The Far West is the least developed, and also the most untouched part of Nepal. People in these regions live in extremely exigent conditions, especially people in higher altitudes. Most of these places are accessible only through air-planes.
I had an opportunity to travel to the Humla district of Nepal in the far north-west. The only way to reach there is to fly to Simikot airport. I commenced my journey from Kathmandu. Several flights and buses operate from Kathmandu to Nepalganj. The flights normally take slightly under an hour and about 4000 Nepali rupees to get to Nepalganj. While the bus costs around 1000 rupees and takes about 12 to 14 hours. This is just the beginning of the journey. Even as a few flights fly to Simikot directly from Nepalganj, most of them fly from Surkhet, which is about 96 kms from Nepalganj.
You can hire a taxi or take a bus from Nepalganj to surkhet. The entire journey is refreshing as you move from the busy town to lush green countryside through the long stretch of National Park on the way. If you are lucky, you may get a glimpse of a deer, fox or even a tiger. Nepalganj is comparatively much warm than Kathmandu, so as you move towards Surkhet, you will progress towards a pleasant climate. Being a border town, many tourists and locals travel to Nepalganj to enter India by land. As you get closer to Surkhet you will cross Bheri Bridge, where many people go fishing and camp by the river in the summers. If Bheri rings a bell, it is because this river is well known for rafting.
We reached Surkhet in dark hours, but I woke up to a radiant sunrise from amongst the mountains. Surkhet Valley is surrounded by enormous mountains on all the sides. Apart from being the base to reach the remote west, Surkhet also has a lot to offer if you decide to spend a day or two. Kakrebihar, which is a National Heritage site, brings many tourists to this town.
Four different companies (Makalu, Tara, Goma and Kashtamandap) fly from Surkhet to many destinations in the west. I flew with Makalu air to Simikot and Jhumla. Simikot is the last airport in the north-west, before it hits Tibet.
Not only living in these areas is challenging, but flying in these regions is quite challenging as well. I flew with Makalu air several times with different pilots, and I must say those pilots are doing an admirable job.
I packed my gear, boarded on the plane, fastened the seat belt and was ready for the take off. Soon I was looking at the Surkhet valley from the eagle’s eye, and in no time we were flying above the majestic snow clapped mountains. The whole flight experience was exhilarating. The landscape around me was beyond description. Completely captivated by the magnificent mountains on either side, I didn’t even realize we were about to land in Simikot. I was witnessing, one grandeur after the other. The moment I disembarked, I stood on the runway in disbelieve and awe. I was amazed by the splendor right before my eyes. The first thing that came to my mind was, ‘I never want to leave this place’. I had landed in paradise. And the long journey from Kathmandu was completely worth it. With every opportunity I get, I would visit again.
Very few tourists visit Simikot, and those who do are mostly the ones heading to Hilsa towards Kailash Mansarobar. Fewer travel to Simikot to Trek the unexplored trails of Limi Valley. What makes this place even more pleasing is its raw and non commercial nature.
With a bare population of about 43,000, majority of people living in Simikot are Hindu’s amidst a small Buddhist minority. Even the Hindu population is very diverse and easy to distinguish amongst the different types. The characteristics of Thakuri women are particularly striking and hard to miss. If you spot women wearing excessive gold and silver jewelry, it is the Thakuri women.
As you walk towards the right side from the airport, you will encounter several visuals of old men sun bathing and smoking outside their houses, a stretch of market with small shops and very interesting looking hair salons and many long haired goats walking around. After you cross the market, you will come across the part of the village with quaint looking mud houses. To witness the most magnificent view, take a stroll further down the village in the direction of the small temple at the edge of the mountain.
Due to harsh weather conditions in winter, the best time to travel to Simikot is April to October.
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Text & Images : Mithila Jariwala