has really taken over from the barren alpine look!

3 Sisters Restaurant and Lodge – about 2 km. north of the Soti Khola campsite

We pass another new teahouse/lodge soon after.  The trail runs through a pine forest and it is actual soil underneath! On a stretch of collapsed hillside we see a crew of ten young men in “break” mode from their task of rebuilding the trail.  They seem to have minimal equipment; most are wearing flip-flops and wool caps.

A bit further down the trail, we step aside for a few moments as another donkey train makes its way up to Meta and points beyond.  The animals do not seem over-loaded and look to be well-treated.

At 11:00 or so we are approaching the confluence of the Soti Khola and Naar Khola. On the north side of the junction is what looks to be a well-used campsite, given the litter dump on the side of the trail and the presence of a stone outhouse.  Our cook team is already there and within minutes lunch is served.  We spend perhaps an hour sitting in the shade and relaxing and then it is off again.

Naar Phu Khola  lunch stop just above the Soti Khola

The trail leads to a new metal bridge perhaps 20 meters up but we choose the log bridge.

crossing the Soti Khola – two choices!

the log bridge over the Soti Khola

There are still a couple more bridges to cross as the trail goes from one side of the river to the other.  The sections of forest trail are interspersed with some dramatic 100-meter stretches carved out of the rock face.  The one in the image below is on river right as we approach Koto.

looking back (i.e. north)  at a section of the trail near Koto blasted out of the rock face

trekkers sign at the bridge at Koto

As we walked across the metal bridge I stopped to take a photo of the fourth major river of our trek.

  • We had walked up the Kali Gandaki to Tsarang in upper Mustang:
  • We had roughly followed the Dhechyang Khola all the way to Damodar Kunda and then the Namta Khola to the toe of the Khumjungar Glacier.
  • Once over the Saribung La, it was the Layju Khola and then the Phu/Naar Khola that we followed to get to the bridge I was standing on.

Now I was looking at the Marsyangdi Nadi, the river whose headwaters is up near Manang and which flows down to Besi Sahar, the starting point of the Annapurna Circuit and the end point of our trip.

The rivers, as much as the snow-covered mountains they come from, had provided the framework of our 200+ kilometer walk through some incredible country.

the Marsyangdi Nadi as it flows under the bridge at Koto

Just on the other side of the bridge I looked down to the left and saw a town garbage dump. My thoughts turned back to the trekkers’ notice on the other side – “Return batteries and non-disposable waste for proper disposal”.  Later that afternoon I would see the following dump no more than 5 meters off the road into Koto –

Koto garbage dump on the side of the road

While not discounting the mess that a few trekkers cause, the garbage dumps like the one I was looking at are clearly the work of Nepalis and they need to take responsibility and do something about the plastic containers and wrappers and glass beer bottles.  Perhaps putting a price on the empty bottles and cans would encourage people to bring them to a central deposit place where they could be dealt with more appropriately.

Naar-Phu Checkpoint and gateway to the Nar Phu trail

Main Street Koto is the Annapurna Circuit trail.  We passed the checkout and turned left on to the road you see below.  We were headed for the Hotel Super View and its lawn, which would be our campsite for a night.

Koto at 2 in the afternoon

Koto street scene – later that afternoon

Koto – Hotel Super View – one of many guesthouse options

Next Post: Day 17 – Koto To Tal

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Upper Mustang-Phu Valley Traverse Via Saribung La: Day 15 – Phu To Meta

Previous Post: In And Around The  Village of Phu

Phu to Meta – Himalayan Map House

We set off for Meta at about 7:15; it was Day 2 or our three-day walk down the Phu/Naar Valley and marked by yet more altitude loss, even if not as dramatic as the 1000 meters we descended from Saribung La the day before from the moraine camp below Bhrikuti Shail.

a last look back at the Phu village gate from the south

Out through the village gate, over the bridge to the east side of the Phu Khola, past the mani wall and the crumbling dzong and chortens (see the post  In And Around The Village of Phu for more images.)

the ruins of a dzong and a mani wall a few minutes south of Phu

As we walked by the narrow channel the river has carved through the sandstone a similar view from Day 2 at the start of our trip came to mind.  Two weeks before it was the Kali Gandaki carving its way through similar rock just before Chele.  Then we had stood on the metal bridge and looked north into the passageway; now we were on a trail on river left as in the image below.

more Phu Khola carving its way through the sandstone

the Phu Khola – a narrow river passage just south of Phu












Most of our walk down to Meta would be on river left with a few bridge crossings along the way, some simple wooden structures and others of metal. The trail itself was becoming more and more defined with an occasional chorten or a  mani wall to remind us of the Tibetan Buddhist cultural world we were in.

more mani walls and chortens and signs of increased human presence

the trail between Phu and Kyang

Sometimes the trail took us to the west side of the Phu Khola…

…and sometimes a bridge would take us back to the other side

Just around the corner from the bridge, we are crossing in the image above we passed by what I understood to be a porters’ overnight stop.  The rest house is about two hours south of Phu and could serve as a campsite if the lure of Phu did not provide the extra boost necessary to just finish off the walk that very day!

porters’ overnight stop on the trail to Phu – 2 hours south of Phu

Less than a kilometer down from the stone building we passed by the memorial erected by the Quebec (a Canadian province)  government in memory of three Quebec trekkers. They died near this spot in October of 2014 when the torrential rains from Cyclone Hudhud triggered a massive snowstorm and a series of avalanches in the Manang district.

They were among the  21 trekkers and at least as many locals (guides, porters, yak herders) who lost their lives because of the storm.

As I looked back at the cairn from a few meters down the trail,  blending in with its surroundings and sitting on what appears to be a tilted pedestal.

looking back at the Phu cairn memorial to the three Quebec trekkers

About an hour further down from the memorial we approached a grassy plateau on the trail pictured below.  It was Khyang, for a brief period serving as a Khampa settlement.

Khyang (3887)

Khyang (one of many variations of the name including Kyang, Kyan,  and Kya) was the first of a string of abandoned settlements which we would walk through on our way to Meta.

I had assumed that the inhabitants had left in the past twenty years or so as the depopulation of the Himalayan communities near the border with the new Chinese masters continues. Their closing of the border had upended centuries of land use patterns and trade routes on which the communities on the Nepalese side had built their economies.

There was, however, an added complication to the above. It was the arrival (mostly in upper Mustang but also in Dolpo and the Phu to Meta area) of  Khampa guerrilla fighters who had fled Tibet in the 1960’s after an unsuccessful revolt against the  Chinese People’s Liberation Army.  More than 1000 kilometers from their eastern Tibet homeland,  they used their new bases in Nepal to conduct raids against PLA posts and convoys in Tibet.

Eventually, the Chinese officials exerted enough pressure on Nepal to dismantle the Khampa resistance.  Thanks in part to the Dalai Lama’s personal intervention, as well as the CIA’s decision to pull the plug on Operation Shadow Circus and their support of the Khampas, the Khampas gave up the fight and were moved to refugee camps in Pokhara and Kathmandu.

a view of Khyang from the north

David Snellgrove came up this valley in August 1956 as a part of his exploration of Tibetan communities in western Nepal from Dolpo to Nar/Phu.  Here is what he observed about Khyang –

We continued upstream and by evening reached another deserted village, known as Kyang, where we resolved to spend the night. We clambered through the empty broken houses, cutting through the tall weeds that grew in the courtyards, until we found one that would offer us sufficient shelter.

So – even before the mid-1950’s the village had been abandoned.  So much for my attempt to explain it as a result of China’s sealing of the border in the 1950’s!  His description does make sense of one thing – that is, how the Khampa resistance group was able to just move into a settlement.  What they had found was an abandoned one and made it theirs.

a view of Khyang from the north

Kyang sign as you enter the settlement from the south

Now Kyang is identified on the signage as a Khampa settlement, even if they only lived there for a decade or so.   The photo below taken from the south after we left Kyang shows a couple of new buildings – guesthouses with brightly coloured corrugated tin roofs  –  to the south of the village’s older buildings.  Our guides did chat briefly with a herder and his wife who live in one of them.

looking south from Kyang settlement

a view of Kyang from the south


As this Nepal Govt topo makes clear, there is a bit of a climb as you leave Kyang for Chyakhu.  Fifteen minutes up the trail I turned back for a last shot of Kyang (the photo above).  Then we went down on the other side of the ridge and crossed a stream before heading on mostly flat (“Nepali flat” our guides would say and chuckle) to Chyakhu.



donkey train between Chyakhu and Kyang heading up the valley to Phu

Chyakhu (3800)

approaching Chyakhu from the north

Ten minutes after stepping aside from the trail to let a donkey train pass by, we came to the settlement of Chyakhu, once (and maybe still!) a traditional winter settlement for Phu inhabitants.   While many of the old stone structures look like they have been abandoned, there are in 2018 also new buildings – in particular, guesthouses – being built.

As to why – other than for economic reasons – a community would abandon the structures they had invested so much in putting up, Snellgrove’s Himalayan Pilgrimage makes these observations about Chyakhu (which he spells Cha-go) from 1956 –

We passed beyond, and having waded through a torrent soon came upon yet another deserted village, called Cha-go, with about thirty houses. The terracing below the village was still intact and the ground must have been worked within the last ten years or so. This was confirmed by our porter, who told us that villagers from Lower Nar used to come up and work the fields, but that the village itself had been deserted before his time. All the inhabitants were said to have died of disease (? smallpox) and no one has wanted to live there ever since. (Snellgrove 228)

As with Khyang up-valley, this settlement is now graced with a sign identifying it as a Khampa settlement.  Given that the Khampas – and other Tibetan refugees – would only have moved in after the 1950’s and then moved out in the mid-1970’s to refugee camps in Kathmandu and Pokhara, there is much more history here than the sign indicates.

the old Chyakhu looking abandoned

It was noon and this was our lunch stop. We made use of the dining hall of a guesthouse (on this day it was the unpainted wood building in the image below).  Our cook team readied the food, using some of the guesthouse facilities.  Not only did we get a surprisingly varied range of excellent meals but the attention to hygiene was such that only one person had any gastrointestinal issues during the 19 days on trek – and that was likely not the result of the food.

Chyakhu – two of its newly built guesthouses

Jhunam (3640)

Not far from Chyakhu – about 1.5 kilometers south is another abandoned settlement.  Time too for another Snellgrove quote!  In 1956 he came up this way from Nar.  Standing near the bridge crossing the river to access the east side trail,  he had looked down towards Meta and then started his walk up to Phu.  He wrote this –

Further downstream high up on the opposite bank one sees a deserted village of some fifteen houses. [He is describing Meta or Methang here.]  Crossing the trembling bridge, we followed the path up the far bank. After walking for about two hours, we came to another small group of deserted houses, known as Dzu-nam.

Dzunam – on the Himalayan Map House map it is Jhunum and the Nepal Govt topo has Junam Goth  –  has a few abandoned structures. The image below captured a couple of them:

the abandoned village of Jhunam south of Chyakhu

the Phu Khola as it flows down to Naar Phedi

Further south from Jhunam as we neared Nar Phedi we got some nice views down the valley from our trail on the east side of the Phu Khola.  Somehow the mist added to the magic!

from the Nepal Govt Survey Map  – 2884 05 Chame

approaching the junction of the Meta trail with the one to Naar and the monastery

Around the corner in the image above is the dramatic setting of the Nar Phedi Monastery (the Lonely Planet guide-book identifies it as the Narsadak Changu Tashi Choling Gompa). It is a new complex, having been built in the last ten years with the funding coming from outside the local communities.  It now includes a lodge for the monastery’s guests, as well as for trekkers. A number of Nar-Phu trek itineraries stop there for a night before moving on to Naar, another 500 meters up,  the next morning.

monastery near Naar Phedi

same, same, but different – the monastery at Naar Phedi in landscape orientation

We stayed on the east side trail and soon were approaching the kani (village entrance chorten) you see below.

Meta (3560):

Meta (also appears as Metta and Methang) is just to the south of the junction where the trail across the Phu Khola takes you west to Naar past the monastery you see on the west side of the river in the images above.

entrance chorten on the north side of Meta in the Phu valley

approaching Meta (Methang) from the north

From the Lonely Planet’s description of Meta, you wouldn’t expect to find much. It states:

Up among the stone houses of the empty village stands the simple Kang Garu Hotel (bed Rs 200, dal bhat Rs 300), but there are only three simple rooms here and hygiene is not a priority in the kitchen so you might want to consider camping. Villagers from Nar use Meta as a winter settlement and the village remains deserted for the rest of the year. [Trekking In the Nepal Himalaya, 2015]

Below is a view of the winter settlement of Nar and Phu villagers taken the next morning just before we set off for Koto. In early May 2018, there were three or four guesthouses available, including the new Hotel Marpa International pictured below to the right of center.

The next day as we walked down to Koto we would see yet more new guesthouses being built or just opened.  Perhaps locals are hoping that the positive reviews of their valley as a trekking destination will lead to more visitors.  The next day at Koto,  I would ask the official at the checkpoint how many trekkers had set off for Meta that day. His answer: 7.

an overview of the guesthouse scene at Meta – three or four choices

Next Post: Day 16 – Meta To Koto


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