You need to pay a fee to go trekking in Humla. Normally this is done by the trekking agency and calculated into the price you pay them. These days the control on who moves where is even more restricted because of the insurgency.
Limi Valley is like Mustang and is subject to a several-hundered dollar fee per trekker.
These days maoists "collect" their revolutionary tax at gunpoint at either upper Humla stronghold or by a roving band of them on the trail, and so you are paying double...
Nyalu La is a difficult pass into the Limi Valley area north of Kermi and Salli Khola valley. The pass crosses the low point on the ridge of Tarchila Himal. This pass is not to be underestimated for its high altitude, weather and difficult snow conditions, steep slopes and shere remoteness. It is snow bound from October to April. Do not think of crossing between November and March. Do not try this pass alone.
The trail leading up to the pass is easy to see when there is no snow. There are steep sections on both sides of the pass, but worst from the northern side. However, the altitude gain is much worse from the southern side, so overnight stops must be made for acclimatization.
On the trail between Dharapuri and Kermi is a place called Chya Chhahara - 3 waterfalls. When you have climbed the section cut into the mountain and laid with stone steps (looks precarious), you turn a corner and arrive to a land slide section where the trail is constantly in repair. It is fairly dangerous to cross under adverse conditions. There is an alternative trail going around this whole section. Follow local advice, but do not expect this place to be entirely safe. However, cows, donkeys, horses, school children and everybody else passes it, so chance is that you will be fine, too!
This stretch of trail below Ranipauwa after crossing the Nara Lagna from the south is very steep and gravelly, and as you tire down toward Hilsa there is an increasing chance of slipping on the loose roack and gravel here. Do not underestimate this danger, go slow and safe. This is the place on this trek where most people fall and hurt themselves.
SMK, yes, even this airport has a code - just like LAX or JFK or FRA. But slightly less fashionable...
It is scary to land and take off from here, so faint-hearted people should perhaps abstain from this exercise of the nervous system. You may wish to walk in for 10-12 days instead?
The runway is the cricket cum parade field in town, cattle and goats graze the runway edges. It's dirt field, with some drainages cuting across, giving some extra jolts. The runway is very short, so you sort of hang in your seat belt as the plane lands. As you depart you will notice the runway seems a bit short, but as the ground naturally falls away down to Karnali River a 1000 meters below, you will be airborne faster than for comfort. All this said, there hasn't been so many accidents. Pilots simply do not fly here when cloud/precipitation/ wind conditions are anywhere near troublesome for a safe passage over the high southren pass into upper Humla and landing in Simkot. You do what you got to do, no?
NB! Update after the Andolaan of spring 06;
THE MAOISTS CONTINUE TO EXTORT MONEY, IN FACT MORE THAN BEFORE!
Update March 07;
THE EXTORTION POLICY/FEE DEMANDS ARE UNDER REVIEW BY THE MAOISTS, BUT STILL EXTORTION GOES ON AND THERE ARE PARALLEL TREKKING FEES BEING DEMANDED FROM GOVERNMENT AND MAOISTS SEVERAL PLACES IN NEPAL. THE EXACT SITUATION IN HUMLA IS UNCLEAR UNTIL SPRING AND THE TREKKING SEASONS SEES SOME EXPERIENCE.
In the Kermi area of Humla, inbetween Simkot and the Tibet border, maoists check passing visitors for purpose, nationality and extort fees. The "fee" for foreigners is no less than USD 126 (!). Yes, they figured out that this was the exchange rate for 100 Euros! It is best to trek in a group here and have your guides manage this. Individual trekkers are asking for trouble unless they are known to both government and maoist forces.
Political conditions are extremely harsh for local people and tourists alike. The maoists flock like birds to upper Humla when the trekking season is in progress in order to siphon off "fees" from tourists and "taxes" from local institutions and individuals - including extremely poor people - who might in a small way benefit from tourism here, while in the off-season they are mostly preying on local people in lower Humla and Kalikot.
Flying Dragon is a private company (Chinese) that operates out of Nepagunj to the mountain airports in Western Nepal. They are using 2nd hand Chinese aircraft that the previous government authorities in Nepal have been banning from Nepal. Under the current government of lax rules and high bribes the airline now uses these dragonflies...
Do note that their safety standards are not up to pair with other aircrafts, even if they look nice from the outside. Use Dornier, Saab or Twin Otter aircrafts if you have a choice here in the cowboyland far west...
APRIL 2008: THIS WARNING IS NO LONGER VALID. HOWEVER, THE SITUATION REMAINS FAIRLY VOLATILE AND SIMILAR ACCESS SANCTIONS MAY BE IMPOSED. I THEREFORE KEEP IT POSTED UNTIL I CAN REMOVE IT WITH CERTAINTY.
After 6 pm the army officially closes traffic in and out of Simkot. Traffic, that is persons and animals passing on the trail in and out of the government-controlled perimeter of Simkot. Thus, if you are on a day hike, a long trek or whatever, try to be inside the perimeter by 6pm. The soldiers get nervous and may shoot at whatever may appear threatening in the dark. If you for some reason are delayed upon entry, ensure that the soldiers manning the guardposts know about your plans and presence beforehand, so that you can identify yourself by means of registration done on the way out. If on an organised trek, the guides will do all this for you. No joke, this...
NB! This info is now dated and last time I was there you could pass freely also at night, but both maoists and military/police were checking people.
Update in November 06: the military and police had abandoned their Simkot Lagna checkpoint as part of the peace accord but kept night patrols. As a trekker/visitor you should always check in with the authorities for trekking permit and visa control as you enter Simkot.
Dirt is a common denominator for most kitchens, eateries and homes in Humla. Generally, hygienic attitudes are not on the agenda - partly out of the economic conditions, hardship, simple life styles and a long way to fetch water, but are also a function of lack of education, ignorance and cultural inhibitions. For whatever reason, this impounds on the food quality and the way it is being served up. Humla has a lot of water borne diseases, diahorreas, dysentries, e.coli posioning, even cholera. Combined with influenzas and other respiratory diseases this coctail is making life uncertain for especially the poorest segment of the population that has reduced immune systems due to food deficiency. However, simple precautions and insistence on personal hygiene might keep you out of trouble when visiting.
Click on the the attached photo to see the list of most common diseases in Humla.
Funny tip title?
The reason is that passengers are by and large considered a nuisance by airlines going to Simkot, as there is more money to be made on cargo flights with paid price per kg and not per head. Flights may be cancelled because there may not be sufficient passengers but plenty of cargo. They plane may go, but without you. You need to bite onto the respective airlines' station managers at Nepalganj or Surkhet and hold on until you know there will be a flight with you on it. The helicopter flights are incidental, but you may catch a ride for the going rate for fixed-wing aircraft. The cargo charters may also take you on board if space. The most efficient - or least inefficient - way is to book a through ticket on Yeti Airlines from Kathmandu via Nepalgunj to Simikot (SMK). Tyen they cannot tell you they don't have tickets for sale in Nepalgunj.
When going into Limi from Sher/Hilsa border post you will on day 2 (1 for the speedy ones) encounter an exceedingly steep pass called Namka La. No match for the locals and the altitude is not that much - 4500 meters - but it is a killer. Very steep, rocky, gravelly and just no let-up. The best approach is actually to get to the pass refreshed after a night's good sleep in Manipeme or even at a narrow camping spot closer to the bottom of the pass. The top of the pass gives you the first very good view into Limi, and the descent on the eastern side of the pass is benign. Having a snack at the top of the pass is a must - very good albeit windy place for this. No water available. In the cliffs east of the bottom of the pass are a couple of hermitages of significance that are still used by Til and Halji monks.
If you are coming down from Nyalu La and stand near the Tselima Tsho/Selima Daha, contemplating your way down, beware that the trail as indicated on all maps including the Finnida 1:50.000 sheet "Muchu" is inaccurately placed on the maps.
First you have to contemplate a black-rock morene damming the lake, then follow switchback trail(s) down the natural fall line. Once out of the morene, this is obvious. Then, for some reason at a little saddle near a place called Dharmasala (which is only a rudimentary hut), the trail on the map turns sharply west in order to cross the Khyungar khola about a km west. There is a visible and quite good, but steep trail that continues the fall line of the morene ridge straight down (south) instead. Stick to that trail rather than following the map trail, and there will be some kind of temporary bridge arrangement/stepping stones across the Jaung Khola creek to your left going down at the 4200 meter counter line and cross to the left/east bank there. You will in any case have to come to this side in order to cross the Chhungsa khola bridge further below. Saves time and effort and even if the crossing gets wet, it is your best bet. Click on the map picture to see.
The best maps for Humla are the 1:50.000 Finnida topo sheets (see 2nd photo), but you need 18 of them to cover Humla, and 3-4 to cover the Kailash Trail within Nepal and an additional one to cover Limi (the Thangchhe sheet). If you are moderately interested only, and will be doing the Kailash trail and/or Limi trail, and somebody is guiding you anyway, buy a one-sheet trekking map. MARK MY WORDS that there is only ONE accurate trekking map. This map (see photo) is called Kailash & Lake Manasarovar 1:175.000. You find many other maps with similar sounding names - but be particular: only the 2005 map from MapPoint Nepal, GPO Box 3924, Kathmandu, is accurate. I have found it once and seen it occasionally, but when I wanted to buy several at one time, I had to preorder. See my maps shop tip in my general Nepal pages - Nepal Map House in Thapathali, Kathmandu. Here you can get all the Finnida maps and the said trekking map.
The trekking maps of Humla/ the Kailash trail often indicate available services along the trail. Beware that these services do not exisit any longer outside Simkot because of the mad red-guard-like maoist policy of destruction before construction. All the community public infrastructure is gone and schools have become maoist assembly halls. The sole surviors from their destruction of paper-tiger, running-dogs, foreign-like and government infrastructure are some of the health posts, but even these were destroyed in southern Humla and a few other places. On the Kailash trail the Kermi health post run by Nepal Trust is functioning, also with some typical medicines for trekkers' ailments available. For post and telephone - forget it. Bring a sat phone or employ a runner to communicate with Simkot. As the situation now is rather peaceful again, much of the maoist take-over is relaxed and communities are rebuilding infrastructure from scratch. Call Nepal Trust for accurate updates before you go.
If you doubt my story, try to find Majgaon telephone office or the Muchu VDC facilities/post office or the Torpa clinic or the Sarkegadh health post or . . the list of maoist violent madness is long.
Upon surfing the internet I came across the website (below) that ¨describes in detail how things can go horribly wrong on booking and paying for a trip via Nepalese and Tibetan travel and trekking agents. I cannot vouch for the truth of this story, but it is well worth reading it prior to booking a trip in Humla or anywhere in Nepal. I never experienced anything like this myself, and I have made use of other and reliable trekking agents and guides in Nepal and indeed in Humla. Hopefully, these are the rotten apples in the basket. Check out this info before you go!