12. The Limi Valley.

Himalayan view

 

The Limi Valley.

I returned to Kathmandu and met up with Charlie, a friend who I had met a few years back on my first Vipassana retreat. Charlie is an unapologizing hippy, meditator and all round kook. But he is also a great man with a heart the size of Asia. We readied ourselves for our departure into the heartlands of the only place on earth that has practiced Tibetan Buddhism uninterrupted, in its purest form, for over a thousand years: the mythical Limi Valley, one of the remotest places on the planet. We initially decided upon a treacherous yet navigationally straightforward route that cut out Limi and headed directly from Simikot to Hilsa on the Tibetan border, and then through Tibet and onto Mt Kailash. However we changed route last minute and decided to take a detour on the Nepal- Tibet trek, starting in Simikot, heading thought the Limi Valley and then onto the Hilsa border town. This takes between 8-10 days. Limi Valley is the most ancient, beautiful and expansive place that I have ever been. It is said to be one of the remotest inhabited places in the world.

Our tin-pot plane to Simikot was delayed for 3 days due to bad weather, so we used this time to head deep into the jungle, a national tiger and elephant reserve, in a suspension-less safari hippy van that we had managed to commission. Bumpy just about sums it up. After three days we finally managed to catch an aid-relief flight to Simikot from Nepalgunj, a sweltering town on the border of Nepal and India. We arrived in Simikot a few hours later, at the start of the annual shamanic festival. Shamanic festivals are right up Charlie’s street, and he spent his time galloping up and down the town making all sorts of noises in a hippy-ape like manner. I, if I am to be honest, found it extremely hectic… another occasion where letting go was the only solution! Sticks were waved, spirits were summoned and six old, druid like Shamans were intoxicated and possessed into a portentous narrative that laid out the year’s fortunes of the region.

 

We spent the night in Simikot before starting our long climb to the Limi Valley. There is not a single road within three weeks walking distance, (officials have tried to build a small dirt track in the last year or so in some parts but it has been taken out by landslides and waterfalls… although I did hear that one tiny settlement manages to get a truck down there from Tibet once every two months…!) so everything is by foot, following the ancient salt trading route between Humla and Tibet. We carried our own bags (not recommended) but had mules to carry the food and tents.

 

 

It is this very inaccessibility that has made Humla the quasi-paradise that it is today, preserving the district in a time capsule of an epoch that faded from the rest of the world over a thousand years ago. Although immense efforts have been made to install a sense of modernity to Simikot itself (there is even limited Internet access there), the rest of Humla is very much a Lost World, a living echo of simpler times when people were of less needs, less wants, and more easily contented. I will try to not romanticize it too much: there is a dire need for access to medical facilities. But other than this, I have never known a population to look more peaceful, more genuinely happy. This was a time when, back in London, rioters were taking to the streets, killing each other and robbing from the wounded, all because of their ‘loss of living standards.’ Unions were marching up and down town, stamping their feet and declaring their entitlement to things that are so completely beyond the capacity of these Mountain people to even comprehend. So out of touch are we with what truly makes us at peace that we become enraged at the prospect of our Benefits being cut, and we completely fail to recognize how fortunate we are in almost every area of our lives. We have free health care, schooling, housing and protection. We seldom have to worry about putting food on the table, or a roof over our heads at night. We are some of the most fortunate people in the world living in some of the most fortunate times that this planet has ever know. If only we knew this. How much more joy we would get out of this life. Perhaps then we might be able to come close to the sense of needlessness, community and appreciative joy that these men and women of Humla display every day. We passed through ancient wooden towns, each two days walk from one another. At first these towns are inhabited by the slender Hindu Nepalese populace, but gradually, as you work your way higher and higher, deeper into the hidden climbs of Humla, these faces turn coarser, the wood turns to stone and you begin to hear the flapping of Buddhist Prayer flags as you pass over the more treacherous peaks. The way up was grueling- it rained, snowed and hailed every day for four days, and every possession that we owned either broke or became frozen or soaked. We would spend fourteen hours a day trekking and climbing up colossal waterfalls, over stampeding rivers, up God-like Mountains and along knife-edge cliff faces, often not passing any other sign of human life for two days at a time. Our first 5000 m pass came after ten hours of pushing on through rain, hail and snow. We were cold, wet and exhausted. But we were on a mission, and at no point did we not feel the sense of commitment to that mission that kept us going.

 

By now even the every-other-day-villages had long since disappeared behind us, being replaced instead by Nomadic tribal settlements. The tribesmen and women would flood us on arrival, asking for medicine. Luckily we stocked up on medicines before we left, and so were able to play doctors to a few of the more straightforward cases. It was, however, very sad to see children with all sorts of terrible ailments, whose parents just did not understand that they needed to go to a hospital. I felt that a lot of these children would not live much longer. But I guess that that is just how it is out there: the price that has to be paid for living a life of such solitude. Finally, after 4 very tough days we arrived in the Limi Valley. It is without a doubt the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, huge mountains standing aside for beautiful green and ancient Buddhist villages that have operated in the same way, untouched, for a thousand years. It was truly breathtaking.

They are so remote that they did not even appear on the specialized map I had bought for the area. These are the villages that harbor the secret and ancient traditions of an otherwise harassed and struggling Mahayana Buddhism. The Chinese invasion of Tibet in the 1950s resulted in the destruction of the great majority of monasteries in Tibet. But, whereas The Limi Valley was once a Tibetan land and still has Tibetan inhabitants, due to border changes it now lies just off the border of modern Tibet, and has thus managed to remain culturally intact.

The monasteries in Limi were incredible and beyond description. They seemed as old as the Mountains themselves. The only communication that these bustling villages have with the outside world is via the occasional salt trader from Tibet or other parts of Humla. That said, both villages were given access to electricity a few years ago, but neither seems to have found a use for it yet- it only works at night, and their traditional tools are much more suited to their way of life. I did, however, spot the occasional light bulb! The villages are about as exposed to the elements as is possible and, thanks to Climate Change, this has made life increasingly difficult in recent years. We were travelling in the rainy season, but Humla is in the Himalayan rain shadow making rain a rarity in these parts. But, we were told, over the past four years this has changed, and sky-engulfing rainstorms have drowned the otherwise year-round-dry district, overflowing the rivers and destroying many homes. In one of the villages the largest building had been left torn in half by the swollen river. It will take years for the necessary raw materials to be cut from the surrounding cliffs to rebuild it. We trekked through the Limi Valley for about 3 days, and gained a following of local children. We first encountered these new friends as we entered their village, passing a large tree, which came to life, its branches laughing hysterically as we drew nearer. Upon closer inspection it revealed about ten ten-year olds hanging like monkeys from its branches! These children taught us their local chants and showed us around their town, proving to be quite the comprehensive tour guides.

On leaving the villages, and receiving a heroes seeing off from the locals, we had by far the most intense day of this leg of our journey. Getting to the border meant following a mountain path so dangerous that even the yaks and mules aren’t allowed down it. It is said to be the home to the mountain spirits. The path was between half a meter to a meter in width at it’s narrowest, and was cut into the cliff. We were 4500 m up, and there was a sheer drop to our left and a cliff to our right. You could occasionally see airplanes flying through the valley, at significantly lower altitudes than that which we were climbing at. The path wound round, up and down at a moments notice, was covered in scree and battered by pervasive Himalayan winds, rain and rock falls, which would come crashing down at a moments notice. Great. Charlie dealt with this imminent danger like an insane Gypsy child on speed, sprinting along, laughing and screaming and taking any opportunity to stand on jutting out rocks with sheer drops beneath, throwing stones from their heights to see how long it would take before he heard the sound of the crash. These sounds were seldom heard, as they plummeted to the limitless depths below. The Sherpa’s found this hilarious and so joined in. I took a slightly more measured approach… It is always telling when even a Sherpa tells you that the place you are trekking is incredibly dangerous, and looking back it really was. At the time we were more concerned about the fall, but there seems to have been a massive landslide about every 20 meters that could have easily toppled us without warning.

On the final day of the Humla trek I caught a stomach bug, which is the last thing you want when following this type of path… it is difficult enough to stay vertigo-less, let alone when dealing with the dizziness and nausea of illness! Still, we cracked on and reached the border by lunchtime. After crossing the border, we spent a night in a Chinese army post town, before heading off towards Mt Kaliash.

2 Responses to “12. The Limi Valley.”

  1. deepak kc
    4. May 2014 at 15:45

    Dear sir, Namaste from the land where spent sometime in search of peace.
    I publish a tourism Magazine for our tourism promotion. can I take your article LIMI VALLEY from your blog?
    I expect a positive response.
    Thank you.
    Deepak KC
    MD, Travel Nepal

  2. admin
    27. April 2015 at 20:50

    Hi Deepak,

    Wow it has taken just under a year to reply to this. I am very sory. I do not check the comments very often.

    Yes, you may use this for your magazine.

    Thank you,

    Edward

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