If so far you’ve been wondering when this walk gets hard, then today will test the legs of even the stoutest (mentally) walker. On paper the height difference between Chele and Syangboche is 800 metres, which is quite a lot but not too stiff over a day’s worth of walking. The reality however is you’ll be ascending a great deal more (and descending quite a bit too)!
We had an early (6.30am) start to give us a head start on a warm day. Leaving our tea house, we didn’t get a chance to limber up, as the path climbed directly past the front door. The map even says ‘Steep club” on it! It’s about a 110 metre climb to a small plateau where the jeep track and the packhorse route part company. The old route crosses round the face of a high cliff with impressive, and steep drops, down to the ever deepening valley to the west. The path is good and safe to follow and shouldn’t cause any vertiginous problems, just take it easy and after an hour or so you’ll emerge 300 metres higher at the Taklam La (Pass) and able to enjoy a flatish section for a while, including crossing the slightly higher pass of Dajong. The track then leads you into Samar where we took an early lunch at around 10.30 in the morning.
Most villages in Upper Mustang have one thing in common; a valley to one side, presumably the villages water source. Samar is no exception and as soon as we’d fed and rested, it was a short walk through this attractive village before passing through the village gate and a steep decent to cross the valley before a similar climb up the other side, there was a one of the extra 100 metres of ascent for the day. There are two ways to Syangboche from here. You can follow the jeep track which winds itself round the various steeply descending valleys that drain off the mountains to the west. The alternative which our guides took us on, was to go via the cave monastery of Ranchung where the Guru Rimpoche is said to have spent time in meditating.
Looking at the map we knew we were in for a climb or two but the cave sounded interesting, so having crossed Samar’s valley we had a short level section before a steep 250 metre climb. It was a steep pull bit afforded some wonderful views. A short level section preceded a long descent to the confluence of a couple of valleys; the cave was perhaps an 150 mete climb back up one of the side valleys. (Are you totting up these extra climbs?). The monastery was indeed fascinating, some natural limestone cave features amongst the Bhuddist accoutrements (take a head torch to explore this area properly).
The last section for the day was to come, another 350 metre climb from the bottom of the valley up to the tea house at Syangboche. It wasn’t a steep climb by any means but long and steady but coming at the end of long day this 350 metres really tested the metal. We arrived shattered at around 5 o’clock, tired and emotional and with the gathering wind and cool of evening, in need of shelter, rest and warm clothing. This was a testing day!
As the trek developed and we thought about the walk as a whole, my preference would be to start later and get as far as Samar and stay there, and then move onto Syangboche the next day, an extra day trekking but breaks the day into two tough but much more manageable days.