Stairway to Heaven

A trek to hauntingly beautiful Tso Rolpa is not just invigorating but also a stark reminder of the climate crisis

All Photos: Sumin Bajracharya

We all have that inner Tintin beckoning us to break out of our everyday routine. Our group of young architects was overwhelmed with the choice of ecologically diverse trails in Nepal.

We finally decided on Tso Rolpa in the upper Rolwaling at 4,550m, one of Nepal’s biggest and most dangerous glacial lakes. The trek was not just invigorating but also a stark reminder of how the climate crisis is melting the Himalayan mountains.

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The trip started in Kathmandu on a hired Tata Sumo that promptly broke down in Kavre. Onward to Singati where the jeep had a flat tyre. Adventure in Nepal begins even before you start walking.

We finally entered the Gauri Shankar Conservation Area in Chetchet (1,410m) from where the trail leads to Simigaon (2,000m). The Swiss helped make steps to make the difficult parts easier to walk and added conspicuous signage so people do not get lost.

Stairway to heaven map
Map: NT Graphics

The Rolwaling is a beyul, a valley of spiritual significance for the local Tamang and Sherpa communities. The sky turned from blue to violet, and Gaurai Shankar, known locally as Chomo Tseringma, made a brief appearance before hiding behind its south shoulder. The storm hit on the final stretch to Simigaon at nightfall.

The next day’s walk was to Thangding (3,330m) along millet terraces below towering cliffs, and crossing frothing rivers over log bridges. A lunch stop in Surmuche (2,480m) meant lying on the grass to watch fast-moving clouds shroud the surrounding mountains. The rain overtook us and turned into snow as we negotiated the last steep bit.

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New morning, the trail to Na village (4,180m) was covered in fresh snow. The river turned aquamarine as we approached and clambered up the terminal moraine of the Tso Rolpa glacier.

Nothing prepares you for the first glimpse of the lake after cresting the moraine wall. A deep serenity envelopes its icy beauty, but also a sense of dread about what all this melted ice means.

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Stairway to heaven

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