If it’s a true Nepali mountain adventure you’re after, then look no further than Jumla. Far-flung and un-spoilt, white mountains fill the skyline behind Jumla’s main bazaar, greeting you as you climb up the perilous road from Surkhet in the Tarai or flying by plane the same way.
This is not a developed tourist area, but a clean bed in the bazaar is possible as well as a tasty dal-bhat served with the highly sought after local red rice. Even samosas are available from snack vendors around the airport. Taking one’s own supplies is advised if travelling beyond the bazaar. Also, be prepared to sleep where you can.
Jumla Bazaar is the start of trekking routes to breathtaking Rara Lake in neighboring Mugu district and further to Shey Phoksumdo National Park, spanning Mugu and Dolpa districts. This was also the road for sages and pilgrims on their way to holy Mount Kailash in Tibet. One of Nepal’s four Tatopanis or hot springs is here, a mere one hour by bus from Jumla Bazaar - great for relieving trekking pains, or warming bodies on chilly days.
The best months to visit are May/June before the rainy season or just after in September/October. Visiting during the latter means you can see the Tila Valley - where the bazaar and airfield sit serenely - take on wonderful hues as the valley’s infamous red rice crops are near ready to harvest. At the same time you can gorge on ripe Jumla apples, the best in the continent. Don’t forget to get a taste of the local apple brandy, excellent for keeping chills at bay.
Visiting the bazaar’s temple complex of Chandan Nath Baba is also a worthwhile excursion. He was a Sadhu who visited more than 1,300 years ago, bringing the famous red rice grains (from Kashmir) for locals. Within the complex is a temple of Chandan Nath, as well as others of the fearsome Bhairab, the loveable Krishna and the devout Hanumaan—cared for by three permanent sadhus.
The area above Jumla (named Sinja), is famed for being the home of Nepal’s main dialect, the Khas Bhasa.
Jumla is also known for its medicinal herbs or jadibuti. The most sought after is the yarcha gumba, a mushroom that grows for a short period on snowlines, with big earnings for collectors. Also available is Silajeet, a black substance that forms on the sides of cliffs from rainwater, requiring men to abseil down and hack it off. Its qualities and minerals are highly prized in Ayurevedic medicine.
Eagles, falcons and vultures often soar through Jumla’s sky, wild sheep bound up perilous cliffs, while deer and snow leopards have their homes above the trails. There is no shortage of wildlife to look out for, although numbers are receding.
So, if you’re bored with Nepal’s notorious destinations such as Pokhara, Khumbu or Annapurna and fancy something far removed from the norm, then why not give interesting Jumla and its unique trails a go?
Pat Kauba is a freelance writer and photographer with a love for the new. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.