In Search of Shangri La

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Valerie in Nepal
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In Search of Shangri La

Exodus’ mountain queen Valerie Parkinson shares her secret for trekking happiness …

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Much is made of Shangri La. Shorthand for paradise on Earth, plenty have searched the planet for a real place of soil and bricks, seeking a utopian society secluded from the outside world. I believe everyone finds their own Shangri La – a place where they are at peace with themselves. As for me, I’ve found my personal Shangri La in the Himalaya.

So when the gauntlet was thrown down to recce an exciting new trek in the highest mountain range in the world, I jumped at the chance.

The  is the result. It ticks many of my boxes for what I consider perfection: a camping trek through remote western Nepal, only just opened up to western tourists, surrounded by the classic Himalayan scenery but almost no other trekkers.

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The route has a fascinating history, following the path of the Maoist guerrilla fighters, passing many of their former training grounds and battle sites. The Maoists have long since gone but the area is still little-known, making it ideal for trekking a region less touched by travellers. Forget busy teahouses with shelves of imported Nestle chocolate bars and fizzy drinks, and don’t even bother trying to get mobile phone signal. Expect only the pristine beauty of jagged iced peaks and forested hillsides, accompanied by the local tales from the guerrillas.

Such a magnificent trek has a rather lacklustre start point – a long drive to Sulichaur, a nondescript town on the edge of the middle hills of Nepal. However that all changes once you head north, across the grain of the land. Here, that means a constant zig-zag through terraced hillsides and villages towards the imposing bulk of the Jaljala passes.

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Nobody could blame the Maoists for picking this place as their hideout. The first was used as a training ground; the second is higher and we camp either at the top or near it. The sunset sends ripples of orange light across some of the biggest names in the trekking business: Dhaulagiri, Nilgiiri, Gangapurna, Annapurnas 1 and 3, Annapurna South and Machhapuchhre all in one hit. It was impossible to resist waking up early the following morning, to see it all again at sunrise.

After that, a restful pause in Pokhara is welcome. Phewa Lake seems even calmer in comparison to the turbulent history, and this relaxed town is the perfect place to ease back into civilisation slowly.

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For an off the beaten track adventure in the superlative mountain range in the world, out of reach of bleeping phones and adverts for things you don’t need, and unlikely to meet any other trekkers, join me this October. It’s time to find your own bit of Shangri La.

The inaugural departure of Exodus’ Shangri La Trek (also referred to as the ‘guerrilla trek’) departs Friday 17 October 2014. The trip is already guaranteed – don’t miss out.

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